MINELRES: Fwd: Bosnias Forgotten Minorities

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Tue Jan 19 20:48:42 2010

Original sender: Roma Virtual Network <romale@zahav.net.il>

Bosnia’s Forgotten Minorities

Jamie Silva

13/01/2010 - As Jewish and Roma officials win a major victory in
Strasbourg against Bosnian constitutional discrimination, which should
pave the way for the ‘Others’ to participate in government, recent
history indicates that the Court’s decision is unlikely to be
implemented, Anes Alic writes for ISN Security Watch.

By Anes Alic in Sarajevo for ISN Security Watch 

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in late December that the
Bosnian Constitution contains discriminatory and unlawful provisions
after ethnic minority officials filed complaints in an attempt to remedy
at least one aspect of the country’s institutional and constitutional

Bosnian Jewish official Jakob Finci and Roma official Dervo Sejdic sued
Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2006 with the simple goal of bringing
attention to the fact that the Bosnian Constitution allows only the
three main constituent ethnic groups - Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs and
Bosnian Croats - to run for the presidency or parliament.

The two complained that their bids to run had been rejected because they
were not members of Bosnia's main ethnic groups. 

The court found by a 14-3 vote that the exclusion of Jews, Roma and
other minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina could not be justified, and
that the authorities must use all available means to combat racism.

"Eliminating the possibility for members of a minority to participate in
the elections has no objective and reasonable justification. Therefore,
it is in direct conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights,
which prohibits discrimination," the Strasbourg-based Court’s statement

In the lawsuit, Finci, who is currently Bosnian ambassador to
Switzerland and the leader of Bosnian Jewish community, presented a
letter from the Bosnian Central Election Commission which states the he
is ineligible to run for the presidency or parliament because he is

“On 3 January 2007 he [Finci] received written confirmation from the
election commission that he was ineligible to stand in such elections
because of his Jewish origin," the judges said. The commission refrained
from elaborating further on the issue for ISN Security Watch, with the
public relations office saying only that the commission’s work was
regulated by election law.

Sejdic, a Bosnian Roma Union activist, told ISN Security Watch that he
had no personal motivation for filing the lawsuit against Bosnia, as he
has no intention of actually running for any office, but wished simply
to address these injustices and clear the path for minorities in the
future to take part in the country’s government.

“It has been confirmed that our constitution and electoral system are
not in line with the European Human Rights Convention, and this has been
the situation for the past 15 years. It is now up to authorities to
correct it. This verdict is against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it is
actually for its own good,” Sejdic told ISN Security Watch.

The verdict is the first time that the Human Rights Court has found a
violation under the European Convention's Protocol Number 12, which
prohibits discrimination.

The “Others”

Fadila Memisevic, president of the Bosnian branch of the German-based
Society for Threatened Peoples, told ISN Security Watch that the Court’s
decision represented a first step in removing the apartheid established
in the country’s constitution, created under the 1995 Dayton peace deal,
which ended the war in Bosnia.

“The Bosnian Constitution, written in hurry, has to be changed in order
to prevent further discrimination. The point is that in Bosnia and
Herzegovina not only minorities have been discriminated but actually all
ethnic groups,” Memisevic said.      

Under the Bosnian Constitution, the country’s tripartite presidency
consists of one Bosnian Serb, one Bosniak and one Bosnian Croat. The
president and two vice presidents in the two entities (the Bosniak and
Bosnian Croat-dominated Federation and the Bosnian Serb-dominated
Republika Srpska) are elected on a similar basis, and similar
arrangements apply to other senior appointments, the object being to
ensure equal representation of the three main constituent peoples. 

But the same arrangements exclude those citizens who are not Serb,
Bosniak or Croat from being elected. The constitution also discriminates
against Bosnian Serbs in the Federation entity and Bosniaks and Bosnian
Croats in Republika Srpska.

The country’s constitution and electoral law states that only members of
the three constituent ethnic groups are eligible to stand for election
for the tripartite presidency or the House of Peoples of the
Parliamentary Assembly.. Those who do not declare themselves as Bosniak,
Bosnian Serb or Bosnian Croat are defined in the constitution as the
"Others," and denied the right to stand for election.

Rushed peace

Acknowledging that the constitution was largely rushed in an attempt to
keep the peace right after the 1992-95 war, the Court said that the
discriminatory provisions must be removed. The decision obliges Bosnian
officials to reform the constitution in order to enable other ethnic
groups to put forth electoral candidates.

“The Court acknowledged that this system, put in place at a time when a
fragile ceasefire had been accepted by all the parties to the
inter-ethnic conflict that had deeply affected the country, pursued the
legitimate aim of restoring peace,” the Court said.

It noted, however, that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina had
improved considerably since the Dayton Peace Agreement and the adoption
of the constitution, as [attested to] by the fact that the closure of
the international administration of the country was now being
envisaged,” the Court said in the verdict. 

Implementation realities

That said, actually realizing the Court’s order will indeed be

Some five years ago, the international community launched a campaign to
reform the country’s constitution, stressing the necessity of change to
enable state institutions to be more functional and effective and to
meet the criteria for EU and NATO integration.

Talks to that end are ongoing, but progress has stalled. The Bosnian
state government, under international pressure, launched constitutional
reforms in 2005, but they failed miserably. Since then, the reform
process has halted and the international community has largely withdrawn
from the talks.

Last October, senior US and EU officials presented a package of proposed
constitutional changes to Bosnia's most influential leaders in Sarajevo.
For some, the measures were too drastic; for others, too cosmetic. The
new proposal, symbolically dubbed “Dayton Two,” included measures to end
Bosnia's status as an international protectorate and to initiate
constitutional changes to help make it a credible EU and NATO candidate.

The international community’s proposed package contains measures to
strengthen the role of the state-level parliament and government, to the
detriment of entity authority. It also reforms what is now a highly
complicated institutional set-up with veto rights and ‘ethnic’ and
entity voting, which have been used frequently to block reforms.

The sovereignty daydream

But the fact is, the Bosnian Constitution must be changed if the country
is ever to move out from under the protection of the international
community and toward true sovereignty. 

And it is not stretch of the imagination to predict that Bosnian
authorities will fail to implement Strasbourg’s decision. This year is
an election year, and there is no political will to introduce
constitutional changes.

The recent past is indicative of the future. In 2008, when Bosnia and
Herzegovina signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA)
with the EU, it pledged to reform its electoral law, but failed to do

It has had other opportunities as well. In 2002, when the country joined
the Council of Europe, its officials said they were committed to review
electoral legislation within one year, but that never happened. Because
of that, Bosnia is facing sanctions in the form of the possible
revocation of its Council of Europe membership, which would be a first
in the council’s history.


Anes Alic is a senior writer for ISN Security Watch, based in Sarajevo.
He is also the co-founder and executive director of ISA Consulting,
based in Sarajevo and Tel Aviv. 


International Relations and Security Network (ISN)

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