September 1999


Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of the six federal republics of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia created after the Second World War.

According to the census 1991, Bosnia and Herzegovina had 4,38 million of inhabitants, and national structure was:
- Muslims 1,9 million ( 43,7 % )
- Serbs 1,4 million ( 31,4 % )
- Croats 756,000 ( 17,3 % )
- Yugoslavs 240,000 ( 5,5 % )
- Roma and others 100,000 ( 2,1 % )

In April 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina proclaimed its independence. This brought to the bloody war in the period 1992 – 1995. By signing the Dayton Agreement, in November 1995, the end of the war was proclaimed and peace came. The results of three and half year of the war were: several hundred thousands of dead, more than twenty thousand disappeared, about two million of expelled and displaced persons, thousands of handicapped, destroyed economy and industry. The war caused big changes in a demographic structure, thus we do not have presently an accurate information on a new demographic structure and number of the population.

The present state of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina is at the very low level. A great number of citizens is deprived of elementary rights to live in their own home and to use their property, freedom of movement is difficult and risky, the education system is under strong influence of ethnically dominated political and state authorities in certain territories, and there is an evident discrimination in the field of employment too.

Economic situation is also very bad. The majority of citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina live on the edge of existence. The economy does not function, and a great number of population capable of working have no job. The majority of population still lives on foreign donations, which are less and less everyday.

The position and status of ethnic minorities is adequate to the political and economic environment governing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As you know, Bosnia and Herzegovina is composed of two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska. The position of ethnic minorities, primarily Roms is almost the same in both entities – very bad and disturbing.

Before the war, about 25 minority groups, very small in number, excepting Roms, existed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Only in the area of the town of Prnjavor (western Bosnia), before the war, there were members of 23 nationalities (Ukrainians, Russians, Belorussians, Polish, Czechs, Hungarians, Slovaks, etc.) However, after the war, there remained only Roms and Jews out of minority groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Roms belong to the largest minority group. It is estimated that about 6,000 Roms are presently living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, there were several times more Roms before the war. Apart from Roma population in Bosnia and Herzegovina there is also a Jew minority, numbering to several hundred of members. It should be mentioned here that they are very well organised within the Jewish Community based in Sarajevo. Their number was considerably higher but greater part of them had left Bosnia and Herzegovina in the war period 1992-1995.

A special attention is to be given to the so-called “new minorities” which were created as a direct consequence of the war, that is, of the “ethnic cleansing” and persecution, and which are characteristic only for Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are composed of the members of all the three Bosnian and Herzegovinian peoples (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs) who live in the entity whose constitution does not determine their people as constitutional.

For example, the Serbs living in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina present minority because, according to the stipulations of the Constitution of the BH Federation, the Serb people is not constitutional in the territory of the BH Federation. Owing to such constitutional stipulation the Serbs living in the BH Federation are deprived of or limited in many constitutional rights, giving them status of minority. It is the same case with the Bosniaks and Croats presently living in the Republic of Srpska, the constitution of which does not foreseen the Bosniaks and Croats as constitutional peoples.

Legal protection

In the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the section speaking of human rights and fundamental freedoms, there is stipulation on the rights of minorities and ban of discrimination as well as constitutional obligation to respect the most important international documents treating the minorities' rights. As foreseen in the Constitution, this constitutional obligation is more effective than the law.

Additional Human Rights Agreements to be applied in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which partially address the individual rights of persons belonging to national minorities:
1. 1951 Convention relating to the Status to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol thereto;
2. 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;
3. 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1966 and 1989 Optional Protocols thereto;
4. 1966 Covenant on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights;
5. 1992 European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages;
6. 1994 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

Also, in the Dayton Accord, Annex 6 relating to the human rights, the parties signatories (BH Federation and Republic of Srpska) obligated themselves to provide to all the persons, within the framework of their competence, the highest level of internationally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the rights and freedoms declared in the European Convention on Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and in its Protocols.

Evaluation of the Fulfilment of the Convention by Article

Article 1.

The protection of national minorities and of the rights and freedoms of persons belonging to those minorities forms an integral part of the international protection of human rights, and as such falls within the scope of international co-operation.

Constitution of the BH, Article 2 paragraph 1

“Bosnia and Herzegovina and both Entities shall ensure the highest level of internationally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms. (...)”

Constitution of the BH, Article 2 paragraph 2

“The rights and freedoms set forth in the European Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its Protocols shall apply directly in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These shall have priority over all other law.”

Constitution of the BH, Article 2 paragraph 3

“All persons within the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall enjoy the human rights and fundamental freedoms referred to in paragraph 2 above. (...)”

From the moment of obtaining independence, Bosnia and Herzegovina has adopted and signed all the most important international documents concerning protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms as well as the rights of national minorities. However, Bosnia and Herzegovina has not until now brought the law on minorities, and instead of it, international conventions dealing with this category are being used. The national non-governmental organisations, which deal with the issue of human rights and minorities' rights, exert pressure on authorities to pass this law which would create basis for improvement of a position of minority peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Article 2.

The provisions of this framework Convention shall be applied in good faith, in a spirit of understanding and tolerance and in conformity with the principles of good neighbourhood, friendly relations and co-operation between States.

Article 3.

1. Every person belonging to a national minority shall have the right freely to choose to be treated or not to be treated as such and no disadvantage shall result from this choice or from the exercise of the rights which are connected to that choice.

2. Persons belonging to national minorities may exercise the rights and enjoy the freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention individually as well as in community with others.

The BH Constitution provides equal rights to all its citizens. In respect to this, it provides equal conditions for their achievement.

However, the reality is quite different as compared to the Constitution of BH and the Dayton Accord. The present national political authorities take care only for their “own national corps” so that no one cares about the so-called “classical national minorities”, Roms in this case. It can be said that the national political authorities behave in such manner, as the minorities do not exist at all. Currently, the Roms do not have their representative in the Parliament of the BH Federation, nor there any signs that they will get one soon.

Article 4.

1. The Parties undertake to guarantee to persons belonging to national minorities the right of equality before the law and of equal protection of the law. In this respect, any discrimination based on belonging to a national minority shall be prohibited.

2. The Parties undertake to adopt, where necessary, adequate measures in order to promote, in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, full and effective equality between persons belonging to a national minority and those belonging to the majority. In this respect, they shall take due account of the specific conditions of the persons belonging to national minorities.

According to the article II paragraph 3 of the Constitution of BH, all the persons throughout the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoy human rights and freedoms foreseen by the European Convention on Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms including “right to lawful hearing in civic and criminal suits and other rights in view with the criminal proceedings”. When equality before the law is in question, there are no recorded cases of discrimination in behaviours of judicial bodies toward Roms.

The relation of the police toward the members of Roma is not on the needed and satisfactory level. There have been recorded some cases of physical maltreatment of Roms by the police in several cities in both entities.

Article 5

1. The Parties undertake to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage.

2. Without prejudice to measures taken in pursuance of their general integration policy, the Parties shall refrain from policies or practices aimed at assimilation of persons belonging to national minorities against their will and shall protect these persons from any action aimed at such assimilation.

As we already mentioned in the introduction, beside Roms as the biggest ethnic minority in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is Jewish minority. In difference to Roms, Jews are very well organised within the Jewish Community through which they realise their rights, foster their religion, tradition and cultural heritage.

On the other side, Roms nourish their culture and tradition within their small communities and families they live in.
A certain number of Roms has assimilated in a community they live in, accepting language, culture and tradition of the majority population. Namely, Islamic religion of Roma population in Bosnia and Herzegovina has made that a greater percentage of Roms declare themselves as Bosniaks, this causing Roms to abandon and forget their language, culture and tradition more and more.
It should be also emphasised that feelings of Roms for their ethnic belonging have recently increased. There were recorded some cases of trials to preserve culture, tradition and language of this ethnic minority. The example of this is the exhibition of photographs presenting the life of Roms, which was organised in Sarajevo and which, was well attended by the Roms, not only from Sarajevo but from other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well.

Article 6.

1. The Parties shall encourage a spirit of tolerance and intercultural dialogue and take effective measures to promote mutual respect and understanding and co-operation among all persons living on their territory, irrespective of those persons ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity, in particular in the fields of education, culture and the media.

2. The Parties undertake to take appropriate measures to protect persons who may be subject to threats or acts of discrimination, hostility or violence as a result of their ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity.

Roms who went to other countries during the war and now want to repatriate to their pre-war homes in the territory of the BH Federation are very often faced with objections, maltreatment and intimidations because they had left Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war, and had not stayed and defended the homeland. There were cases of hand grenade thrown on the Roma houses and there were cases of discrimination while providing assistance for reconstruction of damaged or destroyed houses. In Zavidovięi (Central Bosnia) several Roma families, which returned from abroad, moved into abandoned barracks, which were out of use. Roms, returnees from abroad, are facing one more problem. Namely, when returning to their places they are asked to obtain new identity documents while the municipal officers ask for money (bribe) in order to issue them for the Roms as they know how important they are for the realisation of many other rights. Roms unwillingly speak of such cases because they fear that they would have problems because of that in future.

On the other side, Jews returnees from abroad, have problems with return to their apartments which they had left during the war. Namely, in spite of the fact that they possess orderly documentation and all necessary papers they can not return to their apartments, due to the obstructions made by the municipal bodies.

Article 7.

The Parties shall ensure respect for the right of every person belonging to a national minority to freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Article 8.

The Parties undertake to recognize that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to manifest his or her religion or belief and to establish religious institutions, organisations and associations.

One, not less important issue is a need for self-organising for the purpose of strengthening both the mutual communication and the communication with the members of other ethnic groups living in this territory. That would ensure that Roms speak openly and more efficiently of their problems thus creating better conditions for establishment of contacts with the organs of state authorities. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, up to date, there are several Roma associations in Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica, Zavidovięi, Turbe (all in BH Federation) while in the Republic of Srpska there is the Association of Roms based in Bijeljina. This association was established on the initiative of the Centre for Protection of Minorities' Rights and it was not in a position until now to ensure neither premises nor telephones in order to function properly and on a regular basis. As we know, apart from this association, there is no other organisation of association of Roms in the territory of the Republic of Srpska.

It is evident that the Roms in Bosnia and Herzegovina have become more actively engaged, through the existing associations, in fulfilling their rights, but however, it is also evident that they need better organisation as to the establishment of an umbrella organisation which would represent them more seriously and efficiently in the realisation of their rights.

Both members of Roms and Jewish minorities have full freedom in practising their religion and there are no hindrances to that sense.

Article 9.

1. The Parties undertake to recognise that the right to freedom of expression of every person belonging to a national minority includes freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas in the minority language, without interference by public authorities and regardless of frontiers. The Parties shall ensure, within the framework of their legal systems, that persons belonging to a national minority are not discriminated against in their access to media.

Some media in the territory of the BH Federation as well as some in the Republic of Srpska, show their interest in the position and problems of Roms, giving objective and detailed information as well as corresponding critical relation toward the state and political bodies which do not show that they care for their rights.

Unfortunately, there are neither TV nor radio broadcasts edited and led in the languages of minority peoples.

As both RTV BH and SRT ( Serb Radio Television) are in the process of transformation, we have no information whether they are going to include into their future programmes any daily or periodical radio or TV broadcast in Roman language.

Article 10.

1. The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to use freely and without interference his or her minority language, in private and in public, orally and in writing.

2. In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if those persons so request and where such a request corresponds to a real need, the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible, the conditions which would make it possible to use the minority language in relations between those persons and the administrative authorities.

3. The Parties undertake to guarantee the right of every person belonging to a national minority to be informed promptly, in a language which he or she understands, of the reasons for his or her arrest, and of the nature and cause of any accusation against him or her, and to defend himself or herself in this language, if necessary with the free assistance of an interpreter.

Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Article 6

1.“ The official languages of the Federation shall be the Bosniac and the Croatian language. The official script will be the Latin alphabet.”

2.” Other languages may be used as means of communication and instruction.”

Constitution of Republika Srpska, Article 7

“The Serbian language of iekavian and ekavian dialect and the Cyrillic alphabet shall be in official use in the Republic, while the Latin alphabet shall be used as specified by the law. In regions inhabited by groups speaking other languages, their languages and alphabet shall also be in official use, as specified by law.”

In the Constitution of both BH entities, there is a possibility left that the members of minorities can use their language in everyday communication, and in education as well. There are no data available that the lessons are being held in Roma language for Roma children anywhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Zavidovięi (Central Bosnia) a class was formed with Roma children, returnees to this town, and currently lectures are being given in Bosnian language because they could not find qualified professors to teach in Roma language.

The Law also guarantees that any member of a national minority, in court proceeding, will be provided for an interpreter and will be enabled to defend in mother tongue.

Article 12.

1. The parties shall, where appropriate, take measures in the fields of education and research to foster knowledge of the culture, history, language and religion of their national minorities and of the majority.

2. In this context the Parties shall inter alia provide adequate opportunities for teacher training and access to textbooks, and facilitate contacts among students and teachers of different communities.

3. The Parties undertake to promote equal opportunities for access to education at all levels for persons belonging to national minorities.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, elementary (eight-year) education is compulsory while it is not a case with high and faculty education.
The education is exclusively in official languages defined in the entity constitutions.

In spite of the fact that the elementary education is compulsory, very small percentage of Roma children attend elementary schools, this contributing to even higher percentage of illiteracy among Roms in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reasons for such situation lies in a very bad economic situation in which Roms are. The Roma parents can not provide elementary preconditions for attendance of school (clothing, books, hygiene, etc...). Apart from this, Roma children who attend school are very often faced with insults and other forms of maltreatment and even physical maltreatment this having as consequence that in several cases parents forbidden their children to go further to school.

Thanks to the engagement of the centre for Minorities' Rights Protection in Sarajevo, two Roms from Tuzla (Central Bosnia – BH Federation) were enrolled to extraordinary studies of Law School of the University of Sarajevo. They were also provided with needed textbooks for the first year of study, and the Centre has also engaged to find donors who will provide financial support for their studying.

“New Minorities”

Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Article 1

1. “ Bosniacs and Croats, as constituent peoples (along with Others) and citizens of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the exercise of their sovereign rights, transform the internal structure of the territories with a majority of Bosniacs and Croat population in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina into a Federation, which is composed of federal units with equal rights and responsibilities.”

Constitution of Republika Srpska, Article 1
“Republika Srpska shall be the State of Serb people and of all its citizens”.

As we mentioned in the introduction, apart from the so called “classical minorities” there is a new category of “minority” in Bosnia and Herzegovina characteristic only for this state, which can be classified as “new minorities”. The “new minorities” include the members of three constitutional peoples (Croats, Bosniaks, Serbs) who do not constitute the majority in the entity they live in. These “new minorities” were created as a direct consequence of “ethnic cleansing” and persecution of the people from their homes during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and even after some of the Dayton solutions.

The simplest definition of “new minorities” would be that they present, in fact, the second category citizens, i.e. all the Serbs living in the BH Federation, and Bosniaks and Croats living in the Republic of Srpska. Thus, each of the three constitutional peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided into the two categories of citizens:
- the first category stands for citizens living in a territory where their people is in majority and where they are constitutive pursuant to the Entity Constitution,
- the second category stands for citizens living in an entity where their people is not in majority and is not constitutional, pursuant to the Constitution, thus making minority in that entity.

Thus therefore, Bosniaks and Croats in the Republic of Srpska, present minority, because they are not constitutional, according to the Entity Constitution.
It is the same case with the Serbs living in the territory of the BH Federation. This kind of citizens, in both entities, has the same position. Namely, both of them (Serbs in the BH F and Bosniaks and Croats in the RS) are deprived of a number of their constitutional rights. It can be seen in limited or full being deprived of possibility to realise individual rights. There are many examples, from citizens' voting rights (right to vote and to be elected) to the right to official language or official alphabet, to the flag emblem and to other state symbols in both entities (all of them have exclusively national characteristics but only characteristics belonging to the people that is peoples that are constitutional in a given entity).

This situation negatively affects the process of return of refugees and displaced persons to their pre-war homes because these ones who want to return mainly belong to the people which is not constitutional in the given territory. The situation is the same in both entities. It is hard to believe that the people would return to places in which they are second category citizens, according to the Constitution, and in which such position reduces the possibility to find a job (as a main precondition for normal life) to zero.

The only way to overcome such situation is to correct the entity's constitutional solutions as for the constitution of the peoples in a given entity, thus creating preconditions for annulment of artificially created minority category.

Namely, it is necessary to make correction in the Constitution in both entities so that all the three peoples be constitutional in both entities. This would create preconditions for the implementation of the Annex 7 to the Dayton Peace Agreement, according to which all refugees and displaced persons have right to return to their homes from which they had been expelled during the war, have right to return their property which had been taken away from them during the war and the right for compensation for the property which can not be given back.


The following materials were used for making this report:

1. “ Position of minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with special emphasise on the state and problems of members of Roma“, Forum of Citizens in Tuzla and the Center for Protection of Minorities- Rights – Sarajevo;

2. “Position of citizens and peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, Prof. Dr Slavo Kukię;

3. “Handbook on Rights of Minorities”, Center for Protection of Minorities' Rights and Circle 99 - Sarajevo;

4. Bulletins of the Center for Protection of Minorities' Rights – Sarajevo;

5. Report of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina;