Ethnic discrimination in Bosnia still constitutionally legal

ethnic discrimination in bosnia
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Laws permitting ethnic discrimination in Bosnia and Herzegovina are still in place despite international condemnation.

Human Rights Watch, the international rights advocacy NGO, notes that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s official constitution includes provisions defining 17 national ethnic minorities as ‘others’, who are legally prohibited from standing for the presidency of Bosnia or its upper house of parliament. The constitution was drafted by experts representing Europe and the USA under the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, following the conclusion of the Bosnian War; and explicitly privileges the rights of ‘constituent’ communities – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – over those of minority groups, including Jews and Roma. This means Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only country in the world whose constitution enshrines discrimination by defining groups of its own citizens as ‘others’.

In a legal case jointly brought by a Bosnian Roma and a Bosnian Jew in 2009, the European Court ruled that the constitution of Bosnia was unlawfully discriminatory against the ‘other’ minorities in preventing them from participating equally in the democratic process. Human Rights Watch highlights the fact that 10 years have now passed since the court’s ruling; but to date no action has been taken to amend the constitution – a similar case was successfully brought in 2016 by a Bosnian-Albanian man, but again no action followed.

Human Rights Watch is calling on the EU and its institutions to exert pressure on the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to amend the constitution. Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch, said: “It’s outrageous that a European country has had a constitution that has been discriminating against its own citizens for 24 years. Bosnian authorities should stop prioritising the main ethnic groups’ interests over equal rights for all citizens and amend the discriminatory constitution. European states and the US helped draft this constitution that makes thousands of Bosnians second class citizens: those same states should therefore help end this discrimination.”

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