Bosnia and Herzegovina Human Rights - History

Bosnia and Herzegovina Human Rights - History

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The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but governmental respect for this right remained poor during the year. Intimidation, harassment, and threats against journalists and media outlets continued with the same intensity as in prior years, while the majority of media coverage was dominated by ethnic and political bias, often encouraging intolerance. Absence of transparency in media ownership remained a problem. In the RS, authorities did not implement a law enacted in 2015 restricting internet speech critical of officials and other individuals.

Freedom of Expression: The country’s law provides for freedom of expression, but irregular implementation and application of the law often undermined press freedoms. The law prohibits expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance, including “hate speech,” but authorities did not enforce these restrictions.

According to BiH Journalists’ Association data covering 2006 to 2015, authorities prosecuted approximately 25 percent of reported criminal acts committed against journalists and investigated more than a third of all cases alleging violation of journalists’ rights. Under pressure from professional organizations to address criminal acts against journalists, the Council of Ministers in February adopted an action plan to protect the rights of journalists and media professionals. The BiH Journalists’ Association subsequently noted increased readiness on the part of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices to address alleged violations of press freedom.

Independent analysts noted the continued tendency of politicians and other leaders to label unwanted criticism as hate speech or treason and to discriminate against media outlets perceived as hostile in their coverage. In one example, in January the Office of the RS President refused to issue credentials to an N1 television crew. Following criticism from the BiH Journalists’ Association, the BiH ombudsman, and the Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA), authorities issued credentials to both N1 and BNTV, a recognized pro-opposition media outlet based in Bijeljina. As of July, the CRA registered one complaint alleging hate speech in the media, although the complaint was later rejected. As of August, the self-regulatory BiH Press Council received 113 complaints related to hate speech and determined that there were 55 cases of incitement and speech spreading hate. Almost all reported instances of hate speech occurred in online media.

Press and Media Freedom: The law prohibiting expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance applies to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals but was not enforced. In addition, the BiH constitution, the constitutions of the entities, and the Statute of the Brcko District guarantee freedom of expression; implementation and enforcement of these legal protections remained sporadic. While the country has decriminalized defamation, a large number of cases continued to be brought against journalists, often resulting in extremely high financial fines. Laws delegate responsibility for safeguarding freedom of the press in most instances to the cantons in the Federation and to the entity-level authorities in the RS. While numerous outlets continued to express a wide variety of views, coverage diverged along political and ethnic lines, and media outlets remained subject to excessive influence from government, political parties, and private interest groups. A number of independent media outlets continued to encounter financial problems that endangered their operations.

Authorities continued to exert pressure on media outlets to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over the major information outlets narrowed the range of opinions represented in both entities. Public broadcasters remained under strong pressure from government and political forces due to a lack of long-term financial stability and their dependence on politically controlled funding sources. These factors limited their independence and resulted in news that was consistently subjective and politically biased.

The main public broadcasters--Radio and Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT), Radio and Television of the Republika Srpska (RTRS), and Federation Radio and Television (FTV)--faced continued financial instability due to the loss of dedicated tax revenue. The nationwide public broadcaster BHRT, whose content was considered to be politically neutral, remained on the verge of financial collapse. Institutional instability within the governing structures of FTV also remained unresolved, leaving the Federation’s public broadcaster open to political pressure. FTV continued to demonstrate political bias. The RS government continued directly to control RTRS, using it for promotion of the RS political establishment and to undercut political opposition. After monitoring the public broadcasters’ news programs, the CRA found that RTRS reporting on RS authorities never included criticism. On July 17, the CRA fined the RTRS 29,000 marks ($17,700) for violating provisions requiring fairness and impartiality.

Entity governments and institutions further undercut the independence of their respective broadcasters by excluding the CRA from the process of appointing governing boards for the broadcasters. The various authorities remained subject to competing political interests and failed to establish a public broadcasting service corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as provided by law.

Violence and Harassment: Intimidation and threats against journalists continued during the year. There were instances of intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities. As of July the Free Media Help Line recorded 338 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms or pressure from government and law enforcement officials. Authorities registered five death threats against journalists during the year.

After publishing a story on June 29 about a boy crying and begging for food at an iftar meal during Ramadan in the RS village of Konjevic Polje, news director Amir Zukic and journalist Adisa Imamovic from CNN-affiliate N1 were subject to serious threats posted on the Facebook page N1 filed a criminal complaint against, accusing the website of jeopardizing the safety of its journalists by publishing threatening commentary that incited religious and national hatred. Despite the complaint, the threats continued, and legal proceedings over the criminal complaint were ongoing at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Multiple political parties and entity-level institutions attempted to influence editorial policies and media content through legal and financial measures. As a result, some media outlets practiced self-censorship.

In some instances, media sources reported that officials threatened outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. Prevailing practices reflected close connections between major advertisers and political circles and allowed for biased distribution of advertising time. Public companies, most of which were under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining advertising.


The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law prohibits expression of racial, ethnic, or other intolerance, which includes hate speech. Authorities, however, did not enforce these prohibitions for online media.

While access to the internet is not explicitly listed as a legal right, constitutional and legal protections have been interpreted to also apply to the internet. In the RS, the law declares that internet-based social networks are part of the public domain and provides fines for “insulting or disturbing” content, not clearly defined, published on the internet. Independent analysts considered this provision as an attempt to control online activism and social media, noting that the law broadens police authority. RS authorities have not implemented the law, having initially met strong negative reaction from journalists, NGOs, opposition political parties, and the international community. In 2016 the RS Constitutional Court rejected as unfounded an appeal submitted jointly by Transparency International, the BiH Journalists’ Association, and the Banja Luka Club of Journalists that challenged the legality and constitutionality of the law.

Many news portals were not registered and did not list any contact information, making it difficult to respond against them. The vast majority of registered hate speech cases in the country occurred online.

According to the International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately 69 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.


Following municipal elections in October 2016, the cantonal governments in Tuzla and Sarajevo passed laws that could restrict the independence and academic freedom of universities within their jurisdiction by giving elected municipal authorities the right to hire and fire university personnel, including academics, at their discretion. The new laws reflected a trend towards increased ethno-politicized influence in the administration of universities, with effects ranging from greater corruption in higher education to ethnic and political bias in the university environment.

The country’s eight public universities remained segregated along ethnic lines, including their curricula, diplomas, and relevant school activities. Professors reportedly on occasion used prejudicial language in their lectures, while the selection of textbooks and school materials reinforced discrimination and prejudice.


The Chamber expressly recognized the continuing pain and suffering of the relatives, concluding that the Republika Srpska had done "almost nothing to clarify the fate and whereabouts of the presumed victims of the Srebrenica events, or to take other action to relieve the suffering of their surviving family members, or to contribute to the process of reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina." It further noted that the violations "reflect a total indifference by the authorities of the Republika Srpska to the suffering of the Bosniak community".

In this case, brought by 49 immediate relatives of the "disappeared", the Chamber ordered the Republika Srpska to disclose immediately all information relevant to establishing the fate and whereabouts of their relatives and on the location of mass graves containing the bodies of Srebrenica victims. Furthermore, the Republika Srpska was ordered to conduct an investigation into the events at Srebrenica and to publish its findings by the beginning of September this year.

The Republika Srpska was also ordered to pay compensation for the collective benefit of all applicants and families of Srebrenica victims, in the form of a lump sum of 2 million Konvertible Marks (approximately 1million Euros) to the Foundation of the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery (where the first burials of Srebrenica victims will take place on 31 March 2003). They must then make four additional payments of 500,000 KM each in the next four years to the same Foundation.

"We hope that this decision will accelerate the long quest for justice for the victims of Srebrenica and their relatives, and that the investigation required by the Chamber will lay the foundation for the prosecution of those who committed the massive human rights violations in the former safe area," Amnesty International said.

In a report, published two days ago, the organization called on the authorities on all levels in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as the international community, to take immediate steps to tackle the pervading impunity for "disappearances".

However, the organization notes that the Chamber also decided it could not make a finding of violations of the human rights of the "disappeared" themselves as these were outside its jurisdiction ratione temporis - in view of the fact that the violations happened before the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement on 14 December 1995.

Under international law "disappearances" are continuing crimes as long as the fate and whereabouts of the victims has not been ascertained or the perpetrators brought to justice. As such, the rights of the "disappeared" themselves continue to be violated.

"It is imperative that redress to victims and relatives will be provided through the domestic justice system in order to heal the lasting trauma and division in society caused by these continuing crimes," the organization said. "The suffering of those left behind in the wake of these violations has been ignored for too long."

The Human Rights Chamber of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a domestic court which includes both national and international jurists, was set up under the Dayton Peace Agreement to examine cases of violations of the rights enshrined in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and other international human rights standards. It is empowered to issue decisions binding upon the authorities of the entities and the state government.

The 49 relatives of missing persons from Srebrenica filed applications with the Chamber between November 2001 and March 2002. The Chamber found that the Republika Srpska had violated their rights to private and family life and their right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment (Articles 8 and 3 of the ECHR), and that they had been subjected to discrimination on account of their Bosniak origin.

Over 7,000 boys and men of Bosniak origin are estimated to have been killed in the aftermath of the fall of Srebrenica to the Bosnian Serb Army. However, the continually increasing number of human remains being recovered from mass graves in the area indicates that the total number of victims may be as high as 10,000.

Conservative estimates suggest that some 17,000 persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina are still recorded as missing. Many of these people "disappeared" after last having been seen in the hands of the armed forces, police or paramilitary groups. Since the outbreak of war in the former Yugoslavia, Amnesty International has campaigned for the resolution of all cases of "disappearances", and for all those responsible to be brought to justice in accordance with international standards.

Mending Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina

There is a long history of the violation of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most violations were carried out through a process called “ethnic cleansing,” which is the killing, mockery and banishment of unwanted minorities. In this conflict, the Bosnian Muslims made up the majority of Serbians in this region and they wanted to rid the country of all Non-Serbians. The violations of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina were mass atrocities. The country has never fully amended or reckoned with human rights violations and this fact creates problems in the country even today.

The country’s government is still highly decentralized and distressed by ongoing internal ethnic conflicts. The Dayton Accords ended the war, splitting the territories and creating a democratic republic with a bicameral parliament. Those who suffer most from violations of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina are the victims of civil war, refugees, national minorities and the LGBTQ community. Little support from the country or government is being given to help these victims fight human rights violations.

There are a few non-governmental organizations that have been successful in assisting those who are fighting abuses. An organization, called the Human Rights Centre of the University of Sarajevo, has been providing the universities in Bosnia and Herzegovina with tools for education that can work towards achieving international implementation of human rights. It promotes vital documentation, lectures, expert advice and research in order to work toward the international implementation goal.

The Post-Conflict Research Center has dedicated its time to preserving and revamping the culture of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It works towards preventing violence and radical movements through research, peace education, transitional justice and respecting human rights. It has an ultimate goal of changing the country’s view on diversity from a source of conflict to a source of acceptance and community.

Another NGO called the Sarajevo Open Centre directly advocates for the LGBTQ community. It works to empower people, especially those facing the most abuse, through integration into the community and activism.
One other organization called the Association for Democratic Initiatives focuses on restoring the rule of law, European Union integrations and the protection of human rights. This organization has been trying to render the support of the government in fighting human rights violations. This organization is important for building a society of peace because without government support and aid this proves challenging.

There remains a long way to go in order to fully mend the violations of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina from the past, as well as the ones that continue to occur due to those in the past. These non-governmental organizations have been the country’s best hope for working towards respecting the human rights of all people.

C Functioning of Government

Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2.00 2 4.00 4

Government formation and policy implementation are seriously impeded by the country’s complex system of ethnic representation. Under the Dayton Accords, representatives from each of the three major ethnic groups, at both the state and entity levels, may exercise a veto on legislation deemed harmful to their interests. The 14-month delay in the formation of the state-level government after the 2018 elections, and the ongoing deadlock in the Federation and some cantons at year’s end in 2019, underscored the severity of the problem.

The state government is also undercut by movements within each of BiH’s entities for greater autonomy. In the RS, the hard-line SNSD government has deepened its security ties with Russia. Evidence emerged in 2018 that Dodik had hosted Russian-trained paramilitaries from Serbia—who were said to be establishing a paramilitary unit within the RS—in the entity’s presidential palace. Follow-up reports found a sharp increase in the RS government’s procurement of arms, which the OHR characterized as a push to militarize the entity’s police force. In April 2019, Dodik announced plans to form an auxiliary police force in the RS. The move triggered a cascade of similar efforts by individual cantonal governments in the Federation, and by the Federation government itself. After international mediation, Dodik opted instead to form a gendarmerie unit in September.

Corruption remains widespread and systemic, and legislation designed to combat the problem is poorly enforced. When corruption probes are actually opened, they rarely result in convictions. In 2017, Transparency International BiH said it had noted a significant decline in the efficiency of corruption adjudication in the country over the last eight years. The relatively few cases filed in 2019 focused mostly on low-level officials and minor offenses. One major scandal during the year involved a video recording that allegedly implicated the president of BiH’s High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) in bribe taking the council’s disciplinary commission, in which HJPC members review the conduct of fellow members, dropped the complaint in June.

Government operations remain largely inaccessible to the public. Procurement awards are often made in secret and, according to a 2017 report published by Mediacentar Sarajevo, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), most public institutions do not comply with BiH’s legal requirements related to freedom of information. Candidates for major offices are obliged to make financial disclosures, but the relevant laws do not meet international standards, and the resulting disclosures are considered unreliable. Debate and decisions on matters of great public interest, including legislation and subjects pertaining to European Union accession, routinely occur during interparty negotiations that take place behind closed doors, outside of government institutions.

Political process

In 1990 the League of Communists of Yugoslavia fragmented, and multiparty elections were held in each of the country’s six constituent republics. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the national parties—the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (Stranka Demokratske Akcije SDA), the Serb Democratic Party (Srpska Demokratska Stranka SDS), and the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica HDZ)—formed a tacit electoral coalition. The three swept the elections for the bicameral parliament and for the seven-member multiethnic presidency, which had been established by constitutional amendment “to allay fears that any one ethnic group would become politically dominant.” They attempted to form a multiparty leadership, but their political and territorial ambitions (and those of their powerful patrons in Zagreb [Croatia] and Belgrade [Serbia]) were incompatible. The parliament failed to pass a single law, and war was stoked by neighbouring nationalists in the spring of 1992. Following the establishment of peace in 1995, the nationalist SDS, HDZ, and SDA continued to win voter support, although other parties that shared nationalist agendas, such as the Serb Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (Stranka Nezavisnih Socijaldemokrata SNSD) and the Bosniak Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (Stranka za Bosnu i Hercegovinu SBiH), gained prominence as well. The institutionalization of ethnicity in the political system has put parties with less ethnocentric agendas, such as the Social Democratic Party (Socijaldemokratska Partija SDP), at a disadvantage, though the SDP, too, has gained seats in the parliament and the tripartite presidency.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s human rights NGO sector submits its UPR report

The Human Rights House of Sarajevo, on behalf of the Informal Coalition of Non-governmental Organizations for UPR of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has submitted its joint NGO Report for UPR to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. The Report represents the official standpoint of the NGO sector on the implementation of UN human rights standards in B&H.

The Informal NGO Coalition for UPR, facilitated by the Human Rights House of Sarajevo, was established in March 2009 by more than 30 non-governmental organizations. After several meetings with the authorities, the non-governmental sector and the media, the members of the coalition have conducted a joint NGO Report for UPR. The report is the NGO sector’s contribution to a more objective presentation of the human rights situation in B&H. Stated human rights issues in the Report and given recommendations to authorities, aim to strengthen civil society and improve the human rights situation in the country.

The joint NGO Report for UPR focused on thirteen different issues:

So far, the Human Rights House of Sarajevo has implemented a set of activities which included active involvement of human rights activists and experts, as well as the non-governmental sector throughout the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the UPR process.

The Human Rights House of Sarajevo has formed an informal coalition of non-governmental organizations for the UPR process, held a series of meetings with the NGOs who decided to take part in the creation of the joint UPR report, and also held several national consultation meetings with the Ministry of Human Rights of B&H. The Human Rights House of Sarajevo also organized a UPR seminar for journalists and a press conference, and had a broad public debate with the NGO sector in B&H on the draft of the joint report. The debate was visited by more than 50 representatives of non-governmental organizations from throughout B&H.

One of the next activities of the Human Rights House of Sarajevo in the UPR process is a continuous monitoring of the work of B&H authorities, especially regarding the recommendations made to the B&H Government that the B&H Government accepts, on its up coming UPR hearing in February 2010.

The Human Rights House of Sarajevo expresses its gratitude to Embassy of Switzerland in Sarajevo, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Human Rights House Foundation and the Human Rights House Network for providing financial, technical / editorial and moral support in the implementation of the project “UPR – Occasion to Strenghten Civil Society and Improve Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

  • Svetozar Pudarić (of Serb origin) submitted his candidacy for the 2018 Presidential elections. His application was rejected by the Central Election Commission on the basis of his residency in the Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina entity. :
    • ECHR recognised this is a violation of the Article 1 of Protocol No. 12.

    The header image is owned by CherryX and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 .

    Correction: Protocol 1 was mistaken for the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, mistakenly identifying Article 3 as "Prohibition of Torture" instead of "Right to free elections". I want to thank Davide Denti for the correction.


    UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina promotes gender equality among girls and boys, from their birth to adolescence, through public advocacy, and awareness-raising activities that are, in most cases, more likely to affect girls, but can also affect boys.

    The promotion of the idea of gender equality is represented in all program areas of UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina. UNICEF also implements targeted activities aimed at raising awareness, protecting and supporting the realization of the rights of girls and women, such as preventing early marriage and improving their education through the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, especially in the areas of information technology, engineering, mathematics and natural sciences.

    UNICEF continuously monitors gender equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina and assesses progress in implementing the Gender Equality Act, Gender Action Plan and CEDAW recommendations for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Systematically, the equal participation of women and girls in the development and implementation of the program is promoted, and activities in this area will be enhanced in the coming period.

    Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

    A number of international humanitarian groups have provided aid to help the country recover from the civil war. One of the largest of these groups is the International Committee of the Red Cross, which, in addition to providing aid and aid workers, investigated Serbian violations of the Geneva Conventions during the war. Other active groups include Christian Relief, World Vision, the International

    Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina

    The basis for the work and functioning of BiH Ombudsmen are enshrined by Annexes IV and VI of the General Framework Agreement on Peace for Bosnia and Herzegovina concluded on 14 December 1995 and, based on mentioned documents, the institution has started to function in 1996.

    According to Annex VI of the General Framework Agreement on Peace for Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH Ombudsman and Human Rights Chamber constituted BiH Human Rights Commission which considered that democracy and human rights were factors for development of society, preconditions for establishment of structures and mechanisms of the State, leading to international integration. Currently, BiH Ombudsman functions on the basis of BiH Constitution and the Law on the Ombudsman which guaranties independency and infrastructural framework for protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

    First Law on BiH Ombudsman was adopted in 2000. New Law was adopted in 2002 and then amended in 2004 and 2006. The Law defines powers and competencies of the Ombudsman. Rules of procedure in following up of the work of organs and institutions according to allegations contained in a complaint and ex officio, including other important issues related to functioning of this national human rights mechanism for protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

    Watch the video: Our SHOCKING 24 Hours In Bosnia and Herzegovina