(Budapest) – United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton should emphasize the importance of improving human rights records in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia and Kosovo during their Western Balkan tour, Human Rights Watch said today. The visits are scheduled from October 30 to November 2, 2012.


Clinton and Ashton will visit Serbia and Kosovo to push for implementation of the Integrated Border Management agreement they reached in December 2011 in EU-mediated talks. During their visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Clinton and Ashton will express support for a single, united, and sovereign Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

ldquo;Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton should send a clear signal to the Balkans that human rights progress remains a key element for upgraded relations with Washington and the EU,” said Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “That means putting an end to political discrimination in Bosnia and Herzegovina; securing the rights of Roma and other minorities in Bosnia and Kosovo and Serbia; and protecting media freedom across the region.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Kosovo have made little progress on human rights in 2012, Human Rights Watch said. Roma experience persistent discrimination across the region. The Bosnian government has yet to carry out constitutional reforms to end discrimination against Roma, Jews, and other national minorities in standing for public office, despite a binding ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in 2009. 

Media freedom remains under threat in Kosovo and Serbia, with journalists experiencing threats and violence. Kosovo also still has a lot to do to improve the situation for Roma forcibly returned from Western Europe despite the adoption of two national strategies designed to address their integration, Human Rights Watch said. 

Like previous visits by Clinton and Ashton, this trip is expected to focus largely on political and security issues.  Clinton last visited the Western Balkans in October 2010, when she urged Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, to start talks with Serbia despite the political crisis at the time over the Kosovo president’s resignation. 

During Ashton’s visit to the Western Balkans in February 2010, she stressed the importance of Bosnia’s move toward the EU, Serbia’s next steps toward EU membership, and Kosovo’s fight against corruption and organized crime and progress in strengthening of the rule of law. Ashton visited Kosovo in May 2011, focusing on the future of Kosovo as part of the EU and issues of visa liberalization, trade, the role of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), and the need to promote dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.

ldquo;It should be self-evident that peace and security in the Western Balkans will not be secured without respect for human rights and the rule of law,” Gall said. “It’s crucial for the EU and the US to press Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Pristina to live up to their human rights obligations as well as their political ones.”