Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ethnic and Religious Discrimination in the Political System

The majority of Human Rights Watch’s concerns with respect to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) are summarized in the 2015 World Report chapter on BiH:

The government of BiH has repeatedly failed to take necessary steps to bring its constitution and electoral law in compliance with the 2009 European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling on Sejdic and Finci v Bosnia and Herzegovina[1] and remove ethnic discrimination for representation in the institutions of BiH for persons who do not belong to one of the three “constituent peoples” (Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Serbs).

As described in the April 2012 Human Rights Watch report “Second Class Citizens”, the constitutions of the Federation and Republika Srpska mandate ethnic quotas for employment in public institutions. These quotas are currently still based on population estimates from the 1991 census. The 1991 census undercounted Roma and other national minorities, with the result that they are disproportionately excluded from civil service positions.

The October 2013 census that aimed to address the grossly inaccurate population data could be a positive development. Preliminary results of the census from November 2013 indicated a population decrease. Final results will not be available until the end of 2015.[2]

The European Union should call on the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to:

  • Without delay amend all necessary legislation to end discrimination in the political system, so it is fully compliant with the European Court of Human Rights judgment in Sejdic and Finci v Bosnia and Herzegovina;
  • Amend the laws on national elections to ensure that Roma, Jews, and other national minorities can run for national and local public office on an equal basis with all other BiH citizens.

 

War Crimes Accountability

Implementation by the Bosnian government of the national war crimes strategy, adopted in 2008 to improve domestic war crimes prosecution, remains slow. There continues to be insufficient capacity and funding for prosecutors, particularly at the district and cantonal level. By November 2014, the war crimes chamber of the State Court of BiH had reached verdicts in 33 cases, increasing the total number of completed cases to 250 since the court became fully operational in 2005. During the year, the Republika Srpska entity prime minister repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of State Court and Prosecutor’s Office claiming they are unconstitutional and called for their abolition.

The European Union should call on the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to:

  • Provide the resources and political support necessary to fully implement the national strategy on war crimes, and ensure greater efficiency in war crimes investigations and prosecutions, particularly against higher ranking military and police officials who may bear command responsibility.

Media Freedom

In the first seven months of 2014, the Association of BH Journalists registered 20 cases of attacks or threats on journalists in BiH, including five physical attacks, 14 cases of threats and editorial pressures and one death threat.[3] In 2013, the Association had also registered 20 cases, involving four physical attacks and 16 cases of threats.[4] This was slightly down from the 22 cases registered in 2012 consisting of five physical attacks and 17 cases of threats.[5]

Human Rights Watch’s research indicates a decidedly mixed record with respect to state response to attacks on media professionals, and a climate of fear among journalists. Our wider concerns regarding media freedom in the region are set out in our recently published report “A Difficult Profession: Media Freedom Under Attack in the Western Balkans” available at https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/07/15/difficult-profession/media-freedom-under-attack-western-balkans and also appended to this report.

 

The European Union should call on the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to:

  • Publicly and unequivocally condemn all attacks against journalists and media outlets and ensure swift and thorough investigations into all such incidents;
  • Ensure prompt, effective, impartial, and thorough investigations into all attacks and threats against journalists and media outlets, including cybercrimes, and bring prosecutions as appropriate.

 

Serbia

The majority of Human Rights Watch’s key concerns with respect to Serbia are reflected in the 2015 World Report chapter on Serbia:

Impunity for War Crimes

War crimes prosecutions in Serbia are hampered by a lack of political will, weak witness protection mechanisms, and the apparent protection of senior officials who are implicated in serious crimes.

Since 2003, when the special chamber for war crimes at the Serbian High Court and the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor were established, only 68 people have been convicted for war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo – almost all of them low ranking officers.

With the exception of three mid-ranking officers from the Yugoslav National Army, Yugoslav Army and the police, the Serbian war crimes prosecutor has indicted no senior military or police officials, and no government officials, despite credible allegations against some individuals.

The most problematic unresolved case relates to the organized removal of more than 900 Albanian bodies from Kosovo to Serbia in 1999 and their reburial in mass graves, including on the grounds of a police training center. Some of the people allegedly involved in this crime were named in the 2011 ICTY judgment against Serbian police chief Vlastimir Đorđević but, to date, no one has been indicted.

The European Union should call on The Government of Serbia to:

  • Ensure greater efficiency in war crimes investigations and prosecutions, particularly against higher ranking military and police officials who may bear command responsibility;
  • Ensure an effective investigation into the 1999 transfer of bodies of hundreds of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo to Serbia; investigations should include the persons named in the 2011 ICTY decision against Vlastimir Đorđević, and lead to prosecution of the alleged perpetrators;

 

Treatment of Migrants and Asylum seekers

In November and December 2014, Human Rights Watch documented the situation of asylum seekers and migrants in Serbia, majority of whom were Syrians and Afghans. Those interviewed reported ill-treatment at the hands of Serbian police, including assaults, threats, insults, and extortion; denial of the required special protection for unaccompanied children; and summary returns to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Some families and unaccompanied children told Human Rights Watch that they had been turned away when they tried to register as asylum seekers and were forced to sleep outside during the cold winter months.[6]

The European Union should call on The Government of Serbia to:  

  • Immediately investigate cases of police abuse against asylum seekers and migrants and hold those responsible to account;
  • Issue clear guidance to police officers that they should treat asylum seekers and migrants with respect and in a manner consistent with Serbia’s human rights obligations, and should never summarily return them over the border;
  • Provide unaccompanied children with special attention and care as required by domestic and international law;
  • Ensure that anyone who expresses a wish to apply for asylum should have a meaningful opportunity to register their asylum claim and present their case.

Media Freedom

Human Rights Watch interviewed 28 journalists in Serbia between October 2014 and March 2015 who described physical attacks and threats, including death threats, as a result of reporting on sensitive issues including war crimes and government corruption. State response to attacks and threats against journalists appears to be weak. Serbia amended its Criminal Code in 2013 to include a specific reference in Article 138(3) to endangerment of “persons discharging duties of public importance in the area of public information related to his/her duties.” While this statute has been interpreted as applicable to journalists, it is rarely applied.  The Public Prosecution Office told Human Rights Watch that in 2014 only two investigations into crimes against journalists led to indictments, with one resulting in a conviction, under this statute.

Journalists also face political interference with their work. One example is the case of a renowned TV talk show, hosted by Olja Bećković, on channel B92 that was taken off the air as a result of what Bećković described as political interference involving Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić.

Prime Minister Vučić in January 2015 also publicly criticized the work of renowned independent media outlet Balkan Investigate Reporting Network (BIRN) following their investigation into possible corruption at the state-owned energy company Elektroprivreda Srbije. He was quoted in media as calling BIRN “liars” and saying that “they [BIRN] got the money from Mr. Davenport [head of the EU delegation in Belgrade, Michael Davenport] and the EU to speak against the Serbian government.”

The European Union should call on The Government of Serbia to:

  • Publicly and unequivocally condemn all attacks against journalists and media outlets carried out in retaliation for their work;
  • Conduct prompt, effective, impartial, and thorough investigations into all attacks and threats against journalists and media outlets and bring prosecutions as appropriate;
  • Ensure that politicians and government officials on all levels refrain from abusing civil defamation lawsuits against journalists.

Treatment of Minorities

The Roma minority face widespread discrimination in accessing social services including health care, housing, and education.  Roma often live in informal squalid settlements lacking basic services such as schools, health care, water and proper sewage. Roma in such informal settlements are also vulnerable to forced evictions without offers for adequate alternative accommodation.

The European Union should call on The Government of Serbia to:

  • Ensure procedural safeguards and adequate alternative accommodation in cases of forced evictions of Roma;
  • Ensure that everyone in Serbia, regardless of ethnicity, age, or employment status can access public services, including health care and education;
  • End segregation of Romani children in mainstream schools and ensure that all children are provided education in an inclusive setting.

 

Kosovo

Human Rights Watch’s main concerns with respect to Kosovo are reflected in the 2015 World Report section on Kosovo:

Impunity, Accountability, Access to Justice

Despite progress in recent years, the justice system in Kosovo remains weak, with inadequate security for judges, court staff, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses. This results in few prosecutions for serious crimes, such as organized crime and corruption. The EU Special Investigative Task Force has found sufficient evidence against a number of former senior officials of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to indict them for serious violations of international humanitarian law, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. At this writing the National Assembly has yet to approve the constitutional amendments necessary to establish the special court needed for those indictments to be issued.

The European Union should call on the Government of Kosovo to:

  • Provide full support for the establishment of the special court and ensure that state institutions fully cooperate with it once it is approved by the national assembly

Treatment of Minorities

Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities continued to face problems obtaining personal documents, which hamper their access to health care, social assistance, and education.

The continued failure to implement the 2010 Strategy and Action Plan for the Integration of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities stems from a lack of political will, funds, and cooperation between central and municipal authorities and between government and civil society. A new strategy for reintegrating repatriated persons—including Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians—for 2014-2018 replaced the old 2010 strategy, improving the situation slightly for returnees in 2014. Repatriated persons still face difficulties accessing employment, education, and health services and, as a result, more than 1,200 Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians left Kosovo in 2014, according to Balkan Sunflowers, a local nongovernmental organization.

The European Union should call on the Government of Kosovo to:

  • Allocate necessary funds to implement the strategies for integrating Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians and for reintegrating repatriated persons;
  • Take concrete measures to improve the cooperation between central and municipal authorities and between government and civil society to ensure the effective implementation of abovementioned strategies.

Media Freedom

Attacks and threats against journalists are a persistent feature in Kosovo. While police appear to investigate reports brought to their attention, cases languish with prosecutors and in the courts because of large court case backlogs and the well-documented flaws of the Kosovo judiciary in processing cases in a timely manner. Online threats against journalists appear to be a serious problem.

Journalists continued to face attacks and threats, particularly those reporting on radical Islamist groups. Visar Duriqi, a journalist at the GazetaExpress newspaper who had reported on the activities of such groups, received death threats, including of beheading, when a radical Islamist group accused him of apostasy. Artan Haraqija, a journalist at Indeksonline news site, who worked on a joint report with Duriqi about radical Islamist groups operating in Kosovo, received death threats after he appeared on the KTV show “Rubikon” in September.

The European Union should call on The Government of Kosovo to:

  • Publicly and unequivocally condemn all attacks against journalists and media outlets;

  • Ensure prompt, effective, impartial, and thorough investigations into all attacks and threats against journalists and media outlets, including cybercrimes, and bring prosecutions as appropriate.


[1] Sejdic and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina , Application nos. 27996/06 and 34836/06, Council of Europe: European Court of Human Rights, 22 December 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b44a28a2.html [accessed 23 June 2015]

[2] Balkan Insight, Disputes Delay Publication of Bosnian Census, 9 June 2015, available at: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/political-disputes-delay-publica... [23 June 2015].

[3] Human Rights Watch interview with Borka Rudić, president of the Journalist Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, BiH, July 29, 2014. Statistics on file with Human Rights Watch. Remaining cases involve three civil defamation lawsuits, one labor law dispute, two cases of smearing journalists and one unspecified complaint.

[4] “Registered Cases of Media Freedom and Journalist Rights Violations in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2013,” Journalist Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Free Media Helpline. On file with Human Rights Watch. Remaining cases related to defamation lawsuits, labor disputes, smearing of journalists, legal advice, denying access to information and unspecified complaints.

[5]“Registered Cases of Media Freedom and Journalist Rights Violations in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2012,” Journalist Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Free Media Helpline. On file with Human Rights Watch. Remaining cases similarly involved defamation lawsuits, labor disputes, smearing of journalists and unspecified complaints.

[6] Serbia: Police Abusing Migrants, Asylum Seekers, Human Rights Watch, April 15, 2015, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/15/serbia-police-abusing-migrants-asylu...