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Blatant discrimination in Bosnia and Herzogovina challenged at European Court

17 June 2009

John Thompson, who is interning with MRG’s Legal Cases Programme, visits the European Court of Human Rights to observe a landmark case.

Today, I attended the hearing of Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina (no. 27996/06 and 34836/06) before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).  It was an incredible experience to see the Grand Chamber in action.  Mr. Finci and Mr. Sejdić are Jewish and Roma respectively, and, under the current constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the applicants do not have the right to stand for political office in some of the highest positions in the country.  These positions are reserved for Bosniak, Croat, and Serb ethnic groups under the power-sharing agreement of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords.

The international community has unanimously spoken and condemned it as systematically discriminatory.  One thing that strikes me about the case is how incredibly blatant the ethnic/racial discrimination is.  It is hard to imagine how it has persisted for so long.  Even American Vice President Biden recently stated in a speech delivered to the BiH people that the country “requires an electoral process that does not exclude any ethnic group.”

It was a true pleasure to be able to visit the Court.  I am a firm believer in the missions of European institutions and in the need of the entire world community to support them.  However, there seems to be a large disconnect between the European institutions and the citizens of Europe.  Many individuals do not even consider themselves European, and some feel that the EU and the ECtHR are sapping national power and creating a wealthy bureaucracy that contributes little to member state’s prosperity.  I acknowledge that European bodies must address the top down, rubber stamp approach that alienates many citizens, but, at the same time, I ardently believe in the utter necessity to improve and promote these institutions, despite their weaknesses and the cultural and social differences between member states.

Although a Londoner and a Slovak citizen might feel as if they have nothing in common, on the contrary, they face an interconnected future and they depend on one another.  This continent has seen too much bloodshed over the last century, and it is up to the institutions of Europe to promote the ideals of democracy, justice, and dialogue in order to avoid the mistakes of the past.  It was a blessing to visit a Court that is making progress towards a better future for the whole of Europe.

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.