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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bosniak barred from running for Presidency

21 November 2016

Pilav v Bosnia and Herzegovina

MRG, in conjunction with Human Rights Watch and Cardozo Law School (with pro bono assistance from lawyers at US firm Chadbourne & Parke) submitted a third party intervention in this case concerning a Bosniak in the Republika Srpska (RS) who is prevented from standing for election for the Presidency by nature of his ethnicity (only Serbs in RS can stand for election).

The case raises several critical issues in relation to permissible restrictions of rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights, especially when minority groups are involved.  One of the key legal issues concerns the degree to which the right to run for the Presidency, and consequently to be freely elected, can be limited without constituting a case of discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity.  A further issue is whether the principles set out in Case of Sejdic & Finci v Bosnia and Herzegovina should be applied to the different, but related, situation in this case.  The case therefore complements and furthers work already conducted under the programme in relation to Finci and also MRG’s Bosnia programme.

In June 2016, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina violates the rights of a minority returnee in barring him from running for the Presidency. The judgment is a major step forward in Europe’s struggle against discrimination by establishing that ethnicity-based restrictions to stand for election have no role in a democratic society even when they are only applied to a specific geographical area within a country.

Key documents:

Photo: Srebrenica war surgeon Dr Ilijaz Pilav. Photo credit: IWPR