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Bosnian election system discriminatory and must be changed – MRG

1 October 2010

As voters in Bosnia and Herzegovina get ready to go to the polls on Sunday, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) warns that the election process is discriminatory and calls on the country to comply with the recent European Court of Human Rights ruling ordering the system to be changed.

On the eve of the election, the human rights NGO says that once again smaller minorities in the country such as Jews and Roma have been excluded from standing for high office in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In December 2009 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the country’s current constitution violates the European Convention on Human Rights when it excludes Jewish and Roma people from standing for either the three-member Presidency or the House of Peoples, the upper house of the Bosnian Parliament. The Court ordered the abolition of discriminatory restrictions against the Jewish and Roma people.

The case was brought to the Court by Dervo Sejdic, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina with Roma ethnicity and Jakob Finci, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina with Jewish ethnicity.

‘It is unacceptable that Jews and the Roma in Bosnia should be barred from high office just because of their ethnicity,’ says Mark Lattimer, Executive Director of MRG. ‘Such blatant racial discrimination should have no place in Europe in the 21st century,’ he adds.

Although there was enough time for Bosnia and Herzegovina to amend its legislation before the elections, political consensus was not reached. Despite the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the urgent need for constitutional reform, the Bosnian parliament rejected proposals to remove the discriminatory constitutional provisions.

‘The time is ripe for Bosnia to take immediate steps to build and reach consensus on how to amend its constitution and electoral laws,’ says Lucy Claridge, MRG’s Head of Law. ‘A country on the doorstep of EU accession must allow all citizens full participation in the political process, irrespective of race or ethnicity.’

Bosnia’s constitution, established under the Dayton Peace Agreement, allows only the members of the Constituent Peoples – ethnic Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims) – to stand for election to either the three-member Presidency or the House of Peoples. Non-constituent peoples – defined in the Constitution as ‘Others’ – can only stand for election to the lower house, being denied their right to full participation in the political process.

The tripartite Presidency, as well as positions in the upper house, are equally distributed among the three Constituent Peoples, among Bosniaks and Croats from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbs from Republika Srpska. Although the case did not specifically address this issue, Croats and Bosniaks in the Republika Srpska and Serbs in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are also excluded from standing for office.

A comprehensive legislative change is therefore necessary to ensure democratic elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Legal proposals submitted to the Council of Europe include a single President structure and the wholesale reform of the upper house, the veto chamber of the Parliament.

MRG believes that it is crucial to protect the rights of all communities in Bosnia, to avoid the possibility of renewed conflict and ensure reconciliation among the people of the country.

Notes to editors

  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • MRG’s legal team, together with the Human Rights Clinic of the Cardozo Law School, were instrumental in bringing this case before the European Court of Human Rights. Read the briefing paper on the case here.

For further information, or to arrange interviews please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].