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Bosnian Jew and Roma win challenge in European Court of Human Rights against bar on running for public office

22 December 2009

The European Court of Human Rights today ruled that Bosnia’s constitution violates the rights of a Bosnian Jew and a Bosnian Roma in barring them from standing for high office.

Minority Rights Group International, which assisted one of the applicants to bring the case, welcomes the Court’s judgement in Finci and Sejdić v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, the first under the new Protocol 12 on anti-discrimination.

In a ground-breaking case, Jakob Finci, a Jew, and Dervo Sejdić, of Roma ethnicity, argued that Bosnia’s constitution, established under the Dayton Peace Agreement, is discriminatory in preventing them from running for the Presidency or the upper house of the Parliament.

The Constitution and electoral law currently state that only members of the “Constituent Peoples” – ethnic Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks (Muslims) – are eligible to stand for election to either the three-member Presidency or the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly. Those who are not “Constituent Peoples” – defined in the Constitution as “Others” – are denied the right to stand for election to these bodies. This includes national minorities who have lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina for centuries.

“By forbidding whole communities the right to participate fully in the country’s political process, Bosnia’s constitution and electoral law violate fundamental human rights standards,” comments Lucy Claridge, MRG’s Head of Law. “The European Court of Human Rights acknowledges this fact today.”

The is the first time that the Court has found a violation under European Convention’s Protocol No. 12, which generally prohibits discrimination. The Court also found a violation of article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, taken in conjunction with article 3 of protocol No 1, which protects free elections to the legislature.

“The Court’s ruling is a major step forward in Europe’s struggle against discrimination and ethnic conflict,” said Sheri P. Rosenberg, co-counsel for Finci and a professor and director of the Human Rights Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “This decision affirms that exclusion based on ethnicity should have no role in a democracy.”

The applicants, Mr. Sejdić and Mr. Finci are both prominent public figures. Mr. Sejdić is now the Roma Rights Coordinator for the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, having previously served as Coordinator of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Council for Roma (the highest representative body of the Roma Community in the state) and as a member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers’ Roma Council. Mr. Finci, who was assisted in the case by MRG, is now serving as Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Switzerland, having previously held positions that included being Chair of the Constitutional Commission and the Head of the Civil Service Agency.

The Court’s decision is binding on the Bosnian government and is likely to require a constitutional change granting equal rights to political participation for members of smaller minorities. “The Court’s ruling should have a far-reaching effect in Bosnia and Herzegovina and will provide the basis for further strategic litigation in support of the rights of minorities in Europe.” Claridge says.

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, have been instrumental in bringing this case before the European Court of Human Rights. Mr. Finci has been represented by Clive Baldwin and Sheri P. Rosenberg.
  • For further information, or to arrange interviews with MRG’s legal experts, please contact the MRG Press Office:
    ph. + 44 207 422 4205
    mob. + 44 7870 596863
    email. [email protected]