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Kicked out? Football fights discrimination in Bosnia (Part 1)

30 March 2011

Michelle Chan, an intern with MRG’s Legal Cases Programme, wishes the Council of Europe could take ethnic-based politics in Bosnia as seriously as UEFA. See Part 2.

The 2-1 win for Bosnia against Romania on 26 March in the Euro 2012 qualifiers may be the last match Bosnian football fans see unless the Football Federation of Bosnia (NSFBiH) ends their discriminatory presidential system, according to UEFA, football’s governing body in Europe.

Although the NSFBiH’s system of leadership mirrors that of the country’s government, a similar threat to the state system is non-existent. Both systems restrict candidacy for the Presidency to a Serb, Croat and ethnic Muslim – the state’s ‘Constituent Peoples’ – and require that each serve a Presidential term of 18 months on a rotating basis. Bosnia’s national minorities – referred to as ‘Others’ – are therefore excluded, including Roma and Jews, who have lived in Bosnia for centuries, and those who choose not to identify as a Constituent People.

UEFA’s warning to suspend Bosnia from football as from 1 April 2011 for refusing to change this discriminatory practice is a noble move to preserve the sport’s values, including zero-tolerance of racism and the prohibition of discrimination of any kind, as reflected in article 3 of the FIFA Statute.

At the state level, however, the Bosnian parliament faces no such pressures, and has rejected proposals to remove the discriminatory constitutional provisions. This is in spite of a groundbreaking ruling in December 2009 by the European Court of Human Rights secured by MRG in favour of Dervo Sedjic and Jakob Finci, Bosnian citizens of Roma and Jewish ethnicity respectively, who are barred from standing for President or a member of the House of Peoples (part of Bosnia’s Parliament), as a result of their ethnicity/religion.

In April 2010, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly drew attention to the urgent need for constitutional reform in Bosnia through its Resolution 1725 to prevent further discrimination in the October 2010 general elections. Regrettably, no political consensus has been reached on the amendments to date, as the Council’s Committee of Ministers have noted with concern.

But what the Council of Europe has failed to do is take UEFA’s laudable stance of zero-tolerance. It could in theory exercise similar powers to suspend Member States from their rights to representation on the Consultative Assembly (article 8 of the Council’s Statute). Just as the late goal by Edin Dzeko gave Bosnia the win over Romania, maybe UEFA’s threat to suspend Bosnia is the much needed kick to bring about an end to ethnic-based politics in Bosnia.

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