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Minorities Side-lined in Panel to Oversee Change

3 November 2011

The Bosnian parliament’s move on October 13, 2011, to amend the constitution to allow members of minority groups to run for high public office is a positive step, Minority Rights Group International, Human Rights Watch, and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Human Rights Program said today.

The changes would allow Jews, Roma, and other minorities to run for high elected office, which they have been excluded from doing for 15 years. The groups expressed concern, however, that the commission charged with proposing the constitutional amendments itself lacks meaningful minority representation.

“While Parliament has started the process of opening top public offices to all Bosnians, there should be no second-class citizens in the planning process,” said Lucy Claridge, Head of Law at Minority Rights Group International.

Although the Council of National Minorities will be invited to provide input, it would have no voting power on the commission, which consists of delegates from 13 political parties, representing only Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats.

The commission has until November 30, 2011, to present Parliament with the constitutional amendments, as well as the necessary changes in the electoral law.

“It is vital for minority views to be represented on the commission if minority interests are to be protected,” said Sheri Rosenberg, professor and director of the Human Rights and Genocide Clinic at Cardozo Law School.

In December 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Bosnia’s constitution violated the rights of a Bosnian Jew and a Bosnian Roma in barring them from running for high office.

In a ground-breaking case, Jakob Finci, who is Jewish, and Dervo Sejdić, of Roma ethnicity, successfully argued that Bosnia’s constitution, established with international support under the Dayton Peace Agreement, is discriminatory in preventing them from running for the presidency or the upper house of the parliament.

“The move by Parliament to set in motion this long-awaited constitutional reform is to be applauded,” Jakob Finci said. “However this step in the right direction needs to be translated into concrete proposals that will end discrimination and usher in a genuine democracy in Bosnia.”

Bosnia is obliged under the European Convention on Human Rights to abide by the court’s ruling. The reform is also one of the main requirements for the country to attain European Union candidacy status.

“After delays of almost two years, it is crucial to maintain this recent momentum,” said Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “That depends on Brussels and Washington keeping up the pressure.”

The constitution and electoral law currently state that only members of the “Constituent Peoples” – ethnic Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks (Muslims) – are eligible to run 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 run for election to these bodies. This includes minorities who have lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina for centuries.

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  • Professor Sheri Rosenberg, Co-Counsel on the Finci Case & Director, Human Rights Program Cardozo Law School, New York – [email protected]