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Voters go to polls on Sunday in Bosnia and Herzegovina despite serious election system flaws

10 October 2014

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is preparing for a national election which will violate international standards, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) warns two days before the poll takes place. The international human rights organization says the country will perpetuate a political system that excludes ethnic and religious minorities from office, despite two European Court rulings and the suspension of EU funds.

“It is totally unacceptable for a country to forbid whole communities from running for office,” says Lucy Claridge, MRG’s Head of Law. “Bosnia and Herzegovina aims for a European Union membership but will not get full support until it amends its discriminatory election laws.”

In accordance with the Bosnian Constitution, established under the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995, only those who declare affiliation with the so-called “constituent peoples” (namely, ethnic Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs) are entitled to stand for election to posts at all levels of Parliament. 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.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina has been treating me as a second-class citizen,” says Jakob Finci, a Jewish citizen of BiH who brought the 2009 case to the Court. “The government of this country has denied my right to political participation for more than 18 years now.”

In its decision concerning Sejdic and Finci vs Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2009 the European Court of Human Rights established 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 reaffirmed that it is unacceptable to grant special rights to particular ethnic groups in the 2014 judgment of Zornić vs Bosnia and Herzegovina, a case of a citizen who was ineligible to stand for election because she refused to declare affiliation to any particular ethnic group but declared herself as a citizen of BiH.

The Bosnian government has continued to fail to take the necessary steps to bring its Constitution and election law in line with the Sejdic and Finci judgment. Bosnian political leaders repeatedly missed the deadlines set by the Council of Europe and the deadlines agreed with the European Commission. As a result, the European Union suspended more than half of the pre-accession grant funds in 2013 for that year.

MRG, together with the Human Rights Clinic of the Cardozo Law School, were instrumental in bringing the Sejdic and Finci case before the European Court of Human Rights. After the judgment, MRG has made four submissions to the Council of Europe requiring its implementation by the BiH authorities.

MRG reiterates that any constitutional or electoral reform adopted without effective participation of and due consultation with the minority communities currently discriminated against would be contrary to both the spirit of the judgment, and international and regional standards of minority rights protection.

“Any system designed to ensure that one or more of the Presidency members are reserved to a particular Constituent People – one of the solutions currently on the table – would represent continuing discrimination against ‘Others’,” says Claridge.

Notes to editors

  • There have been some insufficient negotiations on the redesigning of the Constitution. On 1 October 2013, the leaders of Bosnia’s main political parties agreed with the European Commission to take forward the implementation of the Court judgment and signed a declaration, which says that the Bosnian Presidency should consist of three directly elected members, two from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) according to the model to be agreed and one from Republika Srpska (RS). Whilst such a solution would remove the discrimination of ‘Others’, in fact, it is likely to secure one seat for the Serbs and at least one seat for the Bosniaks in the Presidency. Furthermore, Bosniaks and Croats from RS as well as Serbs from FBiH would continue to have no realistic possibility to elect a candidate of their preference.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

For further information, or to arrange interviews please contact

Bernadett Sebály
M: +36 70 217 2601
T: +36 1 327 7032
E: [email protected]