ISSN 2330-717X

Bosnia And Herzegovina: Roma, Jews Face Political Discrimination

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Roma, Jews, and other national minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina remain excluded from participation in national politics 20 years after war began, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Bosnia needs to remove ethnic discrimination against national minorities from its constitution, laws, and public institutions, Human Rights Watch said.

The 62-page report, “Second Class Citizens: Discrimination Against Roma, Jews, and Other National Minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” highlights discrimination against Roma, Jews, and other national minorities in politics and government. Much of this discrimination stems from Bosnia’s 1995 Constitution, which mandates a system of government based on ethnicity and excludes these groups from high political office. The report also shows the wider impact of discrimination on the daily lives of Roma in accessing housing, education, healthcare, and employment.

“Bosnia’s constitution was designed to help end the war” said Benjamin Ward, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But political discrimination against minorities has no place in a modern European country. It’s high time for reform.”

In December 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Sejdic and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina that the country’s constitution discriminates against Roma and Jews, in violation of human rights law. The constitution bars anyone who is not one of the country’s three main ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs – from running for the tripartite national presidency or national house of peoples, one of two parliamentary chambers.

More than two years after the European Court’s decision, Bosnia has yet to revise the constitution or end discrimination against national minorities in the political system, Human Rights Watch said. National elections were held in October 2010 under the old system, and ethnic deadlock prevented formation of a new government for more than a year. The newly formed government has yet to take action.

Similar discrimination exists in local government, with jobs in Bosnia’s two “entities,” Republika Srpska, and the Federation, allocated under their constitutions by ethnicity using the 1991 census. The 1991 census counted fewer than 9,000 Roma, as many Roma at the time identified as “Yugoslav,” although current estimates put the number as high as 100,000. The 1991 census counted approximately 30,000 other national minorities, including 500 Jews.

The European Union and the United States, which helped develop the constitution in 1995 at the end of the wars in the region, have a special obligation to press Bosnia for constitutional changes, Human Rights Watch said. The EU made amending the constitution a condition for EU membership negotiations, but following failed attempts at constitutional reform in 2006 and 2009, the EU and US are no longer actively involved in the reform process.

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