Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 07:59 GMT

State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Bosnia and Herzegovina

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Bosnia and Herzegovina, 11 March 2008, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Over the course of 2006 and 2007, international officials have grown increasingly alarmed by the stalling of reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina and a resurgence of nationalist rhetoric among the country's leading politicians. The Bosnian election system, created through the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, systematically strengthens nationalist candidates in a polarizing, vicious cycle because they must only seek votes from largely mono-ethnic electorates. Such was the dynamic again in the October 2006 general elections, and the poisoned atmosphere carried over into 2007. As a result, the three main ethnic groups of Bosnia and Herzegovina – Bosniacs, Croats and Serbs – all feel insecure in parts of the country where they live as minorities.

Bosnians who are not of these ethnic groups, including Roma and Jews, or who are of mixed ethnicity, are categorized as 'Others' under the Dayton structure, a formulation that is inherently marginalizing. In March 2007 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination criticized Bosnia and Herzegovina for failing to reform its constitution to allow minority participation in the parliamentary House of Peoples and the country's presidency. The European Commission noted the same failure in its November 2007 assessment of Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress toward EU membership. In 2007 MRG supported the application of Jakob Finci, a Bosnian Jew denied the opportunity to run for the federal presidency on the basis of his ethnicity, to the European Court of Human Rights. The European Convention on Human Rights is binding, preeminent law in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the case holds the potential to force far-reaching reform.

In 2006 and 2007, the international community continued to push for an overhaul of police structures in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Currently there are 14 police forces in the country, with criminals (sometimes linked to politicians) exploiting the uncoordinated, fractured jurisdictions. Although constitutional court rulings require that all areas of public administration reflect the ethnic proportions of the 1991 Census, to a large degree the various police forces remain ethnically homogeneous. For minorities returning to their pre-war homes, the presence of often-hostile police forces, in which their ethnic group is hardly represented, has been intimidating, and is one reason why most minority returnees quickly leave. Bosniac returnees to the country's Republika Srpska (RS) entity have also encountered perpetrators of the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre still on the police force.

Serb and Bosniac nationalist leaders rejected police reform in October 2007, and in response the European Commission refused to initial the country's Stabilization and Association Agreement, an important step toward EU accession. Following the failure, the international community's High Representative for the country, Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak, used his powers to impose new laws making it more difficult for obstructionists in cabinet and parliament to block legislation through failure to participate. The RS prime minister reacted by threatening to withdraw all Serb representatives from state-level institutions, the Serb member of the country's three-person presidency resigned and Serb politicians again mooted a referendum on secession.

In February 2007, the International Court of Justice in The Hague determined that RS forces in Bosnia during the war had committed genocide against Bosniacs, although the justices ruled that they did not have enough evidence to find Serbia guilty of genocide for its supporting role. The ruling echoed previous findings from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), notably in the Krstic case relating to Srebrenica. Until 2005, the RS had only prosecuted two criminal cases against Serbs suspected of committing atrocities during the war. At the end of 2005 the pace increased, parallel to war crimes proceedings at the State Court in Sarajevo, which is responsible for more sensitive cases. Meanwhile, as of December 2007, the most wanted Bosnian Serb fugitives from the ICTY, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, remained at large.

Copyright notice: © Minority Rights Group International. All rights reserved.

Search Refworld