Freedom in the World - Bosnia-Herzegovina (2004)
|Publication Date||18 December 2003|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World - Bosnia-Herzegovina (2004), 18 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473c547ac.html [accessed 26 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
Political Rights: 4
Civil Liberties: 4
Status: Partly Free
Life Expectancy: 68
Religious Groups: Muslim (40 percent), Orthodox (31 percent), Roman Catholic (15 percent), Protestant (4 percent) other (10 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Serb (37 percent), Bosniak (48 percent), Croat (14 percent), other (1 percent)
Bosnia-Herzegovina marked some progress in forging stronger central governmental institutions in the year 2003, including the creation of new central government ministries and the introduction of a single value-added tax (VAT). However, other indicators, such as the decrease in the rate of refugee returns, suggest that postwar ethnic divisions within the country remain.
Bosnia-Herzegovina became one of six constituent republics of Yugoslavia in 1945. After Yugoslavia began to unravel and the end of the 1980s, Bosnia-Herzegovina was recognized as an independent state in April 1992. A 43-month-long civil war immediately ensued, which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals and the "ethnic cleansing" and forced resettlement of approximately one-half of Bosnia-Herzegovina's population. In November 1995, the Dayton Peace Accords brought an end to civil war by creating a loosely knit state composed of the Bosniac-Croat "Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina" and the largely Serbian Republika Srpska (RS). The Dayton Accords also gave the international community a decisive role in running post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina, manifested in the significant powers and authorities granted to international civilian agencies such as the Office of the High Representative (OHR). Peace and security in post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina is provided by the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR). Despite these considerable efforts by the international community, however, most aspects of political, social, and economic life in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina remain divided along ethnic lines.
Bosnia-Herzegovina's latest presidential and parliamentary elections were held in October 2002. Contrary to the hopes of many members of the international community, Bosnian voters across the ethnic divide mainly gave their votes to nationalist parties. The most important nationalist parties – the Bosniac Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) – took control of the joint state presidency, the joint state parliament, and both entities' governments.
Bosnia-Herzegovina made some progress toward creating stronger central governmental institutions in 2003. Early in the year, the international community's High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Paddy Ashdown, created three new ministries for the central government (justice, security, and transportation). Although Ashdown's move was criticized by observers both inside and outside of Bosnia-Herzegovina for being unconstitutional because it did not have the support of Bosnia-Herzegovina's parliament, publicly elected officials in the country feared being sacked by the international bureaucrat if they protested publicly. In May, it was decided to unify Bosnia-Herzegovina's three ethnically based intelligence services. In November, both entities agreed to the creation of a centralized Indirect Tax Administration (IDA), which should make tax collection more efficient and reduce tax fraud. In December, Bosnia-Herzegovina's parliament passed legislation introducing a single, statewide VAT. Passage of the VAT legislation was an important demand of the European Union (EU). Bosnia-Herzegovina must still pass 47 new laws and create 25 new institutions before the EU will allow the country to begin negotiations leading to a Stability and Association Agreement. Bosnia-Herzegovina also remains heavily dependent on foreign aid for economic survival; according to one recent estimate, 20 to 25 percent of the Bosnian economy depends on foreign aid.
Nevertheless, the gulf between the different ethnic communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina still makes achieving political progress in the country exceedingly difficult. Over the past several years, the OHR has imposed 473 pieces of legislation in Bosnia-Herzegovina that local politicians have been unwilling to do themselves.
On October 22, Bosnia-Herzegovina's wartime president, Alija Izetbegovic, died in Sarajevo. In an important indication of how divided the country remains, while Bosniac-populated areas throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina observed several days of mourning after Izetbegovic's death, in Croat and Serb areas it was business as usual. Just hours before Izetbegovic's funeral in Sarajevo began, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced that it was closing its investigation into war crimes committed by forces under Izetbegovic's command.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
In general, voters can freely elect their representatives and can form political parties insofar as party programs are compatible with the Dayton Accords. The High Representative, however, has the authority to remove publicly elected officials from office if they are deemed to be obstructing the peace process. In April, the High Representative forced the resignation of the Republika Srpska (RS) president, Mirko Sarovic, because of his alleged involvement in a spying scandal involving the RS secret service monitoring of NATO forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The High Representative also has the right to impose laws and regulations on the country when local officials are unable to agree on important matters. Indicative of the limited sovereignty of the country is that the High Representative has no popular mandate; all four of the high representatives in the postwar period have been appointed by the international community, and the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina have had no role whatsoever in choosing the most powerful political official in their own country.
A plethora of independent electronic and print media organizations operate in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but the most prominent feature of the country's journalism is its low standard of professional ethics. Bosnian journalism is further hampered by its reliance on foreign donations for survival, and the fact that most media outlets appeal only to narrow ethnic constituencies. During the year, the leading Bosniac daily newspaper, Dnevni Avaz, became embroiled in a controversy when a Sarajevo businessman accused the newspaper's editor of being behind a bomb attack on his house. The businessman in question had been the target of a smear campaign by Dnevni Avaz. After a four-month investigation, the Sarajevo District Court found the newspaper guilty of printing 52 false and slanderous articles about the businessman over the course of eight months. There were no reports of denial of access to the Internet.
Individuals enjoy freedom of religious belief and practice in areas dominated by members of their own ethnic group, but individuals who are members of a local ethnic minority often face various forms of discrimination or harassment. All three major religious organizations in the country – Islamic, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox – have claims against the government for property confiscated during the Communist period. While the various government's in Bosnia-Herzegovina do not restrict academic freedom, a continuing problem remains ethnic favoritism in appointments to academic positions, and the politicization of such appointments.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the various entity and cantonal governments generally respected these rights. However, the ability of ethnic or religious minorities in a particular area to exercise such rights has sometimes been more difficult than for the local majority population. Although there are no legal restrictions on the right of workers to form and join labor unions, which many workers do, unions are mainly divided along ethnic lines.
The judiciary in Bosnia-Herzegovina is still considered to be unduly influenced by nationalist political parties and executive branches of government. Judges who show some independence are reported to have come under various forms of intimidation. A new criminal code was introduced in March, along with a new Bosnian State Court and State Prosecutor's office. One of the most significant features of the new criminal code allows Bosnian authorities to prosecute individuals who aid or abet persons indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It also contains provisions allowing for the dismissal of public officials who fail to arrest, detain, or extradite those so charged and a prison sentence of up to 10 years for such individuals. The most sought-after indicted war criminals from Bosnia-Herzegovina's civil conflict, the former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, remain at large.
Corruption in the judiciary, police forces, and civil service forms a considerable obstacle to establishing the rule of law in Bosnia-Herzegovina. International officials claim that there is an "imbalance between the components of the rule of law." Local police and corrections personnel have reached a baseline of professional competence and democratic policing, but the judicial system – courts, judges, prosecutors, legal codes, rules of evidence and criminal procedures, and the witness protection program – still require radical reform and restructuring. Many indicted war criminals remain at large.
Refugee returns declined significantly in 2003, partly because of weak economic conditions, and partly because the vast majority of property restitution cases left over from the war have now been resolved. Many people appear to be returning to their prewar homes only to sell their property and move back to areas in which they are members of the local ethnic majority. Nevertheless, there have been some largescale, permanent returns, particularly in the northern RS in and around the town of Kozarac.
Women are legally entitled to full equality with men. However, they are significantly underrepresented in politics and government and are frequently discriminated against in the workplace in favor of demobilized soldiers. To compensate for the absence of women in public life, political parties have to list three women among the top 10 names on their lists of candidates. A significant problem in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina has become its emergence as a destination country for trafficked women. UN reports claim that a substantial reason for the market for trafficked women working in brothels in Bosnia-Herzegovina is due to the large international civil and military presence in the country. The new Bosnian criminal code that went into effect in March specifically makes trafficking in human beings a crime and increases penalties available to law enforcement officials for such offenses.
Bosnia-Herzegovina received an upward trend arrow due to the passage of several pieces of legislation strengthening central governmental institutions.