Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2014, 09:43 GMT

Nations in Transit - Bosnia-Herzegovina (2004)

Publisher Freedom House
Author Florian Bieber
Publication Date 24 May 2004
Cite as Freedom House, Nations in Transit - Bosnia-Herzegovina (2004), 24 May 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473aff17c.html [accessed 30 July 2014]
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.

Capital: Sarajevo
Population: 3,900,000
Status: Partly Free
PPP: $1,240
Private Sector as % of GNI: na
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)

NIT Ratings1997199819992001200220032004
Electoral ProcessN/A5.005.004.754.253.753.50
Civil SocietyN/A5.004.504.504.254.003.75
Independent MediaN/A4.755.004.504.254.254.25
GovernanceN/A6.006.006.005.505.255.00
Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial FrameworkN/A6.006.005.505.255.004.50
CorruptionN/AN/A6.005.755.505.004.75
Democracy RatingN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A

Executive Summary

In the eight years since the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (henceforth Bosnia), the country has made substantial advances toward overcoming its wartime legacy. Most of the material damage has been repaired, and nearly a million refugees and internally displaced persons have returned to their homes. A resumption of the conflict is today unlikely. Bosnia remains, however, a fragile state and democracy, relying strongly on continued international intervention. Most key reforms in recent years have been initiated and enforced by the Office of the High Representative (OHR), which oversees the civilian implementation of the peace process. The reliance on external intervention puts the sustainability of democratization and economic reform in doubt. This dependency is reflected in the evaluation of the country's progress toward consolidating democratization and reforms. The continued quasi-protectorate status of Bosnia is not solely the result of a lack of progress in domestic reforms but is also linked to the nature of international intervention.

New governments were constituted in 2003 at the state level and in the two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and the Serb Republic, following general elections late in 2002. The three dominant nationalist parties (Serb Democratic Party, Bosniak Party for Democratic Action, and the Croat Democratic Community) took power in a coalition with several smaller parties after months of protracted talks and the OHR's rejection of a number of candidates for ministerial positions. The new governments were only partly effective during their first year in office but performed better than earlier coalitions of the three nationalist parties.

The OHR imposed major reforms in 2003, including the creation of a joint command for the two entity armies; the creation of a state-level intelligence agency; and other steps to strengthen the weak state government. The creation of a countrywide value-added tax and the merger of the entity-level customs agencies were approved in December 2003 by the Bosnian Parliament after considerable international pressure. In October, the death of Alija Izetbegovic, the former president of Bosnia-Herzegovina and leader of the SDA, marked the departure of the last wartime leader in Bosnia (and Yugoslavia) from the political scene.

Electoral Process. The last general elections were held in October 2002 and resulted in a resounding victory and return to power for the nationalist parties. The fact that this was the second time a transfer of power took place following elections could be considered a sign of progress. Furthermore, all major parties, including the nationalist coalition, now support European integration and no longer advocate the country's dismemberment. The new governments, the first ones elected for a four-year term since the end of the war, were formed only in January and February 2003, following three months of negotiation and arm-twisting by the high representative (HR), Paddy Ashdown. These governments have been marred since then by serious disagreements among the coalition partners, as well as conflicts with the HR. However, they have been more effective and stable than the earlier coalition of the nationalist parties between 1996 and 2000, exceeding the expectations of most observers. While the electoral victory of the nationalist parties constitutes a partial setback, the fact that the 2002 elections were conducted successfully and the new governments have been relatively stable since then calls for a slight improvement in Bosnia's rating for electoral process from 3.75 to 3.50.

Civil Society. Civil society in Bosnia faced several challenges in 2003 that affected its development, including a decline in international funding and an overall lack of progress with political reforms. The victory in 2002 of the nationalist parties, which are largely critical of Bosnian nongovernmental organizations, posed obstacles as well. However, the unification of schools in ethnically mixed areas of the FBiH and the introduction of statewide textbooks that reduced nationalist myths and stereotypes brought tangible improvements to the educational sector. Owing to these reforms, the rating for civil society improves slightly from 4.00 to 3.75.

Independent Media. After the establishment of a formalized statewide Public Broadcasting System in 2002, a major reform of the entity broadcasters was proposed in 2003. A reform plan unveiled in late 2003 foresees the creation of a unified public broadcaster, with the entity stations losing their previous autonomy. The aim of the reform is to make public broadcasting both sustainable and independent, as well as to reduce nationalist bias. Furthermore, it constitutes part of the efforts of the international community to strengthen institutions at the state level as opposed to the entity level. Hate speech propagated in the electronic media has declined in recent years owing to the Communications Regulatory Agency's penalization of broadcasters that engage in it. The print media remain weak, fragmented, and plagued by a lack of professionalism and low circulation. The planned reform of public broadcasting has not been put into practice and is already facing steep resistance; therefore it has had no positive impact on the media as of yet. Bosnia's rating is unchanged at 4.25.

Governance. Governance in Bosnia remains divided between domestic institutions and international actors, primarily the OHR. Relations between international and domestic institutions worsened with the electoral victory of the nationalist parties in 2002 and the clash of political agendas that followed. This caused month-long delays in the forming of new governments. Furthermore, Mirko Sarovic, the Serb member of the state presidency, was forced to resign after only a few months in office. State-level governance was strengthened in 2003 through a series of measures imposed by the OHR, including new mandates in the security and intelligence sector. Entity-level governance has been weakened by the 2002 constitutional reforms, which introduced power-sharing arrangements to decrease ethnic discrimination and exclusion in both entities. Simultaneously, a reform of the civil service has been progressing at the entity and state levels. The rating for governance improves from 5.25 to 5.00 owing to continued progress in strengthening the central-level government, including decisions to establish a joint command of the two entity armies and to harmonize taxes and customs.

Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework. Substantial changes to the entity Constitutions, imposed by the OHR in 2002 to establish the equality of all three constituent nations in Bosnia, were implemented in 2003. While refugees continued to return to their prewar homes, only half have come back since the end of the war. With the process of property restoration nearly completed, the number of refugees returning is likely to decrease. The High Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils, set up in 2002, were engaged in a substantial reform of the judiciary in 2003 by appointing new judges and prosecutors to courts at all levels. While far from complete, these reforms appeared to be successful in transforming a key factor in Bosnia's long-term stability. The reforms of the judiciary and civil service constituted an important improvement in Bosnia's constitutional, legislative, and judicial framework. The rating improves from 5.00 to 4.50.

Corruption. During 2003, international auditors brought to light a number of high-profile corruption cases involving, among others, the electricity and telecommunications companies of Bosnia. These revelations led to numerous dismissals and the strengthening of legal remedies against corruption. Such developments are the result primarily of the OHR's more proactive anticorruption strategy. Corruption is clearly being tackled more seriously than ever before by uncovering past abuse and putting in place legal mechanisms to prevent the continuation of large-scale wrongdoing. As this process is driven almost exclusively by international intervention and its sustainability therefore remains in doubt, the improvement in the rating is only slight, from 5.00 to 4.75.

Outlook for 2004. A key issue in 2004 will be the further transfer of authority from international to Bosnian institutions. Numerous reforms have been initiated by the OHR and other international organizations, but their sustainability will be tested once they have shifted to the domestic level. In late 2004, elections will take place at the municipal level and for the district of Brcko. They will be an important test for the nationalist parties currently in power. High unemployment and an overall bad economic situation might constitute a major source of instability in the coming year. Of importance will be both the stability of the governments and their ability to pursue a reform agenda independently.

Electoral Process (Score: 3.50)

Bosnia-Herzegovina has held four countrywide elections since the end of the war in 1995. While elections in recent years have been largely free and fair, the deep ethnic divisions in Bosnian society have led to the dominance of three nationalist parties representing Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats.

Bosnia's national legislature is bicameral. The upper House of Peoples has 15 members (5 Bosniaks and 5 Croats from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina [FBiH] and 5 Serbs from the Serb Republic [RS]), who are chosen by the legislatures of the two entities. The lower House of Representatives has 42 members (28 from the FBiH and 14 from the RS), who are elected directly by proportional representation from the two entities. Bosnia also maintains a semipresidential system that consists of three directly elected members who rotate the chairmanship of the presidency every eight months. The Croat and Bosniak members are elected in the FBiH, and the Serb member is elected in the RS. As a consensus-based democracy, any member can block decisions by invoking the violation of "vital interest" of his or her ethnic group. Parliament has similar veto rights. The government is based on parity representation of the three dominant nations and includes one deputy minister per ministry from a nation other than that of the minister.

The FBiH has its own bicameral legislature that consists of an upper House of Peoples and a lower House of Representatives. The upper house has 58 members elected by the cantonal assemblies – 17 each for Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs and 7 total for other communities. The FBiH lower house has 98 members who are elected directly by proportional representation; Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs must have at least 4 members each. The president and two vice presidents of the FBiH are elected by the legislature and must be of different ethnic backgrounds. All three positions are relatively weak. The FBiH president, with the concurrence of the vice presidents, nominates a government for the legislature's endorsement. Each minister must have a deputy who is not from his or her own ethnic group. Furthermore, the 16-member government must be composed of 8 Bosniaks, 5 Croats, and 3 Serbs.

The RS has an 83-member unicameral National Assembly that is elected directly; here, as in the FBiH's lower house, Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs must be represented by at least 4 deputies each. In the RS 16-member government, 8 positions are reserved for Serbs, 5 for Bosniaks, and 3 for Croats. A 28-member Council of Peoples is elected by Parliament and must include 8 Croats, Bosniaks, and Serbs each as well as 4 members of smaller communities. The president of the RS is elected directly and holds considerable constitutional powers. Like the FBiH, the RS must elect two vice presidents from different ethnic groups.

Between 1996 and 2002, neither entity guaranteed the inclusion of nondominant ethnic groups in government (that is, Serbs in the FBiH and Bosniaks and Croats in the RS). In 2002, constitutional changes established an elaborate mechanism for guaranteeing group representation, if only nominally. These changes promoted the inclusion of nondominant groups in executive positions but also rendered decision-making processes more cumbersome. Furthermore, representatives from nondominant groups are not fully integrated, and their powers are limited. The Bosniak and Croat vice presidents of the RS, for example, have been marginalized by the dominant Serb group. Minorities and citizens who do not identify with one of the three dominant ethnic groups – the so-called Others – are largely excluded from political representation. At the state level, minorities continue to be excluded from the presidency and the House of Peoples.

All elections until 2002 were coordinated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) according to its electoral rules. The Bosnian Parliament adopted a Law on Elections in August 2001 after intensive pressure from the OSCE and the Office of the High Representative (OHR). The new law regulates the electoral system, campaign financing, and registration of parties and candidates. A special commission elected by the Bosnian House of Representatives now oversees elections. It consists of two Croats, two Serbs, two Bosniaks, and one member representing a different ethnic group. The elections in 2002 took place without any substantial irregularities, suggesting that the transfer of oversight from the OSCE to a national institution was successful.

There are three restrictions on candidates and political parties. First, both must support an independent Bosnia and are prohibited from advocating secession of any part of the country. Second, indicted or convicted war criminals may not stand as candidates, and no candidate may occupy property that is owned by refugees or displaced persons. Third, parties and candidates must report their income and property. Spending is limited to one konvertibilna marka (KM; about US$0.57) per voter in each electoral race.

Under the new Law on Elections, members of the cantonal Parliaments, the National Assembly of the RS, the FBiH-level House of Representatives, and the state-level House of Representatives are elected by proportional representation in open lists and multimember constituencies. Despite a 3 percent threshold for parliamentary representation, Bosnia's complicated system of compensatory mandates can also benefit parties and candidates with fewer votes. Members of the state-level presidency, as well as the president and two vice presidents in the RS, are all elected according to a "first past the post" system.

The only major electoral development in 2003 was the adoption of a Law on Elections for the district of Brcko that follows the countrywide law by reserving three seats for all three constituent nations. The district of Brcko is formally part of both entities but in actuality is a de facto independent third entity within Bosnia. It has been administered directly by an international supervisor since its establishment in 1999 and thus has not held elections to its 29-member assembly. Instead, these positions are filled through appointments by the international supervisor.

Three monoethnic nationalist parties – the Bosniak Party for Democratic Action (SDA), the Croat Democratic Community (HDZ), and the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) – dominated Bosnian politics throughout the 1990s and continue to receive strong support from their respective ethnic communities. All three parties have changed leadership since the end of the war, have tried to distance themselves from their wartime record, and have adopted the rhetoric of reform. Yet without an economic program, they remain essentially ethnonationalist parties based on mutually exclusive political platforms.

The SDA incorporates religious (Islamic) and nationalist elements. The party was dominated by Alija Izetbegovic, the wartime president and a member of the postwar presidency. Although Izetbegovic had resigned from all state and party functions in 2000, he continued to moderate among different streams within the party. His death in October 2003 brought several hundred thousand mourners into the streets of Sarajevo as well as uncertainty over the ability of the party to remain unified. The key goal of the SDA is the creation of a strong Bosnian state. While opposing entities and other means of ethnic autonomy, the party has been a key beneficiary of ethnic dominance in the Bosnian political system.

The HDZ, a branch of the Croatian Party of the same name, has oscillated between supporting Bosnia as a state and seeking the secession of western Herzegovina to Croatia. In the run-up to Croatian elections in November 2003, a major conflict emerged between the two – while the Croatian HDZ sought to moderate itself in an attempt to court the European Union (EU), the Bosnian HDZ remained more radical. The party mostly represents Croats in western Herzegovina in their struggle for some degree of self-rule.

The SDS, led until 1996 by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, has been the most successful party in the RS. It promotes radical Serb nationalism, including the secession of the RS. In recent years, the party has sought to keep the autonomy of the RS and delay the return of Bosniak and Croat refugees to the entity.

Most other parties also have a nearly monoethnic constituency. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) has both Serbs and Croats in its leadership, but it has had limited success in securing support beyond Bosniaks and urban Croat and Serb voters in the FBiH. The Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina (SBiH), led by wartime SDA prime minister Haris Silajdzic, has never reached out to non-Bosniak voters. In the RS, the Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), led by Milorad Dodik, was the first to break the power of the SDS on a moderate platform of social and economic forms. The Party for Democratic Progress (PDP), led by current minister of foreign affairs Mladen Ivanic, has been a coalition partner to the SDS on a more moderate platform. None of the moderate Croat parties have garnered sufficient support to challenge the HDZ's dominance.

Most parties are driven by appeals to ethnic belonging rather than the content of their platforms. Parties possess little internal democracy, and change is enacted by party leaders rather than members. The large nationalist parties have a strong membership base, and in the first postwar elections voter turnout was high. This was due in part to the novelty of elections and to the efforts of both international actors and the nationalist parties. Since then, the numbers have declined considerably. Between 1997 and 2002, voter turnout dropped to 55 percent from a previous 80-85 percent. The decline in voter participation followed a regional trend suggesting general voter dissatisfaction. In Bosnia, the decline is partly the result of frustration with frequent elections that have not brought about substantial political change.

The influential role of international actors in Bosnia has further distorted the electoral process. International organizations have frequently lent their support to ostensibly moderate candidates. More often than not, though, this support has backfired, resulting in strengthened nationalist parties. Biljana Plavsic, past president of the RS, received such international support in 1997 but lost heavily in subsequent elections. The Alliance for Change, cobbled together with international help in 2000 and 2001, could rely on only a slim majority, which caused instability and the eventual defeat of key parties in the 2002 elections. Additionally, parties in Croatia and to a lesser degree Serbia have given their support to specific parties in Bosnia. Direct state support for particular parties has declined.

Bosnia held biennial elections between 1996 and 2002. Since the first postwar elections in 1996, the nationalist parties have mostly won resounding victories, although their support overall has declined. Governments excluding the three dominant parties were in office in the RS between 1997 and 2000 and in the FBiH and state-level offices from 2001 to 2002. In all instances, the moderate governments were based on fragile coalitions created with international assistance. The poor performance of the Alliance for Change in 2001-2002 set the stage for the partial return to power of the nationalist parties in the 2002 elections.

On October 5,2002, elections took place for all entity- and state-level institutions. The elections were of particular significance since, for the first time, all Parliaments and presidents were elected for four-year terms. Additionally, the 2002 elections were the first to have been organized by the Bosnian Electoral Commission in accordance with the 2001 Law on Elections. At most levels, the nationalist parties – campaigning on a narrow ethnic agenda – regained their dominance.

The new state presidency comprises members of all three nationalist parties. Initially filling these posts were Dragan Covic from the HDZ, Sulejman Tihic from the SDA, and Mirko Sarovic from the SDS. Sarovic, however, was forced to resign by the high representative (HR) in April 2003 over a spying scandal. According to an investigation by the Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR), the army of the RS was found to have spied on SFOR and other international organizations for years. Sarovic was replaced by Borislav Paravac, a high-ranking official of the SDS.

Despite the victory of nationalist parties in the state presidency election, results suggest a limit to their reach. That is, both the Bosniak and the Serb candidates were elected with less than 40 percent of the vote of their constituency. Only the HDZ candidate won an absolute majority.

Election results for the state-level House of Representatives point to a similar trend (see table 1). The three nationalist parties took 20 out of 42 seats, just short of a majority. The SDP suffered the most serious defeat, losing half of its mandates and tumbling to fourth place in Parliament. As in previous years, the new House of Representatives is considerably fragmented, resulting in 14 parties being represented in Parliament.

Table 1. Election Results, Bosnian House of Representatives, 2002 and 2000

PartyOctober 2002November 2000% Change
Percent# SeatsPercent# Seats
Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina
SDA32.4927.07+5.4
HDZ BiH15.9519.35+3.4
SbiH16.2515.64-0.6
SDP15.7427.38-11.6
BOSS*2.61--+2.6
SPU*2.51--+2.5
DNZ BiH*2.312.21-0.1
HDU2.21--+2.2
NHI*1.912.01-0.1
Serb Republic
SDS33.7539.76-6
PDP10.4215.22-4.8
SNSD22.4310.61+11.8
SDA7.317.41-0.1
SRS4.81--+4.8
SPRS*4.315.71-1.4
SbiH3.915.41-1.5

* Bosnian Party (BOSS), Party of Pensioners (SPU), Democratic Peoples' Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (DNZ BiH), New Croat Initiative (NHI), Socialist Party of RS (SPRS)

Results of the elections in the two entities mirrored the results at the state level. In the RS presidential vote, Dragan Cavic, a former vice president and a member of the SDS, proved victorious with 35.9 percent of the vote. In compliance with the recent constitutional changes, one Croat (Ivan Tomljenovic, SDP) and one Bosniak (Adil Osmanovic, SDA) vice president were also elected. In the Serb National Assembly, the SDS remained the dominant party with 26 seats. The SNSD made some gains, securing 19 seats, while the PDP declined slightly in popularity, winning only 9 seats. The election results in the FBiH indicate the reestablished dominance of the nationalist parties over the fragmented group of more moderate parties. A total of 18 parties gained representation in the House of Representatives, with the HDZ and the SDA taking 48 of the 98 seats.

Civil Society (Score: 3.75)

Bosnia has a large number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are mostly foreign funded. This reflects the high degree of international intervention in the country. Civil society is generally receptive to international actors in Bosnia, while political parties, in particular the nationalist parties, remain reserved and critical toward NGOs.

More than eight years after the war, Bosnia's nongovernmental sector is still weak. This can be attributed in part to economic hardships and the effects of war on the country's social structure. Specifically, the ethnic divisions in the country have made it difficult for NGOs to become active. A case can also be made that the large international presence in the country has effectively reduced the potential for grassroots NGO activity. First, international organizations have hired many Bosnian citizens who otherwise might have initiated their own civil society activities. Second, numerous civil society programs have been initiated based on the judgments of Western donors rather than in response to local needs. As a result, the frequent changes in Western priorities have had a negative impact on the long-term development of local NGO capacities and structures.

Yet a number of organizations in Bosnia do have historical roots and are more firmly established. Among these are religiously based NGOs such as the Muslim organization Merhamet and the Catholic group Caritas. All major religious communities maintain their own humanitarian organizations, which are funded through donations, support from third countries, and the religious hierarchy. Although most organizations cater to members of their own religious community, others, including the Jewish group La Benevolenzia, gained a reputation for providing interethnic and interdenominational humanitarian aid during the war. Vakufs, traditional charitable organizations affiliated with the Islamic community, were reestablished after the end of Communist rule. Additionally, some NGOs are active in representing nondominant communities, such as Serbs in the FBiH or Roma across Bosnia.

Besides Western-funded and traditional NGOs, a number of illiberal NGOs emerged in Bosnia during and after the war. These organizations are mostly Islamic charities and foundations that were set up by Muslim countries (especially Saudi Arabia and Iran) and individuals. A number of groups, such as the Active Islamic Youth, funded by Saudi Arabia, promote the conservative Wahhabite interpretation of Islam. While these organizations do not have a broad reach, their considerable financial resources and provision of health care and other services have allowed them to extend their influence.

Radical nationalist organizations continue to be active in Bosnia, particularly in the RS. They have been blamed for attacks against returnees and mosques. These groups are believed to have links to political parties rather than being entirely independent. Nationalist demonstrations and attacks have been common at sporting events, in particular during soccer matches between teams with differing ethnic predominance.

In addition to illiberal organizations in Bosnia, the country is characterized by influential networks of patronage based on political, ethnic, and geographic affiliations. These networks typically lack formal structures, yet they have been able to exert considerable influence on the political and economic life of the country.

After a boom of NGOs in the immediate postwar period, the number has been stagnating in recent years. The total is hard to estimate since there are no nationwide registration procedures. There are roughly 1,500 to 2,000 NGOs in Bosnia, according to the United Nations Development Program's Bosnia and Herzegovina Human Development Report 2003. Of those, less than a third are thought to be active. Accordingly, only 384 organizations are listed in the International Council of Voluntary Agencies' directory of NGOs active in 2002.

A coalition of 119 NGOs was organized during the 2002 elections to mobilize voters and inform them about the new Law on Elections. Owing to widespread disinterest in the elections and the absence of perceived political alternatives, the campaign did not yield a high turnout or support for more moderate parties. However, the fact that NGOs managed to recruit 6,000 volunteers for election monitoring is a sign of a more effective civil society and more successful interaction with society at large. Unfortunately, it appears that the coalition has not been able to gather momentum and continue its activities after the elections.

While some observers have detected an overall improvement in the legal framework and operation of the nonprofit sector over recent years, the Bosnian situation is disappointing when compared with the effectiveness and funding of NGOs in other countries of the region. Most citizens see NGOs either as irrelevant to their lives or as a possible job opportunity. Only a small percentage of Bosnia's population is involved in voluntary activities. This is largely the result of the country's precarious economic situation and the absence of a tradition of volunteerism. However, there has been an increase in volunteerism in recent years, owing partly to training and awareness campaigns by NGO networks. These groups also provide an important source of employment for the most educated segments of the population.

The Law on Associations and Foundations has recently been passed at the state level (December 2001), in the RS (October 2001), and in the FBiH (September 2002). Their passage has facilitated the registration and operation of NGOs. The number of founders required for registration was reduced to three; legal entities are also allowed to found NGOs. Furthermore, NGOs registered in one entity can operate freely in the other entity. The new laws also reduced government interference in the registration of NGOs. However, problems remain in the entities' tax laws, which are not yet harmonized and offer limited exemptions for NGOs and foundations.

Although the various levels of Bosnian government have typically viewed NGOs with suspicion, changes in the country's political climate have improved relations in recent years. In some parts of Bosnia, for example, NGO liaisons within the local government provide office space for civil society groups or assist them in fund-raising. When governments have been slow to adopt new laws or make important decisions, NGOs have frequently resorted to working with international organizations, especially the OHR, to lobby for change. While most groups lack public relations professionals, the Bosnian media now regularly report on NGO activities.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and association, and there are no explicit barriers to the participation of interest groups in politics. The Constitution also guarantees workers the right to join independent trade unions, and this right is respected in practice as well. Trade unions have, however, been severely weakened by both the war and the two-entity structure, which is reflected by two separate trade union confederations: the Confederation of Trade Unions of the RS (SSRS) and the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SSSBiH). In September 2003, the confederations agreed to form an umbrella organization at the state level, a precondition for joining the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The Bosnian Law on Associations, however, does not foresee the registration of a trade union at the state level.

The SSSBiH in the FBiH has a maximum of 200,000 members in 23 branches, primarily in the Bosniak-dominated areas. It seeks to represent workers in both entities. The SSRS has some 100,000 members. In the formal sector of the FBiH, the membership rate at 70 percent is rather high. With unemployment rates in both entities at over 40 percent and many people self-employed or working in small companies, the effectiveness of organized labor is limited.

Strikes have been common in recent years, but with mixed results. Mostly they have been localized and have not crossed ethnic or entity lines. The Union of Croat Teachers in the Neretva-Herzegovina canton, for example, organized a strike in fall 2003 against the internationally enforced unification of previously separate Bosniak and Croat schools. One of the rare exceptions to this pattern was the strike in late 2003 organized by state and entity broadcasters unions against international plans to restructure the Public Broadcasting System. In 2003, the president of the SSSBiH, Edhem Biber, received anonymous threats for calling for an investigation of improprieties in the privatization process.

Like trade unions and most other organizations in Bosnia, educational institutions were divided into three separate systems as a result of the war. Responsibility for education policy was vested in the two entities, or to cantons in the case of the FBiH. In addition, the content of curricula and textbooks has been a major problem. Teaching has been segregated without any respect for the history or culture of communities other than the dominant one. However, since 2000 the OHR and the OSCE have worked to overcome some of the divisions. In an agreement brokered by the OHR, the education ministers of the entities committed themselves to the coordination of educational policy and the removal of offensive materials from curricula and textbooks, thus emphasizing a common cultural heritage.

In 2003, Bosnia distributed new textbooks that had been revised by a textbook review commission to reduce nationalist bias. Additionally, the OHR pressed for the integration of segregated schools in mixed Bosniak-Croat cantons of the FBiH. The integration was met with substantial resistance from parents, teachers, and political elites but was completed in time for the school year with the help of strong pressure from international organizations.

These steps mark a significant departure from the postwar segregation of education. However, the Bosnian system of education remains subject to political pressure, and it is unlikely that the changed curricula and textbooks will end nationalist bias in teaching. Moreover, the seven universities in Bosnia remain largely segregated. For example, efforts have failed thus far to unify the two universities in Mostar, one in the Croat and one in the Bosniak parts of town. Additionally, universities in both entities suffer from excessive political interference by their governments.

Independent Media (Score: 4.25)

Freedom of expression is a key feature of both the Bosnian Constitution and the Human Rights Annex to the Dayton Peace Accords. Freedom of the press has also been a key priority of the international organizations that are active in the country. The postwar legal framework protects the freedom and independence of the media.

In July 1999, the high representative suspended criminal penalties for libel after the nationalist parties had employed it with increased frequency in 1998 against journalists. The civil Law on Defamation, passed in early 2001, limits the use of defamation against independent journalists by guaranteeing freedom of expression and excluding defamation in cases in which the information reported "is substantially true." The law additionally protects the confidentiality of journalists' sources. The new legal framework, in combination with the change of government at the state and FBiH levels, has ended most attempts at limiting freedom of speech through the use of defamation or libel laws. The new Law on Elections also impacts freedom of speech by establishing a 24-hour blackout period prior to voting and banning the incitement of ethnic hatred and violence by political parties and candidates.

With few exceptions, the media in Bosnia are divided between the two entities. Although there has been considerable privatization in the industry, the media remain strongly influenced by political parties. The international community has undertaken considerable efforts to reduce government control over public television broadcasters – probably the most influential media in the country.

Bosnia is home to a large number of media outlets, both print (600) and electronic (radio: 143; TV: 39). This quantity far exceeds financial viability and makes many such outlets vulnerable to financial and political pressure. Several media organizations and journalists continue to receive direct and indirect funding from political parties and interest groups. Authorities in the entities have pressured the media to report positively about the work of the administration.

During the 2002 election campaign, a number of FBiH print media were heavily politicized and played a major role in the confrontation between the SDP and the SBiH. Pressure was frequently exerted on journalists and media outlets, at times in the form of threats, beatings, and exclusion from events. In 2002, the independent newspaper Nezavisne Novine was taken to court several times by SDS officials who charged it with slander and demanded high damages that threatened the paper's sustainability. In a survey among 57 TV and radio stations prior to the 2002 elections, 5 indicated having received threatening phone calls and 8 (in 85 cases) having been under other kinds of nonviolent pressure from different political parties, reported Internews B&H. Threats against media by political parties and their supporters continued in 2003. Relations between the media and the OHR have also often been tense, as some media have criticized its work.

Owing to the country's dire economic situation and the relatively high price of daily and weekly print publications, newspaper circulation remains low. The main dailies include Dnevni Avaz (2001: 40,000), Oslobodjenje (2001: 15,700), and Jutarnje Novine (10,000) – all based in Sarajevo and read primarily in the Bosniak parts of the FBiH. Nezavisne Novine (2001: 7,500), based in the RS, is the only national newspaper. The other daily based in the RS is the government-owned Glas Srpski (2001: 7,200). Dnevni List, based in Mostar, caters mostly to Croats in Herzegovina. Except for Glas Srpski, all dailies are private but often express strong political preferences.

The main FBiH weeklies include Dani (2001: 25,500), Slobodna Bosna (2001: 28,000), Start, and Ljiljan (2001: 8,000). In the RS, the most important independent weeklies are Novi Reporter and Nedeljne Nezavisne Novine (2001: 18,000). Additionally, Croatian and Serbian publications are widely distributed in Bosnia, with some (such as Blic from Belgrade) publishing a special Bosnia section. Most dailies and weeklies make their articles accessible on the Internet. Newspapers and other print media are distributed mostly through private companies, with limited distribution across the interentity boundary. Unlike electronic media, print media is self-regulating (that is, it does not report to an independent supervisory body).

Electronic media reach a broader segment of the population in Bosnia. The main public broadcasters are FBiH Television (FTV) and, in the RS, Radio Television Republic of Srpska (RTRS). FTV is the product of a merger between the Bosniak-dominated Television Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatian Radio-Television. In July 2003, lack of financial means forced FTV to close its second channel. In addition, most cantons have their own television stations. Thus there are 11 public television stations in addition to the state broadcasting service.

The statewide Public Broadcasting System was created in 2002 and has since produced evening news and some limited programming (for example, international sports events) that are broadcast by both FTV and RTRS. In May 2002, the outgoing high representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, imposed a Law on Public Broadcasting that put the two entity- and state-level broadcasters beyond the control of their respective governments. While being an important step toward establishing the independence of the public broadcasters, the law has been severely criticized by private broadcasters and independent media organizations such as the British-based Article 19. The critiques centered on the absence of a substantial transformation of the broadcasters and the advantages provided to the three public stations over private broadcasters.

Like private broadcasters, public broadcasters may run commercials. However, since the public broadcasters have other sources of funding such as international donations and viewers' fees, they are able to undercut private stations on advertising prices. A plan presented by BBC consultants in October 2003 for the transformation of entity and state stations into a unified Public Broadcasting System has drawn criticism from all sides. The plan suggested the sale of the main television building, the dismissal of nearly 500 employees, and the creation of an integrated Public Broadcasting System that would reduce the autonomy of entity broadcasters.

Altogether there are some 28 licensed private television stations in Bosnia. In the FBiH, a large number of private television stations have emerged, but their reach is limited. The main private station in the FBiH is NTV Hayat, which originally supported the SDA government but later emerged as an independent station. Similarly, a number of private stations exist in the RS. In Banja Luka, for example, ATV has emerged as the most important independent broadcaster. In August 2001, Hayat joined with three other stations in the FBiH and ATV to form a network of private broadcasters called Mreza Plus, which is the strongest competitor with public broadcasters. The other statewide station is the Open Broadcast Network, which was founded in 1996 by the OHR as an alternative to the nationalist entity stations. It has since been privatized. Recently, Pink TV, a private Serbian station known for its support of the Milosevic regime and its popular entertainment programming, has received a license for broadcasting in Bosnia.

Most of the 97 private and 46 public radio stations are local, despite the existence of some entitywide stations. Radio stations are frequently well equipped, a result of substantial international donor support. Although some local stations carry independent news programming, most either limit their broadcasts to entertainment or focus on local political and ethnic interests.

The main supervisory agency of electronic media is the Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA). It has been licensing electronic media since 2001 – a process that has led to a degree of consolidation. In the last two years, the agency has issued a total of 183 licenses out of 258 applications. These licenses are automatically renewed for 10 years (2 years for public stations), unless the stations commit serious violations. The CRA is also tasked with monitoring and penalizing electronic media for hate speech and slander, and such authority appears to be having a positive effect, as the number of complaints has declined. Most cases involve defamation of persons rather than hate speech, according to the CRA.

Since the election of nationalist parties in 2002, there have been concerns that the CRA is losing its independence. While hate speech has declined, some of the media – in particular those with close ties to political parties – have instigated a number of vicious attacks against leading politicians, especially against those from the SDP and other moderate forces.

Access to the Internet is still limited but is increasing rapidly. The spread of the Internet started considerably later in Bosnia than elsewhere in the region as a result of the country's inadequate telecommunications infrastructure and the limited financial resources of most of its citizens. Even today, Internet penetration is considerably lower than in all other countries in the Balkans. According to the Millenium Indicators of the United Nations, there were more than 100,000 Internet users (2.44 per 100 inhabitants), some 5,000 Bosnian Web sites, and 38 licensed Internet providers in 2002. Access is widely available through Internet cafes, even in smaller towns, and at universities.

Freedom House's annual Survey of Press Freedom has rated the media in Bosnia as "Partly Free" since 1999.

Governance (Score: 5.00)

The Bosnian system of governance is highly complex, and its stability rests largely on international intervention and supervision of institutions. Fragmentation of the political party scene and the new requirement for multiethnic government have resulted in fragile coalitions for most postwar governments at the entity and state levels. Since the elections in 2002, the nationalist parties in power have been struggling at all levels to govern together. Consequently, the governments have been largely described as ineffective in pursuing political and economic reforms. Most reforms have been initiated by the OHR and forced on domestic institutions.

With no fewer than 14 governments (1 at state level, 2 at entity level, 10 cantonal, and 1 for the district of Brcko), the system is not only confusing for the average citizen, but also highly unstable. Generally, most governments and public administrations in Bosnia have operated with little transparency. In June 2001, however, the entities and the central government adopted a Law on Freedom of Information that obliges governments to disclose information to the public. A survey by Transparency International (TI) in 2003 indicated that institutions often fail to respond to requests for information, suggesting an insufficient awareness and implementation of the law.

Under the Dayton Accords, Bosnia has a very weak central government, with substantial powers delegated to subnational levels of government. The state-level government has only recently been strengthened. Between 2000 and 2003, seven state-level ministries were added to the original three, effectively strengthening the central government. In 2003, the decision was made to establish a joint command of the two armies and to harmonize taxes and customs. These changes particularly affected the RS, which has staunchly defended its autonomy. In April 2003, scandals over the RS army spying on the SFOR and an army-owned RS company supplying weapon parts to Iraq heightened the importance of defense sector reform.

In a step to reduce the autonomy of the RS, the OHR eliminated all references to statehood from the entity's Constitution. While this step had few formal consequences, it emphasized the determination of the OHR to reduce the autonomy of the RS. Despite some resistance to this move, there has been little organized opposition.

The FBiH has been weak from the outset, being decentralized into 10 cantons: 3 have a Croat majority, 5 have a Bosniak majority, and the other 2 are mixed. The cantons have a high degree of autonomy, including over education and policing, and possess their own Constitutions, Parliaments, and governments. The OHR in recent years has pushed the entities to harmonize laws, and many laws passed in recent years at the entity level have been nearly identical in the FBiH and the RS.

As a result of an arbitration ruling in 1999, the district of Brcko has a separate status from the two entities. Although the FBiH and the RS technically share sovereignty over the area, Brcko is in effect a third entity. In March 2000, the high representative formally established the institutions of the district, including its own Parliament, Constitution, and budgetary independence. Even more than in the other two entities, the international community is involved in Brcko's governance. Elections for the district will take place for the first time in October 2004 during Bosnia's next round of municipal elections.

Municipal elections were held in September 1997 and April 2000. The results of the 2000 elections proved mixed. While moderate parties made gains in urban centers with a Bosniak majority, nationalist parties continued to dominate most of the country.

All levels of government in Bosnia are plagued by a lack of financial resources. Most cantons and both entities have been or are facing severe financial difficulties, although international agencies have provided significant financial assistance and performed important services and functions such as running elections. The public administration and armies have been a heavy burden on the budgets of both the entities and the cantons. Additionally, Bosnia has one of the most generous programs for veterans. The FBiH, for example, has spent a quarter of its 2002 budget on veterans.

The state has limited abilities to raise its own taxes and relies mainly on the entities for its budget. The FBiH contributes two-thirds of the operating costs for Bosnian institutions, and the RS gives one-third. The annual budget for each entity is approximately twice the size of the state's budget. The FBiH and the RS receive revenues from tariffs, customs and excise taxes, fees, and penalties.

Until 2002, the presence of different tax systems meant that companies had to "export" their goods to the other entity and were effectively taxed twice. A reform package, imposed by the HR in August 2002, effectively ended double taxation. The cantons in the FBiH and the government of the RS receive value-added taxes on goods and services as well as taxes on businesses and personal incomes. The cantons finance municipalities by supplying them with 20-30 percent of the turnover and income taxes. Similarly, the RS is obliged to pay its municipalities a share of the taxes it collects. Although municipalities in both entities are entitled to gather their own fees, penalties, and some local taxes, these have been minor additions to their budgets.

In light of these weaknesses, major reforms to empower the state-level government have been initiated by international organizations, mostly the OHR. New Laws on the Civil Service were passed or imposed at the state level (May 2002) and the entity level (FBiH: June 2003; RS: February 2002). The laws professionalize the civil service and special agencies with directors appointed by the HR. The three civil services are now required to be merit based and to include employees from nondominant ethnic groups, but neither entity has yet to put these new laws into practice.

Only the police forces, which were reformed with the help of the UN and now the EU Mission, are more representative of the population. The State Border Service is fully integrated and charged with controlling Bosnia's international borders. A major step toward strengthening the state level was the creation of a Ministry for Security and the September 2003 agreement to create a joint command for the armed forces. The new State Information and Protection Agency is currently being built up with the assistance of the OHR to replace the entity-level intelligence services.

Finally, like other countries in the region, Bosnia has been seeking membership in international political and security structures such as NATO and the EU. These memberships have been delayed owing to Bosnia's status as a semiprotectorate and its fragmented system of governance. However, in April 2002 Bosnia was accepted as a full member to the Council of Europe.

Membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program has been delayed because of the existence of two separate armies in Bosnia. EU integration for Bosnia remains a distant goal. Whereas Croatia and Macedonia have each signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, Bosnia is still in negotiations. In November 2003, the European Commission adopted a feasibility study, the first step toward the conclusion of an SAA. However, prior to negotiations over an SAA, Bosnia was obliged to fulfill a number of conditions regarding governance and economic policy.

Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework (Score: 4.50)

The Dayton Constitution provides an elaborate system of checks and balances whose purpose is not so much to equalize power between the legislative and executive branches as to protect the rights of Bosnian ethnic groups. The three main legislatures of Bosnia have been marred by blocked decision making and a lack of transparency. According to the state Constitution, the statewide Parliamentary Assembly has responsibility for enacting legislation, deciding on the sources and amounts of revenues for the government, approving budgets, and ratifying treaties. However, the process is cumbersome and slow.

Under the Constitution, any of the three national communities can declare a proposed parliamentary decision "destructive of a vital interest" by mustering a majority of the delegates of that community. This option has been invoked or threatened repeatedly in the post-Dayton period. To pass, such a proposed decision also requires a majority vote in the House of Peoples by each of the three communities. The OHR, which has the power to impose laws and dismiss officials, has initiated most key laws and reforms.

In the FBiH, the Council of Ministers must approve laws before they can be sent to each of the two houses of the FBiH Parliament, which must then approve them in identical form. Also, a veto by two-thirds of the deputies of the FBiH House of Peoples from each of the three national communities can block a decision from being taken. The veto right of Serbs in the FBiH is part of the 2002 constitutional amendments passed by the OHR. In the RS, deputies from the three communities in the Council of Peoples can also veto legislation.

Since legislative institutions are often deadlocked at all levels of Bosnian government, the HR frequently has passed laws and decisions independently. Decision making is also frustrated by deputies who fear that a decision might reduce their popularity. Ultimately, this situation has made Bosnia function as a de facto, if not a de jure, protectorate of the international community.

The Constitution, with the exception of its human rights provisions, can be changed with a two-thirds majority vote in the Bosnian House of Representatives and a simple majority in the House of Peoples. However, fundamental differences among Serb, Croat, and Bosniak deputies have prevented any constitutional reforms since the document came into force in 1995. The Constitution of the RS and that of the FBiH, both passed prior to the signing of the Dayton Accords, are subordinated to the Bosnian Constitution.

The Constitutional Court is critical to upholding the state Constitution. It can rule on any constitutional dispute between the two entities or between the central state and one or both entities. The Court consists of nine members, four selected by the House of Representatives of the FBiH and two by the RS National Assembly. The president of the European Court of Human Rights selects the remaining three members, who cannot be citizens of either Bosnia or a neighboring country. In a landmark decision in July 2000, the Court ruled that the three main ethnic groups of Bosnia – Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs – enjoy equal status throughout the country. This decision, which formally ended discrimination in the two entities against nondominant ethnic groups, initiated the most far-reaching changes in the entities' Constitutions since the war.

Subsequent constitutional amendments, enforced by the OHR in 2002, changed the institutional setup of both entities, ensuring the adequate representation of all three nations in both entities. While these measures have increased the participation of Serbs in the FBiH and Croats and Bosniaks in the RS, especially in government, the formal inclusion has not yet translated into substantial equality and co-decision making. This indicates either a failure to equip representatives from nondominant groups with limited powers or the appointment of unrepresentative members of the groups to office. Thus, a number of offices in the FBiH reserved for Serbs are held by members of the Bosniak SDA. Although the officeholders are Serbs, they are unlikely to enjoy the support of the Serb community, which has voted overwhelmingly for other parties.

In addition to the Constitutional Court, the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina was established in December 2000 by a decision of the HR. This court is charged with cases that lie within the purview of the state, such as citizenship and foreign trade. In the FBiH, municipal courts have original jurisdiction in most civil and criminal cases; cantonal courts have appellate jurisdiction over the cantons' municipalities.

The criminal codes have been reformed in both entities (FBiH: 1998; RS: 2000) and at the state level (January 2003) through the HR. The state-level criminal code allowed the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina to operate. The state-level law covers appeals from the entities, cases with a conflict of jurisdiction (between the entities and the state), and international aspects of law enforcement. Despite these reforms, problems remain with law enforcement. Prison conditions are below minimum international standards. In 2002, there were reports from the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights about the mistreatment of Serbs and Croats by Bosniak convicts in the Zenica prison, indicating the extension of ethnic tensions to the prison system. Moreover, many of the judicial districts in the country have a tremendous backlog of cases.

Statewide identity cards and driver's licenses – a major reform – were introduced in early 2003. Based on a 2002 decision of the OHR, the Citizens Identification Protection System assumed oversight of the entity and cantonal police forces. The new cards do not state the entity in which a person lives. According to the OHR, the new system introduced international standards for data protection and was an important step in eliminating abuse of identification documents due to the lack of communication among police forces.

The Bosnian Constitution guarantees all key human rights and makes most international human rights instruments directly applicable in Bosnia. The Constitution also states that all refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have the right to return freely to their homes of origin. Under Annex 7 of the Dayton Accords, refugees and IDPs also have the right to reclaim property lost during the war or to be compensated for such property.

The Constitution further states that the European Convention on Human Rights applies in Bosnia and Herzegovina and takes precedence over other laws. The Council of Europe has held that all principles expressed in the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning freedom of expression, regulation of hate speech, and regulation of broadcasting are directly applicable. Annex 6 of the Dayton Accords provides for a Human Rights Commission consisting of an ombudsman and a Human Rights Chamber. A new Law on the Ombudsman of Bosnia Herzegovina was passed in 2001. There are three ombudsmen in Bosnia, one for each entity and one at the state level. In 2004, three Bosnians (one from each nation) will take over from the international ombudsman. The ombudsman investigates complaints of alleged human rights violations.

Serious cases that the ombudsman cannot settle are referred to the Human Rights Chamber, a judicial body that has the authority to make final and legally binding decisions. The work of this institution has been largely successful. The overall implementation rate increased dramatically from 10 percent in early 1999 to 79 percent in late 2001. The Human Rights Chamber will close in 2003 and transfer most of its power to a new Human Rights Commission, which is part of the Constitutional Court. The new, smaller institution will include fewer international staff. There are concerns that the move is premature considering the backlog of some 10,000 cases.

Although the human rights situation in Bosnia has improved considerably since the end of the war, significant problems remain. In its 2002 annual report, the Bosnian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights came to the discouraging conclusion that "no progress was made in the area of protection of human rights and freedoms in Bosnia and Herzegovina, either concerning the responsibility of authorities at all the levels of government or international peace mission." The right of refugees and IDPs to return to their former homes – a key provision of the Dayton Accords – has been particularly difficult to exercise. There has been a significant increase in the return of refugees in recent years, in particular to areas where they now constitute a minority ("minority returns"). By September 2003, nearly 1 million refugees and IDPs had returned to their prewar home, including nearly 430,000 minority returns (see table 2). As a result, more than half of the wartime refugees and IDPs have now returned.

Table 2. Return of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, January 1996 – September 2003

 RefugeesInternally Displaced Persons
 BosniakCroatSerbOtherTotalBosniakCroatSerbOtherTotal
199676,3853,1448,4773388,039101,40250562,79242164,741
199774,75633,56811,136820120,28039,44710,1918,45220558,295
199878,58923,1876,7651,459110,00015,8064,3259,13930029,570
199918,4406,2996,33257931,65024,9076,76011,31540343,385
20007,6334,8345,30383718,60736,9447,77914,17544959,347
20014,6424,2449,15565218,69348,0425,96025,73443680,172
200212,5925,93318,22038937,13441,5115,31923,21573070,775
20034,8112,5194,78936112,48018,5901,70813,2539133,642
Total277,84883,72870,1775,130436,883326,64942,547168,0752,656539,927

Source: www.unhcr.ba

While this is a success in comparison with the record of returns in the first postwar years, it suggests that the demographic distribution of Bosnia will remain permanently altered. Because the process of implementing the property law is nearly complete, the number of returns will likely decline considerably in the coming years. This process allowed refugees to reclaim properties. By August 2003, the implementation rate had reached 88 percent in both entities and 96 percent in Brcko. Owing to these high rates, property law implementation will be transferred in 2004 from the Reconstruction and Return Task Force, an international group, to entity-level bodies.

While property return is not to be confused with refugee return – a significant number of people sold their property upon receiving it to purchase new property in areas where they now constitute a majority – the completion of the property return process suggests an end to significant refugee returns. That is, the largest share of refugees was given the option to return home and probably either did so or sold the property. The smallest share of remaining refugees does not own property. Without property and job prospects, refugee returns are unlikely to continue on a significant scale. Furthermore, a large part of minority returns are mostly elderly refugees and IDPs returning to rural areas, which does not necessarily translate into a long-term reestablishment of ethnic diversity.

The incomplete return is related to continued discrimination against nondominant groups in both entities, particularly in parts of the RS and Croat-dominated cantons. Municipal, entity, and cantonal authorities have been responsible for discrimination in access to education, health care, and jobs. Other reasons for the incomplete return is the time elapsed since the end of the war, the integration of refugees into new places of residence, and the often underlying movement to urban centers.

The protection of minorities outside the three dominant communities has been long neglected. Roma, the largest such minority, have faced economic hardship and exclusion in the postwar period. A law protecting national minorities (groups other than the three dominant nations) was passed by Parliament in 2003 after a long delay. The law safeguards the use of minority languages in public and private and allows minorities to establish their own media. Political participation of minorities in entity- and state-level institutions is not directly covered by the law but will be determined by changes in electoral laws and regulations. The law is ambitious and in line with international standards but has been criticized as being impossible to implement. Since the amendments to the FBiH and RS Constitutions also include provisions for the representation of minorities, their minimal inclusion is ensured.

The ruling parties have developed a considerable degree of control over the judiciary in both the RS and the FBiH. Reform of the judiciary became a priority for the OHR only in 2000 with the creation of the Independent Judicial Commission. Another key step was the OHR's creation in 2002 of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Councils for the entities and at state level. The councils are charged with appointing and dismissing judges and prosecutors (except for the Constitutional Courts) and with proposing budgets for courts.

During a transition period that ended in 2003, the councils comprised equal numbers of international and Bosnian members. Now, the councils in the RS and in the FBiH will share the same members, with the state council comprising members of the entity councils, members from Brcko, and one member appointed by the presidency. The councils constitute a major reform of the judicial system and in 2003 resulted in numerous appointments at all levels of the judicial system. The OHR also established a Legal Reform Department, which is charged with screening legislation for compliance with international judicial standards.

A considerable problem in the Bosnian judicial system is the frequent exposure of judges to threats or harassment either by the ruling political parties or by local organized crime. As an indication of this persistent problem, then HR Wolfgang Petritsch dismissed 11 judges and prosecutors in May 2002 for obstruction of justice, forged signatures, and violation of property laws.

Along with domestic courts, an additional layer of the judiciary is the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, established in 1993 by the UN Security Council. Cooperation with the RS has been difficult, and a number of indicted war criminals remain at large, most notably the wartime president of the RS, Radovan Karadzic, and Ratko Mladic, the former head of the RS army. The two highest-ranking officials from Bosnia to appear before the tribunal are Momcilo Krajisnik, a former member of the Bosnian presidency and a member of the wartime Bosnian Serb leadership, and Biljana Plavsic, a former RS president. In a significant move, Plavsic changed her plea to "guilty" in October 2002, marking a major departure from other high-ranking officials, who have denied any responsibility for wartime atrocities. She was sentenced in March 2003 to 11 years in jail for crimes against humanity. The trial of Slobodan Milosevic, which began in 2002, has also been important for Bosnia in addressing responsibility for crimes committed during the war.

A Bosnian war crimes court will open in 2004 to take over low-level cases from the ICTY. The court will be funded by Western donors and staffed in part by foreigners. In addition to lightening the caseload of the ICTY, the court is designed to bring the legal process closer to Bosnia. This effort has been criticized by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations for addressing only a fraction of war crimes committed in Bosnia. Others doubt that a partially domestic court can deliver adequate judgments owing to the country's deep ethnic divisions. Plans for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission are pending in Parliament. Though supported by the ICTY, the project has been criticized by victims' groups that desire greater input.

In an important step, and following intense international pressure, the RS appointed a commission in December 2003 to investigate war crimes committed in Srebrenica. Comprising international and Bosniak experts, the commission was set up after the Human Rights Chamber ordered the RS to pay US$2.5 million to relatives of victims of the massacre and to investigate the crimes committed. Two earlier investigative reports, published in March and September 2003, were dismissed by international organizations as inadequate. Additionally, the RS government committed funds to a memorial for the victims in Srebrenica, signaling a change of attitude from the earlier denial of the massacre.

Corruption (Score: 4.75)

Bosnia faces corruption resulting from the wartime union of nationalist parties and public administrations. Given the amount of international aid and the fragmentation of public authority, Bosnia is particularly vulnerable to corruption, which has been widely acknowledged by international organizations active in the country as well as the general population. The high representative, Paddy Ashdown, noted in 2002 that the "absence of rule of law, in particular as it relates to financial crime and corruption, poses the single most serious threat to the economic and social welfare of BiH." In a 2002 survey, 84 percent of Bosnian citizens described corruption as present to a "very large extent" in the country.

In 2003, Transparency International rated Bosnia for the first time in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. The country ranked 70th (out of 133 countries), behind Croatia and Slovenia, but ahead of Serbia-Montenegro and Macedonia. As with other reforms in Bosnia, the fight against corruption is driven by international organizations. In particular, a number of laws have been amended or passed since 2000 and many individual cases of corruption have been investigated, leading to numerous dismissals and criminal proceedings. The new Law on Elections, passed in August 2001, obliges parties and candidates to disclose all resources and donations after an election. Parties can receive donations from individuals and companies but must declare any donations in excess of 100 KM (approximately US$50). Those companies in which the state has a stake of more than 25 percent are prohibited from making donations. In addition, candidates must submit a statement to the Bosnian Electoral Commission with information about their income and property holdings. Most major parties have been accused of receiving contributions exceeding the limit of eight average monthly salaries (approximately US$1,850) as individual donations from companies and wealthy individuals. Undersubscribed party membership and salaries that barely meet living expenses have forced parties to lower (and in some cases waive) membership dues, which in turn has required them to solicit alternative financing.

A number of other legal mechanisms have been put in place to limit corruption. In May 2001, the RS government adopted a new Law on Public Procurement. Laws on reforming the judiciary in both entities have also sought to reduce corruption. At the state level, the HR imposed a Law on Conflict of Interest for government institutions in 2002. The new HR, Paddy Ashdown, made the fight against corruption one of his priorities and imposed a number of measures in 2002 to strengthen the judiciary in its capacity to fight corruption. These measures included the establishment of a state-level Office of the Prosecutor and special panels to fight against corruption and the enhancement of prosecutors in the entities and cantons.

Within the OHR, Paddy Ashdown established a Serious Crimes Unit to oversee reform in the Bosnian judiciary in the areas of organized crime and large-scale corruption. In March 2003, the OHR imposed a number of new laws and amendments following revelations of corruption in the electricity company, Elektroprivreda. A new law at the entity level limits the donations of public companies to cultural, sports, social welfare, and humanitarian programs and requires the publication of gifts in official gazettes. While this is an important step toward greater transparency in public company spending, there is a risk of reducing already limited funding to legitimate causes. In 2002, the OHR established a so-called Bulldozer Initiative comprising businesspeople and international experts. The group is developing recommendations to clarify procedures for doing business with the government and to reform bureaucracies that have created opportunities for corruption.

A number of high-profile cases in 2003 showed the persistence of large-scale corruption and mismanagement in government and large state-run enterprises. In March, audits of the public electricity company (Elektroprivreda) revealed that it had lost some US$91 million annually in the RS through mismanagement and dubious business practices. For example, the company sold electricity under market prices to a private company, which then resold it to Montenegro with a profit margin of 40 percent (common margins are 1 – 5 percent). In the meantime, the Mostar branch of Elektroprivreda gave donations or did not charge for electricity to companies and individuals close to the HDZ, amounting to US$85 million in four years. The audit also revealed that the Sarajevo branch of the company had mismanaged funds. These revelations resulted in the dismissal of a number of functionaries from the electricity companies.

Shortly after this scandal, an audit of the FBiH Ministry for Refugees revealed that the ministry had overpaid private contractors by US$7 million. The OHR subsequently dismissed the former deputy minister for refugees, Mijat Tuka, from the FBiH Parliament and banned him from holding public office for his role in the abuse of funds in 2001-2002. While Tuka and his New Croat Initiative party have contested his personal involvement, the case highlighted the fact that public funds have consistently been abused, even under the government of the moderate Alliance for Change.

Late in 2003, OHR-ordered audits of the three large telecommunications companies in Bosnia (BH Telekom, RS Telekom, and HT Mostar) revealed substantial misuse of funds, corruption, and mismanagement. In 2002, the three companies had lost a total of US$57 million. In October 2003, the board of BH Telekom, the Bosniak-dominated company, had to resign. The discovery of high salaries, financial support to political parties, and other wrongdoing raised the pressure to make substantial reforms in the telecommunications sector.

In connection with the misuse of funds at the Bosnian embassy in New York during the 1990s, the former Bosnian ambassador to the UN, Muhamed Sacirbey, was arrested in the United States in March 2003 upon the request of Bosnian authorities. Sacirbey denied any abuse of funds during the extradition hearings in December 2003. Finally, the airline of the FBiH, Air Bosna, was grounded in September 2003 after the company was unable to meet outstanding debts. During the collapse of the airline, accusations of serious misuse of funds emerged.

The fact that these cases were publicized can be seen as a success in the fight against corruption. International audits ordered by the OHR have brought a number of abuses to light, resulting in dismissals and legal reforms. However, fighting corruption originates nearly exclusively with international organizations, raising doubts as to whether improvements can be sustained once international scrutiny and intervention decrease.

One of the few domestic organizations in Bosnia tackling corruption is the local chapter of Transparency International, which opened in February 2001. According to TI's November 2002 report, significant problems exist at most levels of public administration. The study indicates that in the RS, the customs service and political parties are perceived to be the most corrupt; in the FBiH, political parties ranked first, followed by the FBiH Parliament. Overall, TI identifies corruption as the second most serious problem (20.3 percent), after unemployment, in both entities. Of those surveyed, nearly half (47.4 percent) indicated having engaged in corruption.

Author

Florian Bieber is a senior nonresident research fellow with the European Centre for Minority Issues and a recurrent visiting professor at the Central European University, Budapest. He is based in Belgrade, Serbia. He is also a coeditor of the journal Southeast European Politics and the founder and editor of Balkan Academic News.

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