Bosnia and Herzegovina in Need of Reforms on Minority Equality

Bosnia Herzegovina

In its bid to satisfy preconditions for the Stabilisation and Association Agreement entering into force and hence signalling readiness for a credible EU membership application, Bosnia and Herzegovina must undertake reforms on minority equality.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is expected to undertake these reforms now for its next elections to be seen as meeting European standards. In his address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Štefan Füle, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy said that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s non-implementation of the Sejdić-Finci ruling is keeping Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) as well as EU membership application on hold.  Following the 2009 European Court of Human Rights decision in Sejdić-Finci case, Sarajevo still has not made necessary changes to its constitution.

The court found that the Bosnian constitution discriminated against citizens based on nationality, following complaints by Jakob Finci and Dervo Sedjic, a Jew and a Roma from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who were not allowed to run for high-level government positions.  This is because Sarajevo’s constitution states that only ethnic Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats can be elected members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency and the House of Peoples.

The EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina agreed a road map on the steps to be taken before they can officially apply for EU membership, including amending the Bosnian constitution thus implementing the Sejdić-Finci rulling by the end of November 2012. This deadline was not met and S. Füle made it clear to the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s representatives that ‘first, it is not true that EU Member States would eventually lower the bar for a credible membership application, if Bosnia and Herzegovina’s authorities continued to fail in their efforts to reach a shared solution. Second, it is equally not true that procrastinating on the Sejdić-Finci ruling implementation would lead to a situation which was more conducive to a solution after the elections – because we would not consider such elections up to the necessary standards. A solution is needed now’.

Another blow to the Bosnian and Herzegovina’s credibility was the government’s decision to postpone national census, following a statement from the International Monitoring Operation (IMO) that the country was insufficiently prepared for the census. IMO oversaw the test census last October and concluded that the country’s institutions were not ready and lacked technical preparedness and political commitment. The EU delegation recommended that the census be postponed for at least six months ‘to ensure proper preparation […] and avoid unreliable results’.

The census is critical to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU membership aspirations and the signing of SAA. However, NGOs worry that there will be a large number who will not declare an ethnicity. Perhaps by amending the constitution, the government can take an important step to easing the highly politicized and sensitive issue of ethnic minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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