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BiH Could Face Sanctions Over Unequal Political Access for Ethnic Minorities

Council of Europe could step in over Bosnia and Herzegovina’s failure to respect a deadline for amending the constitution. 

3 January 2018

More than 20 years after the Dayton Accords ended the Bosnian war and established a future framework for multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina, current structures still fall short.


The Bulgarian news agency Novinite, citing MIA, reported on Tuesday that the Council of Europe may introduce sanctions this month against Bosnia and Herzegovina for failing to comply with a European Court of Human Rights ruling, according to Nermina Kapentanovic of Bosnian Joint Parliamentary Committee on European Integration. 


The case in question is a 2009 decision which agreed with two complainants – Dervo Sejdic, who is of Roma heritage, and Jakob Finci, who is Jewish – that the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was adopted as part of the 1995 Dayton Accords, discriminates against anyone who is not Croat, Serb or Bosniak.


In its ruling, the European Court of Human Rights directed Bosnia and Herzegovina to amend the constitution to allow equal access to all political institutions for ethnic minorities.


Bosnia and Herzegovina's diverse ethnic and religious heritage includes a sizable jewish minority. Image: A synagogue in Sarajevo from Donarreiskoffer via Wikimedia Commons.


Bosnia promised to make the amendments by 2013 but has not yet done so, according to Novinite.


Changing the constitution requires both legal entities – Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – and three prime ministers, each representing the Croat, Bosniak and Serb ethnic groups, to agree.


Previous attempts to implement reforms have been frustrated by this system, which leaves institutions feeble and at the mercy of a system of vetoes, while creating electoral incentives for politicians to appeal to narrow nationalist sentiments, writes the Guardian.


Continued failure to comply with the 2009 ruling may further inhibit EU accession, already stymied by failures to address systematic corruption, according to Cristian Dan Preda, Romanian MEP and standing Rapporteur for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the European Parliament, writing in the European Western Balkans. Bosnia and Herzegovina formally applied to join the EU in 2016.


The preamble to the constitution makes a distinction between two categories of citizen – the Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs, termed “constituent peoples,” and a second group, the “others.” That includes Roma, Jews, other minorities, and people who do not choose to declare themselves part of any ethnic group.


The Bosniak-Serb-Croat triumvirate, a fundamental aspect of the Dayton Accords, restricts membership in two elected institutions to the “constituent” groups.


While the triumvirate was meant to provide balanced access to power among ethnic groups in the wake of the devastating Bosnian war, it also means that those who are not, or do not self-identify, as Bosniak, Croat or Serb, are ineligible to run for office in two institutions: the Bosnian parliament’s upper house or the Presidency.


General elections will take place this October in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, according to Preda, tensions and divisions along ethnic lines are already characterizing the campaign.



  • The current EU sanctions against Bosnia and Herzegovina were first introduced in March 2011 to target those who “undermine the sovereignty of the country, seriously threaten its security situation, or undermine the Dayton/Paris General Framework Agreement for Peace.” One target of the sanctions, which are also imposed by the United States is the president of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, according to the U.S. department of the Treasury.


  • Jakob Finci was born in 1943 to a Sephardic Jewish family in a concentration camp in Italy. He is credited with aiding the escape of some 3,000 people during the war, according to the Guardian, and the war-time charity he established at the time to distribute medical supplies is still active today.


  • Finci is also a founding member and current president of the Interreligious Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an NGO that has been instrumental in improving interethnic and inter religious cooperation after the war. In June 2017, the interreligious council celebrated its 20 year anniversary with a declaration denouncing stigmatization of survivors of sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


  • Dervo Sejdic is the founder of the Sarajevo based Kali Sare Roma Information Center which seeks to combat discrimination against Roma by cultivating non-stereotypical and positive images and narratives of Roma in the media, according to the website of the Roma Information Center.

Compiled by Kate Syme-Lamont

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