Bosnia-Herzegovina must reform its constitution to avoid discrimination against minorities in compliance with a 2009 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The European court ruled that the Bosnian constitution violated minority rights to run for office but none of the decisions have been implemented.
Meanwhile, Bosnia’s war crimes prosecutor has indicted Milan Lukic, 52, a Bosnian-Serb militia commander given a life sentence by a UN war crimes tribunal, for taking part in the kidnapping and killing of 20 people during Bosnia’s civil war.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague convicted Lukic in 2009 of war crimes committed in the 1990s.
The Bosnian prosecutor issued the indictment for a crime that was not covered in The Hague after interrogating Lukic in Estonia, where he is jailed.
Lukic led a paramilitary group called the White Eagles or Avengers who in 1993 tortured and executed 20 mainly Muslim victims from a train passing through Bosnia, the prosecutor’s office said.
On the issue of the constitution, approximately 400,000 Bosnians or 12 percent of the population, are barred from running for election because of their religion, ethnicity or postal address. The constitution bans anyone who refuses to declare an ethnic identity from running for the presidency.
A Bosniak – Muslim – doctor, who survived the Srebrenica massacre, cannot run for the tripartite presidency, which has one ethnic Bosniak, Croat and Serb member, because he comes from a region designated as Serb.
“It’s outrageous that a European country has had a constitution that has been discriminating against its own citizens for 24 years,” said HRW’s Clive Baldwin.
“The Bosnian authorities should stop prioritizing the main ethnic groups’ interests over equal rights for all citizens and amend the discriminatory constitution.”
The constitution was written by international specialists during the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war in 1995. The charter names the three main ethnic groups as “constituent” people. It refers to 17 minorities, including Jews and Roma, as “others” and excludes them from running for the upper house of parliament or the presidency.
In December 2009, the European court ruled that the constitution discriminated against minorities by not allowing equal participation. The case was brought by the Roma Dervo Sejdić and Jakob Finci, a Jew.
Sejdić says there is continued marginalisation and discrimination against the Roma, Bosnia’s largest minority. “Changing the constitution would lead to greater political participation of the Roma population in and I believe that all other aspects would significantly improve,” he said. “If Roma representatives are present and participate in discussions and decision-making then for sure Roma-relevant topics will be discussed more among circles where decision-making is taking place.”
Finci said there has been no action for restitution of property taken from Jews during the Holocaust or under communism, according to Human Rights Watch.