In 2019, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) saw little improvement in protecting people’s rights. The holding of its first LGBT Pride was a welcome development, even though lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people continue to face discrimination and violence. The state fails in practice to protect women from gender-based violence or hold most of those responsible for it to account. A decade after provisions in the constitution were ruled discriminatory by a human rights court, they have yet to be changed. Media freedom remains compromised and the pace of war crimes prosecutions slow, according to Human Rights Watch.
Accountability for War Crimes
A revised National War Crimes Processing Strategy to improve the process of allocating cases across courts has awaited approval by the Council of Ministers since February 2018, made no progress in 2019, slowing down the rate at which war crimes cases are prosecuted.
According to information provided by the OSCE, in August 2019 there were 250 war crimes cases against 512 defendants in the post-indictment phase pending before all courts in BiH.
Between January and June 2019, BiH courts rendered first instance judgments in 26 cases: 15 in the State Court, 9 in the Federation BiH (FBiH) court and 2 in the Republika Srpska (RS) court. In total, 23 of the 38 defendants were convicted. During the same period, Bosnian courts reached final judgments in 21 cases: 10 in the State Court, 9 in the FBiH court, 1 in RS court, and 1 in the Brčko court. In total, 29 of 42 defendants were convicted.
In cases involving conflict-related sexual violence, courts reached first instance judgments in 8 cases in the first half of 2019, with 8 of the total 10 defendants convicted, and final judgments in 4 cases, with 9 defendants convicted and 1 acquitted.
In March 2019, the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunal (MICT) ruled against the appeal of Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb wartime president, confirming his 2016 conviction for genocide and other crimes and extending his initial 40-year sentence to life in prison.
In a positive move, in July 2019 BiH signed agreements with Serbia and Croatia to facilitate better cooperation in the search for missing persons from the 1990s wars.
There was less progress in coming to terms with the past. In April, the Serb member of the Bosnian Presidency Milorad Dodik called the Srebrenica genocide a myth.
BiH has an established legislative framework for tackling gender-based violence and human trafficking and institutional gender equality mechanisms, including in politics. Implementation remained patchy or non-existent in 2019, according to women’s rights organization Kvinna Till Kvinna, leaving women vulnerable to domestic violence and employment discrimination, and underrepresented in political life.
The state response to gender-based violence remained inadequate, despite the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. According to Kvinna Till Kvinna, police officers do not always inform women of their rights and available support, and perpetrators are just given a warning.
A September study from the United Nations Development Program’s found that women’s representation in Bosnian political institutions is only half of the 40 percent legally mandated proportion.
There is currently no systematic data collection on gender-based violence across the entities. In April 2019, the Council of Europe recommended Bosnia institutions increase the quality of such data. According to an OSCE regional survey in 2019, of 2,321 women interviewed in Bosnia, 42 percent do not know what to do if they experience violence, and 37 percent are not aware of any support organizations.
According to BiH Ombudsman Office, violence against women is still under-reported and some of the reasons are fear of the perpetrator, long court proceedings, low penalties for the perpetrator, distrust in the institutions, and social stigma.