Friday, December 21, 2007


SARAJEVO, Bosnia (December 21,2007) - The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is hearing three cases brought by the Bosnian citizens on the grounds that the Bosnian Constitution discriminates against them because of their ethnic background.

The first case was brought by Dervo Sejdic in June 2006. Sejdic belongs to Bosnia's Roma community. In January 2007 Jakob Finci, who is Jewish, brought a case before the court, and in September this year a third case was brought by Ilijaz Pilav, a Bosniak.

“We are simply deprived of the right to take part in elections, we are unable to exercise our passive civil right, the right to be elected,” Finci, who is head of the Bosnian Jewish Community and Director of the Bosnian Civil Service Agency,said.

A number of leading legal experts in Bosnia believe these appeals stand a good chance of success, in which case the country will have to remove relevant provisions from the state and entity constitutions. But to do so would mean rejecting one of the key principles on which the Dayton Peace Agreement and the current Bosnian Constitution are based.

Dervo Sejdic and Jakob Finci are Bosnian citizens but they cannot stand for high office,at the state or entity level, because they belong to an ethnic minority. Ilijaz Pilav belongs to one of the constituent peoples, but he lives in an entity in Bosnia from where his ethnic group cannot be represented in the Bosnian Presidency.

Yet the Constitution commits Bosnia to adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights – which these provisions on ethnic representation clearly breach. Bosnia ratified Protocol 12 of the Convention, which plainly states that electoral procedures for official posts must ensure equal treatment for all citizens, allowing all citizens to vote and all citizens to stand for election.

As Professor Kasim Trnka, a leading expert on constitutional law, sums up: “The Dayton constitution placed ethnicity in the foreground, at the expenses of the individual, and resulted in the dominance of collective rights over civil rights.”

Finci explained that his object in bringing the case was not to have a member of the Bosnian Jewish community sitting in the Bosnian Presidency but rather to uphold the basic civic rights of all Bosnian citizens.

“This is an act of a citizen of Bosnia,” Finci said. “Only the voters can decide who will become a member of the Bosnian Presidency. You cannot have a constitutional provision saying that someone who is not a Bosniak, a Croat or a Serb will not be entitled to take this post.”

Ilijaz Pilav from Srebrenica brought his case after his candidacy to become a member of the Bosnian Presidency was rejected ahead of the October 2006 elections on the grounds that only Bosniaks living in the FBIH Entity could run for this position.

“With this action I hope to draw attention to discriminatory provisions of the electoral laws in Bosnia – which is just one element in an insane constitutional structure,” said Pilav, adding that he is confident the Court will find in his favour.

The President of the Bosnian Czech Community, Vladimir Blaha, also agrees that minorities are exposed to constitutional discrimination compared to constitutive groups : Bosniaks,Croats or Serbs.

“This kind of constitutional provision deprives individuals of the right to proclaim their identity and nationality in accordance with how they feel,” said Vanja Ibrahimbegović of the Association Alumni of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies at Sarajevo University.

The Bosnian Constitution currently regards citizens as Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and Others, precluding any direct affiliation with the Bosnian nation.

“An exclusively ethnic approach, which among other things determines the right to participate in political life, is contrary to the concept of inclusivity,” legal expert and leading human rights activist Srdjan Dizdarevic points out in a pamphlet titled Citizenship, Law and Rights. “The overall organization and functioning of the key state institutions are based exclusively on ethnic principle.”

According to Trnka and other experts, if the Strasbourg court finds in favour of the plaintiffs, Bosnia will have no option but to amend its constitution accordingly.

“These cases are justified. It is obviously an instance of discrimination and I believe that the Court will hand down verdicts in favour of Finci, Pilav and Sejdic,“ Trnka said.

No comments: