There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom; however, entity and local governments generally did not enforce legal and policy protections for religious freedom.
Weak administrative and judicial systems effectively restricted religious freedom and posed major obstacles to safeguarding the rights of religious minorities. Minority religious communities also encountered difficulty in obtaining permits for new churches and mosques. In some cases local governments made improvements to protect religious freedom; however, selective legal enforcement and the indifference of some government officials continued to limit respect for religious freedom, which allowed societal violence and the threat of violence to restrict religious minorities’ ability to worship in certain areas. For example, local police rarely made arrests in cases of vandalism of religious buildings or violence against and harassment of religious officials or believers. Successful prosecutions were rare. Local police frequently alleged, in order to downplay the vandalism, that juveniles, intoxicated individuals, or mentally unstable persons were responsible for these attacks.
Lack of uniform protection posed obstacles to safeguarding minority rights. Federation, RS, and local governments frequently allowed or failed to prevent an atmosphere in which violations of religious freedom could take place. Police often failed to identify violators of rights of the minority population. In some cases, police and prosecutors were reluctant to investigate and aggressively prosecute crimes against religious minorities.
The appropriation of religious symbols and buildings for political purposes had a negative effect on interreligious dialogue and interethnic relations in many communities. Authorities of the majority religious or ethnic group often discriminated against those of the minority group in matters related to municipal services, including security and education.
The lines dividing politics, ethnic identity, and religion were often blurred. Political parties dominated by a single ethnic group remained powerful and continued to identify closely with the religion associated with their predominant ethnic group. Many political party leaders used religion to strengthen their credibility with voters. Religious leaders exerted influence in government policy and programs, sometimes to the detriment of nonbelievers or adherents of another religion.
Religious officials of minority populations in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and Mostar complained that local authorities discriminated against them regarding the use of religious property, provision of municipal services, and police protection and investigation of harassment and vandalism.
Officials did not always implement fully provisions in the Law on Religious Freedom regarding education, particularly in segregated school systems or where there was political resistance from nationalist party officials at the municipal level. Entity, cantonal, and municipal governments gave varying levels of financial support to the four traditional religious communities: Muslim, Serb Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish. Religious communities tended to receive the most funding in areas where their adherents were in the majority.
Students of the majority religious groups and sometimes also of minority religious groups faced pressure from teachers and peers to attend noncompulsory religious instruction, and most did so.
There were a number of controversial and highly politicized cases involving the illegal construction of religious buildings or monuments on private or government-owned land. These illegally constructed buildings were usually built by religious communities themselves or by civic groups affiliated with religious communities, with tacit or even official approval of the government. In these cases, the buildings or monuments had been built to send a political message to minority believers about the dominance of the majority ethno-religious group in that area. These actions created ethnic tensions and impeded the process of reconciliation.
For example, an illegally constructed Serb Orthodox church remained on the land of a Bosniak returnee, Fata Orlovic, in the town of Konjevic Polje in the eastern RS, despite the RS Ministry of Urban Planning’s 2004 decision that the church should be removed. In 2007, RS and Serb Orthodox Church officials agreed to relocate the church across the street, but had not done so by the end of the year. This was because ownership of the land to which the building would be moved was in dispute and the subject of a separate pending court case by the Serb Orthodox Church against the company owning the potential site for relocation. In May the Srebrenica Basic Court had issued a verdict in the case of Fata Orlovic against the Zvornik/Tuzla eparchy (administrative unit) of the Serb Orthodox Church, declaring that the eparchy did not bear responsibility for confiscating private property and illegally constructing a church building on it. The judge ruled that Orlovic should have submitted her case within three years of the church being built. Although no Orthodox believers reside in Konjevic Polje, the local Orthodox bishop holds services in the church on Orlovic’s property each September. On September 27 the Bijeljina District Court rejected a new lawsuit that Orlovic had filed against the bishop that demanded removal of the church. Despite public statements by Orthodox authorities during the trials suggesting their continued willingness to move the church, the church remained on Orlovic’s property at year’s end.
In January the Serb Orthodox Tuzla-Zvornik diocese began building, without a construction permit, a church near an exhumed Bosniak mass grave on land donated by a former Bosnian Serb police officer removed from his position for his connections to war crimes. The diocese suspended construction after the local government refused to issue a permit, a decision recognized as lawful in a letter from the Republika Srpska Ministry for Urban Planning in April 2011. By year's end, the illegally constructed church still stood, nearly completed. Srebrenica genocide survivors regard the church as disrespectful to genocide victims because it was built so close to the former mass grave, not far from the genocide memorial at Potocari, and in an area with few Serb Orthodox believers.
Authorities either did not apply laws governing private property and construction of religious buildings uniformly throughout the country or attempted to apply local laws in ways contravening national laws permitting reconstruction of houses of worship by religious minorities. For example, ethnic tensions increased in the municipality of Livno, when the local Muslim community began reconstruction of Curcinica Mosque, which was destroyed during the 1992-95 war. In 2007, the country’s National Commission for Preservation of National Monuments declared the remnants of the mosque and the Muslim tombstones within the complex a national monument. The commission also granted the Muslim community the right to rebuild the mosque in modern style and with additional business facilities onsite--a decision not subject to appeal by local authorities under the law. Based on that decision, the Federation Ministry of Spatial Planning issued the construction permit on May 4. On June 26, the Livno municipal council, led by an ethnic Croat majority, ordered the suspension of construction on the technicality that the mosque’s reconstruction did not match the original mosque’s design. By year’s end, the mosque’s reconstruction was proceeding peacefully, but the council’s majority publicly pledged to continue their legal challenges.
The country’s four traditional religious communities had extensive claims for restitution of property that the communist government of the former Yugoslavia nationalized after World War II. The Law on Religious Freedom provides religious communities the right to restitution of expropriated property throughout the country “in accordance with the law.” In the absence of any state legislation specifically governing restitution, return of former religious properties continued at the discretion of municipal officials, but such actions were usually completed only in favor of the majority group.
Many officials used property restitution cases as a tool of political patronage, rendering religious leaders dependent on them to regain property taken from religious communities. Other unresolved restitution claims were politically and legally complicated.
For example, the Serb Orthodox Church continued to seek the return of the building currently housing the University of Sarajevo’s economics faculty. The Inter-Religious Council, representing all of the country’s major religious communities supported the building’s return to the Church. However, at the end of the year, university and political leaders had taken no significant steps to implement the June 2010 agreement among the Federation, Sarajevo Canton, Sarajevo Stari Grad Municipality governments, and the economics faculty in Sarajevo to return the faculty building to the Serb Orthodox Church.