There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom; however, entity and local governments sometimes did not enforce legal and policy protections for religious freedom. Weak administrative and judicial systems often posed major obstacles to safeguarding the rights of religious minorities. In some cases, local governments made improvements to protect religious freedom; however, selective legal enforcement and the indifference of some government officials continued to allow societal intolerance and the threat of violence to restrict religious minorities’ ability to worship in certain areas.
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. Minority religious communities on occasion had difficulty obtaining permits for new churches and mosques. For example, the Evangelical Church continued to seek a construction permit to build a new church on its downtown property in Mostar. Church officials stated that corruption among municipal officials, specifically the church’s refusal to pay a bribe, continued to cause administrative delays in issuing a permit.
The number of attacks on religious sites decreased by half from the previous year, which the Inter-Religious Council and religious freedom activists attributed to stepped-up efforts by police and local authorities in cooperation with religious communities. However, local police infrequently made arrests in cases of vandalism of religious buildings or attacks on members of religious communities, and successful prosecutions were rare. An Inter-Religious Council report noted that as of November, police had identified the perpetrators of attacks on religious sites in only six of 28 cases. Local police sometimes alleged, in order to downplay incidents of vandalism, that juveniles, intoxicated individuals, or mentally unstable persons were responsible for these attacks.
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 ethnic group. Many political party leaders used religion to strengthen their credibility with voters, contributing to intolerance through public statements. Religious leaders exerted influence in government policy and programs, sometimes to the detriment of nonbelievers or members of other religious groups. The appropriation of religious symbols and buildings for political purposes had a negative effect on interreligious dialogue and interethnic relations in many communities.
Entity, cantonal, and municipal governments gave varying levels of financial support to the four traditional religious communities. Religious communities tended to receive the most funding in areas where their adherents were in the majority.
The government failed to implement a 2009 European Court of Human Rights ruling that the constitution discriminates against so-called “others,” such as Jews and Roma, because it prevents them from running for the country’s presidency or the parliament’s upper house. The Interim Joint Commission, formed by both houses of parliament in October 2011, was responsible for producing a proposal for implementing the ruling. However, due to the reshuffling of the ruling coalition in parliament, the commission suspended its work in May without reaching agreement.
Officials did not always fully implement provisions in the law regarding religious education, particularly in segregated school systems or where there was political resistance from party officials at the municipal level. Students from both majority and minority religious communities sometimes faced pressure from teachers and peers to attend noncompulsory religious instruction, and most did so. In February Emir Suljagic, minister of education for Sarajevo Canton, resigned after coming under intense criticism by the Islamic Community and receiving multiple threats, including a death threat. To ensure fairness for students who chose not to take the optional religion class, Suljagic had ruled the previous year that grades in religious classes in primary schools would no longer count toward students’ final grade point averages.
In September, after several years of unsuccessful attempts to register, the MOJ granted registration to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) on the basis of the church’s earlier status as a registered religious community in former Yugoslavia.
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. Religious communities or civic communities affiliated with religious communities usually constructed these buildings with the tacit or even official approval of the government. In these cases, observers stated that the purpose behind the construction was to send a political message to members of minority religious communities about the dominance of the majority ethno-religious group in that area.
An illegally constructed Serbian 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 be removed. Although no members of the Serbian Orthodox Church reside in Konjevic Polje, the local Orthodox bishop has held services in the church every year. In June the RS Supreme Court suspended a 2011 verdict of the Bijeljina District Court that had rejected a lawsuit filed by Orlovic demanding removal of the church, returning the case to Srebrenica Basic Court. At a September hearing, Orlovic’s lawyer requested that the case be transferred to another court, arguing that she could not get a fair decision at the Basic Court. While Orthodox authorities made public statements during the court hearings suggesting their continued willingness to move the church, during the year they made no effort to do so or to seek a compromise with Orlovic.
The Serbian Orthodox Tuzla-Zvornik Diocese resumed efforts to construct a church near an exhumed Bosniak mass grave after the RS Ministry for Urban Planning sent a letter in May seeming to reverse its earlier finding that the local government had acted lawfully in refusing to issue construction and zoning permits. In January 2011 the diocese began building the church without a construction permit on land donated by a former Bosnian Serb police officer removed from his position for his connections to war crimes. The church’s construction is widely regarded as disrespectful to genocide victims because of its location close to the former mass grave. The area has few members of the Serbian Orthodox Church. After intense engagement by the international community with RS and Serbian Orthodox Church authorities, the diocese had not resumed construction at year’s end.
Authorities did not apply laws governing private property and construction of religious buildings uniformly throughout the country, and local governments sometimes applied local laws in ways that contravened national laws permitting reconstruction of houses of worship by religious minorities. In March the Commission for Preservation of National Monuments rejected a request by Livno Municipality to rescind its decision designating the site and remnants of the Curcinica Mosque and graveyard a national monument. In 2007 the commission granted the Muslim community the right to rebuild the mosque, which was destroyed during the 1992-1995 war, in a modern style and with additional business facilities onsite. The decision was not subject to appeal by local authorities under the law. The Federation Ministry of Spatial Planning issued a construction permit in May 2011, but in June 2011, the Livno municipal council, led by an ethnic Croat majority, ordered the suspension of construction. The council stated that the mosque’s reconstruction did not match the original mosque’s design. At year’s end, the mosque’s reconstruction was proceeding peacefully.
In the absence of national legislation specifically governing restitution of property nationalized by the communist government of the former Yugoslavia after World War II, the return of former religious properties continued at the discretion of municipal officials, who usually gave preferential treatment to the majority group. Many officials used property restitution cases as political patronage, making religious leaders dependent on such officials in their efforts to regain property taken from religious communities. The country’s four traditional religious communities had extensive claims for restitution, but the law only provides religious communities the right to restitution of expropriated property “in accordance with the law” without further specification.
Among a number of politically and legally complicated restitution issues were the continued efforts of the Serbian Orthodox Church, supported by the Inter-Religious Council, to seek the return of the building currently housing the University of Sarajevo’s economics faculty. University and political leaders took no significant steps to implement a June 2010 agreement among the economics faculty and the governments of the Federation, Sarajevo Canton, and Sarajevo Stari Grad Municipality to return the building. The economics faculty repeatedly rebuffed efforts by the Serbian Orthodox Church to seek compromises, such as allowing the Serbian Orthodox Theological Faculty (a constituent college within the public University of East Sarajevo) to use a small space within the old building for academic purposes as proof of intent to comply with the 2010 agreement. At year’s end, the economics faculty continued to occupy the church’s building, including a space used as a cafe.
Authorities in Travnik continued to not fully comply with a 2003 decision by the Human Rights Chamber (now the Human Rights Commission of the Constitutional Court) ordering the municipal government to relocate a public school housed in a building owned by the Roman Catholic archdiocese. The municipality returned part of the building in 1999 to the archdiocese for use as part of its Catholic school center. However, part of the building remained in use as a public school. The court had ordered the public school to move out of the building by July 2006. During the year the municipality rejected efforts by the international community to facilitate a solution for returning the remainder of the building.