The constitutions of the state and the country’s two entities – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Federation) and Republika Srpska (RS) – provide for freedom of religious thought and practice, prohibit religious discrimination, and allow registered religious organizations to operate freely. The Federation constitution declares religion to be “a vital national interest” of the constituent peoples. The RS constitution establishes the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) as “the Church of the Serb people and other people of Orthodox religion.” A provision in the state constitution provides for representation of the three major ethnic groups – Serbs, who predominantly belong to the SOC; Croats, who mainly belong to the Roman Catholic Church; and Bosniaks, who are predominantly Muslim – in the parliament and in government positions. Individuals not belonging to one of the three major ethnic/religious groups reported they continued to be unable to obtain government positions or seats in parliament. According to observers, government authorities did not enforce the prohibition on employees of judicial institutions from wearing religious insignia at work. The Islamic Community (IC) reported the Presidency did not approve the anticipated agreement between the state and the IC on certain accommodations for religious adherents. Minority religious groups continued to report discrimination by municipal authorities regarding the use of religious property and issuance of permits for new religious properties. Banja Luka municipal authorities continued to refuse to return previously nationalized properties to the Catholic Church.
Of the 198 attacks on religious officials and sites registered by the Interreligious Council (IRC) since 2010, police had identified perpetrators in only 55 of the attacks, and the courts prosecuted only 23 of the cases. In a May report, the IRC registered 12 attacks from November 1, 2015, through October 31, 2016: nine attacks on the IC’s property, and one each against the property of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish communities. The IRC maintained the failure of authorities to pursue many cases reflected ignorance about hate crimes and a desire to deflect criticism of religious intolerance. On July 11, a defendant who pled guilty to a 2015 attack on a mosque was sentenced to one year in prison; however, the sentence stipulated the defendant would not face prison time as long as he did not commit any additional crimes for a two-year period. The prosecution of the remaining seven defendants, who pled not guilty before the court, was scheduled for February 15, 2018. The Council of Muftis of the IC continued its efforts to persuade unregistered Islamic congregations to unite with the IC. There were several instances of vandalism of religious buildings, including a mosque and an Orthodox Christian church in Foca and Sarajevo, respectively. The IRC continued to take steps to promote interfaith dialogue, including organizing the first-ever visit by senior religious leaders representing each of the major religious groups to historic sites commemorating the suffering of members of each of the four predominant ethnic groups.
U.S. embassy officials met with government officials to discuss efforts to combat violent extremism related to religion and religious freedom. The embassy officials also emphasized the need to promote respect for religious diversity and to enforce equal treatment under the law, including for religious minorities. In regular meetings with religious groups, embassy officials continued to urge these groups to improve interreligious dialogue in order to contribute to the development of a peaceful and stable society. Embassy officials continued to attend significant events in the various religious communities, especially during major holidays, to support religious tolerance and dialogue.