Bosnia and Herzegovina
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The maximum penalty for rape, regardless of gender, including spousal rape, is 15 years in prison. The failure of police to treat spousal rape as a serious offense inhibited the effective enforcement of the law. Women victims of rape did not have regular access to free social support or assistance and continued to confront prejudice and discrimination in their communities and from representatives of public institutions.
While laws in both entities empower authorities to remove the perpetrator from the home, officials rarely, if ever, made use of these provisions. Law enforcement officials were frequently under the mistaken impression that they needed to concern themselves with where the perpetrator would live.
NGOs reported that authorities often returned offenders to their family homes less than 24 hours after a violent event. In the Federation, authorities prosecuted domestic violence as a felony, while in the RS it can be reported as a felony or a misdemeanor. Even when domestic violence resulted in prosecution and conviction, offenders were regularly fined or given suspended sentences, even for repeat offenders.
Gender-based violence was recognized as one of the most important problems involving gender equality. NGOs reported that one of every two women experienced some type of domestic violence and that the problem was underreported because the majority of victims did not trust the support system (police, social welfare centers, or the judiciary). On September 10, Dorđe Neskovic from Doboj attacked his wife with a knife, causing severe physical injuries, because she had left their home two months earlier, being unable to endure years of his abuse and went to live with their son. Authorities arrested Neskovic and charged him with attempted murder.
In 2018 the country adopted a gender action plan for 2018-22. The plan contains measures for the creation, implementation, and monitoring of programs to advance gender equality in government institutions and foresees building and strengthening systems, mechanisms, and instruments for gender equality as well as strengthening partnership and cooperation between organizations. The plan identifies preventing and combatting of gender-based violence and trafficking, promoting employment and access to economic resources, and strengthening cooperation at the regional and international level as priorities.
The country lacked a system for collecting data on domestic violence cases. The state-level Gender Equality Agency worked to establish a local-level mechanism to coordinate support for victims. The agency had a memorandum of understanding with the country’s nine NGO-run safe houses, which could collectively accommodate up to 178 victims, or less than half the capacity needed. In the RS, 70 percent of financing for safe houses came from the RS budget, while 30 percent came from the budgets of local communities. While the RS government and local communities generally met their funding obligations, the Federation had no adequate bylaw that would regulate the financing of the safe houses, and payments depended on each canton or local community, some of which often failed to honor their obligations.
Although police received specialized training in handling cases of domestic violence, NGOs reported widespread reluctance among officers in both entities to break up families by arresting offenders.
Sexual Harassment: Combatting violence against women and domestic violence is mainly the responsibility of the entities. The 2010 Law on Gender Equality of BiH, which applies to all of BiH, defines and prohibits gender-based harassment, including sexual harassment, as a form of discrimination.
NGOs reported that sexual harassment is a serious problem, but that women who are exposed to harassment rarely report it due to the expectation that they would not receive systematic support of the institutions and that the perpetrators would go unpunished or receive light punishment, as evident by years of such practice by judicial institutions.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and authorities generally treated women equally. The law does not explicitly require equal pay for equal work, but it forbids gender discrimination. Women and men generally received equal pay for equal work at government-owned enterprises but not at all private businesses. In 2018 research by the Helsinki Citizens Assembly of Banja Luka indicated that gender-based discrimination existed in all areas of employment, including job vacancy announcements (requiring women to be young and attractive), job interviews (asking questions about marital status and pregnancy plans), unequal pay, dismissals due to pregnancy, and greater difficulty getting promoted. There is no official legal mechanism to protect women during maternity leave, and social compensation during leave was unequally regulated in different parts of the country. As of January the RS government began paying a 405 convertible marks ($230) maternity allowance to unemployed new mothers for a period of one year and for a period of 18 months in cases of twins and every third and subsequent child. Employed mothers were entitled to one year of paid maternity leave. Women remained underrepresented in law enforcement agencies.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: The boy-to-girl birth ratio for the country was 106.79 boys per 100 girls in 2018. There were no reports the government took steps to address the imbalance.
Birth Registration: By law a child born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen regardless of the child’s place of birth. A child born in the territory of the country to parents who were unknown or stateless is entitled to citizenship. Parents generally registered their children immediately after they were born, but there were exceptions, particularly in the Romani community. The NGO Vasa Prava identified 82 unregistered children in the country, mainly Roma. UNHCR, with the legal assistance of a domestic NGO, registered the births of children whose parents failed to register them.
Education: Education was free through the secondary level but compulsory only for children between the ages of six and 15. Students with special needs continued to struggle for access to a quality, inclusive education due to physical barriers in schools and the lack of in-school assistants and trained teachers to meet their needs.
A teenager with Asperger syndrome, Slavko Mrsic from Rudo, was excluded from high school by the RS Ministry of Education because of complications related to his condition. In April he was allowed to return to school for the first time in three years after countrywide protests by many human rights activists. The case highlighted the wider and deeper issue of exclusion of students with disabilities, who face numerous human rights violations in education systems in all parts of the country. Parents of students with disabilities protested in front of the Sarajevo Canton government in July, requesting that their children to be granted access to quality education and a chance to develop their full potential within the country’s education system.
More than 50 schools across the Federation remained segregated by ethnicity and religion. Although a “two schools under one roof” system was instituted following the 1992-95 conflict as a way to bring together returnee communities violently separated by conflict, the system calcified under the divisive and prejudicial administration of leading political parties. These parties controlled school administration through the country’s 13 different ministries of education and often enforced education policies based upon patronage and ethnic exclusion. Where students, parents, and teachers choose to resist segregation, they were met frequently with political indifference and sometimes intimidation.
Returnee students throughout the country continued to face barriers in exercising their language rights. For the sixth year in a row, parents of more than 500 Bosniak children in returnee communities throughout the RS continued to boycott public schools in favor of sending their children to alternative schooling financed and organized by the Federation Ministry of Education, with support from the Sarajevo Canton municipal government and the Islamic community. The boycott was based on the refusal of the RS Ministry of Education to approve a group of national subjects (specific courses to which Bosniak, Serb, and Croat students are entitled and taught in their constituent language according to their ethnicity) and its insistence on formally calling the language that children learn in their public schools the “language of the Bosniak people” instead of the “Bosnian language,” as described in the country’s constitution. In the Federation, Serb students likewise were denied language rights as provided in the Federation constitution, particularly in Canton 10, where authorities prevented the use of the Serbian language and textbooks, even in the areas with a significant number of returnee Serb students. Human rights activists noted that changes in the history curriculum and in history and other textbooks reinforced stereotypes of the country’s ethnic groups other than their own, and others missed opportunities to dispel stereotypes by excluding any mention of some ethnic groups, particularly Jews and Roma. State and entity officials generally did not act to prevent such discrimination. Human Rights Watch asserted that ethnic quotas used by the Federation and the RS to allocate civil service jobs disproportionately excluded Roma and other minorities. The quotas were based on the 1991 census, which undercounted these minorities.
Child Abuse: Family violence against children was a problem. Police investigated and prosecuted individual cases of child abuse. Only a small number of cases of violence against children were reported and, as a consequence, only a few cases were brought before courts. The country’s Agency for Gender Equality estimated that one in five families experienced domestic violence. In many cases, children were indirect victims of family violence. The Sarajevo Canton Social Welfare Center estimated that up to 700 children annually were indirect victims of domestic violence.
Municipal centers for social work are responsible for protecting children’s rights but lacked resources and the ability to provide housing for children who fled abuse or who required removal from abusive homes.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 but may be as young as 16 with parental consent. In certain Romani communities, girls married between the ages of 12 and 14, and Romani human right activists reported that early marriages were on the rise. Children’s rights and antitrafficking activists noted that prosecutors were reluctant to investigate and prosecute forced marriages involving Romani minors, attributing it to Romani custom. The government did not have programs specifically designed to reduce the incidence of child marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Federation, the RS, and the Brcko District have laws criminalizing sex trafficking, forced labor, and organized human trafficking. The state-level penalty for sexual exploitation of children is imprisonment for up to 20 years under certain aggravating circumstances. At the entity level, penalties range from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Under entity criminal codes, the abuse of a child or juvenile for pornography is a crime that carries a sentence of one to five years in prison. Authorities generally enforced these laws. The law prohibits sexual acts with a person younger than 18.
Girls were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, and there were reports that Romani girls as young as 12 endured early and forced marriage and domestic servitude. Children were used in the production of pornography.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community in the country reported that it had fewer than 1,000 members.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law in both entities and at the state level prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Nevertheless, discrimination in these areas continued. The government lacked a uniform legal definition of disabilities, which complicated access to benefits for those that would readily qualify, and normally prioritized support for war veterans. The most frequent forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities included obstacles in realization of individual rights, delayed payments of disability allowances, employment, and social and health protection. Support to persons with disabilities was dependent on the origin of the disability. Persons whose disability was the result of the 1992-95 conflict, whether they are war veterans or civilian victims of war, have priority and greater allowances than other persons with disabilities.
The laws of both entities require increased accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities, but authorities rarely enforced the requirement. Human rights NGOs complained that the construction of public buildings without access for persons with disabilities continued. Both entities have a strategy for advancing the rights of persons with disabilities in the areas of health, education, accessibility, professional rehabilitation and employment, social welfare, and culture and sports. NGOs complained that the government did not effectively implement laws and programs to help persons with disabilities.
The law provides for children with disabilities to attend regular classes when feasible. Due to a lack of financial and physical resources, schools often reported they were unable to accommodate them. Children with disabilities either attended classes using regular curricula in regular schools or attended special schools. Parents of children with significant disabilities reported receiving limited to no financial support from the government, notwithstanding that many of them were unemployed because of the round-the-clock care required for their dependents.
Harassment and discrimination against members of minorities continued throughout the country, although not as frequently as in previous years. The Interreligious Council of BiH reported, for example, that the number of attacks against religious buildings continued to decrease, as they recorded only six cases during 2018. Members of minority groups also continued to experience discrimination in employment and education in both the government and private sectors. While the law prohibits discrimination, human rights activists frequently complained that authorities did not adequately enforce the law. For example, in 2018, 121 hate crimes were recorded in the country, but only two resulted in convictions. On April 9, unknown perpetrators sprayed painted Nazi and Serb nationalist symbols on Arnaudija mosque in Banja Luka. No perpetrators were identified, but the incident was widely condemned by government authorities in the RS.
Violence and acts of intimidation against ethnic minorities at times focused on symbols and buildings of that minority’s predominant religion. For more information, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Roma, and especially Romani women, continued to be the country’s most vulnerable and discriminated group. They experienced discrimination in access to housing, health care, education, and employment opportunities, and nearly 95 percent of them remained unemployed. A significant percentage of Roma were homeless or without water or electricity in their homes. Many dwellings were overcrowded, and residents lacked proof of property ownership. Approximately three-fourths lived in openly segregated neighborhoods.
In the 2013 census, 12,583 persons registered as Roma, a number that appears to understate significantly the actual number of Roma in the country. Romani activists reported that a minimum of 40,000 Roma lived in the country, which was similar to Council of Europe estimates. Observers believed the discrepancy in the census figure was the result of numerous manipulations that occurred with the Roma census registration in 2013. Romani activists reported that in many instances, Roma were told by census takers that they had to register as Bosniaks, had their census forms filled out for them, or were simply bypassed altogether.
Authorities frequently discriminated against Roma, which contributed to their exclusion by society. Many human rights NGOs criticized law enforcement and government authorities for the failure and unwillingness to identify Roma as victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, even though the majority of registered trafficking victims in recent years were Roma. Consequently, many trafficking cases ended up as cases of family negligence, which are not criminally prosecuted.
The country has an established legal framework for the protection of minorities. State and entity-level parliaments had national minority councils that met on a regular basis but generally lacked resources and political influence on decision-making processes. The Roma Committee continued to operate as a consultative body to the Council of Ministers, but with very limited influence.
The country does not have a comprehensive strategy on national minorities. The Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees is in charge of implementing a law on national minorities, for which it annually allocates 150,000 convertible marks ($84,000). The country has a Council of National Minorities, which is an advisory body to the Council of Ministers and is composed of one representative from each recognized national minority group. The country lacked human rights and antidiscrimination strategies, and the government does not have an effective system of collecting discrimination cases.
The government continued to implement a 2017-20 Roma action plan to improve employment, housing, and health care and a separate 2018-22 action plan on Romani educational needs. In 2018 the government allocated two million markas ($1.1 million) for employment, healthcare, and housing of Roma. At lower levels of government, these funds are regularly matched by additional funds from governmental and donor funds. Eleven local communities had local community plans to assist Roma.
While the law at the state level prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, authorities did not fully enforce it. Both entities and the Brcko District have laws that criminalize any form of hate crime committed on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Hate speech, discrimination, and violence against LGBTI individuals were widespread. The NGO Sarajevo Open Center (SOC) reported that transgender persons were the most vulnerable LGBTI group. In its 2019 Pink Report, SOC reported that every third LGBTI person in the country experienced some type of discrimination. SOC believed the actual number of LGBTI persons who experienced some type of discrimination was much higher but that people were afraid to report it. In 2018 SOC documented five discrimination cases, three of which involved workplace discrimination and two that involved discrimination in access to public services and goods. During 2018 SOC also documented 39 cases of hate speech and calling for violence and hatred and 33 cases of crimes and incidents motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. Of the 33 cases, nine involved domestic violence. The cases varied from illegal deprivation of freedom and movement to violence and forced medical treatments. The perpetrators in all cases were parents and siblings. A SOC survey in 2017 showed that two-thirds of transgender persons experienced some type of discrimination. The prosecution of assault and other crimes committed against LGBTI individuals remained delayed and generally inadequate. SOC reported that, to date, the courts have never issued a final judgment that found discrimination had occurred on the basis of sexual orientation and gender-based identity.
LGBTI persons faced frequent harassment and discrimination, including termination of employment. NGOs also reported that schools were increasingly hostile environments, where LGBTI persons regularly experienced harassment and violence. In some cases, dismissal letters from work explicitly stated that sexual orientation was the cause of termination, making it extremely difficult for those dismissed to find another job. In the face of such risks, LGBTI persons rarely reported discrimination to police.
Prior to BiH’s first LGBTI Pride March on September 8, numerous social media posts were directed against a foreign embassy and ambassador for supporting the right of the organizers to hold the march. Referring to LGBTI persons, a Party for Democratic Action representative in the Sarajevo Canton Assembly, Samra Cosovic-Hajdarovic, posted on Facebook: “I want these people isolated and moved as far as possible from our children and society.” A Salafist NGO called Iskorak (A Step Forward), led by theologian Sanin Musa, organized a counter demonstration that took place two hours before the start of the Pride March. The stated goal was to demonstrate against the public expression of sexual orientation, which they deemed to be incompatible with Bosniak Muslim tradition. Participants carried banners with offensive messages against the LGBTI population but disbanded peacefully. The day prior to the Pride March, approximately 500 individuals, including many brought in from other areas of the country, participated in a separate “day of the traditional family” march. Spokesperson Ahmed Kulanic stated organizers wished to draw attention to what it called “traditional families.”
Significant social stigma and employment discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained among members of the public as well as health workers. A Sarajevo-based NGO reported that infected persons experienced the greatest stigma and discrimination when seeking medical assistance. Due to a lack of awareness among the general population, many persons with HIV/AIDS feared revealing their illness, even to closes family members. The country had no permanent or organized programs of psychosocial support for these persons.
Societal discrimination and occasional violence against ethnic minorities at times took the form of attacks on places symbolic of those minorities, including religious buildings. According to the Interreligious Council, an NGO that promotes dialogue among the four “traditional” religious communities (Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish), attacks against religious symbols, clerics, and property significantly decreased in the first eight months of 2018, compared with the same period in 2017 with only six registered attacks.
There were widespread instances of media coverage and public discourse designed to portray members of other ethnic groups in negative terms, usually in connection with the 1992-95 conflict. In August 2018 the RS National Assembly voted to annul a 2004 report on the Srebrenica massacres that acknowledged that Bosnian Serb forces executed thousands of Bosniaks in violation of international humanitarian law. During the year the then chairman of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik, senior officials in his political party (the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats), as well as other officials and leaders from the RS, repeatedly denied that Serb forces committed genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, despite the findings of multiple local and international courts. In April Dodik called the Srebrenica genocide a myth. In February the RS government, following a proposal from the RS Academy of Science and Arts and various associations, appointed two international commissions to purportedly re-examine the war of the 1990s: a Srebrenica Commission to investigate the suffering of all persons in and around Srebrenica between 1992 and 1995 and a Sarajevo Commission to investigate the suffering of Serbs in Sarajevo during the war.