Rape and Domestic Violence: The maximum penalty for rape, including spousal rape, is 15 years in prison. A sense of shame among rape victims and the failure of police to treat spousal rape as a serious offense inhibited the effective enforcement of the law. Rape, particularly spousal rape, was often unreported by victims and underreported by authorities. According to Federation Gender Center statistics, 53 percent of women above the age of 15 had experienced some form of violence or abuse. A separate study sampling 3,300 households in the country indicated that one in every four women was a survivor of violence and that, for one in every 10 women, the violence had occurred within the previous year. The most frequent victims were women between the ages of 18 and 24. The study also revealed that only 5.5 percent of women experiencing violence sought help.
Violence against women, including sexual assault and domestic violence, remained widespread and underreported. 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. As a result, women in danger were compelled to go to safe houses. NGOs reported that authorities, especially in the RS, where domestic violence is a misdemeanor, often returned offenders to their family homes less than 24 hours after a violent event. In the Federation, authorities had discretion to prosecute domestic violence as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Experts estimated that only 10 percent of domestic violence victims reported the crime.
The country undertook several initiatives to combat rape and domestic violence. In July 2015 the government adopted an official strategy for 2015-19 to combat domestic violence and violence against women. In August the BiH Gender Equality Agency signed a memorandum of understanding with the country’s nine safe houses run by NGOs, which could collectively accommodate up to 200 victims at a time. Financing the safe houses, some of which doubled as shelters for trafficking victims, remained problematic. NGO representatives asserted there was a need for at least double the existing capacity.
Despite government efforts, women did not fully use available legal remedies because they either lacked knowledge of the laws or were concerned about the possible consequences of revealing such violence. In addition, although police received specialized training in handling cases of domestic violence, NGOs reported widespread reluctance among police officers in both entities to break up families by arresting offenders.
Social service agencies experienced inadequate funding, staff, and training in helping victims effectively. A multitude of NGOs dedicated to assisting victims of domestic violence sought to fill this void. Nine of them formed a strong cooperative arrangement called Safe Network. The network developed two hotlines–one for each entity–that women could call when they needed services but were reluctant to contact police. The hotlines had received an estimated 2,500 calls by the end of July.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but it was a serious problem. NGOs reported that those who experienced sexual harassment almost never filed complaints because they did not know the treatment they experienced was illegal or that they had a right to legal protection against it.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
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. A special report published by the human rights ombudsmen in 2015 regarding protections for mothers revealed widespread discrimination against women in the workplace, including the regular unwarranted dismissal of women because they were pregnant or new mothers. Many job announcements openly advertised discriminatory criteria, such as age and physical appearance, for employment of female applicants. Women remained underrepresented in law enforcement agencies.
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 on the territory of the country to parents who are unknown or stateless is entitled to BiH citizenship. Parents generally registered their children immediately after they were born, but there were exceptions, particularly in the Romani community. One Romani NGO, Be My Friend, reported discovering between 10 and 15 unregistered Romani children annually.
The NGO Vasa Prava estimated there were slightly fewer than 80 unregistered children in the country. UNHCR, with the legal assistance of a domestic NGO, registered the births of children, mainly Roma, whose parents failed to register them. Unregistered children experienced significant obstacles in accessing government social, educational, and health benefits.
Education: Education was free through the secondary level but compulsory only from age six through 15.
Child Abuse: Family violence against children was a problem. Police investigated and prosecuted individual cases of child abuse. The country’s Agency for Gender Equality estimated that one in five families experienced 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. Children’s rights and antitrafficking activists noted that prosecutors were reluctant to investigate and prosecute arranged marriages involving Romani minors on the grounds that such marriages were “their way.” The government did not have any programs specifically designed to reduce the incidence of child marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The state-level penalty for sexual exploitation of children is imprisonment for up to 10 years but may rise to 20 years under certain aggravating circumstances. At the entity level, penalties range from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. On June 16, the Federation adopted long-anticipated amendments to its criminal code criminalizing sex trafficking, forced labor, and organized human trafficking. Prior to June, police in the Federation often categorized minors 14 and older as “juvenile prostitutes” rather than victims of rape or trafficking in persons. Women’s and children’s rights NGOs complained that the law previously allowed police to subject children between the ages of 14 and 17 to interrogation and criminal proceedings. 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 child and defines a child as 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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic violence against members of the Jewish community, which authorities estimated to number fewer than 1,000 persons.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law in both entities and at the state level prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, the judicial system, and the provision of other state services. In July the BiH parliament adopted revised amendments to the BiH Antidiscrimination Law that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on disability. Nevertheless, discrimination in these areas continued.
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.
The law enables children with disabilities to attend regular classes when feasible. Due to lack of financial and physical resources, schools often reported that 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 disabilities, especially of those with extensive disabilities, faced many obstacles, and authorities generally left them on their own to provide education for their children, although a growing number of programs for children with disabilities were available in schools and through NGOs. Parents of children with significant disabilities reported receiving limited to no financial support from the government, despite the fact that many of them were unemployed because of the round-the-clock care required for their dependents.
NGOs also complained that the government did not effectively implement laws and programs to help persons with disabilities.
Minorities experienced 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.
Harassment and discrimination against minorities continued throughout the country. Examples included desecration of graves, graffiti, arson, and vandalism of houses of worship and other religious sites, verbal harassment, dismissal from work, threats, and physical assaults. In some cases, incidents were related to property disputes.
Violence and acts of intimidation against ethnic minorities often 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/.
For the fourth 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 grounds for the boycott remained the refusal by the RS Ministry of Education to approve a group of national subjects and its insistence on formally calling the language children learn in their respective public schools the “language of Bosniak people” instead of the “Bosnian language,” as described in the country’s national constitution. Parents accused RS authorities of denying them their constitutional right to study their language, provided for under their country’s international obligations, while RS authorities continued to insist they were abiding by the RS constitution.
Human rights activists noted that many textbooks reinforced stereotypes of the country’s ethnic groups 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.
On June 30, the BiH Statistics Agency released long-overdue 2013 census results but failed to distinguish the size of the Romani population. Estimates of the Romani population in the country ranged from 25,000, as recorded by the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees, to 60-80,000, as reported by several Roma advocacy NGOs. Roma experienced discrimination in access to housing, health care, education, and employment opportunities. Romani leaders reported that discrimination in access to social benefits and employment led to a significant increase in the number of Roma who emigrated and sought asylum broad. While there were no official statistics available, it was estimated that at least 1,500 Romani families had left the country during the previous two years seeking asylum in either Germany or Sweden. Many were thought to have been seeking improved access to health care for chronically ill family members.
Roma continued to experience more discrimination than any other segment of the population. Almost 97 percent of them remained unemployed. A significant percentage 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. Roma had significantly less access to health insurance than other groups, and infant mortality among Roma was four times greater than among the rest of the population. Authorities frequent discriminated against Roma, which contributed to their exclusion by society.
Many human rights NGOs criticized law enforcement and government authorities for widespread indifference toward Romani victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, even though the majority of registered trafficking victims in recent years were members of the Romani community.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While law at the state level prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, authorities did not fully enforce it. In April the Federation parliament amended the criminal code to include laws criminalizing hate crimes. As a result, both entities and the Brcko District have laws that criminalize any form of hate crime committed on the basis of the race, skin color, religious belief, national or ethnic origin, language, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the victim. According to the criminal codes, the commission of a hate crime may also be considered a motive or aggravating circumstance and therefore require harsher punishment for qualified criminal acts.
Despite improved legislation, LGBTI persons faced frequent harassment and discrimination, including termination of employment. In some cases, dismissal letters 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. During the year both entity governments for the first time adopted public policies intended to address LGBTI issues by creating official gender action plans.
The prosecution of cases for crimes including assault committed against members of the LGBTI community remained delayed and generally inadequate. Two years following an attack that injured several organizers and participants in the Merlinka LGBTI Film Festival in Sarajevo, criminal proceedings continued. In March, four individuals assaulted patrons and staff of a known LGBTI-friendly establishment while shouting homophobic epithets. Police detained, interviewed, and promptly released the perpetrators in what was officially classified a misdemeanor offense.
In 2015 the Sarajevo Open Center documented 103 cases of hate speech and incitement to violence as well as 20 criminal offenses motivated by prejudices based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Significant social stigma and employment discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained among members of the public as well as health workers, due largely to a lack of public understanding of the nature of the infection. A Sarajevo-based NGO that provides support to individuals with HIV/AIDS reported that infected persons experienced the greatest stigma and discrimination when seeking dental treatment.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Societal discrimination and occasional violence against ethnic minorities at times took the form of attacks on places symbolic of those minorities, including on religious buildings. According to the Interreligious Council, an NGO that promotes interreligious dialogue among the four “traditional” religious communities (Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish), attacks against religious symbols, clerics, and property decreased in the first eight months of the year, compared with the same period in 2015.
Promotion of Acts of Discrimination
There were widespread instances of media coverage and public discourse designed to portray members of other ethnic groups in negative terms, usually in relation to the 1992-95 war. During the year the RS president and senior officials in his political party as well as other officials and leaders in the RS repeatedly denied that Serb forces committed genocide at Srebrenica in 1995, despite the opposite findings of multiple local and international courts.