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. As a result, women in danger were compelled to go to safe houses. In one example, an NGO reported a case of a mother with three children who suffered psychological and physical violence from her husband for 12 years. She was unemployed and economically dependent on him. She eventually reached out for help and accepted assistance and accommodation in a safe house.
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 challenges for gender equality. NGOs reported that one of every two women experienced some type of domestic violence and that this problem was underreported, because the majority of victims did not trust the support system (police, social welfare centers, or the judiciary). The country implemented a 2013-17 state gender action plan. The country still lacked a data collection system on domestic violence cases. The state-level Gender Equality Agency worked on the establishment of a local level coordination mechanism of support for victims. The agency had a memorandum of understanding with the country’s eight NGO-run safe houses, which could collectively accommodate up to 250 victims, roughly 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: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but it was a serious problem. NGOs reported that those who experienced sexual harassment almost never filed complaints with authorities.
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. NGOs reported little real progress in advancing equality between men and women in the labor market, noting instead widespread discrimination against women in the workplace, including the regular unwarranted dismissal of women because they were pregnant or new mothers. There is no official legal mechanism for the protection of women during maternity leave, and social compensation during leave was unequally regulated in different parts of the country. 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.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: The boy-to-girl birth ratio for the country was 107 boys per 100 girls. 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 estimated there were fewer than 49 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 of the ages of six through 15. Students with special needs continued to struggle for access to a quality, inclusive education due to physical barriers and the lack of in-school assistants and trained teachers to meet their needs.
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 fifth 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 in the areas of return of Serb students. Human rights activists noted that many 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. In July the Federation Supreme Court sentenced a stepfather, mother, and grandmother from Sarajevo to a total of 97 years of imprisonment for the mistreatment and murder of a three-and-a-half-year-old son or grandson, who died from physical abuse in 2014. 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 forced marriages involving Romani minors. 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 age 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.html.
The Jewish community in the country reported that it had fewer than 1,000 members.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic violence against members of the Jewish community, but anti-Semitic graffiti appeared in July, almost simultaneously, inside the hallways of apartment buildings where members of the Jewish community resided in Tuzla and Sarajevo. Authorities harshly condemned the incidents. No perpetrators were identified.
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. 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.
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 people 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.
Members of minorities 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.
Harassment and discrimination against 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 objects continued to decrease during the year.
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 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 99 percent of them remained unemployed. A significant percentage of them 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.
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 Romani victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, even though the majority of registered trafficking victims in recent years were Roma.
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 Council continued to operate as a consultative body to the Council of Ministers, but with very limited influence.
The government continued to work on the implementation of a 2017-20 action plan to improve employment, housing, and health care for the Romani population. The plan included approximately 24.2 million convertible marks ($14.8 million) in total budgetary allocations. In December 2017 the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees signed memoranda on the allocation of grant funds worth 1.1 million convertible marks ($650,000) to address employment and health care protection for Roma.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
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.
The prosecution of assault and other crimes committed against LGBTI individuals remained delayed and generally inadequate. In 2017 SOC registered 11 cases of domestic violence perpetrated by immediate family members as well as threats, blackmail, physical assaults, and forced medical treatment. Local advocacy NGOs reported increasing levels of documented domestic and peer violence committed against LGBTI individuals during 2017. SOC registered eight cases of homophobic and transphobic peer violence. The government had no institutional plan to combat peer violence.
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.
In March the BBI Shopping Center and National Theater in Sarajevo refused to allow SOC to organize a performance to commemorate the International Transgender Day of Visibility, citing security concerns.
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. A Sarajevo-based NGO reported that infected persons experienced the greatest stigma and discrimination when seeking dental treatment. The country had no permanent or organized programs of psychosocial support for these persons.
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 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 2017, compared with the same period in 2016.
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 connection with the 1992-1995 conflict. During the year then RS president Dodik and senior officials in his political party (the SBSD) as well as other officials and leaders in the RS repeatedly denied that Serb forces committed genocide at Srebrenica in 1995, despite the findings of multiple local and international courts. On August 18, the RS National Assembly rejected the Commission for Srebrenica’s 2004 report on the events concerning the Srebrenica genocide, asked the RS government to annul it. The National Assembly also called for the establishment of a new international commission to determine the extent of the suffering of Serbs in the Srebrenica area as well as in Sarajevo in the 1991-1995 period.