Freedom in the world 2002


The year 2001 witnessed perhaps the most important challenge yet to the six-year-old Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) that ended Bosnia's 43-month-long civil war in 1995. In March, leaders of the Croat community in Bosnia-Herzegovina announced that they were pulling out of statewide and federal governmental institutions (including the joint Bosniac-Croat Federation Army) and instituting "self-rule" to protest changes to electoral laws imposed by the international community in 2000. A further disappointment during the course of 2001 was the lackluster performance of Bosnia's first postwar government not led by avowedly nationalist parties, the ten-party coalition named the "Alliance for Change." In the predominantly Serb entity of Bosnia, the Republika Srpska (RS), meanwhile, instability caused by unstable political alliances also proved to be the rule.

Immediately upon being recognized as an independent state in April 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina plunged into civil war. In November 1995, the DPA, an internationally sponsored peace agreement, brought an end to the fighting by creating a loosely knit state composed of the Bosniac-Croat "Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina" and the RS. The DPA also gave the international community a decisive role in running post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina, manifested in the significant powers and authorities granted to international civilian agencies such as the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Peace and security in post-Dayton Bosnia is provided by the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR), numbering over 20,000-strong. Despite these considerable efforts by the international community, however, most aspects of political, social, and economic life in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina remain divided along ethnic lines.

In March 2001, Bosnian Croat dissatisfaction with both post-Dayton international policies and their Bosniac partners in the Federation reached a climax when the Croatian National Assembly, formed by a number of Croat political parties and cultural organizations, and supported by much of the Bosnian Catholic hierarchy, announced that Croat officials were pulling out of governmental institutions at statewide and federal levels and establishing Croat "self-rule." Bosnian Croats serving in the Federation Army and police forces were also ordered to stop reporting for duty. International officials responded by removing from office the Croat member of the collective state presidency, Ante Jelavic, who was also the leader of the most important Croat political party in the country, the Croatian Democratic Community-Bosnia Herzegovina, along with a number of other Croat officials. NATO troops also seized control of Hercegovacka Banka in Mostar, believed to be one of the most important sources of funding for the Croat separatist effort.

The political impasse lasted for most of the year, although in the summer Croat members of the Federation Army returned to their barracks, and in November Croat representatives returned to statewide institutions as well. Nevertheless, this outcome did not resolve the fundamental issues leading to the Bosnian Croats' dissatisfaction; consequently, there remains the promise of more problems down the road.

Other disappointments for the peace process in Bosnia resulted from the generally poor performance of the much heralded Alliance for Change, a ten-party coalition that took power in January. The lack of cohesion within the Alliance was evident in June, when the Alliance's highly respected prime minister, Bozidar Matic, tendered his resignation after fewer than six months in office when his own coalition refused to support an electoral law his government had designed, and which had the support of the international community.

On the other hand, Alliance for Change officials generally received high marks from the international community for their efforts after September 11 to crack down on local cells of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

Political instability also characterized events in the RS for much of the year. Efforts by RS Premier Mladen Ivanic to push economic reform measures forward were generally stymied by the leading political force in the RS, the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), which continued to benefit from its control over many economic enterprises in the RS, a situation that led to renewed calls to have the SDS banned from political activity.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

In general, voters are allowed to freely elect their representatives and are allowed to form political parties insofar as their programs are compatible with the Dayton Peace Accords. The High Representative, however, has the authority to remove publicly elected officials from office if they are deemed to be obstructing the peace process. As noted above, the High Representative exercised this right in March by dismissing Ante Jelavic from the joint state presidency. The High Representative also has the right to impose laws and regulations on the country when local officials are unable to agree on important matters.

In August, Bosnia's Parliamentary Assembly passed the long-awaited Election Law, which in theory will allow local authorities to assume responsibility from the OSCE for future elections. Some critics, however, have charged that the Election Law, as passed, continues to force voters to cast their ballots along ethnic lines.

Citizens enjoy the right to freedom of assembly, and demonstrations, strikes, and other forms of public protest and discussion are commonplace. Free trade unions exist and are very active.

Corruption in the judiciary, police forces, and the civil service provides a considerable obstacle to establishing the rule of law in Bosnia. All these institutions are plagued by a lack of professionalism and ethnic and political biases. After more than six years, the United Nations Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina (UNMIBH) has yet to complete its task of reforming the structure and composition of local police forces in terms of minority representation. Many indicted war criminals remain at large.

A plethora of independent electronic and print media organizations operate in Bosnia, but they are hampered by their dependence on foreign donations for survival, low levels of journalistic professionalism, their appeal to narrow ethnic constituencies, and occasional harassment by official institutions.

Individuals enjoy freedom of religious belief and practice in areas dominated by members of their own ethnic group, but the same does not hold true for individuals who are members of a local ethnic minority. In this sense, religious intolerance is often a reflection of the prevailing atmosphere of intolerance for ethnic minorities in various parts of the country, rather than religious persecution per se. All three major religious organizations in the country--Islamic, Catholic, and Orthodox--have claims against the government for property confiscated during the Communist period. In a disappointing show of religious intolerance, in May a large mob of demonstrators disrupted the ground-breaking ceremony for the reconstruction of the historic Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka. One person was killed during the incident, and scores were injured. Similar violence broke out in the Herzegovinian town of Stolac in December when local Bosniacs tried to rebuild a mosque in the heavily Croat-populated area.

There are still more than 700,000 refugees living either abroad or internally displaced within Bosnia. Implementation of property laws designed to allow refugees and displaced persons to reclaim their homes remains a slow process; throughout Bosnia, as of June 2001, only 54 percent of property claims filed by refugees or displaced persons had received decisions, and only 29 percent of these have actually repossessed their property.

Legally, women are entitled to full equality with men, but in practice they are significantly underrepresented in politics and government, and are frequently discriminated against in the workplace in favor of demobilized soldiers. To compensate for the absence of women in public life, the OSCE instituted a regulation forcing political parties to list three women among the top ten names on the candidates' lists.

A significant problem in postwar Bosnia has become its emergence as a country of destination for trafficking in women. UN reports claim that a substantial part of the market for trafficked women working in brothels in Bosnia is due to the large international civil and military presence in the country.

2002 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)