Treatment of ethnic minorities and availability of state protection; situation and treatment of Roma and Serb populations [BIH103505.E]

The three largest ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) are Bosniaks (or Bosniacs, a term for Bosnians of Muslim descent), Serbs (primarily Orthodox Christian) and Croats (primarily Roman Catholic) (Freedom House 2010; MRG July 2008; AI 2010; US 27 May 2010). The United States (US) Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) The World Factbook estimates that 48 percent of the population is Bosniak, 37.1 percent is Serb, 14.3 percent is Croat and 0.6 percent belong to other ethnicities (ibid.). However, sources indicate that there are no recent population statistics; the last census was completed in 1991, prior to the 1992-1995 war, which displaced more than half of BiH's population (MRG July 2008; Helsinki Committee n.d.a; RFE/RL 28 Jan. 2010).

Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided into two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has a Bosniak and Croat majority and the Republika Srpska, which has a Serb majority (US 11 Mar. 2010, Para. 1; Freedom House 2010). Freedom House notes that the district of Br?ko formally belongs to both parts (2010).

Minority Rights Group International (MRG), an international non-governmental organization (NGO) which supports minority and indigenous people (MRG n.d.c), states that each ethnic group in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a minority in some areas and members may face marginalization in areas where they are not a majority (MRG July 2008). Other NGOs corroborate that people who are not of the primary ethnicity of the area where they live face discrimination, particularly in employment and access to services (Freedom House 2010; IDMC n.d.). The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009 notes that incidents against minorities in 2009 include desecration of graves, arson, verbal harassment, threats and assaults, as well as violence directed at ethnic symbols, clerics and religious buildings (US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 2c and Sec. 6). Freedom House notes that returnees from the war of 1992-1995 face discrimination and threats in areas where their ethnic group is not a majority (Freedom House 2010). The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina (HCHR BH), a Sarajevo-based NGO aiming to promote and protect human rights (HCHR BH n.d.b), reports that some of these returnees have experienced physical assaults and property destruction (HCHR BH n.d.a). MRG also reports "isolated incidents of violence" against returnees (MRG July 2008). Some sources indicate that nationalist rhetoric among the three major ethnic groups is increasing (AI 2010; Freedom House 2010). In one example, Milorad Dodik, the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska, stated in 2008 that it was unacceptable for Muslim judges to pass judgement on Serbs (Transitions Online 11 Feb. 2010).

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), an organization established by the Norwegian Refugee Council to monitor internal displacement wordwide, notes that while the unemployment rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina is 18 to 22 percent, 90 percent of minority returnees are unemployed (IDMC 28 Aug. 2008, 6, 12). HCHR BH and MRG indicate that discrimination against minorities occurs in the health care industry (HCHR BH n.d.a, 4; MRG July 2008). HCHR BH also notes that most minorities do not have access to free health care, as this entitlement is only for those who are employed, their family members and retired people (HCHR BH n.d.a, 5).

Several sources indicate that the educational system in Bosnia and Herzegovina is politicized along ethnic lines with ethnically divided schools and different curricula (REF 2009, 22; RFE/RL 12 Dec. 2008; Helsinki Committee n.d.a, 4; Freedom House 2010). Some sources characterize the schools as "segregated" (ibid.; Helsinki Committee n.d.a, 4) and express the opinion that they breed intolerance and impede reconciliation (Freedom House 2009, 138; RFE/RL 12 Dec. 2008). The Roma Education Fund (REF), an organization established to expand educational opportunities for Roma within the context of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, an international initiative involving twelve countries and several intergovernmental organizations and NGOs (Decade of Roma Inclusion n.d.), notes that people who are not Bosniak, Serb or Croat, or those of mixed ethnicity, are poorly served by the education system (REF 2009, 22). MRG similarly notes that students who are ethnic minorities often face hostilities at school (MRG July 2008).


The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina defines Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs as "constituent peoples" (Bosnia and Herzegovina 1995, Preamble). Those who are not Bosniaks, Croats, or Serbs, are defined as "Others" (ibid.; RFE/RL 5 May 2010; REF 2009, 15). Article 5 of the Constitution states, "The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall consist of three members: one Bosniak and one Croat, each directly elected from the territory of the Federation, and one Serb directly elected from the territory of the Republika Srpska" (Bosnia and Herzegovina 1995, Art. 5). The Constitution also states that the House of Peoples, one of two chambers of the Bosnian Parliament, "shall comprise 15 delegates: two-thirds from the Federation (including five Croats and five Bosniacs) and one-third from the Republika Srpska (five Serbs)" (ibid., Art. 4).

Several sources report that in December 2009, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Bosnian Constitution contains discriminatory provisions after two prominent public figures, one Jewish and the other Roma, filed a lawsuit against Bosnia and Herzegovina for denying them the opportunity to run for the presidency (RFE/RL 5 May 2010; AI 2010; Human Rights Watch 28 Feb. 2010; The Guardian 23 Dec. 2009; AFP 10 Feb. 2010). Sources also note that in addition to denying "others" the right to run for the presidency, the Constitution also denies this right to Serbs living in the Federation, or Bosniaks and Croats living in Republika Srpska (RFE/RL 5 May 2010; Human Rights Watch 28 Feb. 2010). Two media sources report that Council of Europe officials have warned that Bosnia and Herzegovina may be suspended from the Council of Europe if they don't reform the Constitution (RFE/RL 5 May 2010; PNA 1 Apr. 2010).

Sources report that Bosnia and Herzegovina passed the Law on the Protection of the Rights of Members of National Minorities in 2003 (OSCE n.d.; REF 2009, 15). According to the Roma Education Fund (REF), the law obliges the government to "respect, protect, preserve and develop the culture of national minorities" but REF notes that its level of implementation is low (REF 2009, 15). The IDMC similarly notes that laws to increase employment opportunities for minority returnees are not being implemented (IDMC 28 Aug. 2008, 6).


Unofficial estimates of the number of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina range from 30,000 (OSCE n.d.; MRG n.d.a) to as many as 100,000 (REF 2009, 9; OSCE 8 Apr. 2009), even though in the 1991 census only 8,864 people identified as Roma (REF 2009, 9; OSI Mar. 2010, 36).

Some sources indicate that of all ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Roma suffer the most "discrimination" (MRG n.d.a) or "prejudice" (UNDP 2009, 31). Roma reportedly face difficulties in the areas of health care, education, employment and housing (MRG n.d.a; OSCE 8 Apr. 2009). Several sources state that Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina experience a high level of poverty (MRG n.d.a; OSI Mar. 2010, 22; REF 2009, 12; OSCE 8 Apr. 2009; HCHR BH n.d.a, 5). According to MRG, the majority of Roma were displaced during the 1992-1995 war, but have not been able to return to their original homes and many live in extreme poverty; in some cases they live without heat or access to fresh water (MRG n.d.a). Similarly, a report commissioned by the Open Society Institute (OSI), a private foundation network created by the philanthropist George Soros to improve public policies and safeguard rights in over 60 countries (OSI n.d.), states that thousands of Roma were displaced during the 1992-1995 war, in which Roma were also victims, but that most have not been able to return to their homes; hundreds live in crude huts or cardboard boxes (OSI Mar. 2010, 22). Sources report that many Roma have difficulty registering with municipalities and accessing services, such as education and health care, because of a lack of documentation (MRG July 2008; US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6).

Several sources indicate that Roma have a high level of unemployment (REF 2009, 12; US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6; OSCE 8 Apr. 2009). One survey, conducted in 2006-2007, reports that only 4 percent of adult Roma are employed (REF 2009, 12), while the HCHR BH states that only 1.5 percent of adult Roma are employed, compared to a rate of 50 percent before the war (HCHR BH n.d.a, 5).

Sources indicate that the majority of Romani children do not attend school (OSCI 8 Apr. 2009; MRG n.d.a; HCHR BH n.d.a, 5). HCHR BH reports that only 15 percent of Roma children complete grade eight (ibid.), while REF estimates that 15 to 20 percent of Roma attend primary or secondary school (REF 2009, 9). According to Country Reports 2009, in some Romani communities, children as young as four years old are sent out to beg (US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6). REF reports a high rate of child labour among Roma (REF 2009, 12). In cases where children are able to attend school, REF notes that Roma do not have the option of studying in their native language of Romanes, and that there are no higher education programs offering courses in Roma culture or language (ibid., 22).

In the Federation entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Council of Roma was created in November 2001 to facilitate political representation of Roma and address issues facing Roma such as housing, employment, health care, language and others (REF 2009, 14). Bosnia and Herzegovina became a member of the Decade of Roma Inclusion in 2008 (OSCE 8 Apr. 2009; OSI Mar. 2010, 54; HCHR BH n.d.a, 6). According to HCHR BH, as part of the Roma Decade, action plans have been created to address employment, housing, health care and education issues for Roma, but have not yet been fully implemented (ibid.). REF estimates that there are 50 Romani NGOs in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2009, 13).


Sources indicate that Serbs primarily live in the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina (MRG n.d.b; US 11 Mar. 2010, Para. 1). According to MRG, Serbs returning to areas where they are a minority in the Federation have experienced "marginalization" and face employment discrimination (MRG n.d.b). Country Reports 2009 reports on cases where a Serbian church and a Serbian priest came under attack (US 11 Mar. 2010, Sec. 6). In the first case, a man fired shots at a Serbian Orthodox Church in Raljevo, a suburb of Sarajevo, in August 2009; the perpetrator was later arrested (ibid.). In the other case, a bomb exploded outside the door of a Serbian Orthodox parish priest's home in Sanski Most in November 2009; local officials condemned the attack and started an investigation (ibid.).

Transitions Online, a Prague-based Internet magazine reporting on former Communist countries in Europe and Central Asia (n.d.), reports that a wealthy and prominent media and political figure in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who objected to the news coverage of Bosnia's Islamic Community, stated that an ethnic Serb journalist in Sarajevo who lost her job as a news editor of the country's largest broadcaster, was not competent to hold that job because of her ethnicity (Transitions Online 11 Feb. 2010). The author notes that there was little reaction from civil society leaders, despite the fact that Bosnian laws prohibit expressions of ethnic or religious prejudice, discrimination and hate speech (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France-Presse (AFP). 10 February 2010. "Bosnia Moves to Rid Constitution of Discrimination." (Factiva)

Amnesty International (AI). 2010. "Bosnia and Herzegovina." Amnesty International Report 2010. [Accessed 3 June 2010]

Bosnia and Herzegovina. 1995. Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Legislationline) [Accessed 25 June 2010]

Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015. N.d. "About." [Accessed 28 June 2010]

Freedom House. 2010. "Bosnia-Herzegovina." Freedom in the World 2010. < [Accessed 3 June 2010]

_____. 2009. Jasna Jelisi?. "Bosnia-Herzegovina." Countries in Transit. [Accessed 3 June 2010]

The Guardian. 23 December 2009. Afua Hirsch. "Bosnia's Bar on Minorities in Parliament Ruled Illegal." (Factiva)

Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina (HCHR BH). N.d.a. "Report of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights on Measures Taken to Combat Racism, Intolerance, and Ethnic and Religious Discrimination and Segregation in Bosnia and Herzegovina." [Accessed 2 June 2010]

_____. N.d.b. "About Us." [Accessed 28 June 2010]

Human Rights Watch. 28 February 2010. Clive Baldwin. "A Belated Victory." [Accessed 2 June 2010]

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). 28 August 2008. "Bosnia and Herzegovina: Broader and Improved Support for Durable Solutions Required." [Accessed 3 June 2010]

Minority Rights Group International (MRG). July 2008. "Bosnia and Hercegovina Overview." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. [Accessed 3 June 2010]

_____. N.d.a. "Roma." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. [Accessed 3 June 2010]

_____. N.d.b. "Serbs." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. [Accessed 3 June 2010]

_____. N.d.c. "About Us." [Accessed 28 June 2010]

Open Society Institute (OSI). March 2010. Stephan M├╝ller and Zeljko Jovanovic. Pathways to Progress? The European Union and Roma Inclusion in the Western Balkans. [Accessed 2 June 2010]

_____. N.d. "About OSI. Overview." [Accessed 28 June 2010]

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). 8 April 2009. Gary D. Robbins. "Roma Discrimination Should Be Stopped." < [Accessed 18 June 2010]

_____. N.d. "Protecting the Rights of National Minorities in BiH." [Accessed 18 June 2010]

Philippines News Agency (PNA). 1 April 2010. "Bosnia Risks Being Suspended from Council of Europe." (Factiva)

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 5 May 2010. Anes Alic. "Ethnic Hysteria and Status Quo Discrimination in Bosnia." [Accessed 2 June 2010]

_____. 28 January 2010. "EU Presses Bosnia to Conduct Census." [Accessed 2 June 2010]

_____. 12 December 2008. Nenad Pejic. "Bosnian Schools Teach Reading, Writing -- and Division." [Accessed 2 June 2010]

Roma Education Fund (REF). 2009. "Advancing Education of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina." [Accessed 2 June 2010]

Transitions Online. 11 February 2010. Tihomir Loza. "Aparteid Redux." [Accessed 3 June 2010]

_____. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 29 June 2010]

United Nations (UN). 2009. UN Development Programme (UNDP). The Ties that Bind: Social Capital in Bosnia and Herzegovina. [Accessed 23 June 2010]

United States (US). 27 March 2010. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "Bosnia and Herzegovina." The World Factbook. [Accessed 24 June 2010]

_____. 11 March 2010. Department of State. "Bosnia and Herzegovina." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009. [Accessed 21 June 2010]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Centre for South East European Studies (CSEES), Council of Europe, European Country of Origin Information Network (, European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), International Crisis Group, Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Refworld.