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Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report entitled Second Class Citizens: Discrimination Against Roma, Jews, and Other National Minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This titular discrimination is the result of unresolved tensions between the formerly warring factions of Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups–Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs–and constitutionally mandated separation by ethnicity in political and public life. Referred to as the constituent people, members of the aforementioned groups are the only ones who can “serve as president or in the upper house of the national parliament, and were granted veto power over any legislation that they viewed as threatening their ethnic group’s interests.” Others include Roma, Jews, Ukrainians, and people from other Southeast and Eastern European, all of whom comprise 3-5% of Bosnia’s four million people. While the European Court of Human Rights considers these policies to be unlawful ethnic discrimination, little has been done to effectively address and change the situation. As it stands, the present situation falls within the first category of factors in the analysis framework that the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide uses to determine whether there may be a risk of genocide, “Inter-group relations, including record of discrimination and/or other human rights violations committed against a group.”

Roma are Bosnia and Herzegovina’s largest national minority, and are disproportionately discriminated against. According to HRW, “The direct discrimination against Roma inherent in Bosnia’s political structure reinforces the indirect discrimination they often face in the provision of services like housing, health care, education, and employment.” When the country’s constitution was drafted in 1995, the rationale behind the exclusion of minorities from politcs was to maintain the tenuous peace in Bosnia. Today, however, ethnic politics has resulted in Serbs and Croats threatening to secede from Bosnia and “political deadlock that delayed the formation of a national government by more than a year after elections were held… Direct discrimination against Roma, Jews, and other national minorities does not end with politics; it is also entrenched in civil service.” For example, the Ombudsmen for Human Rights, an office which is supposed to protect against this exact type of discrimination, requires the appointment of three representatives from the three main ethnic groups to serve as ombudsmen, thereby leaving no room for any minorities.

One reason why Roma suffer the worst from indirect discrimination is because of “high unemployment rates and poor education levels and living conditions.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that ~10% of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not listed on any birth registries. Without birth registration and a birth certificate, one cannot access public services, such as schools, employment bureaus, or health care services. Many of the Roma in this region live in unstable, insecure, informal settlements. They are in constant danger of being forcibly evicted and lack basic services like electricity and running water.

In order to end the ethnic discrimination outlined above, which violates Bosnia’s commitments under international and European human rights law, Bosnia must remove it from their national constitution. The country must also implement its commitments under the “Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015,” and ensure that these commitments are continued past 2015, namely guaranteeing that Roma can access basic services. HRW also recommends that Bosnia and Herzegovina conduct an accurate 2013 census, and make special efforts to reach out to minority communities, “including employing Roma and others in conducting the census and allowing individuals to confidentially identify their ethnicity.” Lastly, HRW calls on the United States, European Union, and Council of Europe to lend their support to pressing for constitutional reform and helping minorities gain the aforementioned access. Lastly, the EU must make ending discrimination against minorities in Bosnia, both in law and in practice, a condition for membership.

For more detailed key recommendations, a description of the methodology used to compile the report, and full recommendations for various actors, read the full report here.

* France continues its policy of carrying out mass evictions and expulsions of Roma, despite a warning from the European Commission, as well as a threat of EU sanctions, over a year ago. On September 29 Human Rights Watch made public a briefing paper it sent to the European Commission regarding the inadequacy of an immigration law France passed this year in June. The new law, designed to address the European Commission’s grievances, was deemed adequate by the European Commission in August, but Human Rights Watch says it in fact targets the Roma: “The law allows authorities to expel EU citizens for ‘abuse of rights’ if they have been in France on repeat short-term stays or are in France ‘for the fundamental purpose’ of benefiting from the social assistance system. This flies in the face of EU law, which allows citizens of member countries to stay in any EU country for up to three months without conditions.” Around 9,500 Roma were expelled in 2010, according to French government figures. In the first three months of this year, 4,714 Roma were expelled.

* Three protesters were killed in Guinea on September 27, on their way to a demonstration against parliamentary elections slated for December, which they say will be a sham. Amnesty International points out that the murders occurred on the eve of the second anniversary of 2009’s stadium massacre in Conakry, the nation’s capital. This underscores the continuity of violent tactics in Guinea’s recent history, despite the capitulation of military rule, which followed the contested election in 2010 that put current president Alpha Condé in power. “If this recurrent excessive use of force by police is to be stopped, it is essential to put an end to the climate of impunity that appears to be prevailing in Guinea,” said Paule Rigaud of Amnesty International. On September 27, Human Rights Watch reported that no one has been held to account for the 2009 massacre by Guinean security forces, which resulted in the death of 150 people and the rape of more than 100 women. A UN-led International Commission of Inquiry concluded, in 2009, that the Guinean government’s actions could be described as “crimes against humanity.”

* Former Rwandan public service minister Prosper Mugiraneza and his trade counterpart, Justin Mugenzi, were convicted by the ICTR on September 30 of complicity to commit genocide and incitement to commit genocide. Africa Review points out that the sentence comes 12 years after their arrest in 1999, and 8 years after the start of their trial in 2003. The ICTR acquitted two other ministers of the same charges due to lack of evidence. The trials, held in Arusha, Tanzania, address the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that claimed the lives of over 800,000 people in the span of 100 days.


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