According to the Dayton Constitution, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a state consisting of Bosniacs, Croats, Serbs and ‘Others’. The system is based on the principle of ‘constituent people’, which means that each constituent group has equal rights to participate in governing the state. Specifically, there are 17 national minorities that live in BiH, however, there is no reliable data on their number since the last census was conducted in 1991, and in the meantime significant demographic changes have taken place due to the war and ethnic cleansing. The principle of constituent people allows national minorities, classified as “Others,” to be neglected by the Dayton Constitution.
By not giving equal rights to non-constituents, the Dayton Constitution provides an open door for their discrimination. For example, a right to vote should be allowed to all citizens of BiH; however the joint Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and two-thirds of the seats in the House of Peoples are closed, both in terms of voting and in terms of standing for office, to any citizen who does not declare themselves as Bosniac, Croat or Serb. The group consisting of ‘Others’ is usually ignored by politicians and international representatives because they are numerically small and not perceived as important.
Minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina encounter obstacles that prevent them from exercising their fundamental rights to employment, social aid, health care and education.
However, two important steps have been taken to protect the rights of minorities: Bosnia and Herzegovina ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the state has an obligation to take concrete measures to protect minority rights; secondly BiH adopted the Law on Protection of Members of National Minorities in April 2003. Amendments to this law were adopted in 2005, and these include state-level financial support earmarked for national minorities, relations with the media, promoting positive discrimination in employment, and quality education for the children of national minorities.
Of 17 legally recognized national minorities in BiH, Roma are the largest group. Before the war in Bosnia and Herzego,vain most of the Roma lived in the territory now called Republika Srpska. During the war, they, just like other nationalities, were exposed to expulsions, deportations, killings and torture. Roma were detained in the concentration camps together with the others. Many of them left the country as refugees and live in neighbouring countries.
As a result of a combination of different factors, the situation for this ethnic minority today can be described as alarming. It is estimated that there are between 30,000 to 60,000 Roma in the country. This figure was determined during a joint fact-finding project by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and the Council of Europe.
International organizations, in particular The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, are active in their work with Roma. The OSCE, in collaboration with the Roma Advisory Board, is responsible for the creation and realization of the National Action Plan for Roma in BiH. According to OSCE, this plan is aimed at ensuring the full and effective participation of Roma in government policy bodies and structures, as well as combating discrimination and prejudices against Roma.
Roma people in Bosnia and Herzegovina; represent a socially, economically and politically marginalized group, and they face diverse issues and problems. These issues range widely from access to education to employment discrimination; housing and property needs to difficulties exercising the full range of fundamental human rights guaranteed under the BiH Constitution and other international legal instruments. Such difficulties are particularly enhanced due to the displacement caused by the war. Of particular concern are issues regarding property rights and access to personal documents.
A significant number of Roma people have not yet exercised their right to return to the houses and apartments in which they had lived before the war. In addition, the living conditions of Roma are extremely poor and do not meet the minimum standards.
The property situation of Roma is also problematic. Prior to the war, a large number of the Roma community in BiH lived in settlements built on state-owned land, which were often not recognized by local authorities. As a result there are few records documenting the Roma settlements, and no concrete information on the total number and location of such settlements. Most residents do not have any legal title over the land they have resided on for decades or longer. Roma do not posses a proof of ownership, thus they cannot obtain reconstruction aid from the donors, which means that they must live in destroyed houses, in many cases without water or electricity. Also, many Roma settlements were destroyed during the war, and Roma regularly face eviction from existing ones.
Due to the Dayton Constitution, and fact that Roma are not politically organized, and are not politically represented in government bodies and structures makes Roma the most vulnerable groups in BH society.
Roma face a range of problems linked to the lack of respect for their human rights. Denial of other rights, such as access to social welfare and education, in part stems from problems many Roma face in registering with the civil authorities. In turn, a lack of education creates an unfair disadvantage in finding a job – making it difficult or impossible for Roma to secure employment.
As for the education, according to Vaša Prava NGO, only 15% of Roma children complete compulsory eight-year education, and it should be noted that the girls in average interrupt schooling in the fifth grade of elementary school. There is also a high illiteracy rate of Roma people.
The minority languages are not used in the communication with authorities, including courts. There is no example of minority languages being taught in the schools. There is no printed media in Roma language, and there are only two radio stations that broadcast shows in this language from time to time. There is an obvious need for a revival of Romani culture and language.
Resolving the issues that Roma individuals face requires long term efforts and the commitment of Roma and local authorities, as well as the implementation of the international and domestic legislation. It is essential that Roma are given necessary political and financial support to strengthen their capacity and co-ordination to facilitate their involvement in the further development, implementation and assessment of policies and programmes aimed at improving their situation and status in BiH.
Priorities for improving the situation for Roma individuals, also in cases of physical and verbal assault, humiliating treatment, and failure by teachers to protect Romani children from peer abuse, include punishment of the persons responsible and implementing measures to prevent further abuse. BiH will also need to take adequate measures to ensure equal access to integrated education to Romani children, particularly female students.
Also, it is important to amend the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegowina to enable Roma to become effective participants in BiH political life. It is also necessary to facilitate access to citizenship of BiH for Roma residing in BiH and who are stateless, as well as to enable them to receive personal documentation. When it comes to personal property, BiH will need to ensure Roma individuals a right to repossess pre-war property.
There are many aspects that BiH will need to work on with a goal of improving a situation for Roma in the country. BiH officials and employees of the police force and judiciary will need to continually receive comprehensive human rights and anti-discrimination education and training to be able to assist Roma more efficiently. In order to change public perception it will also be necessary to speak out against racial discrimination in the media, in schools and other public institutions, as well as to make it clear that racism in BiH will not be tolerated.