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Bosnia & Herzegovina

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Last updated on 03.04.2019 at 11:25

Bosnia & Herzegovina-Overview

With some exceptions, citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoy good respect for their freedom to form associations, assemble peacefully in public and freely express themselves. Those freedoms are guaranteed in the constitution and through Bosnia and Herzegovina’s international obligations.

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Public vilification of activism continues

Public vilification of activism continues

International CSO, Human Rights Watch has drawn attention to the lack of media freedom and poor working environment for journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In its annual report, the group stated that independent outlets and journalists continue to face threats during their work.

Expression

International CSO, Human Rights Watch has drawn attention to the lack of media freedom and poor working environment for journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In its 2019 annual report, the group stated that independent outlets and journalists continue to face threats during their work. Out of the 41 attacks against journalists in 2018 (which included 5 death threats, 7 physical attacks and 8 threats by politicians directed to media representatives), no prosecutions have taken place. Despite investigations being opened and handed over to prosecution, there are yet to be any convictions for the 41 incidents.  

The issue of political smears against journalists remains a key concern in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In particular, the vilification of journalists as foreign mercenaries or enemies of the state is a frequent tactic. On 30th December 2018, Milorad Dodik, chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, described the privately-owned national broadcaster BN TV as a “destroyer" of the Bosnian Serb entity. The incident shone a spotlight on conditions for journalists in Republika Srpska. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Association of BH Journalists said:

"The situation is certainly not good, we have laws, however, these laws are not adequately implemented, although they are in principle in line with European standards."

In response, the media community has requested the establishment of a special media ombudsman as an independent mechanism for the protection of freedom of expression.

According to a platform which tests the truthfulness of media information called raskrinkanje.ba, there is evidence of an interconnected network of media transmitting misinformation and fake news across Bosnia and Herzegovina. Particularly worrying, is the revelation that several public media outlets from Serbia and Republika Srpska as well as a plethora of tabloids are part of this network. The group used their evidence as a rallying call to civil society across the region to join forces to combat the purposeful misuse of online platforms to spread false information. 

Peaceful Assembly

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, protests over the suspicious death of a young man in Banja Luka were abruptly halted. David Dragičević went missing in Banja Luka in March 2018. He was later found dead in a river several days later. Suspicions have been high over the circumstances surrounding his death. In particular, protesters believe that state authorities were complicit in orchestrating a coverup. After the protest walk on 30th December 2018, "Justice for David" protests which took place over 300 days since his death, were banned. Citizens gathered in a churchyard in Banja Luka, where they lit candles in remembrance of the young man when police ordered the citizens to disperse. President Milorad Dodik, later accused the protesters of being paid by international forces to destabilise Republika Srpska. Similarly, Davor Dragičević, David Dragičević's father, was forced into hiding for more than a month after an arrest warrant was issued because of the protests. Aleksandar Gluvić, an activist from "Justice for David", posted on his social media account that he had received a court verdict saying he was sentenced to 20 days in prison and a fine of 250 KM for participating in protests. In February 2019, the political opposition party of Serbia announced they would bring the issue of the "Justice for David" protests and the arrests that took place in Banja Luka in front of the Human Rights Committee in Geneva. 

On 9th January 2019, with enhanced police presence, institutions and civic organisations from Republic of Srpska (RS) celebrated the Day of the RS, despite the fact that the BiH Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional in November last year. Many criticised the celebrations, especially the Order of Merit given to Prime Minister Ana Brnabic for “developing and strengthening cooperation and political relations between Serbia and the Republic of Srpska”, pointing out that this order has previously been awarded to sentenced war criminals, such as Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić, Biljana Plavšić and Momčilo Krajišnik. Bosniaks and Croats living in BiH denounced the celebration parade, claiming that it discriminated against non-Serbs in RS.

On 7th February 2019, the international LGBT festival Merlinka took place in Sarajevo. After the attack on Merlinka festival participants in 2014, this year, organisers expressed their satisfaction with institutions guaranteeing their safety. Organisers claim that there have been fewer security threats to LGBTI+ gatherings in recent years. A landmark decision on 19th December 2018 saw the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopt the appeal from the CSO Sarajevo Open Center by issuing a decision confirming that the public authorities of the Sarajevo Canton violated the right to freedom of assembly of LGBTI persons at the Merlinka 2014 Festival. The Constitutional Court confirmed that the public authorities not only failed to ensure the safety of the participants, but also failed to conduct a thorough investigation and sanction the perpetrators of violence – a group of masked men that interrupted the Festival and attacked the participants. The Sarajevo authorities are expected to compensate the participants who suffered violence, fear and stress, within 3 months of the decision.

Association in Bosnia & Herzegovina

As a decentralised state, Bosnia and Herzegovina essentially operates with two legal territories. Both the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republic of Srpska have separate laws governing the formation and registration of civil society. This impedes associational rights, by making nationwide registration of CSOs cumbersome.

As a decentralised state, Bosnia and Herzegovina essentially operates with two legal territories. Both the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republic of Srpska have separate laws governing the formation and registration of civil society. This impedes associational rights, by making nationwide registration of CSOs cumbersome. Although registration of CSOs is not compulsory, there are advantages to being a registered association, such as tax exemptions and incentives. Because countrywide registration is a complex legal process and difficult to obtain, associations in Bosnia and Herzegovina mainly register at the local level. Only well-resourced and professionalised CSOs are able to attain countrywide status. In turn, this has contributed to a civil society sector that is fragmented along geographic and ethnic lines. Aside from regulatory hurdles, LGBTIQ groups in particular suffer intimidation and harassment, with attacks on the Sarajevo Queer festival in 2014, leaving 2 people injured and recent homophobic slurs on venues hosting LGBTIQ art exhibitions in 2016.


Peaceful Assembly in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Different laws govern the freedom of assembly in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, posing a challenge to movements aiming to catalyse citizen action across the entire country.

Different laws govern the freedom of assembly in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, posing a challenge to movements aiming to catalyse citizen action across the entire country. Depending on where a demonstration is planned to happen, organisers must comply with a variety of notification requirements before an assembly can take place. Localised protests and gatherings often occur peacefully and without major incident. Citizens recently organised without hindrance around issues such as religious freedom and worker rights.However, protests in Tuzle in 2014 turned violent, with several eyewitness reports of excessive force used by police against protesters. As government buildings were damaged in clashes, over 100 people were arrested and many more injured after police used rubber bullets to control the crowds.Containment tactics used included beating and detaining activists, as well as the destruction of journalists’ equipment to hinder coverage of protests.


Expression in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Due in large part to ethnic divisions within the nation, most media outlets have narrow audiences. As such, fragmented reporting of the news hinders a national narrative on current affairs, with many outlets openly aligned to political parties.

Due in large part to ethnic divisions within the nation, most media outlets have narrow audiences. As such, fragmented reporting of the news hinders a national narrative on current affairs, with many outlets openly aligned to political parties. Legal impediments to accessing government information undermine the strength and reliability of news reports. Journalists and media outlets face pressure and, in some circumstances, prosecution for being openly critical of the government. Nineteen journalists have been killed in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1992, increasing the likelihood of self-censorship within the media. There were at least 20 documented cases of threats and intimidation of media workers in 2015 alone, and in 2014 authorities raided the offices of the most popular Internet news website. Vague language in social media legislation in the Sprspka region criminalises “attempts to disturb the public peace”. Fines imposed for offensive or disruptive social media content have drawn international condemnation.