SARAJEVO – On 29 August, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of Kovačević v. Bosnia and Herzegovina that the applicant, Slaven Kovačević, had been discriminated against by the political system of the country, in particular the electoral rules. The ruling was welcomed by the proponents of a civic Bosnia and Herzegovina as a foundation for future reforms, while the representatives of ethnic parties criticized it for, as they interpreted it, trying to erase the category of constituent peoples.
The Court had found that this combination of territorial and ethnic requirements amounted to discriminatory treatment in the context of the right to participate in elections to the House of Peoples of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It considered that the same was true in respect of the right to vote in elections for the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, Slaven Kovačević, political scientist and an advisor to Željko Komšić, member of Presidency of BiH, stated that, because of a combination of the territorial and ethnic requirements applicable to the House of Peoples, he was unable to vote for the candidates of his choice in the 2022 legislative elections. Similarly, he was unable to vote for the candidates of his choice in the 2022 presidential elections.
The Troika, an alliance of Social Democratic Party, People and Justice party and “Our Party”, released a statement which described the ruling as an important starting point for any future discussion on the reforms in BiH, which are necessary after the ruling.
“As in previous rulings, the European Court of Human Rights clearly states that all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who do not identify themselves as Bosniaks, Serbs or Croats are discriminated against, which is also the case with Bosniaks and Croats living in the Republika Srpska entity or Serbs who live in the entity Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The last ruling confirms the obligation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to harmonize its legislation and eliminate discrimination that has existed since 2002. The same discrimination and the same obligations of the state have been repeated in several rulings of the European Court of Human Rights itself in the past 20 years”, the statement reads, Klix.ba reports.
The United States Embassy in Sarajevo posted its reaction on X (formerly Twitter). It stated that the United States remains committed to supporting local actors as they work to implement the ECHR rulings.
The United States has consistently supported implementation of the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) rulings. Although we have not yet had the opportunity to review this specific ruling in detail, we remain committed to supporting local actors as they work to implement the…
— US Embassy Sarajevo (@USEmbassySJJ) August 30, 2023
“If Bosnia and Herzegovina wants a future inside Euro-Atlantic institutions, the ECHR rulings will have to be implemented, but these rulings can only be implemented if local politicians step up and do the hard work of negotiating, forging consensus, and compromising”, the statement reads.
Spokesperson of the European Commission Ana Pisonero stated that the EU had noted the ruling of the ECHR and that the BiH needs to fulfill the 14 key priorities listed in the Commission’s Opinion from 2019 if it is to open EU accession talks.
Meanwhile, ethnic Serb and Croat parties harshly criticized the decision of the Court.
President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik described the ruling as “illegal” and said it was targeting the category of constituent people (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) and attempting to reject the parts of the Dayton Peace Accords.
Dodik said that he would propose to the National Assembly of Republika Srpska to reject this “rubbish” of recommendations, Nezavisne reports.
“BiH based on a civic principle cannot survive. Yugoslavia could not do it, Belgium cannot do it now. We are not surprised by this behavior and we will initiate a session of the National Assembly of the RS that will be held in the near future. I am glad that the Serbian representatives energetically rejected this RULING, which only permanently divided Bosnia and Herzegovina”, Dodik said.
HDZ BiH, a political party representing Croats, released a statement stressing that the Croatian National Assembly (a political organisation of Croat political parties) sees this ruling as a part of a radical political agenda whose goal is that Bosniaks, as the most numerous people, govern the unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina and impose their representatives on the Croatian people.
“The Croatian National Assembly believes that certain interpretations of the ruling “Kovačević v. Bosnia and Herzegovina” and other rulings passed as a result of the political activism of unitarian politicians from Bosnia and Herzegovina before the European Court of Human Rights cannot call into question the equality of Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs. Those comments are politically motivated, without foundation in human rights and are against the Dayton Peace Accords. We welcome the statements of the European Court of Human Rights that the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina should decide which is the best political system and how to address the issue of human rights discrimination”, the statement reads.