Bosnia and Herzegovina must do more to ensure ethnic and religious inclusion at all levels of society and prevent the damaging divisions that lead to conflict, an independent United Nations human rights expert said today.
“It is the clear responsibility of all levels of Government in all regions of the country to protect and promote minority rights, build unity in diversity and to take concrete steps towards more positive relations between population groups,” Rita Izsák, the UN expert on minority rights, declared at the end of her nine-day visit.
In addressing the divisions in the country’s education system, Ms. Izsák warned that a high degree of ethnic segregation persisted in schools across Bosnia and Herzegovina and that it remained a cause for concern. While she acknowledged that linguistic differences often pose a challenge to integrated schoolrooms, Ms. Izsák urged the Government to intensify integration efforts at all levels and in consultation with communities and the youth, in particular.
“People often forget to ask what the young people want which can be something quite different to their parents and the politicians,” Ms. Izsák stated.
“Integrated education does not mean giving up elements of language, culture and religion, but finding effective solutions that allow children to learn together in an education environment that fosters understanding and friendship. What is essential is that they are not infected by the divisions and hatred of the past,” she added.
The population of Bosnia and Herzegovina is predominantly divided among three constituent peoples, or ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats – who cannot be legally considered minorities and are protected by the Constitution. At the same time, the Government categorizes its ethnic minorities, of which the Roma are the largest group, as “others.”
Ms. Izsák commended the Government’s legal framework for the protection of national minorities, non-discrimination and religious freedom but noted that implementation of the laws remained poor in practice.
In addition, she called for the political inclusion of minority groups to be speedily implemented at all levels and noted that in some communities there was already “a sense of deep frustration and desire for a stronger voice in local as well as national political life.”
Pointing to the Roma communities, she cited ongoing challenges in housing, employment, education, health and social security but applauded Government efforts to appoint Roma coordinators to build communication bridges between the minority group and local and national authorities.
“Outreach and strong community engagement with different communities including the Roma is essential to build confidence and to encourage them to register according to their ethnic or religious group,” she stated.
During her visit to the country, Ms. Izsák travelled to Sarajevo as well as different regions with diverse minority populations, including the Banja Luka area, Brèko District, and Mostar.