Citizens and international officials laud the Sarajevo canton's move and are urging the rest of the country to follow.
By Anes Alic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 08/02/13
The Jewish community and other minorities can now run for office posts in Sarajevo. [AFP]
Deputies of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly unanimously adopted an amendment to the canton's constitution, paving the way for members of all ethnic groups to run for top government posts after two decades of exclusion of minorities such as the Roma and Jewish communities.
The decision makes Sarajevo Canton the first in the country to implement a 2009 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, which calls for a constitutional change to allow minorities to run for high-level office.
According to the amendments, those who do not declare an ethnicity and those who are members of an ethnic minority -- all those categorised as "others"-- will be able to form their own caucus in parliament.
Currently, there are two deputies attached to the president of the assembly. The new amendment adds a third representative for ethnic minorities, giving the group the same constitutional rights as Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats.
Nasser Nabil, a member of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly and a Bosnian citizen of Palestinian descent, said he was pleased that Sarajevo, as the cultural, financial and institutional center of the country is the first to embrace equality and equal rights for all citizens.
"Now we can say that equality is the foundation of human values, which has been implemented by these amendments. In practice that will imply that delegates in the cantonal assembly who declare themselves 'others' will have the right to be elected, form a caucus and elect one deputy chairman from that caucus in this institution," Nabil told SETimes.
Thanks to the passage of the amendment, the Sarajevo Canton Constitution is now harmonised with the European convention on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, as well as with other international legal documents that protect human rights and liberties.
However, all other levels of the country's institutions remain in regress.
Dervo Sejdic, a Bosnian Roma Union activist, told SETimes that although he was pleased with the amendments, there is still much work to be done to secure full rights for minorities.
"I am dissatisfied with the fact that the constitution retained the term 'others' for people who do not identify themselves as members of one of the three constituent peoples. 'Others' are not necessarily ethnic minorities, and we are going to try to fix this term," Sejdic said.
In 2006, Sejdic and Bosnian Jewish official Jakob Finci sued BiH at the ECHR for discrimination. In 2009, the ECHR ruled that the country's constitution, delineated by the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, contains discriminatory and unlawful provisions that must be amended immediately. The issue has since languished over the failure to find a compromise.
Over the past few weeks, several EU officials have visited the country to urge local authorities to push ahead with the implementation of the court ruling, which is a major condition for the country's EU aspirations.
European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule said that general elections in Bosnia 2014 could be brought into question unless the court's ruling is not implemented on all levels by the end of the March.
"Unless the Sejdic-Finci [ruling] is implemented by that time, it may happen that the Council of Europe and the EU will rule that the general elections that will be held in 2014 do not meet European standards because they would not respect the human rights of all citizens in Bosnia," Fule told reporters after meeting with Bosnian leaders in Brussels in mid-January.