EU takes BiH to task for Sejdic-Finci failure

28/02/2014

Some politicians said the October elections are the key to implementing the verdict.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 28/02/14

photo

The BiH presidency building stands in Sarajevo. The top government posts are earmarked for the country's three majority ethnicities, which is discriminatory, according to a 2009 European Court of Human Rights ruling. [AFP]

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) must become more responsive to citizens, including their demands for jobs and efficient justice, and took politicians to task for their failure to implement a 2009 human rights verdict from the European Court of Human Rights.

Coming in the wake of citizen protests throughout the country over the weak economy and high unemployment, Fule met with BiH leaders and citizens who are working in plenums in Tuzla and Sarajevo.

"I call on the politicians of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) not to ignore the voices of the citizens. There is an important space for citizens' engagement -- they should be listened to -- they should engage -- they should be able to do so free from fear of violence, harassment, or intimidation. Indeed there should be no violence from any side -- it is completely unacceptable," Fule said in a statement.

Fule also called it "deeply disappointing" that party leaders have been unwilling to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgement in the Sejdic-Finci case.

"Bosnia and Herzegovina will remain, at least for the time being, in breach of its international commitments. It is a shame for politicians, through inaction, to fail, because the rest of the region is moving forward toward the European Union, and because citizens are calling politicians to be accountable," Fule said during a visit to Sarajevo last week.

In the case, Dervo Sejdic, a Roma, and Jakob Finci, a Jew, challenged parts of the country's constitution that allocate certain government posts based on ethnicity. Top governing posts are currently reserved for the three largest ethnic groups: Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.

The court ruled in their favour in 2009, and the EU demanded that local leaders adopt new mechanisms for electing the state's tripartite president members and parliament as the key condition for continuation of the country's EU accession process.

''It was the simplest, technical thing that should be done. Instead of incorporating the recommendation of the European court that allows everyone to be a candidate for elections in the election law, politicians completely complicated the entire thing and now we have a package of 15 points, all of which must be agreed on in order to change the electoral law and the constitution," Tanja Topic, a political analyst and the director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in BiH, told SETimes.

Tanja Fajon, a member of the European Parliament, said in December 2013 that the EU will not recognise the October elections without the implementation of the European court's verdict. She noted that this is a human rights issue, which is extremely important for the EU.

However, Brussels has since softened its expectations.

"In relation to elections in October this year, the EU has highlighted the problems of credibility for BiH posed by non-implementation of the judgment of the ECHR. That notwithstanding, we have also said that the holding of general elections must not be jeopardised. The EU was happy to be able support the recent passage of amendments to the election law in relation to territorial organisation, which was one of the fundamental requirements for elections to go ahead," Andy McGuffie, spokesperson for the EU delegation in BiH, told SETimes.

Some politicians, like Mladen Ivanic, president of the Party of Democratic Progress, said the elections will lead to the implementation of the verdict. "I think the EU will wait for the elections in BiH to finish in October, after which BiH will form a new government and find a solution to the Sejdic/Finci question very quickly. It is obvious that the current authorities and leading politicians do not want to solve this," Ivanic told SETimes.

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The country is suffering penalties due to the failure in implementing the verdict. The EU withdrew 45 million euros of pre-accession assistance funds because of the lack of agreement, and announced that more funds shall be cut if the state does not find a solution.

Some citizens are losing their patience.

"What kind of a state is this that does not implement a judgment of the most important court of human rights? The whole world is laughing at us," Marko Dragojlovic, an unemployed professor of physics from Mostar, told SETimes. "The protests that took place in BiH have shown that politicians do not respect anyone's rights except their own. I hope that people will smarten up and will punish them for this kind of behaviour in the elections."

What steps can be taken to ensure the Sejdic-Finci verdict is implemented in BiH? Offer your thoughts in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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