IBNA/Interview: Dervo Sejdić, Plaintiff in Case Against BiH At Court in Strasbourg
By Nevena Šarenac – Sarajevo
The BiH Constitution states that candidates for the BiH Presidency and in the House of Peoples of the BiH Parliament only members of the three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) can be elected, while members of the ‘Others’, to which national minorities belong, are denied this right. Therefore, members of the Roma and Jewish communities in BiH, Jakob Finci and Dervo Sejdić went to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in August 2006, which ruled in their favor on 22 December 2009 and said that BiH violates the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court ordered BIH to harmonize its Constitution with the European Convention, and to enable members of national minorities to be elected to the Presidency and the House of Peoples. Nevertheless, the decision was not implemented. Dervo Sejdić, one of the plaintiffs in the “Sejdić and Finci vs. BiH” case at the Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg speaks on the lack of implementation of this case, and the position of Roma as the most populous national minority in BiH.
Without implementation of the ruling in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the “Sejdić-Finci” case, BiH cannot expect to have the Stabilization and Association agreement put into force, and cannot even consider sending an application for candidate status to the EU. The question is whether BiH authorities are contradictory, given that they are always speaking about the EU, but this ruling is waiting to be implemented for three years?
There is a certain level of political will to solve this problem, because politicians see this as further opportunity to participate in government and international circles. The obstacle is the policy of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) BiH and HDZ 1990, which want to use the judgment for their benefit. In their discussions on the implementation of “Sejdić-Finci”, all that can be heard is the equality of the Croats, one of the constituent peoples, which has nothing to do with the ruling, especially if it its essence is considered. The state of BiH is required to amend the Constitution and harmonize it with the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights, which favors the individual, and not collective rights. This speaks volumes about the fact that HDZ BiH and HDZ 1990 until now have not had concrete discussions on the equality of BiH citizens. I think that this is the main drag.
The policy of the RS can be understood in many ways. Politicians from that entity have a proposal that eliminates discrimination. They have an idea, that I support, and that is direct election of member of the BiH Presidency. On the other hand, this can be understood as a mechanism for the lack of implementation of the judgement, because HDZ BiH and HDZ 1990 would not accept such an election of a member of the Presidency, because it is not in their interest.
The third side is the so-called Bosniak political block. The Party of Democratic Action (SDA) has in the last 10 months on the principle of the policy proposal of the RS, that is, from the RS one member of the Presidency is chosen, and from the FBiH two members are chosen, given that ethnic labels are eliminated when choosing.
Fortunately for all citizens of BiH, the proposal of the agreement of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) BiH and HDZ BiH was not adopted. In fact, by way of the electoral way of elections, they tried to belittle the importance of the vote because this would, for example, mean that a Bosniak vote in Čapljina would be five times less valuable that the Bosniak voice in Sarajevo and in Banja Luka the Croatian vote would be five times less valuable that a Croatian vote in Herzegovina. This would produce a new form of discrimination.
In my opinion, what would be ideal, but in these circumstances it is not possible, is one President, one state. In the current constellation of relationships, the most painless way would be to introduce the fourth member of the BiH Presidency. When it comes to the House of Peoples of the BiH Parliament, it is necessary to form a club of the ‘Others’ or national minorities with the same number of members as well as with the constituent peoples, or five.
2.Do you believe that BiH could be punished due to the lack of implementation of the judgment and in what way could this happen?
I am not sure whether the possible implications of the lack of implementation of the ruling, primarily the termination of the Association Agreement and cooperation with the Council of Europe and the non-recognition of the eventual elections of 2014, would have a positive impact on BiH and its citizens. This would impact politicians, but not to the extent as citizens. A large number of politicians are not for BiH, the integrity of this country and its sovereignty, so it is assumed that they are not for a European BiH. Therefore, the possible consequences are fitting for them. On the other hand, there are politicians who are committed for BiH and its European path. The lack of implementation of the judgment would bring some politicians an extension of their mandate, which would mean they would be in power for four more years. The product of the current political situation does not give optimism for the prosperity and progress of BiH. I am not certain how much of the announced consequences of the lack of implementation of the judgment could have an impact on the awareness of BiH politicians to work for a pro-European BiH and in the interest of all citizens of this country. I would argue for sanctioning leaders of political parties that hold power in BiH and that are involved in solving this problem. They should be sanctioned by blocking the works of these political parties, bank accounts or taking away their passports. I think that this would initially result in an improved implementation of this judgment.
In your opinion, what is the actual reason why BiH did not align its Constitution with the ruling?
There are different views on the Dayton Peace Agreement and the Constitution from that agreement. In one part, the politics of the RS for a few years already did not answer to this agreement, and today every represents it. They do not allow for its fundamental postulates to be amended by one millimeter, in the sense that BiH is a country of three constituent peoples and two entities. This brought the situation to a measure that parts of the Bosniak and Croatian political elite, who advocated for the upholding of the Dayton Agreement, are now its biggest critics. The problem of implementing the judgment could be solved in 24 hours, as long as there is political will. Primarily, it is necessary to engage professional people. Independent experts, those involved in the constitutional and international rights have to give their opinions and recommendations.
There are a little over two years left until the end of the Decade of Roma. What is the position of Roma in BiH today? Is there less discrimination now than in the past, and is there an improvement of the socio-economic status of your people?
The goal of Decade of Roma was the fight against discrimination, social inclusion of Roma and reducing poverty. Realistically, the expected results have not been achieved. BiH adopted a law against discrimination, but its implementation is questionable.
The main institution responsible for implementing the law is the BiH Ombudsman and that state Ministry of Justice, which in full capacity is not able to follow it. The Ombudsman recommendation is not respected for several reasons, which was established based on discrimination, given that it is made up of one Bosniak, one Serb and one Croat. What to expect of such an Institute to protect human rights, if it has been found on an ethnic basis? The recommendations of the BiH Ombudsman in BiH until now have not been taken in the best way, and they have not been implemented in practice. The mechanisms for implementation of an anti-discrimination law are not on the best path.
From the announcement that BiH jointed in the Decade of Roma and the program of social inclusion of Roma, in this country there has been an increase in discrimination against Roma. All local, entity and cantonal politics are carried out to not include the Roma population. It is said that the Roma people should solve all their issues through the Decade of Roma, so programs that are intended for socially vulnerable groups do not adequately include Roma. On the other hand, there is an increase in the level of hate speech.
As for the majority of BiH citizens, the problem of employment affects Roma as well. What is the situation like in this area?
In BiH institutions, from the municipal to the state level, there is not one Roma employee. One Roma, Master of Science, was employed as an officer and his job entails communication between Roma families and the Minister of Education in Tuzla Canton, and this is promoted as positive discrimination.
In the Roma community, there are unemployed professors, doctors and postgraduates in science. Certain projects, which deal with employment of Roma, do not inspire confidence that, after its completion, people would be held to those positions.
When it comes to the private sector, it should be noted that privatization in BiH is associated with criminal activity. It is not only I that am saying this, but also a number of officials and politicians. The chances for Roma employment are minimum. Employees rarely employ Roma people, because they are full of prejudices and stereotypes, because in private companies they hire only friends and relatives, or ‘politically correct people’.
In the last few years, the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees in BiH allocated certain funds for employment and self-employment of Roma through the state budget for the implementation of action plans. Unfortunately, until this year, of the possible hundreds of grants the assumptions are that around 30 percent of those that continued to work after the contract period. In comparison to 2000, today the level of employment has increased, but in the process of self-employment, because Roma are turning to agriculture, animal husbandry and other crafts. Through grants, they are starting their own production, which are not received that well in the market.
Can we speak about progress when it comes to the issue of plans for housing for Roma?
If we look at the housing segment of Roma in BiH, having in mind the overall social situation, we can safely say that this country is a leader in the construction of housing for the Roma population. Since 2008 until now, more than 300 residential buildings have been built, and almost the same amount has been reconstructed. Tender procedures have to be transparent, and the quality of construction should be elevated to a higher level. This year, one more grant of the country is planned, and BiH for the first time received IPA funds for housing for 2,5 million euros. These are significant resources, which gives a real chance for this issue to be resolved by 2020.
According to your opinion, to what extent does BiH respect the rights of minorities?
The relationship of BiH towards the Roma community is in positive growth, but hate speech is also on the rise. This, however, should not be the measure of what is happening in this country in a positive direction. It is utopia that discrimination could be fully eradicated. The Roma in BiH are safer compared to other countries in the region. In BiH since 1996, it has not occurred that a Roma has been killed due to racist and nationalist reasons. Politicians should not be tied to the civic level of communication. Citizens are much more flexible than politicians.