State Department: BiH faces issues of discrimination, vandalism and insults regarding religious freedom

State Department: BiH faces issues of discrimination, vandalism and insults regarding religious freedom

Ongoing discrimination on behalf of the government against religious groups in parts of the country where they form a minority, incidents of vandalism against religious sites and verbal insults were highlighted as some of the major issues Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing on the topic of religious freedom, according to the US Department’s 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom published this week.

“The BiH Interreligious Council (IRC) registered 10 reported acts of vandalism against religious sites and one case of verbal abuse against an Orthodox priest this year, cautioning that the actual number of incidents was likely much higher. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states that it received reports in 2018 of 17 incidents of bias against Muslims, 10 against Christians, and two against Jews. The one incident of violence reported by the OSCE mission in the country involved an assault and verbal insults against a Serb man during an Orthodox Christian holiday. Anti-Islamic incidents included shots being fired at a mosque, theft, as well as vandalism against mosques involving pig entrails, broken windows, or graffiti. In the two anti-Semitic incidents, vandals painted graffiti, including swastikas, on Jewish properties. The IRC continues to promote interfaith dialogue through conferences and projects with local governments”, the report notes.

The document also recalls that the Constitution reserves all positions in the Presidency and one of two houses of parliament, alongside certain other government offices to members of the three major ethnic groups – predominantly the Serbian Orthodox Church member Serbs, predominantly Roman Catholic Croats, and predominantly Muslim Bosniaks – underlining that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg declared in 2009 those provisions unconstitutional, yet that nothing has been done to change that.

“Officials publicly acknowledged the need to address the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) 2009 decision ruling that the country should amend its constitution to allow members of religious and other minorities, including Jews, to run for president and the parliament’s upper house, but took no action during the year”, the report states.

The report recalled of other rulings of the European court concerning Bosnia that are yet to be addressed.

“On October 1, the ECHR ruled that the government of BiH must remove a Serbian Orthodox church illegally built on plaintiff Fata Orlovic’s property in Bratunac. The court ruled the church’s construction in 1998 illegal and ordered authorities to ensure its removal within three months, return the land to Orlovic, and pay 5,000 euros ($5,600) to Orlovic and 2,000 euros ($2,200) to her relatives in damages”, the report recalls.

According to the document, religious leaders once again state that local authorities continued to discriminate when it came to providing police protection and investigating threats of violence, harassment, and vandalism.

“While only a few cases were recorded, the IRC said law enforcement officials treated these cases as simple theft or vandalism, without taking into consideration the fact that the acts occurred at religious sites and could be charged as hate crimes”, the report continues, citing the attack on the Rijecanska mosque in Zvornik (eastern Bosnia), thefts in the Catholic Church of Saint Mother Teresa in Vogosca, near Sarajevo, the Orthodox church in the village of Donje Vukovsko in the Kupres Municipality (northwestern Bosnia), and others.

As for the US Embassy’s communication with religious groups in Bosnia through the Interreligious Council (IRC), the report underlines that the embassy continued to maintain regular contact with the IRC and supported its activities by providing funding.

“Embassy officials engaged with the Presidency, the Ministry of Security, and other ministries and underscored the need to promote respect for religious diversity and enforce equal treatment under the law for religious minorities”, the document highlights, noting that the embassy’s officials held numerous meetings with the Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, and Orthodox communities and their leaders. /ibna