“The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina should lay the foundations for a more cohesive society by tackling the disruptive legacy of the war. It is particularly crucial to step up the prosecution of wartime crimes and uphold the human rights of all civilian war victims, especially internally displaced people and the families of missing persons”, said today Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, while releasing a report based on his visit to the country last June.
Underscoring that justice is a prerequisite to foster inter-ethnic reconciliation and social cohesion, the Commissioner calls on the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina at all levels to ensure that war victims, in particular victims of war-related crimes of sexual violence and victim of torture, are provided with adequate and effective reparation. Noting with concern that more than 6800 persons are still missing, the Commissioner recommends that the authorities strengthen efforts to clarify their fate and to establish a fund to support their families. In addition, the Commissioner recommends further improving the protection of witnesses and stepping up assistance to some 50 000 internally displaced persons who need sustained attention and assistance. “The authorities should facilitate safe and sustainable return of IDPs who wish to do so and ensure access to social and economic rights.”
Emphasising the role of education as a tool to promote reconciliation and to rebuild a tolerant and inclusive society, the Commissioner urges the authorities to end ethnic segregation in education by abolishing ‘two schools under one roof’ and mono-ethnic schools and to develop and implement a common core curriculum.
The Commissioner is deeply concerned about the difficult conditions in which the media operate. He warns in particular about the growing use of defamation as a tool to exert pressure on journalists. “The instrumental use of defamation suits and claims for damages have a detrimental impact on journalists’ freedom and increasingly lead to self-censorship. The case law of the European Court of Human Rights should be better incorporated in the work of domestic courts in this context.” The Commissioner is also worried about the persisting physical violence and threats against journalists and calls on the authorities to improve journalists’ safety. “The authorities should investigate all cases of physical violence or threats against journalists and bring perpetrators to justice. Moreover, politicians should put an end to inflammatory remarks against journalists and abstain from actions that may undermine editorial independence.”
The Commissioner further recommends that the authorities engage with media professionals to improve journalists’ labour conditions, whose deterioration undermines not only quality journalism but the democratic fabric of society more generally. At the same time, the Commissioner calls on media professionals to strengthen ethical journalism and to effectively use the mechanisms of self-regulation. Last but not least, he urges the authorities to find a sustainable funding model for the public service media, reverse the tendency of organising it along ethnic lines and stop the influence of political parties on the editorial line of these media.