On Hate Crimes in BiH

Author: Edina Sprečaković

Can you imagine a situation in which graffiti reading Serbs Should be Hanged or Kill the Fags welcomed you beneath your window? Would you be bothered if you were not the one targeted by this graffiti? Can you put yourself in the skin of the person experiencing fear and uncertainty on a daily basis because someone gives himself the right to threaten the lives of others simply because something is bothering him?

The hatred and violence associated with such graffiti is so deeply rooted in our culture and everyday life. It has simply become something so common that BiH society has a generally indifferent attitude towards the manifestation of hatred. It sometimes escalates to the point that dealing with the resulting situation becomes inevitable – when hatred grows into an incident or crime. Such incidents and crimes are motivated by intolerance and/or prejudices against those that are different in society, as well as against the target’s actual and/or presumed personal characteristics.

Federation BiH is not ready to protect its citizens

The lack of regulation of hate crime in BiH does not mean that this problem, which is present in every community, is absent. History provides many examples of crimes committed out of hatred in all parts of the world: from the suffering of Jews, Slavs and Gypsies during World War II to the genocide in Rwanda, to the events during the last war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The institutionalization of hate crime exists in most European countries, including neighboring Croatia and Serbia as well as Republika Srpska and Brčko District since 2010. The Federation of BiH is still waiting for amendments to be adopted after one attempted was thwarted by the House of Peoples, which prevented the addition of hate crime to the Criminal Code of FBiH in September 2013. Therefore, this is the only part of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the entire region that lacks regulation of hate crime. Although the legal system of BiH has been regulating hate crimes recently, adequate legal punishment of the perpetrators of these crimes usually does not occur.

“The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code of the Federation in 2013, unfortunately, were not adopted for political reasons. The Federation has proven its unwillingness to give priority to the protection of its citizens ever since 2010. At the beginning of 2014, at the 26th regular session of the House of Representatives, the Draft Law on Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Federation was adopted, to which the Club of Parlamentarians of House of Representatives had given its amendments. The Coalition to Combat Hate Speech and Hate Crimes collaborated with this Club on drafting amendments concerning hate crimes and hate speech. The FBiH Ministry of Justice approved the amendments of the Club of Parliamentarians and we are waiting for the draft to pass in the House of Peoples of the Parliament of FBiH.  lt will be open to public debate, which will last 60 days,” Vladana Vasić said in front of the Coalition to Combat Hate Speech and Hate Crimes.

Grafiti u Banja Luci povodom obilježavanja Međunarodnog dana ljudskih prava Foto: FacebookIn order for a criminal offense to be characterized as a crime committed out of hatred, two conditions must be fulfilled: the offense must be defined as a criminal offense in the Criminal Code, and the offense must be bias motivated.

Bias motivated means that the perpetrator chose the victim on the basis of actual or presumed protected characteristics. A protected characteristic is a fundamental characteristic that is common to a particular group, such as race, religion, disability, health status, ethnicity, language or sexual orientation, etc. A criminal offense committed out of hatred does not require that the offender feels hatred. It requires only that the crime was motivated by prejudice.  The first association that the name of a hate crime brings up is certainly physical violence and even murder, but it actually includes a wide range of offenses, such as: damaging someone else’s property, robbery, theft, extortion, intimidation, threats to security, threats, writing threatening graffiti, harassment, sexual assault, causing body injuries, murder and many other criminal acts that are prohibited by the criminal laws of BiH, its entities and Brčko District.

Wide spectre of criminal acts

When distinguishing hate crimes from other crimes, it is important to have in mind the motivation of the perpetrator in the commission, and precisely because of this, these crimes should be punished more strictly. The European Court of Human Rights states that bias motivation is actually at the root of hate crime because offenders who abuse people for what they are, or what are considered to be, transmit a very humiliating message: primarily that the victim is not an individual with his or her own personality, skills and experience, but a faceless member of a distinctive group. The perpetrator so implies that the rights of these groups can – or even should – be ignored, which violates fundamental EU principles of democracy and equality. Ignoring the bias motivation of a crime is a violation of Article 14 of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Such actions send a strong message of animosity towards the victim and the group he or she is a member of. They can cause a feeling of insecurity and mistrust within the affected community and require special attention because they can escalate and lead to greater conflict.

Hate crimes in BiH are usually directed against returnee communities (which are often isolated and vulnerable), religious and sacral objects, such as churches, mosques and cemeteries, as well as the private property of returnees or members of minority communities, and members of sexual minorities and Roma, according to the monitoring of hate crimes that was executed by the mission of the OSCE BiH. Hate crimes against these communities send a powerful message of animosity and cause great fear and tension for its members.

The Office of the Secretariat MRV BiH received 34 reports of attacks on sacral objects, ministers and believers who are directly connected with sacral objects in the period from November 2012 to October 2013. In only nine cases was the responsible person identified. The number of reported attacks probably does not represent the total number of attacks on sacral sites in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 17 attacks occurred in the territory of the Federation as well as 17 attacks on the territory of the Republika Srpska of the 34 attacks in this period.

Returnee N.D., 73 years old, was physically attacked when he went to the Bajram prayer in Zvornik. In the street leading to the mosque, three young men intercepted the believers who were moving towards the Begsuja Mosque to perform Fajr and Adha prayers. First there was a verbal assault consisting of insults and curses, and then they physically attacked N.D. In the hospital in Zvornik, medical staff identified minor injuries to N.D.  and he was released home.

Besides the fact that this is an obvious example of a hate crime, it is important to note that the BH Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Agreement is committed to ensure the safe return of refugees and returnees, without risk of harassment, intimidation, persecution, or discrimination, particularly on account of their ethnic origin, religion or political beliefs.

2014 started with hate crime

Sarajevo Open Centre published the report Homophobic and Transfobic Incidents and Hate Crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Period from March to November 2013, which is the product of work on monitoring and documenting cases of hate crime in the period from March 1 to October 31, 2013. There were 18 cases of hate crime, 5 cases of discrimination and more than 20 cases of hate speech motivated by sexual orientation and/or gender identity documented in this report.

This year started with another hate crime motivated by sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Sarajevo hosted the Merlinka International Festival of Queer Film from January 31 to February 2, 2014, for the second time, at Art Cinema Kriterion. The festival program featured 30 feature length and short films. On the second day of the festival, a discussion called “Transexuality in Transition” was organised at 3 PM with guests from Croatia and Serbia, but it was violently interrupted immediately after the introductory words. 14 masked attackers stormed the participants and guests in the cinema hall and two people were injured. All screenings for the day and the continuation of discussion were canceled for the safety of the people who were present. Although the festival and all activities were properly announced to the police and direct on-line threats and calls to attack the participants of the festival at 3 PM were reported to them, there was no protection despite the fact that they arranged protection in advance. The police appeared on the scene just after the attack. The case has not been resolved and two attackers were detained thanks to footage from surveillance cameras.

Institutions didn’t even make ​​an effort to respond appropriately in 2008 when an attack took place on the first 1. Queer Sarajevo Festival, and the verdicct in this case has still not been reached. Several dozen hooligans and Wahhabis gathered on September 24, 2008 on the Obala Mak Dizdar in front of the Academy of Fine Arts where they confronted the visitors, insulting them and spitting on them, and eventually resorting to violence – just a few meters away from a police zone. That evening, although the event had been ensured with police and security guards, at least eight people were injured.

Grafiti u Banja Luci povodom obilježavanja Međunarodnog dana ljudskih prava Foto: FacebookHate towards Roma people

The Institution of the Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina presented a Special Report on the situation of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovinapecijalni izvještaj o položaju Roma u Bosni i Hercegovini, in December 2013, but unfortunately no information on hate speech and hate crimes directed towards this ethnic minority were available in it. The Roma are the largest of the 17 national minorities in BiH, and according to data collected by the Institution during the reporting period, there are about 50,000 Roma currently living in BiH. This still is not accurate information, and the final number could be much higher. Taking into account the fact 35,000 Roma people live in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, these are 35,000 potential cases of hate crime that would not be adequately prosecuted due to lack of institutionalization of hate crime in the Criminal Code of the Federation. A few days before the presentation of this report, we witnessed hatred directed against Roma. In December 2013 in a village in Brčko, Suljagić Sokak, an unidentified group of hooligans brutally beat up Mehmed Mujić, who is the president of the Association of the European Path of Roma, an associate for Roma issues in the government of Tuzla Canton, a councilor in the Municipal Council of Tuzla and a member of the Council of National Minorities in the Federal Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The attack occurred without any reason or foreshadowing, and Mujić was brutally beaten and suffered serious injuries. During the attack, his ten-year-old son was in the car, which,suffered a lot of damage. Since the attack took place on the territory of Brčko District, we can hope that institutions will recognize which criminal offense this is and punish those responsible for the attack.

The state is obliged to send a clear message that hatred towards those who fall outside the status quo will not be tolerated. The OSCE warns that if the community does not recognize these crimes and if relevant institutions do not solve this problem, the rate of incidents and hate crimes  may increase due to the fact that perpetrators may conclude that their actions are justified because of impunity. When a hate crime occurs, it is of utmost importance that public officials and the entire community condemn these acts, especially if they took place within their communities. The perpetrators must not think that the community will stand for their protection. What is needed is greater political will of decision makers to counter violence and prejudice based on various grounds. Hate crime goes unpunished in FBiH (only because there is no legal norm within the sanctioning powers, which does not suggest an absence of the crime). Political disagreements cannot and should not be a reason for obstruction of the protection of basic human rights. The government is sending a message that hate, and therefore hate crime, is acceptable because it continues to lack legislation on hate crime, which is unacceptable in the democratic society that BiH is striving to become.

*Text was created in cooperation with Civil Rights Defenders