There are laws, but legal protection in practice is missing

The number of incidents potentially motivated by prejudice, that are reported to the police in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is at least 175. the reported incidents most often include attacks and threats, damage to property, religious objects and cemeteries. Incidents towards Roma people and sexual minorities are not as much reported as the previously mentioned ones.

The possibility to choose. The power of action. That is what makes us unique in this world. But, where does the freedom of choice start and where does it end? When does the freedom of choice of one person become dangerous for another person? Who has the right to regulate the extent of our human rights, freedoms and actions? The state. Not the individual or group. Because the state regulates all those issues with its laws (normative acts that the parliament adopts). Through its activities and general consensus, the legislative regulates, acts, punishes and judges. Our choice always carries its consequence, and violence is most often the consequence of prejudice. Prejudice create fear from others and people different from us. Prejudice force us to hate and perpetrate hate crimes that destroy the lives of others.

It all starts with a prejudice

Hate crimes are always motivated by prejudice – race, religion, nationality, language or sexual orientation. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, hate crimes are most often directed towards returnees’ communities, religious and sacral objects, sexual minorities, and Roma people as the largest minority groups in our country.

“I was sitting in the school yard during the break, and that guy just approached me, I did not see him well, and he hit me. I reported him to the management, but he wasn’t punished. I was told that ‘we are not France’. They told me I have to socialise, to greet him, and that he will apologize for what he’s done. After that, I don’t talk to anyone in school, and other kids do not want to talk to me. It feels as if I were in a zoo, I come to school, classes are over, I go home, I study. I cannot talk to anyone closely”, said K. (17 years old, Sarajevo) in the statement for the publication “As if I were in a zoo: Violence Against LGBTI students in BiH High Schools” (November, 2017) published by Sarajevo Open Centre (SOC).

One school under two roofs

Discrimination of children is present in the whole Bosnia and Herzegovina. The phenomenon “two schools under one roof”, that divides the students on ethno-national ground, is the cruel reality. The educational system has recently created a new discriminatory practice named “one school under two roofs” in Konjević polje. That means that parents of Bosniak students, because of the non-existence of the national subjects for kids of all ages, have decided to bring around hundred students to instructive classes again, in Nova Kasaba. Also, students are directly discriminated while exercising rights in the filds of social and healthcare protection on grounds of kids’ place of residence, or parents’ work/labour status.

 Physical, psychological and sexual violence

The state Gender Equality Agency estimated that some form of domestic violence occurs in one out of five families, while UNICEF reports are worrying, because more than half kids from 2 to 14 years old was exposed to some violent method of discipline in the home. The report says that the municipality centres for social work protect the rights of children, but that they do not have the resources and accommodation for children victims of domestic abuse, or for children that should be placed out of abusive families. The latest data from the report on human rights in BiH say that around 6% of girls got married before turning 18, and that more than third of minor Roma girls (around 38%) live in marriage. According to this data, around 5% of children work.

Women, as the statistical data shows, experience some form of violence during their lives (47% of survey respondents), while in the last year, 12% of respondents experienced domestic violence. Most often, those are cases of physical, psychological, also sexual violence. It is important to mention that those cases are combined. “The cause of domestic violence is in the learned pattern of behaviour, that educational, social, economic, health and other factors contribute to”, is stated in the Manual “Acting in domestic violence cases” (Federation BiH Gender Centre, Sarajevo, 2017).

“Discrimination on the ground of sex is under the influence of patriarchal surroundings and mostly rural population in BiH (around 60%) that maintains this way of life. Gender based stereotypes and feminisation of poverty are the cruel BH reality. Girls are often victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, and that is, unfortunately, also happening in institutions for children without parental care”, says the analysis “Social status of children in Bosnia and Herzegovina” (SOS Kinderdorf Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2017).

Number of incidents growing?

The Pink Report 2018 (Annual Report on the State of Human Rights of LGBTI Persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina) states that during 2017, Sarajevo Open Centre (SOC) documented 11 cases of domestic violence against LGBTI persons, that varied from threats and blackmails, unlawful deprivation of liberty and prohibition of movement, violence and physical injuries, to forcible treatment. Perpetrators in all the cases were mostly parents or brothers/sisters, with the support of wider family members.

According to data collected by the OSCE Mission, the number of incidents potentially motivated by prejudice, that were reported to the police in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is at least 175, which fits in the average from previous years – around 150. The reported incidents are most often verbal attacks and threats, damage of property and religious objects and cemeteries. 90% of reported incidents are motivated by ethnic and religious prejudice related to three largest ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbians). Incidents against Roma people and sexual minorities are not as reported as the previously mentioned ones.

“The Ombudsman Institution has encountered examples of hate speech which include inadequate terms that were directed towards members of marginalized groups, inappropriate public statements of physical and legal subjects about personal and moral characteristics of individuals at public universities, texts with photos and comments of offensive content (available to the public), blog posts by certain politicians whose contents are false, insulting, degrading, compromising, that causes the persons being targets of such attacks to feel fear for themselves and their families, as well as nationalist statements that spread hatred amongst constituent peoples in certain returnee communities”, says the concluding part of the Report for 2018 by the BiH Human Rights Ombudsman Institution.

Hate crimes, because of the above-mentioned facts, seek special treatment because they create the state of insecurity and distrust inside different communities in BiH. The fact that the amendments to the criminal codes of Republika Srpska and Brčko District were adopted in 2010 are encouraging, as well as the fact that the same amendments followed in Federation BiH in 2016, with the initiative of the BiH Ombudsman Institution. This has created legislative preconditions for effective struggle against hate crimes throughout the entire territory of BiH.

Thoughts make out beliefs, and they reflect in specific actions. The way we act defines out lives, and life is, you will agree, just a set of piled thoughts, attitudes, prejudice and decisions we live by. From all this one other question arises: If there are legal conditions for effective struggle against hate crimes, why is there no adequate protection in practice? There are laws, but legal protection in practice is missing.

We should not make judgements about others on our own. Do not throw the first stone, because… you already know, no one is without sins and mistakes.


The text was created in scope of the project Protecting Affected Communities: Improving the implementation of hate crime regulation in Bosnia and Herzegovina“, implemented by Sarajevo Open Centre in cooperation with the OSCE Mission to BiH, and financially supported by the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the OSCE in Vienna.