The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on August 29 that elections in Bosnia & Herzegovina are undemocratic as they do not allow individuals who do not belong to any of the three constituent peoples to participate in them as candidates.
Bosnia comprises two autonomous entities – the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska, as well as the autonomous Brcko district. It also has three constituent peoples – the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), the Serbs and the Croats. The country’s constitution makes a distinction between the three constituent peoples and members of ethnic minorities and those who do not declare affiliation with any particular ethnic group.
The case followed a claim by Slaven Kovacevic, advisor to Zeljko Komsic, a member of Bosnia’s state-level tripartite presidency.
The court noted that, according to the complaint, the power-sharing arrangements in Bosnia are not genuinely democratic but an “ethnocracy” in which ethnicity – and not citizenship – is the key to securing power and resources.
It also took into consideration that the approval of the constituent peoples was necessary to end the 1992-1995 Bosnian war at the time.
“It was therefore conceivable that the existence of a second chamber, composed of representatives of the three main ethnic groups only, would have been acceptable in the special 3 case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, had the powers of the House of Peoples been limited to the precisely, narrowly and strictly defined vital national interests of the “constituent peoples”. However, the House of Peoples had to approve all legislation,” the ECHR noted.
“Therefore, all segments of society should be represented in it. As it stood, the current arrangements rendered ethnic considerations and/or representation more relevant than political, economic, social, philosophical and other considerations and/or representation and thus amplified ethnic divisions in the country and undermined the democratic character of elections,” it added.
The ECHR also reminded that Bosnia is obliged to carry out a reform of the electoral system, but has not yet done this.
“In particular, the Court saw no reason to depart from its previous case-law and in particular, Sejdić and Finci, Zornić, and Pilav in which the Court found discrimination against persons not affiliated with the three main ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or those failing to meet a combination of the requirements of ethnic origin and place of residence as regards their right to stand for election to the House of Peoples and the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the court also noted.