Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Almost landlocked in the Balkans, Bosnia and herzegovina is linked to the Adriatic Sea by a small corridor of land. Bosnian politics still bear the marks of the conflict which accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which devastated national infrastructure and led to the country’s unusual political structure, defined along ethnic and cultural lines. The States most prominent human rights concerns also relate to the war of the 1990s, including the slow progress in trying those responsible for war crimes and addressing the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons.


Bosnia and Herzegovina is a largely landlocked state in the Balkans, though it has a small corridor of land that links it to 12 kilometres of coastline on the Adriatic Sea. It shares borders with Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia, and has a varied landscape, with a central mountainous region, arable land and Mediterranean vineyards. The capital city is Sarajevo.

Population and Language

According to the UNDESA, around 3.7 million people live in Bosnia and Herzegovina, though it is difficult to comment on the precise population, as no official figures have been produced since 1991. Nevertheless, it is clear that the population fell sharply following the collapse of Yugoslavia and during the Bosnian War of 1992-5. The country's ethnic divisions between Bosniaks (Muslim Bosnians), Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats have played an important role the country's recent history.

The Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian languages are widely spoken.

History and politics

Bosnia and Herzegovina came under the control of Marshall Tito's communist regime following the Second World War as part of Yugoslavia. When Tito died in 1980, Yugoslavia began to disintegrate and, in 1990, the Balkan conflicts erupted. Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence in 1992, but almost immediately succumbed to a war that did not end until 1995, and cost the lives of an estimated 100,000-200,000 people. The Dayton Peace Agreement marked the end to the conflict and initiated a new political system[1].

Under the Dayton agreement, which followed the end of the Bosnian War, Bosnia and Herzegovina has an unusual and complicated political arrangement. The country is divided into two distinct political entities: the Republika Srpska and the Federation. The Brcko District is a further small, distinct and self-governing area that remains under international supervision. The House of Representatives and the House of Peoples constitute the legislature in the Federation, while the National Assembly acts as such for the Republika Srpska. There is also a separate Constitution and Parliament at the level of the whole State, though many issues have to be agreed by the entities before they reach this Parliament. The national presidency rotates between three office holders who are elected to represent the country's three main ethnic groups.

In the 2010 General Election, Presidents Radmanovic, Komsic and Izetbegovic were elected, and the leadership will rotate between them every 8 months. By March 2011, coalition governments had also been formed in both entities[2]. However, in a decision in 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina was not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, in that it reserves certain political offices for members of specific ethnic groups[3].


The national economy grew rapidly in the years following the end of the Bosnian War, indeed GDP increased at an annual rate as high as 25 per cent in the initial years of peace. By 2001, however, growth had decreased to five per cent, and the Federation was growing at a rate significantly higher than the Republika Srpska. The national currency, the Bosnian Mark, is tied to the Euro, and the country is in talks with a view to joining the Union[4]. The country has a free trade agreement with Croatia.

Media and Civil Society

Over the past decade, Bosnia and Herzegovina has made a number of advances towards securing press freedom. Legislation now guarantees freedom of information and the protection of sources, and defamation and denigration have been decriminalised. However, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) have reported a continuing ethnic and religious divides in which media must rely on the resources of their own communities. While there are no taboo subjects per se, there have been attacks on journalists investigating sensitive subjects, such as alleged criminal activities in religious communities[5]. RWB also criticised Prime Minister Milorad Dodik of Republika Srpska over his call to boycott national TV news channel, FTV[6].

Reporters Without Borders rated the country 47 out of 178 countries in its 2010 Press Freedom Index.

Human Rights and Children's Rights

During the Bosnian War, between 100,000 and 200,000 people were killed in the violence, and as many as 2.2 million were displaced. The massacre at Srebrenica, in which more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were killed, and the siege of Sarajevo have been highlighted as among the worst atrocities of the Balkan conflicts. Former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic and former military commander, General Ratko Mladic are currently before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the wars and customs of war[7]. There has also been progress in prosecuting less high profile cases of war crimes nationally.

Human Rights Watch has also highlighted the slow progress on returning refugees and internally displaced persons to their areas of origin as among the most pressing human rights issues affecting the country[8].

  1. The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina ("The Dayton Agreement")
  2. See Bosnian Insight, "Election 2010"
  3. Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, [2009] Application Numbers 27996/06 and 34836/06
  4. BBC, "EU enlargement: The next eight" 9 December 2011
  5. Reporters Without Borders, Bosnia-Herzegovina: Brief
  6. Reporters Without Borders, "Unacceptable call for boycott of state tv station by Serb premier" 17 March 2010
  7. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
  8. Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2011", pp. 410-414


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