Attacks on religious officials and sites drew the main criticism of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 published on Wednesday.
The report, created by the State Department and submitted to the Congress every year, is based on information collected from government officials, NGOs, religious communities, academic community, and journalists.
A large part of the report on Bosnia and Herzegovina is dedicated to the issue of attacks on religious sites and officials in the country. The Interreligious Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which records and tracks cases of intolerance and hatred, said that total of 198 attacks was registered in the country since 2010. Police identified perpetrators in 55 cases, while courts prosecuted 23 of the cases only.
Particular cases mentioned in the report are the attack on the Careva mosque in the town of Foca, where unidentified individuals broke the windows and wrote nationalistic graffiti on the mosque’s wall, as well as the breaking of windows at the Orthodox Church of Elijah the Prophet in Sarajevo’s Ilijas municipality. In both cases the perpetrators have not been identified by year’s end.
The report also mentions the efforts of the Islamic Community (IC) to persuade unregistered Islamic congregation, also called “para-jamaats”, which gathered predominantly Salafist followers and operated outside the purview of the IC “to cease their ‘unsanctioned’ religious practices and officially unite with the IC.” While the IC initially reported 64 unregistered congregations, it reported only 21 active congregations had still not officially joined the IC by year’s end.
In the part referring to the government practices, the report says that the authorities failed to enforce the 2015 decision by the high Judicial and Protectorial Council (HJPC) prohibiting employees of judicial institutions from wearing any form of “religious insignia” at work, including headscarves.
Observers reported continued failure by government authorities to implement the 2009 decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), stating the country should amend its constitution to allow members of religious and other minorities, including Jews, to run for the state president and the parliament’s upper house.
“According to the ECHR ruling, observers said, by apportioning government positions and seats in the parliament only among Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, the constitution discriminated against minority groups. Individuals who were not members of the three major ethnic/religious groups reported they could not hold any of the proportionally guaranteed government positions, including president,” said the report.
The document further explains that the law affirms the right of every citizen to religious education according to the religious curricula approved by the IC, the Serb Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. However, the rights are often not exercised.
“According to NGOs, provisions of the law regarding the religious education of returnee children remained unimplemented, particularly in segregated school systems, often at the behest of senior government authorities seeking to obstruct the process,” said the report.