JOHANNESBURG – The CIVICUS Monitor has added Bosnia and Herzegovina to its watchlist of countries experiencing a rapid decline in civil liberties following laws challenging the justice system and attacks on activists and civil society. The civic space of Bosnia and Herzegovina is considered to have shrunk.
“Recently, a persistent political crisis caused by secessionist threats from one of the country’s two constituent entities, Republika Srpska (RS), has led to increased pressure on civil society and the media on its territory, threatening the civic space throughout the country. » , declared the organization.
According to the published report, the crisis peaked in June this year, when the RS parliament passed a law rejecting the statewide authority of the Constitutional Court. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik called the move “cleansing Bosnia and Herzegovina of foreign influence” and later championed a series of authoritarian bills aimed at silencing dissent, including a bill on “foreign agents” and “draconian measures”. » amendments reintroducing criminal defamation into the judicial system. Meanwhile, RS institutions have failed to protect LGBTQI+ activists from increased violence.
“Republika Srpska’s legislative efforts to undermine civic space are deeply worrying and show that the authorities are taking a step backwards on the EU path,” said Dajana Cvjetković, program manager at the Center for Promotion of civil society.
Cvetković emphasizes that the law on “foreign agents” not only threatens the work of civil society, but constitutes an attack on the fundamental freedoms of all citizens, guaranteed by international law and the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is essentially a legal tool intended to destroy any criticism of the government.
“With civil society and media targeted, Bosnia and Herzegovina risks becoming one of the most restricted countries in the Western Balkans,” says Tara Petrović, Europe and Central Asia researcher at CIVICUS. She adds that it is still possible to reverse the negative trend and pave the way for an environment conducive to freedom of expression and association in the country.
CIVICUS recalls that since March, the authorities of Republika Srpska have pushed to adopt multiple repressive laws despite strong protests from the international community. In July, amendments recriminalizing defamation after 20 years were passed in the RS parliament, worsening an already perilous environment for the media. Violence and threats against journalists are common across Bosnia and Herzegovina and have seen a marked increase since 2022.
Another worrying development for CIVICUS is the draft law on the special register and publicity of the work of non-profit organizations, which is due to be debated in the RS parliament at the end of September. By strictly banning “political activities,” the text would prohibit civil society and foreign-funded non-profit media from engaging in public debate under penalty of closure or criminal prosecution. More laws targeting activists may soon follow, with President Dodik announcing laws banning LGBTQI+ advocates from school and a “Law on Enemies of Republika Srpska” reportedly next on the agenda.
“We urge RS authorities to abandon proposed laws restricting basic civil liberties. Defending human rights for all and encouraging open debate is particularly crucial in the context of a fragile democracy like Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Petrović said.
CIVICUS urges the Republika Srpska authorities to repeal the amendments to the Criminal Code and ensure that all existing and proposed laws related to defamation, insults or privacy comply with international standards on freedom of speech. expression.
They call for the immediate withdrawal of the draft law on the special register and publicity of non-profit organizations and to involve civil society in the development of this law and any other law regulating non-profit entities and to put a put an end to the intimidation and harassment of journalists and civil society, and to publicly denounce such a law. action at the highest level and guarantee fair and impartial prosecutions for all crimes committed against them and their property.
Among the recommendations addressed to the RS authorities, CIVICUS highlighted the importance of respecting the rights of LGBTQI+ people, including their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. “Ensure that all cases of discrimination and hate crimes are prosecuted in accordance with the National Law on Prohibition of Discrimination and the Criminal Code of Republika Srpska,” the report adds.
CIVICUS calls on the international community to closely monitor the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure that all legislative proposals comply with the country’s international human rights obligations. The organization urges authorities at all levels of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina to establish
CIVICUS calls on the international community to closely monitor the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure that all legislative proposals comply with the country’s international human rights obligations. The organization urges authorities at all levels of the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to establish and maintain a favorable environment for the work of journalists and civil society, both in legislation and in practice.