Roma Recognised by the New Minority Rights Law in Bosnia and Herzegovina
29 October 2003
The Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Members of National Minorities (Zakon o zaštiti prava pripadnika nacionalnih manjina), debated by the legislature in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a considerable time, was finally passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina on April 1, 2003 and came into effect in May 2003. Previously, the House of Representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted the draft Law on Minorities in June 2002. This version was then sent to the House of Peoples for approval, which however refused to debate the bill because the House of Peoples had one year earlier adopted a different version of the Law on Minorities. In accordance with the Rules of Procedure of Parliament, a Joint Commission was formed for the purpose of harmonising the two versions of the Law on Minorities into the version that was adopted.
The new minority rights law brings important changes to the legal status of Roma in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At Article 3, the law officially recognises Roma as a minority group and has thus changed the legal situation with regards to their rights and duties. The law bans discrimination against minority group members and their forced assimilation in Article 4. The law protects the rights of Roma and all other national minorities to preserve and develop their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity. National minorities have the right to use their language both publicly and privately, according to Article 11. Under Articles 13 and 14, national minorities have the right to set up their own private educational institutions, as well as to receive educational materials and teaching in their own language in public schools, if they so request. They would also have the right to be represented in public authority bodies and in all levels of the civil service, as defined under Article 19.
In its current form, however, the law reserves such rights for citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is particularly problematic taking into account the widespread problem of statelessness among Bosnian Roma. For more information on this topic, please see the Notebook section of this issue of Roma Rights.