The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the exclusion of Jews and Roma from Bosnia’s highest state offices is unlawful discrimination.
Tuesday’s ruling is “a major step forward in Europe’s struggle against discrimination and ethnic conflict,” said Sheri Rosenberg, co-counsel for Jakob Finci and a professor and director of the Human Rights Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. “This decision affirms that ethnic domination should have no role in a democracy.”
By a vote of 14-3, the court found that the exclusion of Jews and Roma could not be justified. It stated that the “authorities must use all available means to combat racism, thereby reinforcing democracy’s vision of a society in which diversity is not perceived as a threat but as a source of enrichment.”
The ruling in the case of Sejdic & Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina concerned the exclusion from the Bosnian presidency and the upper house of parliament of a Bosnian Jew and a Bosnian Roma. The Bosnian Constitution, drafted by negotiators during peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995, restricts the highest offices of state to members of Bosnia’s three main ethnic and religious groups – the Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
Finci, the successful applicant, was born in a transit camp during World War II after his parents, Bosnian Jews, had been deported from the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. Returning to Bosnia after the war, he has had a distinguished career in public life and is now the Bosnian ambassador to Switzerland. But his ethnicity and religion prevented him from the possibility of seeking election to the highest offices of state.
Bosnia’s next presidential and parliamentary elections are due next October. Constitutional reform has been under discussion in Bosnia since 2005 but has not produced any change.