Bosnian Jew and Roma to challenge ban on running for public office at Europe’s highest Court

A Bosnian Jew and an ethnic Roma are taking Bosnia to the highest Human Rights Court in Europe arguing that the country’s constitution discriminates against them by preventing them from running for presidency and from being elected to Parliament.
Bosnian citizens Jakob Finci, a prominent Jew, and Dervo Sejdić, of Roma ethnicity, will challenge their state at the highest chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on 3 June 2009.

They are arguing that by preventing people from certain religious and ethnic communities from holding the office of President, and from being elected to the House of Peoples, the Bosnian constitution and relevant election laws are discriminatory and in violation of key UN conventions and European treaties.

The Bosnian Constitution makes a distinction between two categories of citizens: ‘constituent peoples’ (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs) and ‘Others’ (including Jews, Roma and other minorities). Bosnia has three presidents, each representing one of the country’s principal constituent groups and its House of Peoples, which is one of its two Parliamentary bodies

Membership of the collective Presidency and the House of Peoples is restricted to the three ‘constituent peoples’, whilst those classified as ‘others’ are excluded from both.

“These constitutional limitations are not only discriminatory but they also exclude people from some ethnic and religious groups from participating fully and effectively in public life,” says MRG’s Head of Law, Lucy Claridge.

MRG considers that the Bosnian constitution is in violation of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, both of which Bosnia has signed and ratified.

The case is unprecedented as it will be the first time ever that the Court will consider the application of the Council of Europe’s anti-discrimination laws in member states.

“The fact that it has gone straight to the Grand Chamber, as opposed to being heard by the lower chamber, is indicative of the huge importance with which the European Court on Human Rights views this issue,” Claridge says. “The very fact that a hearing has been granted in this case, which is extremely rare, underlines its importance,” she adds.

The Court’s decision, expected later this year, will be binding on the Bosnian government. If the judgment finds in favour of the Applicant, it is likely to require a constitutional change allowing smaller minorities to hold public office.
“If the court rules in favour of the applicants it could provide a far-reaching judgment which can be used by other minorities who lack electoral rights in other European states,” Claridge says.

Notes to editors

  1. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  2. MRG’s Legal Cases team, in conjunction with the Human Rights clinic of the Cardozo Law School, has been instrumental in bringing this case before the European Court of Human Rights - click here for more information. Mr Finci is represented by Clive Baldwin and Sheri P Rosenberg. 
  3. For further information, or to arrange interviews with Lucy Claridge, MRG’s Head of Law, please contact:
    Farah Mihlar
    T: + 44 207 422 4205
    M: + 44 7870 596863

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