The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that the exclusion of Jews and Roma from Bosnia's highest state offices was unlawful discrimination.
This ruling is believed to be the first under the recent Protocol 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination in all rights set forth by law, a much wider scope than previously existed under the convention.
It was issued by the Grand Chamber of the Court in the case of Sejdic & Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 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 - the upper house of parliament and the presidency - to members of Bosnia's three main ethnic and religious groups: the Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims).
Members of smaller groups (such as the Jewish and Roma communities), those from ethnically mixed backgrounds and those who do not wish to declare themselves members of the three main groups are banned from running for office.
The court found, by a 14-3 vote, that the exclusion of Jews and Roma could not be justified and that the authorities must use all available means to combat racism.
Jakob 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 was active in Bosnian public life and is now his country's ambassador to Switzerland. But his ethnicity and religion prevented him from the possibility of seeking election to the highest offices of state.
"I am delighted that the European Court has recognized the wrong that was done in the constitution 14 years ago," Finci said. "The Bosnian politicians need to right the wrongs in the constitution quickly."
"The court's ruling is a major step forward in Europe's struggle against discrimination and ethnic conflict," said Sheri P. Rosenberg, co-counsel for Finci and a professor and director of the Human Rights Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
"This decision affirms that ethnic domination should have no role in a democracy."
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