'Bosnia's voting restrictions especially problematic'

Bosnias voting restric

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR, AP
December 24, 2009 00:19
2 minute read.

 
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While many European states, similar to Israel, have ethnicity-based repatriation laws and state-recognized religions, the Bosnian situation is "especially problematic," according to Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, an Israeli constitutional scholar, former legislator and author of key planks to Israel's proto-constitutional Basic Laws. Rubinstein was commenting on Tuesday's decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that Bosnia's constitution discriminates because it only allows members of three ethnic groups to run for Parliament. The court was ruling on a complaint by two men, Jewish community president Jakob Finci and Dervo Sejdic, an ethnic Roma. In Bosnia, only Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Serbs and Croats can run for the upper house of parliament and for the presidency. "Many countries have minority problems, and had to change their laws to join the European Union," Rubinstein explained. "Greece and Spain both had to change their marriage laws, for example." Israel, too, "would have a problem joining because of its lack of civil marriage and civil divorce. While the Law of Return would not be a hindrance, the lack of a general immigration law dealing with non-Jews is a real problem." But the Bosnian situation was a clear target for legal action. "European courts do not have a problem with nation-states per se. But the Bosnian constitution is especially problematic because it's not a nation-state; it's a three-nation state that restricts the rights to vote and be elected to certain ethnicities. The right to representation itself is divided [by nationality]." The binding decision was issued by the court in Strasbourg, France, after Finci and Sejdic filed a complaint in June. The court said Finci has a letter from the Bosnian election commission saying he is ineligible to run for the presidency or parliament because he is Jewish. Bosnia's constitution was written by peace negotiators in Dayton, Ohio, in a hurry to stop Bosnia's 1992-95 war and contains many irregularities. Internationally mediated talks to change the constitution and give the country a chance to join the European Union are ongoing, but progress has stalled. The Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina, one of the main Bosniak parties advocating the abolishment of the country's ethnic division and the adoption of all EU requirements, welcomed the court's ruling. "Finally, the discriminatory nature of the Dayton solutions was confirmed," it said, urging that the constitution be changed. Finci said he was "delighted that the European Court has recognized the wrong that was done in the constitution 14 years ago," and also urged politicians "to right the wrongs in the constitution quickly." Finci is currently the country's ambassador to Switzerland. Clive Baldwin, currently the senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch and one of Finci's co-counsels in the case said "the US, EU and the other states who still play a major role in Bosnia should ensure the ruling is put into immediate effect by backing a change in the constitution." According to a statement released by the applicants' attorneys, the court's 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."

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