Bosnia and Herzegovina

Last Updated 10 November 2016

Bosnia and Herzegovina pronounced independence in 1992, the Bosnian War followed lasting well into 1995. There is a three member Presidency, and a bicameral legislature in place. The country is a member of the Council of Europe and a founding member of the Mediterranean Union.

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Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression.  The law provides for freedom of religion and outlines the legal status of churches and religious communities. The law prohibits any form of discrimination against any religious community.

Education and children’s rights

The law affirms the right of every citizen to religious education. The law calls for an official representative of the various religious communities to be responsible for teaching religious studies in all public and private preschools, primary schools, and universities. These individuals are employees of the schools in which they teach, but receive accreditation from the religious body governing the curriculum.

However, religious education is largely decentralized. Public schools offer religious education classes, but with some exceptions, only in the municipality’s majority religion. Students have the legal right to opt out of religion classes, or parents on their behalf in the case of primary school students.

In the Federation’s five Bosniak-majority cantons, primary and secondary schools offer Islamic religious instruction as a two-hour-per-week elective course. In cantons with Croat majorities, Croat students attend an elective one-hour-per-week Catholic religion course in primary and middle schools. However, in 13 Croat-majority primary and secondary schools in the Federation, parents can choose between the elective Catholic religion course and a course in ethics. At the beginning of the 2012 school year, the Sarajevo Cantonal Ministry of Education introduced alternative courses to religious education called “Society, Culture, and Religion” in primary schools and “Culture of Religion” in secondary schools for students who do not want to attend religious education classes. Schools in Tuzla offer students a similar option.

Family, community and society

Community controls

However, following ethnic-sectarian conflict, subsequent attempts to stabilize relations between the state and religious communities, and religious communities with each other, have ingrained endemic church-state relations and privileges which entirely overlook the non-religious and may only make some forms of sectarian identity and power worse.

In detail, consequent to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s recent history of brutal conflict between ethnic/religious communities, the new nation formed as a loose knit confederation composed of the Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Federation) and the predominantly Serb Republika Srpska.  To balance the competing demands of its religiously distinct component communities, the state developed a complex system of state support for the major ethnic/religious groups.

This system provides financial and political privileges and benefits for Bosniaks/Muslims, Croats/Catholics, and Serbs/Orthodox Christians. As with any system of ethnic and religious privileges, it operates to the disadvantage of other ethnic /religious groups, including those people who do not belong to any religion.

By tying ethnic identification with religious affiliation, it may also increase the political power of those religions, stigmatize those who reject the dominant religion of their community, and serve harden religious and ethnic identities.

Individuals continue to face religious and ethnic discrimination in employment, housing, and social services in regions that are not dominated by their own ethnic group. In December 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Bosnian constitution is discriminatory for allowing only Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs to run for the presidency or serve in the upper house of parliament, excluding candidates from the Jewish, Romany, and other minorities. However, no remedies have been implemented to date.

Catholic privileges

A concordat with the Holy See recognizes the public juridical personality of the Catholic Church and grants a number of rights, including legal personality, formation of educational and charitable institutions, religious education, and official recognition of Catholic holidays. A mixed commission for implementation of the concordat, composed of five members from the government and five from the Holy See, meets regularly to discuss the adoption of laws on religious holidays and restitution of nationalized properties. A similar agreement exists with the Serbian Orthodox Church.

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