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Bosnia Urged To Reform 'Discriminatory' Constitution

About 400,000 Bosnians, or 12 percent of the population, including Jews and Roma, "cannot run for president or parliament because of their religion, ethnicity, or where they live," HRW said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized Bosnian officials' failure to end what the watchdog called "second-class status" for minorities such as Jews and Roma.

"It's outrageous that a European country has had a constitution that has been discriminating against its own citizens for 24 years," Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at HRW, said in a statement on December 13, nearly 10 years after Europe's top rights court condemned Bosnia-Herzegovina's fundamental charter as discriminatory by not allowing the communities' equal participation in democratic elections.

Bosnia's constitution was drafted by European and U.S. experts as part of the Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

The constitution privileges the three main ethnic groups -- Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs -- which are labelled "constituent" peoples.

The text refers to 17 national minorities as "others" and denies their members the right to run for the presidency and the upper house of parliament.

As a result, about 400,000 Bosnians, or 12 percent of the population, "cannot run for president or parliament because of their religion, ethnicity, or where they live," HRW said. "The constitution also bans people who do not wish to declare an ethnic identity from running for the highest office."

Two citizens of Romany and Jewish origins have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights because of this discrimination, and the Strasbourg-based court ruled in their favor on December 22, 2009.

The court "ruled in three other cases that the Bosnian Constitution violated citizens' rights to run for public office, but none of the decisions have been carried out," the HRW said.

Meanwhile, three general elections have been held under the constitution.

Bosnian authorities should "stop prioritizing the main ethnic groups' interests over equal rights for all citizens and amend the discriminatory constitution," Baldwin said.

The United States, Britain, Germany, and France were engaged in creating the Dayton agreement and the Bosnian Constitution, and have a responsibility to "press Bosnian officials to end discrimination," according to HRW.

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