Amnesty International issued its latest country reports on the state of human rights in 2020, saying that top issues concerning human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina included the disproportionate movement restrictions for children and older people during the pandemic and limited right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, which came as a consequence of emergency measures introduced by the authorities. The organisation also said media associations reported dozens of "serious violations" of media freedoms in 2020.
“As a part of the COVID-19 emergency measures in March, the authorities imposed a blanket 24-hour curfew on children and people aged 65 and older. The curfew was eased after several weeks but over 300 people found in violation of the order received fines that could exceed the average monthly pension. In April, the Constitutional Court ruled the measures were disproportionate and breached the right to freedom of movement enshrined in the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights,” said the report.
Another part of the report which referred to the pandemic said that the journalists and others who criticised the government's COVID-19 response “faced backlash and censorship,” while the BH Association of Journalists reported some 30 cases of serious violations of media freedom, including physical assault and deaths threats against media workers.
“In several cantons, independent journalists were denied access to government briefings on the COVID-19 crisis. In March, the Republika Srpska (entity) government issued a decree prohibiting the “incitement of panic and disorder” and imposed heavy fines for violations. At least 18 people were charged under the decree before it was repealed in late April, including a medical doctor who expressed concern on social media about the lack of equipment and capacities in local hospitals,” the NGO said in the report, adding that authorities in Bosnia's other entity, the Federation BiH, “actively monitored private social media accounts and criminally charged at least five people for “spreading false information and panic” in March.”
“At the end of the year, there was no credible information on whether any of the charges were dropped. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights warned that the measures limited the right to freedom of expression,” the AI said.
“According to the European Commission, laws regulating assemblies were contrary to international law as they severely restricted public places for protests and placed a disproportionate burden on organizers, who had to cover the costs for additional security and emergency measures during events,” it added.
The report also said that the authorities in several parts of the country cited public health grounds in disclosing personal data of individuals, including minors, who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and of those with orders to self-isolate, which led the BiH Data Protection Agency to warn that this breached national data protection legislation and prohibited further public disclosure of personal data by the authorities.
A whole section of the report was dedicated to the treatment of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, with a note that BiH failed to provide effective access to asylum and adequate reception conditions for thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers travelling through the country on their way to the EU.
“The asylum system remained largely ineffective due to persisting institutional gaps, including limited capacity in the Ministry of Security, resulting in a significant backlog of pending cases and people awaiting registration. Political inaction from the Council of Ministers, and the reluctance of authorities at all levels to co-operate, led to failures in identifying additional suitable accommodation and prevented the transfer of existing reception centres from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to BiH authorities,” the organisation said.