The CIVICUS Monitor has added Bosnia and Herzegovina to its Watchlist of countries experiencing rapid declines in civic freedoms following laws challenging the judiciary, as well as attacks against activists and civil society.
In their press release, they note that the country is experiencing threats to peace, as the “authoritarian leader of Republika Srpska (RS)”, the country’s Serb-majority entity, continues to undermine the 1995 Dayton agreement which ended the Bosnian war.
They note that the RS parliament has recently passed laws rejecting the authority of the state-wide Constitutional Court and the international peace envoy overseeing the agreement. President of RS, Milorad Dodik, has declared these moves as “cleansing Bosnia and Herzegovina of foreign influence.”
Alongside these, several laws have been proposed and adopted in recent months restricting the activities of civil society and media, including a Russian-style “foreign agents” law due to be discussed in the RS Parliament on 26th September.
“The legislative efforts in Republika Srpska to undermine civic space are deeply worrying, and show the authorities are taking a step back on the EU path.” said Dajana Cvjetkovic, Program Manager at the Centre for Civil Society Promotion. “The ‘foreign agents’ law doesn’t only threaten the work of civil society, it’s an attack on the fundamental freedoms of all citizens, guaranteed by international law and the Constitution of BiH. It’s essentially a legal tool to destroy any criticism of the government.”
The CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist, released to coincide with the 54th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (11 September – 13 October), highlights five countries at risk of a sharp downturn in civic rights and freedoms. The determination is based on data compiled by the CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks the state of civic freedoms in 197 countries and territories using input from research partners based around the globe. In addition to Bosnia & Herzegovina, the latest Watchlist includes Bangladesh, Ecuador, Senegal and the United Arab Emirates.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the more free countries on this latest watchlist. The CIVICUS Monitor currently rates its civic space as “narrowed,” just one step below the top ranking “open.”
“With civil society and the media being targeted, Bosnia and Herzegovina risks becoming one of the more restricted countries in the Western Balkans,” said Tara Petrovic, Europe and Central Asia Researcher at CIVICUS. “However, there is still room to reverse the negative trend and pave the way to an enabling environment for freedom of speech and association in the country.”
Since March, authorities in Republika Srpska have been pushing for multiple repressive laws despite sharp protests from the international community. In July, amendments re-criminalising defamation after 20 years were adopted in the RS parliament, worsening an already perilous environment for the media. Violence and threats against journalists are common across Bosnia and Herzegovina and have seen a marked increase since 2022.
Another concerning development is the draft law on the Special Registry and Publicity of the Work of Non-Profit Organisations, set to be debated in the RS parliament at the end of September. Introducing a strict ban on “political activities,” it would forbid foreign-funded civil society and non-profit media from engaging in public discourse under penalty of closure or criminal prosecution. More legislation targeting activists could soon follow, with President Dodik announcing laws banning LGBTQI+ advocates from schools and a “law on enemies of Republika Srpska” are next on the agenda.
“We urge RS authorities to abandon the proposed laws restricting basic civic freedoms,” said Petrovic. “Upholding human rights for all and encouraging open debate are particularly crucial in the context of a fragile democracy like Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Their overview of recent restrictions to civic freedoms can be read at THIS LINK.