Republika Srpska (RS) is a constitutional entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). RS has its own constitution, president, parliament, judiciary, and police force. RS is home to numerous government-organized non-governmental organization (GONGO) that receive support from the government to conduct programs related to trade, veterans, and pensioners. However, the government has passed or attempted to pass a number of laws that would restrict independent civil society organizations (CSOs) in recent years.
Independent CSOs focusing on corruption and human rights, particularly those receiving foreign funding, are subject to intimidation, harassment, and violence.[i] They are subject to defamation campaigns in the media, which are intended to call into question civil society’s integrity and tarnish its reputation. In 2014, it also came to light that the ruling party had developed a “black list” of CSOs and media outlets the government labeled “enemies of the state,” which are suspected of conspiring to destroy the republic.
In 2016, the Law on Combating Corruption, Organized and Most Serious Forms of Economic Crime was adopted by the government. Although the law is ostensibly intended to prevent corruption and economic crime, CSOs note that the most serious types of economic crime are conspicuously absent from the law, which they argue could actually be used to protect crimes perpetrated by government supporters. The law created an agency called the “Special Department” to monitor “incitement of national, racial and religious hatred and intolerance, or for bringing the RS in the position of subjugation or dependence.”[ii] Civil society activists fear that these crimes can be broadly interpreted by the Special Department, which could charge anyone voicing critical views of the government for “political crimes.” Political crimes could include monitoring government corruption or discrimination against minority groups. Civil society activists point out that the law dramatically infringes upon basic human rights and freedoms in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 2015, members of the National Assembly’s ruling coalition introduced a draft Law on “Transparency of Non-Profit Organizations.” Civil society publicly argued that the law’s primary intention was to stigmatize organizations receiving funding from foreign sources. They were concerned that the draft law would ban vaguely defined “political activities” giving the government dangerously broad discretion to limit the activities of certain organizations. The law would have obligated CSOs to regularly submit extensive reports to the Ministry of Justice and comply with burdensome administrative requirements. Under the law, CSOs may received unannounced inspection visits by the state. However, the law was not adopted, partially because civil society successfully argued that it would violate fundamental freedoms of peaceful association and assembly. Similarly, a draft “Law on Public Peace and Order,” which would have negatively affected CSOs receiving foreign funding, was rejected in part due to civil society’s public advocacy efforts.
Civil society also seeks political support from the international community, including the European Union, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and foreign diplomatic missions that have a degree of influence over the government. Through letters, reports and formal requests, CSOs raise awareness regarding restrictive legislation and describe how they sometimes violate international norms and conventions. They point out that policies that violate international norms could place BiH’s accession to the European Union in jeopardy.
The following international agreements apply to BiH: