Global Human Rights Defence

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Contentious Election Law and Constitution Cause Difficulties
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital, Sarajevo. Source: Markus Winkler/Unsplash 2020.

Author: Margareta Ana Baksa

Department: Europe Team

In late March of 2022, a new round of negotiations for the reform of the election law in Bosnia and Herzegovina fell through once again (N1 BiH, 2022). This is another damning event in Bosnia’s current political crisis, one marked by increased tensions between political parties, threats of boycotting the upcoming elections, and threats of secession from the State altogether (Sito-Sucic, 2022). The contentious elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina are set up based on the Dayton Peace Accords for Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Electoral Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sahadžić, 2009). The former is frequently brought into question and poorly implemented; the latter is disputed by some for providing too many barriers to political participation and by others for giving too much power to the wrong groups (Gadzo, 2022; Sahadžić, 2009).



  1. The Dayton Agreement 

During the four years of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, peace processes had been started, but none were successful until 1995, when the Dayton Peace Accords were signed by representatives of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia, then under the name of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Neu, 2012). The Dayton accords were overseen by representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, as well as the European Union, and resulted in the creation of the Office of the High Representative, an ad hoc international institution that monitors the implementation of the provisions in the Dayton accords and supervises, among others, the organisation of elections and appointment and approval of local officials (Subotć, 2009; Dayton Peace Agreement, 1995). This weakened Bosnian institutions, as the international community had a hand in approving or deciding on numerous issues (Subotić, 2009). More issues continued to surface as the Dayton Agreement, an initially temporary solution that was never meant to be the final solution, stands the test of time (Gadzo, 2022). 

On paper, the accords halted the violence in Bosnia – a landmark agreement in this regard. However, the Dayton Agreement also divided the country into ethnic lines (Castro Seixas, 2013). A country that had long prided itself on its multiculturalism was separated into two entities: Republika Srpska (RS), with a majority Bosnian Serb population, and Federacija Bosne i Hercegovine (FBiH), with a majority Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) population and the Bosnian Croat population (Subotić, 2009).  The Dayton accords also formalised Bosnia’s new Constitution, which, as Jelena Subotić (2009) notes: 


“[The constitution] was a massively complex document creating layers of overlapping jurisdictions, all in order to prevent any one side from ethnic dominance. It established a central government with a bicameral legislature, a three-member rotating presidency (consisting of a Bosniac, a Croat, and a Serb), a council of ministers, a two-house legislature, and a constitutional court. Two subentities—[RS] and [FBiH] —were given their own parliaments, prime ministers, and ten regional authorities, each with its own police force and education, health, and judicial authorities.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina thus became a country where the citizen was, above all else, a member of an ethnic group (Jones et al., 2013). Moreover, the political involvement of citizens is directly limited by their home entity. The law regulating elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina only further limits the possibility for political participation. 


  1. The Electoral Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina 

The Electoral Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina regulates the election of the members and the delegates of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of the members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (“Službeni glasnik BiH”, 2001, art.1). The law reiterates and expands upon the provisions laid out in the Constitution. Specifically, it limits political participation based on a combination of factors, including membership of a constituent people group and entity of origin. For example, Article 8.1 of the law, which regulates the election process for the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, provides that one member of the presidency is elected directly from the territory of Republika Srpska – a Serb – and that two are elected directly from the territory of the Federacija BiH – a Bosniak and a Croat (“Službeni glasnik BiH”, 2001). Therefore, a Serb living in the territory of FBiH cannot be elected as a member of the presidency, nor can a Bosniak or Croat be elected if they live on the territory of the RS. 

Article 2.5, which regulates the Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is also notable as it provides that there shall be seven members in Parliament: two Croats, two Bosniaks, two Serbs, and one “other” member. Peculiar here is this designation of the “other” category, the members of which make up around eight per cent of the Bosnian population based on the 2013 census (BHAS, 2019). This category includes other minorities in Bosnia and  Herzegovina, such as the Roma, who make up 0.35 percent of the population, but also the one percent who identify as Bosnian instead of Bosniak (BHAS, 2019). This distinction is built on whether individuals identify with the State (ie. Bosnian, not necessarily Muslim) or with their ethno-religious affiliation (ie. Bosniak, meaning Bosnian Muslim). Bosniaks can, therefore, be elected as members of the Presidency in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but Bosnians cannot. Due to provisions such as these, the European Court of Human Rights has, on five separate occasions, determined that the Bosnian Constitution, the provisions of which are repeated in the Electoral Law, are discriminatory (Gadzo, 2022) [1]. Nonetheless, the verdicts were never implemented, and the contested law and provisions in the Dayton agreement remain in force. 


Current issues

With the upcoming elections in October 2022, there has been an upsurge in talks of reform of the election law. In contrast with the demands of some citizens asking for a one person-one vote system and the end of lawful discriminatory practices, political elites have pushed for other interests. The main Bosnian Croat political party, The Croatian Democratic Alliance Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH), led by Dragan Čović, is pushing for reforms that would ensure that only members of each ethnic group could elect their own representatives, i.e. that only Croats could elect the Croat member of the presidency, instead of both Bosniaks and Croats (Hitchner, 2021). This is presumably because Čović himself was defeated in the last elections by Željko Komšić, another Bosnian Croat and party leader of the Democratic Front, who had more support from Bosniaks in FBiH (Gadzo, 2018). 

Moreover, as they make up only about 15 percent of the population, Bosnian Croats may feel threatened by the majority Bosniak population in FBiH (BHAS, 2019; Sito-Sucic, 2021). These demands could, potentially, further increase the existing ethnic divisions in the country. HDZ BiH has already threatened a boycott of the upcoming elections in case the changes in the election law are implemented (Sito-Sucic, 2022). Such a move would not necessarily lead to the desired outcome for Bosnian Croats but would most certainly play into the hands of RS Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik and confirm his rhetoric that the real issue at hand is not in his entity, but in the failure of the other (Y. Z., 2022). Dodik, in the meantime, has fueled this recent crisis even further with threats of creating a separate army and judiciary for Republika Srpska or even of a complete secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina (AFP, 2022). The results of such an event could be disastrous for Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bosnia’s peace envoy Christian Schmidt warned in 2021 that “the prospects for further division and conflict are very real” (Delauney, 2021). 


Looking forward

With repeated failures in the negotiations on amendments, the faith of the Electoral Law, or indeed of the upcoming elections themselves, is questionable. As October approaches, party leaders and EU & US negotiators have been under pressure to reach a consensus as quickly as possible and to conduct the negotiations themselves transparently, away from the sights of the people the decisions would affect (Gadzo, 2022). If the Bosnian Croat demands were accepted, it would lead to more discriminatory practices. Furthermore, it is unclear where the “others” would be left in the aftermath, as there seems to be no progress in the implementation of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Legal provisions have proven to be discriminatory and continue to be upheld while elites continue to push for even more ethnic separation – Bosnia and Herzegovina remains paralysed by a 30-year-old agreement that was never meant to be more than “a bandage for a bleeding wound” (Helic in Gadzo, 2022), while the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina look on to an uncertain future. 


[1] See, for example, Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, nos. 27996/06 and 34836/06, ECHR 2009 or Zornić v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, no. 3681/06, ECHR 2014.




AFP (2022, February 25). Bosnians head abroad or despair at home amid secession threats. France24. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from 


BHAS (2019). Popis stanovništva, domaćinstava i stanova u Bosni i Hercegovini: Etnička/nacionalna pripadnost, vjeroispovjest i materinji jezik [Census of population, households, and dwellings in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ethnic/national affiliation, religion and mother tongue]. Agency for Statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from 


Castro Seixas, E. (2013). How Activists See Civil Society and the Political Elite in Bosnia: Relevance to Prospects of Transitional Justice. In Simić, O. & Volčič, Z. (Eds.) (2013). Transitional Justice and Civil Society in the Balkans. Springer. Doi: 10.1007/978-1-4614-5422-9  


Dayton Peace Agreement – General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995). Retrieved March 23, 2022, from 


Delauney, G. (2021, November 3). Bosnian leader stokes fears of Balkan breakup. BBC. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from 


Gadzo, M. (2018, December 18). Is Croatia undermining Bosnia’s sovereignty?. Al Jazeera. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from 


Gadzo, M. (2022, March 19). Can Bosnia’s Dayton Peace Agreement be reformed?. Al Jazeera. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from 


Jones, B., Jeffrey, A., Jakala, M. (2013). The “Transitional Citizen”: Civil Society, Political Agency and Hopes for Transitional Justice in Bosnia–Herzegovina. In Simić, O. & Volčič, Z. (Eds.) (2013). Transitional Justice and Civil Society in the Balkans. Springer. Doi: 10.1007/978-1-4614-5422-9 


N1 BiH (2022, March 20). Eichhorst: Iscrpili smo svoje mogućnosti, ovo je propala šansa za domaće lidere [Eichhorst: We have exhausted all possibilities, this is a missed chance for local leaders]. N1 Info. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from 


Neu, J. (2012). Pursuing Justice in the Midst of War: The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research. 5(1).


Sahadžić, M. (2009). The Electoral System of Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Short Review of Political Matter and/or Technical Perplexion. Suvremene Teme, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 61-78. 


Sito-Sucic, D. (2021, November 3). Explainer: What is causing the political crisis in Bosnia?. Reuters. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from 


Sito-Sucic, D. (2022, February 19). Bosnian Croats say may push for own region unless election law changes. Reuters. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from 


“Službeni glasnik BiH”, Izborni zakon Bosne i Hercegovine [The electoral law of Bosnia and Herzegovina] br. 23/01.


Subotić, J. (2009). Hijacked Justice: Dealing with the past in the Balkans. Cornell University Press. 


  1. Z. (2022, March 21). Dodik: The Failure of the Negotiations showed where the Problem is in BiH. Sarajevo Times. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.