UN rights chief urges leaders to ‘turn the page on rhetoric’
SARAJEVO— Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leaders must abandon divisive politics and focus on building an inclusive future for all, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Friday in the capital, Sarajevo. , following an official visit to the country.
The four-day mission marked the first visit by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in more than two decades, and she noted that some of the same rights challenges of that era persist today. today.
Bachelet hailed an “unprecedented judgment” handed down this week convicting three people of inciting hatred for singing songs threatening violence.
“There is no place for hate speech on any grounds,” she said. “As Bosnia and Herzegovina prepares for the October elections, I encourage all politicians to turn the page on the divisive rhetoric and politics, to focus on promoting the rights of everyone across the country and to build an inclusive and democratic future, based on the equality of all citizens.
Painful memories, lingering discrimination
Bosnia and Herzegovina was the scene of heavy fighting during the ethnic conflicts that rocked the Balkan region after the fall of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Horrific crimes were committed, including gang rapes and the massacre of some 8,000 mostly Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces.
“The scars of the 1992-95 conflict are deep. The memories are still painful. But after my visit, I am convinced that there is a will and determination among many others to achieve a society where all citizens, across the country, can enjoy peace and be treated equally, with respect and dignity,” Bachelet said.
The senior UN rights official met with a wide range of people in the country, including senior officials and parliamentarians, representatives of the international community and civil society, as well as families of victims of the conflict.
Most of the people she met expressed concern about the continuing discrimination on various grounds, although mainly related to ethnic origin, gender and sexual orientation, which affects civil and political rights.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina has legislation prohibiting discrimination and it is essential that it is applied throughout the country and by all institutions so that all forms of discrimination are effectively eliminated. The active engagement of political leaders in building an inclusive society is essential for its future,” she said.
Civil society representatives highlighted some of the challenges they face and concerns about protecting civic space, including online and offline threats against journalists investigating corruption or who “challenge political narratives dominant”.
She also observed a real concern for young people, “especially since the fragmented education system, with different programs and textbooks, has entrenched divisions and mistrust between communities”.
Bachelet also recalled her moving visit to the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Complex, where she paid tribute to the victims, survivors and families of those killed. There she met a woman who had lost her husband and teenage son. The husband’s remains were found in a mass grave, but the boy is still missing.
“She told me about the determination of the mothers of Srebrenica to continue their fight so that the genocide is never forgotten. We both shed tears. I share her hope that one day she will find her son’s remains and that we must never forget the tragedy of Srebrenica.
Bachelet said some 7,000 people “disappeared” during the war are still missing due to the large-scale atrocities committed across the country.
The Hope of Justice
Although some of those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are now behind bars, “many perpetrators still remain unpunished and are at large”, she said, both there and In other countries.
“I hope justice will be served for them as well,” she told reporters. “Over time, some may never be identified, and so it remains vitally important to vigorously pursue national criminal prosecutions for all crimes committed during the conflict; that the culprits be duly condemned. It is important that the countries of the region strengthen their cooperation in this regard.
Responsibility for accountability
The High Commissioner reported that little progress had been made in reparations for victims of atrocities. She was also concerned that the courts had rejected the survivors’ composition claims by imposing statutes of limitations.
“It is the responsibility of the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure accountability for past crimes, to provide reparations to survivors and families of all victims, and to lead and support healing and reconciliation. It is also our responsibility to fight against the denial of atrocities and the glorification of war criminals,” she said. — UN News