Bosnia and Herzegovina

Partly Free
PR Political Rights 18 40
CL Civil Liberties 34 60
Last Year's Score & Status
53 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a highly decentralized parliamentary republic whose complex constitutional regime is embedded in the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the 1992–95 Bosnian War. Political affairs are characterized by severe partisan gridlock among nationalist leaders from the country’s Bosniak, Serb, and Croat communities. Political participation by citizens from other communities is extremely limited. Corruption remains a serious problem in the government and elsewhere in society.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • Monitors deemed October’s general elections competitive, but noted media bias and electoral irregularities, and expressed concern that increasing ethnic segregation in the country continued to have negative implications for Bosnian democracy. Reformist candidates posted modest gains.
  • Less than an hour after polls closed, the internationally appointed High Representative Christian Schmidt used the executive “Bonn powers” to amend the electoral law of the Federation, one of the two entities comprising Bosnia and Herzegovina. Schmidt said the move was meant to increase “functionality” in the entity’s governance, but the move sidestepped the newly elected parliament, and critics said it disproportionally benefitted the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ BiH).
  • In December, BiH was awarded European Union (EU) candidate status by the European Council. The move was widely seen as a geopolitical development, rather than one reflecting democratic reform in the country.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2.002 4.004

The 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war in BiH reorganized the state as including two autonomous entities—the Federation of BiH, whose residents are mainly Bosniak and Croat, and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS)—that operate under a weak central government. The position of head of state is held by a three-member presidency comprising one Bosniak, one Serb, and one Croat; they are each elected to a four-year term, which they serve concurrently.

The chair of the Council of Ministers, or prime minister, is nominated by the presidency and approved by the House of Representatives. The chair in turn nominates other ministers for approval by the House.

In October 2022, BiH held general elections. Denis Bećirović of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) defeated longtime Bosniak nationalist chief Bakir Izetbegović of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) for the Bosniak seat on the state presidency. Željko Komšić, leader of the multiethnic Democratic Front, defeated Borjana Krišto of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ BiH) for the Croat seat, but the HDZ BiH claimed his election was “illegitimate” on the grounds that Komšić’s support came in part from Bosniak voters, as in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina voters may choose to vote for either the Bosniak or Croat representative. (Komšić drew overall support from moderate Bosniak and Croat voters, rather than those in the HDZ BiH’s conservative strongholds.) The secessionist Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) from the Serb-dominated RS entity won the Serb seat on the state presidency, although the party’s leader, Milorad Dodik, opted not to seek reelection and instead ran for the presidency of the RS entity. Significant evidence of electoral fraud in RS elections prompted the Central Election Commission (CIK) to call for a recount of the entity’s presidential race. Dodik won the recount and was declared the president in late October, but the discovery of illegally printed ballots as well the large number of invalid ballots raises serious questions about the integrity of the vote and of the overall democratic process in BiH.

An election-monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) assessed the polls as competitive but noted deficiencies in electoral framework, general distrust in government, unequal participation by women, concerns about the secrecy of votes, procedural irregularities during vote counting, and “limited and biased media coverage.” The mission noted that deepening ethnic segregation and “corresponding divergent views on the future of the country remain a concern for the functioning of democratic institutions.”

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 2.002 4.004

The Parliamentary Assembly, a state-level body, has two chambers. The 15-seat upper house, the House of Peoples, consists of five members from each of the three main ethnic groups, elected by the Federation and RS legislatures for four-year terms. The lower house, the House of Representatives, has 42 popularly elected members serving four-year terms, with 28 seats assigned to representatives from the Federation and 14 to representatives from the RS.

While the SDA, HDZ BiH, and SNSD dominated the October 2022 general elections, they faced significant competition from other parties, particularly the SDP. Polling took place concurrently with the presidential poll, and election monitors noted similar irregularities. Turnout was down 3 percent from the previous elections, to just above 50 percent.

Less than an hour after polls closed, the High Representative, Christian Schmidt, moved to amend the Federation entity’s election law and constitution. While Schmidt said he intended to streamline government functionality and respect a Bosnian Constitutional Court ruling, he imposed the changes without offering an opportunity to the new entity parliament (in which moderate and reform-minded actors had increased their representation) to exercise its legislative powers to realize the relevant changes. Critics credibly alleged that Schmidt undermined the democratic integrity of BiH institutions; passed changes that appear to disproportionately favor the Croat nationalist HDZ BiH; and failed to adequately address the totality of the outstanding constitutional and electoral cases facing the Bosnian state.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1.001 4.004

The CIK administers elections with the help of municipal election commissions. Both are subject to significant political party interference. The CIK is a largely ineffectual body, unable to act decisively without political support.

Conflicts over fair ethnic representation surround aspects of the constitution and electoral laws. BiH citizens who do not identify as members of the country’s Bosniak, Serb, or Croat “constitutive peoples” remain barred from the presidency and membership in the House of Peoples, despite 2009 and 2016 rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that the exclusion of members of other ethnic groups violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

In July 2022, media reports emerged that High Representative Schmidt was going to amend the Federation entity’s election laws. After criticism and protests, Schmidt made only technical amendments. Those interventions, and the more substantial amendments he made in October, were presented primarily as streamlining government functionality in the Federation entity. The decision, however, was widely understood and implicitly acknowledged by the Office of the High Representative (OHR) itself as a way of implementing a Constitutional Court decision in the so-called Ljubić case, regarding participation by the three main ethnic groups in certain political races. The move sidestepped the newly elected parliament and was widely perceived as benefitting the HDZ BiH. Despite his claims, Schmidt’s changes have not led to prompt government formation in either the Federation entity or at the state level.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because abrupt changes to electoral laws by the OHR disrupted democratic processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 3.003 4.004

Political parties typically organize and operate freely, though the political arena in the Federation is generally limited to Bosniaks and Croats, while Serbs control politics in the RS. Coalitions at all levels of government shift frequently, but incumbent parties have tended to maintain their positions with the help of vast patronage networks, making it difficult for smaller reform-oriented groupings to achieve meaningful gains. The OHR’s 2022 election law amendments significantly strengthened the position of the HDZ BiH in the Federation House of Peoples.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 2.002 4.004

While there are no explicit legal barriers preventing opposition parties from entering government, expansive veto powers granted to the constitutive peoples and their representatives have helped the dominant nationalist parties to manipulate the system and shut out reformist or multiethnic challengers. However, the decisive victory of Bećirović over Izetbegović in the October 2022 state presidency race was seen as a major victory for reformist actors.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 2.002 4.004

In addition to domestic problems like the politicization of public resources and the influence of corrupt patronage networks, the governments of Serbia and Croatia exert leverage in Bosnian politics through their respective local allies, the SNSD and the HDZ BiH. The Russian and Turkish governments have also offered support to preferred parties and candidates. There are credible reports that the government of Croatia has intensively lobbied the OHR, especially with respect to Schmidt’s 2022 changes to the electoral code of the Federation entity. (Croatian officials have publicly boasted of their regular but “discreet” communications with Schmidt, additionally.) In July 2022, local media reported that the Croatian foreign minister had helped directly prepare the OHR’s election law amendments.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2.002 4.004

Political rights in BiH are in large part contingent on one’s ethnic background and place of residence. Jews and Roma are constitutionally barred from the presidency and from membership in the House of Peoples, despite the ECtHR rulings against those provisions. Serbs who live in the Federation and Croats and Bosniaks who live in the RS are also excluded from the presidency. Some Croats argue that their rights to representation are violated by electoral laws allowing non-Croats a significant voice in the selection of the Croat member of the presidency and Croat members of the House of Peoples. Critics of the Croat nationalist HDZ BiH, however, counter that the party has manipulated the discourse surrounding this issue to obstruct civic and liberal reforms of the country’s constitutional order.

Women are underrepresented in politics and government. As a result, debates pertaining to maternal health and domestic violence are rarely at the center of parliamentary discussion, although they are openly, if infrequently, discussed in the media. LGBT+ people are marginalized in formal political life, but LGBT+ rights groups are active in the civic sphere.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2.002 4.004

Government formation and policy implementation are seriously impeded by the country’s complex system of ethnic representation. Under the Dayton Accords, representatives from each of the three major ethnic groups, at both the state and entity levels, may exercise a veto on legislation deemed harmful to their interests. The state government is also undercut by movements within each of BiH’s entities for greater autonomy.

Dodik, now the RS president, maintains expansive control over the entity, and continues to speak openly of his desire for the RS to secede from BiH. In October 2021, he announced the RS’s withdrawal from various federal institutions, notably the military, prompting fears of a secession crisis. The move came largely in response to the OHR’s July 2021 law against genocide denial and was the latest in a series of escalating efforts to chip away at the functionality of the BiH state. Dodik continued to engage in secessionist rhetoric throughout 2022, prompting additional rounds of sanctions against him and his associates by the United States and United Kingdom.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1.001 4.004

Corruption remains widespread and systemic, and legislation designed to combat the problem is poorly enforced. When corruption probes are actually opened, they rarely result in convictions.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1.001 4.004

Government operations remain largely inaccessible to the public. Procurement awards are often made in secret, and public institutions frequently fail to comply with freedom of information laws. Candidates for major offices are obliged to make financial disclosures, but the relevant laws are weak, and the resulting disclosures are widely considered unreliable. Debate and decisions on matters of public interest, including legislation and subjects pertaining to EU accession, routinely occur during interparty negotiations that take place behind closed doors, outside of government institutions.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2.002 4.004

Freedom of expression is legally guaranteed but limited in practice. Journalists face political pressure as well as harassment, threats, and occasional assaults in the course of their work. There is a large private media sector, including outlets that are affiliated with local political parties and those that belong to major international news networks. Public broadcasters in both entities, and at the canton level, often operate as partisan platforms; this is especially pronounced with the entity broadcaster in the RS, Radio-Television Republika Srpska (RTRS), whose coverage serves the interests of the SNSD.

On a number of occasions during 2022, High Representative Schmidt reacted aggressively to pointed questions by journalists.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3.003 4.004

Religious freedom is not subject to formal restrictions, but in practice religious communities face some discrimination in areas where they constitute a minority. Acts of vandalism against religious sites continue to be reported.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2.002 4.004

The education system is racked by corruption and clientelism, and the curriculum is politicized at all levels of education. At some schools in the Federation, Bosniak and Croat students are still divided into separate classes. Some Bosniak returnees in the RS have sent their children to temporary alternative schools to avoid curriculums they find discriminatory, and some Serb families have described discriminatory educational environments in the Federation.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of expression for individuals is generally protected from overt government interference. However, peer pressure and the risk of an adverse public reaction remain significant curbs on the discussion of sensitive topics.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of assembly is generally respected in BiH, and peaceful protests are common. However, demonstrators sometimes encounter administrative obstacles or police violence, and organizers can become targets of police or political harassment. In June 2022, Sarajevo successfully held a pride parade for the fourth year in a row, unmarred by violence or harassment of participants. A small counterdemonstration by religious conservatives was kept far away from the main proceedings by local police.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 2.002 4.004

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector in BiH remains robust but is sometimes exposed to government pressure and interference, with conditions more difficult in the RS.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2.002 4.004

Labor unions operate freely in the whole of BiH, although workers often have limited bargaining power in practice. The right to strike is legally protected, but labor laws in the Federation pose significant barriers to the exercise of this right. Legal protections against antiunion action by employers are weakly enforced. The leading political blocs in the country exercise significant control over unions in their respective strongholds.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1.001 4.004

The judiciary is formally independent but weak in practice. Dozens of Constitutional Court decisions have been disregarded by political leaders, as has some jurisprudence from the ECtHR. Individual judges are also subject to political pressure, interference, and intimidation regarding the cases before them. The High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HJPC), which appoints judges, has been racked by scandals and is widely perceived as corrupt. The HJPC was among the state institutions from which the RS intended to withdraw, according to Dodik’s October 2021 announcement.

The existence of four separate court systems—for BiH, the RS, the Federation, and the self-governing Brčko District—contributes to overall inefficiency.

Successive rounds of US sanctions in 2022 targeted, among other things, criminal elements within the Bosnian prosecutor’s chamber and individuals involved in the refusal of the Croat nationalist HDZ BiH to appoint judges to the Federation’s Constitutional Court.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 2.002 4.004

Guarantees of due process are inconsistently upheld, with judges often failing to manage trials effectively and contributing to extensive delays. Access to adequate legal counsel can be contingent on one’s financial standing. Police corruption is a problem and sometimes stems from links to organized crime. Public prosecutors are widely reputed to be corrupt and under political control.

The process of prosecuting war crimes in domestic courts has been slow, with political interference and courts’ lack of resources and capacity exacerbating a large backlog of cases. Despite efforts to reinvigorate the process, impunity for war crimes including killings and sexual violence has persisted.

In September 2021, the HJPC removed the country’s chief prosecutor, Gordana Tadić, from her post for negligence. She was accused of working to shield individuals presumed to be under the protection of the HDZ BiH from prosecution. US sanctions in 2022 have continued to home in on state prosecutors.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2.002 4.004

Although overall violent crime rates are low, organized crime is a significant problem, and high-profile incidents in recent years have fueled public frustration with the police and judicial system. Members of vulnerable groups are subject to harassment by police, including migrants transiting through the country. Many prisons are overcrowded or feature other substandard conditions, and detainees face physical abuse by prison authorities. Active land mines dating to the 1990s continue to pose a threat to civilians in rural parts of the country.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 2.002 4.004

Laws guaranteeing equal treatment are unevenly upheld. Discrimination against members of the Romany minority is widespread. People who returned to their homes after being displaced during the war face discrimination in employment and housing in regions where their ethnic group constitutes a minority; Bosniak returnees in the RS face notable discrimination and harassment. Bosniaks and Croats in the RS more generally experience difficulties in accessing social services. Women are legally entitled to full equality with men but encounter discrimination in the workplace in practice. Members of the LGBT+ community face discrimination, harassment, and occasional physical attacks, and authorities often fail to adequately investigate and prosecute crimes against LGBT+ people.

Tens of thousands of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers have arrived in the country each year since 2018. While the vast majority travel on to other locations, thousands remain stranded in BiH, most of whom live in squalid camps that lack basic services or protection against the elements. Authorities in the RS have refused to allow any migrant centers, and the burden of care has been thrust almost entirely on a handful of municipalities in the country’s northwest.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3.003 4.004

The law protects freedom of movement, though there are minor barriers to the exercise of this right—for example, taxis will generally not take passengers across the border between the two entities. Bureaucratic hurdles make registering new domiciles a tedious and lengthy process. Land mines limit movement in some areas.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2.002 4.004

Although the legal framework broadly supports property rights and private business activity, widespread corruption and patronage remain major barriers to free enterprise. Individuals who returned to their homes after being displaced by the 1992–95 war have faced attacks on their property. The European Commission has called for further progress on compensating people for property that cannot be returned.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3.003 4.004

Individual freedoms on personal status matters such as marriage and divorce are generally protected. Same-sex marriage is not recognized, though in 2020 the Federation government appointed a working group to consider ways to acknowledge such partnerships.

Domestic violence is considerably underreported, and civic groups have found that law enforcement authorities are often reluctant to intervene or impose strong penalties.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

Legal protections against exploitative working conditions are poorly enforced. Patronage and clientelism continue to adversely affect hiring practices and contribute to de facto restrictions on economic opportunity.

While human trafficking remains a problem, the US State Department in 2022 noted an increase in antitrafficking efforts, including identifying, prosecuting, and convicting traffickers.

On Bosnia and Herzegovina

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    52 100 partly free