Bosnia and Herzegovina | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Bosnia-Herzegovina's political rights rating improved from 5 to 4 after indigenous Bosnian institutions successfully organized general elections for the first time since the country's brutal civil war.


Bosnia-Herzegovina's seventh full year of peace provided little evidence that the political deadlock in the country's postwar evolution was being surmounted. Elections held in October returned to power the same nationalist parties that had led Bosniacs, Croats, and Serbs through 43 months of war. Immediately upon being recognized as an independent state in April 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina plunged into civil war. In November 1995, the Dayton Accords brought an end to 43 months of civil war by creating a loosely knit state composed of the Bosniac-Croat "Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina" and the Republika Srpska (RS). The Dayton Accords also gave the international community a decisive role in running post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina, manifested in the significant powers and authorities granted to international civilian agencies such as the Office of the High Representative (OHR). Peace and security in post-Dayton Bosnia is provided by the NATO-led Stabilization Force, numbering some 20,000 strong. Despite these considerable efforts by the international community, however, most aspects of political, social, and economic life in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina remain divided along ethnic lines.

Bosnia-Herzegovina (hereafter Bosnia) made little progress toward viable statehood in 2002. Bosnia's much-heralded "non-nationalist" ten-party ruling coalition, the Alliance for Change, largely cobbled together by international officials, formally fell apart in June after achieving little in its two years in power. Despite being publicized as a non-nationalist government, the Alliance for Change was rent by infighting between the different ethnically based parties that made up the coalition. In general elections held on October 5, the major nationalist parties again emerged as the strongest political movements in the country. One very important positive note from the elections, however, was that these elections were the first held in Bosnia's postwar history which were organized and supervised by Bosnians themselves, marking an important development in the country's post-1995 political evolution. In addition, the fact that they were held without any major glitches was an important indicator of the competence of local officials.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

In general, voters are allowed to freely elect their representatives and are allowed to form political parties insofar as their programs are compatible with the Dayton Accords. The High Representative, however, has the authority to remove publicly elected officials from office if they are deemed to be obstructing the peace process. The High Representative also has the right to impose laws and regulations on the country when local officials are unable to agree on important matters. Indicative of the limited sovereignty of the country, however, is that the High Representative has no popular mandate; all four of the high representatives in the postwar period have been appointed by the international community, and the peoples of Bosnia have had no role whatsoever in choosing the most powerful political official in their country. Another extension of the High Representative's powers was announced in October. Henceforth, the High Representative will vet cabinet-level appointees in various levels of government.

Citizens enjoy the right to freedom of assembly, and demonstrations, strikes, and other forms of public protest and discussion are commonplace. Free trade unions exist and are very active.

Corruption in the judiciary, police forces, and the civil service provides a considerable obstacle to establishing the rule of law in Bosnia. Bosnia has four times as many judges per capita as Germany (which has the highest number in Europe), but handle only 25 percent as many cases per year. International officials claim that there is an "imbalance between the components of the rule of law." Local police and cor-rections personnel are believed to have reached a baseline of professional competence and democratic policing, but the judicial system--courts, judges, prosecutors, legal codes, rules of evidence and criminal procedures, and the witness protection program--are believed to still require radical reform and restructuring. Many indicted war criminals remain at large.

A plethora of independent electronic and print media organizations operate in Bosnia, but they are hampered by their dependence on foreign donations for survival, low levels of journalistic professionalism, their appeal to narrow ethnic constituencies, and occasional harassment by official institutions.

Individuals enjoy freedom of religious belief and practice in areas dominated by members of their own ethnic group, but the same does not hold true for individuals who are members of a local ethnic minority. In this sense, religious intolerance is often a reflection of the prevailing atmosphere of intolerance for ethnic minorities in various parts of the country, rather than religious persecution per se. All three major religious organizations in the country--Islamic, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox--have claims against the government for property confiscated during the Communist period.

International officials continued to cite encouraging statistics about the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to and within Bosnia in 2002, but whether the statistics tell the real story is debatable. Refugee and IDP returns to areas in which they are members of a local ethnic minority showed an increase of 40 percent over the same period in 2001. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests many people are returning to their prewar homes only to sell their property and move back to areas in which they are members of the local ethnic majority.

Legally, women are entitled to full equality with men, but in practice they are significantly underrepresented in politics and government, and are frequently discriminated against in the workplace in favor of demobilized soldiers. To compensate for the absence of women in public life, political parties have to list three women among the top ten names on their lists of candidates.

A significant problem in postwar Bosnia has become its emergence as a destination country for trafficked women. UN reports claim that a substantial part of the market for trafficked women working in brothels in Bosnia is due to the large international civil and military presence in the country. Efforts led by the UN mission to Bosnia have strengthened border controls and led to a significant decrease in the number of individuals able to enter Bosnia illegally.