In Dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Asks about Distribution of Social Benefits, and about Access to Education and Housing
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today completed its review of the third periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina on measures taken to implement the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, inquiring about equitable distribution of social benefits, as well as about vulnerable groups’ access to education, housing, and other necessities.
Saliha Đuderija, Assistant Minister for Human Rights, Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina and head of the delegation, introducing the report, noted that since its last report, reforms which had been implemented included changes and amendments to criminal laws, the adoption of action plans related to gender equality, incentives for employment, housing, healthcare, social protection and education of the Roma, adoption of the 2015-2018 Reform Agenda, reduction of illegal employment, progress in labour legislation, harmonisation of legislation related to pregnancy and maternity leave, and trade unions. Progress could be noted in the areas of construction of housing units, electrification, as well as the construction of communal and social infrastructure, said Ms. Đuderija. However, the COVID-19 pandemic had had a serious negative effect on economic, social and cultural rights. According to statistics, women made up the majority of persons who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
During the ensuing dialogue, Committee Experts noted the country’s complex social fabric, and asked the delegation to detail how the government ensured national integration for the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by its people. Other topics of inquiry included the right of migrants and refugees to access social services, regardless of their migration status. The Committee also requested detailed information about vulnerable groups’ access to education.
The delegation explained how its relevant levels of governance coordinated their work to deliver social benefits to different groups of society, working toward harmonising their approach. Efforts to ameliorate the situation of the Roma people were also detailed, with the delegation explaining how initiatives aimed at increasing Roma children’s participation in school worked, among other measures.
The delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees, the Ministry of Security, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Labour, War Veterans and Disabled People’s Protection, the Federal Ministry of Health, the Federal Office for Inspection, the Employment Service of Brcko District, and the Permanent Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of its seventieth session, which concludes on 15 October. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.
The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 4 October at 10 a.m. to meet with national human rights institutions and civil society organizations.
The Committee has before it the third periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina (E/C.12/BIH/3)
Presentation of the report
SALIHA ĐUDERIJA, Assistant Minister for Human Rights, Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina and head of the delegation, introducing the report, noted that the Covenant had been incorporated into the legal system in 1993. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees was responsible for preparing the report, which entailed a high level of coordination with all the relevant levels of governance, including its entities--namely the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska--and Brčko District, the cantons, local levels of governance, and civil society organisations and the academic community. From 30 recommendations given by the Committee, almost two thirds had been implemented, said Ms. Đuderija. That included changes and amendments to criminal laws, the adoption of action plans related to gender equality, incentives for employment, housing, healthcare, social protection and education of the Roma, adoption of the 2015-2018 Reform Agenda, reduction of illegal employment, progress in labour legislation, harmonisation of legislation related to pregnancy and maternity leave, and trade unions.
There were examples of direct application of the Covenant before courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in relation to the right to work. As for human rights training, the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees was currently developing a draft programme against discrimination. Bosnia and Herzegovina had adopted a programme establishing a single reporting process on the implementation of human rights treaties. That framework programme served as an instrument for promoting a joint approach to human rights at different levels of governance. A text proposing changes and amendments to the law on the human rights Ombudsman Institution was currently in the process of being submitted to the Council of Ministers for their consideration. It included a request for an increase in its budget in order to establish a national prevention mechanism.
The putting into place of a revised strategy for implementation of Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Accords was under way. During the period from 2015 to 2018, progress could be noted in the areas of construction of housing units, electrification, as well as the construction of communal and social infrastructure, said Ms. Đuderija. Refugees and displaced persons had also seen improvement as regards their rights, yet members of the delegation would later speak to challenges as well.
As for the Roma community, Bosnia and Herzegovina had adopted a new action plan for the inclusion of Roma men and women for the period 2021-2025. The plan aimed to harmonise strategic goals and measures of relevant European Union declarations and strategic frameworks, and conformed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s commitment to implement measures increasing Roma employment rates, improving housing conditions, and legalising informal settlements. In the area of education, the aim was to increase the level of completion of primary and secondary education for the Roma. As for discrimination, Bosnia and Herzegovina aimed to establish a separate Roma non-discrimination section to process Roma complaints, provide legal support to victims, and identify discriminatory patterns, including institutionalised and hidden discrimination.
Regarding women’s rights, Ms. Đuderija said that employment indicators had changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was currently impossible to compare data and identify progress over the past several years. However, she noted that according to statistics, women made up the majority of persons who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Over the past few years, trade unions, employers and governments had been working to harmonise minimum pay thresholds. Members of the delegation would provide additional information in relation to the social system, veterans’ rights, victims of war-related sexual violence, combating trafficking in persons, support systems for victims of trafficking in persons, early (minor) marriages, violence against women, government measures to reduce poverty, programmes for closing collective accommodation centres for displaced persons, access to drinking water and health care for marginalised groups, education of children, the position of cultural institutions, measures against corruption, the political participation of women, and other issues relevant for the Covenant, she said, expressing hopes that the dialogue would lead to good recommendations for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Questions by the Committee Experts
PREETI SARAN, Committee Member, asked about the challenges Bosnia and Herzegovina had faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the country’s complex social fabric, how did the government ensure national integration for the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by its people? How were decisions taken at a local, cantonal or other level coordinated and implemented centrally? Were the provisions of the Covenant justiciable in the courts of Bosnia and Herzegovina? From the information provided, there was a large gap in the expenditures on the education and health sectors among its Entities. That would consequently lead to large regional disparities in terms of availability, accessibility and quality of education and healthcare services. How would Bosnia and Herzegovina deal with that?
Which impact would austerity measures have on disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups? It was not clear from the replies to the List of Issues which steps had been taken to strengthen the independence of the institution of the Human Rights Ombudsman, Ms. Saran noted, adding that there appeared to be no progress in drafting or adoption of a strategy on human rights and anti-discrimination. What was the reason for that? Was there any system in place for collecting unified data on instances of discrimination? Was civil society co-opted in implementing human rights policies? Was any effort made to harmonize other relevant legislation with the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, as required?
What steps were taken to support and protect vulnerable groups, including returnees, Roma and migrants? Discrimination on the basis of gender was yet another issue of concern. Women faced discrimination in emploment conditions, among other areas. While the introduction of quotas in party lists in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Election Law was a positive step, the Committee would like to know how that was being implemented in practice and whether it had resulted in a higher representation of women in legislative, executive and judicial bodies?
The Transparency International Corruption Perception Index ranked Bosnia and Herzegovina at 111th place out of 180 surveyed countries in 2020, Ms. Saran noted, adding that that concern was also raised by the Committee in its List of Issues. While some important steps initiated at the cantonal level were laudable, what was the progress in adopting a legal framework at the national level to address that? Why was the State not able to adopt the Law on Conflict of Interest, which would have been key in prevention of corruption?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that attempts had been made at changing the law concerning the Ombudsman institution’s independence, including the way it was financed, but all the proposals had been refused. The key problem was related to the fact that it was treated like any other Ministry, so that the budget would be decided by the Ministry of Finance. As for the selection of the Ombuds persons, the decision-making procedure of the three meant they could issue recommendations. Nobody had the possibility of influencing their independence. In collaboration with international organisations, an assessment of the effectiveness of the institution had been examined. There were indications that they had to improve some aspects of their work. Concerning anti-discrimination Bosnia and Herzegovina had been trying to adopt a single program, approved by all the relevant levels of governance. The matter was on the agenda for 2021.
The government was trying to strengthen partnerships between the authorities involved in anti-discrimination work. The goal was to achieve better data collection on the topic, as currently the government could not give adequate conclusions to certain matters. Over the past decade, financial resources were invested by the State to support the Roma population in the areas of housing, food, and education. However, further funds were needed to respond to all their needs.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Bosnia and Herzegovina had adopted a strategy for employment whose focus was women, especially vulnerable groups. As for working women, progress had been made when it came to their rights to maternity leave. The periods of maternity leave were quite long, as institutions for childcare in Bosnia and Herzegovina were not adapted to short maternity leaves. There was also an option for fathers to take paternity leave instead of the mother’s maternity leave.
As for the health-care response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the delegation said that in response, the Government had issued orders and decisions for different institutions to comply with. Information was constantly published through various communication channels, including the website of the Ministry of Health, social media platforms, and others. The delegation also noted that some specific legislation had been adopted to strengthen the economic resistance and the business sector of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Analysis was also conducted on the effectiveness of these measures.
Questions by the Committee Experts
NADIR ADILOV, Committee Member, noted there was no disaggregated statistical data on the labour market participation, employment, unemployment and under-employment, making it difficult to assess the overall realisation of the right to work. What concrete measures had Bosnia and Herzegovina taken to address the high incidence of unemployment among young people? Regarding the employment of persons with disabilities, which steps had been taken to expand the coverage of the quota system, particularly in the Republic Srpska? On the large informal economy, Mr. Adilov asked which efforts Bosnia and Herzegovina had made to transition the informal economy to the formal economy, and what measures had been taken to protect the labour and social rights of workers in the informal economy, particularly during the pandemic?
Another issue was the large emigration of young people with high qualifications. Which measures had Bosnia and Herzegovina taken to retain that talented labour force in the country? On the minimum and average wage, Mr. Adilov asked about measures taken to increase the level of salaries, particularly in the public service sector, to provide workers and their families with a decent living. Which steps had been taken to enhance compliance with labour legislation and whether the penalties were adequate to prevent recurrence? The delegation was asked to clarify steps taken to introduce sanctions for violations of legal provisions that prohibited interference in trade union affairs. As for the right to social security, he noted the different levels of disability benefits depending on the cause of disabilities. What steps had been taken toward a universal disability benefit that applied to all regardless of the cause of disabilities?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation noted that economic measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic had been very demanding for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Providing information about registered unemployed people, the delegation said that most of them had a secondary education. The government was taking active measures to support unemployed people, including people with disabilities, and victims of war and their families. The Brčko district had tried to reduce the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, and converted further financial resources to help the unemployed people. The employment bureau allocated unemployment benefits.
There were efforts to harmonise social protection across the Federation, the delegation said. The minimum wage was set at the same standard throughout the country. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there had been sanctions for employers who did not pay the minimum wage to their employees. As for the quotas for employing people with disabilities, there were legislative changes on the way, providing for further obligations for enterprises in order to ensure the rights of people with disabilities were safeguarded.
On the drain of young, highly educated people, the Government was considering a strategy of giving greater benefits to those who would employ that group nationally. On trade union freedoms, labour law prohibited any interference with their work. Penalties were considerable. There were no prohibitions on forming a trade union. However, some enterprises did not have trade unions.
There were differences between civilian and military disabled persons, the delegation said. Because the causes of disability were different, disability pay was set on the basis of other legislation and funded differently. The issue was a difficult one in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as it was a political as well as human rights issue. Persons disabled by the war had informed all levels of governance that veterans of war could not be “social cases,” the delegation said. Unfortunately, there were different levels of protection for persons who were disabled by the war, and civilian casualties of war, with a civilian disability unrelated to the war.
As for universal access to social protection, the delegation explained that every unemployed person had the right to unemployment benefits. What was a challenge for Bosnia and Herzegovina was that as a country without a high gross domestic product, the amounts were not high. The provision of benefits was in line with the Covenant, but still needed to be harmonised throughout the country. Regarding housing, the delegation explained how it was provided to people in need. There was an approved list of medication provided free of charge, and the health authorities monitored how it was applied in practice.
Questions by the Committee Experts
PETERS SUNDAY OMOLOGBE EMUZE, Committee Member, asked about the protection of children and family, and the equal distribution of care responsibilities between men and women. What concrete measures had Bosnia and Herzegovina taken to address that situation? As for maternity leave, what was done to expand the coverage of maternity leave and allowances, and to standardize and increase the amount of allowance? He also asked the delegation to explain which measures it had taken to recognise the unpaid care work carried out by women, and to expand care services for older persons and persons with disabilities.
With regard to children living on the streets, Mr. Emuze expressed concern at reports of large numbers of children begging in the streets, many of whom were victims of trafficking, and many of which were Roma. What measures had Bosnia and Herzegovina taken to address the situation and strengthen the protection of those children? As for the topic of poverty and socio-economic inequalities, he asked for updated information on the level of poverty and the measures taken to reduce poverty. In relation to the right to housing, he asked what progress had been made in adopting a legislative and policy framework on housing and in providing social housing and rental housing. Had measures been taken to regularise the dwellings of Roma people and to improve the infrastructure and living conditions in Roma settlements?
Turning to the right to health, Mr. Emuze asked the delegation to indicate which measures it had taken to expand the coverage and the scope of medical insurance and to improve the quality of healthcare services. In relation to the discrimination faced by persons with disabilities, Roma and other disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups, he asked the delegation to detail efforts made to combat such discrimination, which effectively impeded the realisation of the right to health by those groups. On the specific subject of the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina had recorded the highest mortality rate in Europe, and asked the delegation for details about the availability and accessibility of vaccination, the criteria to set for prioritising the groups to be vaccinated, and the level of vaccination. He also asked about the economic effects of the pandemic on vulnerable people.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation gave information on projects related to public housing, one plan aimed at providing housing for internally displaced persons and other disadvantaged people, as well as people in need. The project was part of a reform agenda to build new housing units. There was also a regional housing project, implemented between the Council of Europe Development Bank and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Assistance was given to refugees and other groups when it came to integrating into society in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Regarding access to drinking water, Bosnia and Herzegovina had taken a series of measures to implement Covenant provisions. A water management strategy aimed to give everyone access to drinking water, including refugees and returnees. Tariffs for water supply services and sewage were often low and insufficient to cover the costs of operations. Water systems were not replaced at a satisfactory rate. Bosnia and Herzegovina did not disconnect water services for non-payment of bills. Indigent families could apply for subsidies for both water and electricity costs.
In response to questions about the status of migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the delegation said migrants had access to healthcare, whereas to provide health assistance for people making up a special mass migration flow, the assistance of international bodies was needed. The health system, like many other systems in the country, was decentralised. Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, an active vaccination promotion campaign was promoted in the country, but the participation rate was still low. The attitude towards the pandemic was such that patients often reported too late to the hospitals. Vaccination against COVID-19 was free to all and distributed equally. Health insurance in the country was based on the model that contributions were paid by all, and used by those who needed care. The population thought of insurance only when they needed health assistance, the delegation explained. A strategy had been developed where citizens’ rights to healthcare would be promoted, as would healthy lifestyles and healthy choices, protection of youth reproductive health, continuous improvement of healthcare services, and other goals.
It was worrying that a third of children lived in families under the poverty line, the delegation said, adding that the country was receiving financial support from various institutions to fight poverty in the country. Children’s care centres, modeled by non-governmental organisations, identified children who begged on the streets and brought them back to the care centers. The model needed several years before it could be fully implemented in the regular system, but functioned well. At the level of local municipalities, mothers received financial support. Bosnia and Herzegovina worked on supporting the Roma population by providing them with housing and employment. There were also specific programmes to help the Roma population access better healthcare. Roma children often dropped out of schools, and efforts aimed to bring them back to school through the use of mediators. Bosnia and Herzegovina was investing in efforts to improve the situation of Roma in all aspects concerning their economic, social and cultural rights.
Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts
Committee Experts asked for further clarification on the poverty line in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What were the measures taken by the State to overcome poverty? How was economic inequality measured? Regarding health, what measures were taken to increase the vaccination level? Regarding victims’ rights, Committee Experts asked the delegation to explain the compensation system and its implementation. Were there any measures or programs to ensure that there was physical and psychological help provided to the victims of rape and the children born from rape?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained social benefits could be used under specific conditions by all groups of people. There were regular payments of social benefits and allowances, and there had been no delays during the pandemics. A number of companies had closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the government had participated in taking measures to resolve their situation. Turning to questions about victims of rape, the delegation said there were three systems of support. All the governments provided financial benefits to victims of rape which went through a certain administrative procedure. Several court judgments had assigned reparations. There was no single legal framework when it came to overall reparations for victims of rape and victims of torture in particular.
Responding to comments by Committee Experts regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina’s obligations under the Covenant and other relevant international treaties, the delegation said centers had been established throughout the country with the help of various United Nations agencies. The mixed migration flows were a mass-directed organised abuse of international refugee law. Many disappeared from Bosnia and Herzegovina during the asylum process. Very few decided to stay. Human smuggling was another criminal activity Bosnia and Herzegovina was faced with.
Questions by the Committee Experts
ASRAF ALLY CAUNHYE, Committee Member, focused on the right to education, registered deep concerns about segregation in schools through Bosnia and Herzegovina based on ethnic or linguistic data. What measures were taken to implement inclusive education, and how were funds distributed? The main curriculum in place appeared to contain a strong ethnic element. What were the measures to introduce a common curriculum to all private and public schools? He also asked for information about interaction among students from different ethnic backgrounds. Reports indicated there was a gap in access to education by marginalised groups such as migrant, asylum seeking and Roma children, as well as children with disabilities. Could the delegation provide statistical data on school enrollment rates and attendance, at both primary and secondary school levels, of children of asylum-seekers and refugees who are accommodated in the refugee reception centres, the non-governmental organisation-run shelters and informal settlements, and the same information for Roma children? As for cultural rights, he asked the delegation to provide information on steps taken to enable and encourage various ethnic groups to preserve, promote and develop their culture, language, religion and traditions, among other questions.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation said monitoring of the inclusion of Roma children showed a very low percentage attending schools or completing their education. The government was trying, with the help of local authorities, to find out why these children did not attend schools. There was no problem with transportation, textbooks or food. There were a few good programmes working to generate interest among Roma children in school activities.
Completion of primary education was nearly universal in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Over three quarters of students completed their secondary education. All the relevant education authorities worked to provide equal access to education to all groups in society, including children with disabilities, migrant and asylum seekers’ children, and other vulnerable groups.
Committee Experts thanked the delegation for their sincere answers. The Committee appreciated the delegation’s efforts to appear in person.
SALIHA ĐUDERIJA, Assistant Minister for Human Rights, Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina and head of the delegation , thanked the Committee Experts for their remarks and expressed hope that the Committee’s recommendations would assist progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina.