Following the release of the 2018 Human Rights Watch (HRW) annual report, there has been a level of concern expressed internationally with the sluggish social progress of Balkan nations. HRW, headquartered in Strasbourg, France, highlighted issues including the response to the Syrian migrant crisis, domestic discrimination against ethno-religious minorities, weak accountability for war crimes, and dangers to journalists.
The report noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina made “little visible progress on human rights” over the course of the year. “Structural and political discrimination” against Jews, Roma, and other minority groups within the heterogeneous nation and “attacks and threats against journalists” were cited as some principal concerns. Balkan Insight writes that Croatia “breached EU law” by facilitating the entry of migrants into Slovenia and Austria without “examining their asylum claims,” while migrants settling in Croatia, specifically unaccompanied minors, were “without adequate arrangements for their protection and care.” Meanwhile, Serbia made limited progress in regards on preventing discrimination and physical violence against the sizable Roma minority and members of LGBTQ community. However, government censorship within the nation, as exemplified through state-sponsored “smear campaigns” against independent news outlet BIRN, which is believed to be a regime-backed action against opposition press, and the murder of journalist Luka Popov, shows the limits of Serbia’s progress.
HRW also expressed concern with accountability of war criminals in each of the countries’ reports. Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks echoed these concerns, stating that giving a public platform to convicted war criminals represents “an insult to victims of the 1990s Yugoslav conflicts.” In Serbia, individuals such as former-General Vinko Pandurević, convicted for his participation in the Srebrenica massacres, participated in state-sponsored discussions with Kosovar leaders in February. Another former officer, Vladimir Lazarević, was “invited to give a lecture at Serbia’s national military academy.” Bosnia has also struggled to move beyond the war, with almost 100,000 left homeless almost two decades later.
Both Bosnia and Serbia are actively seeking membership in the European Union, and leaders in Brussels, Sarajevo, and Belgrade fear that this sluggish improvement in human rights metrics may result in delayed entry to the European Union.