Response stories

Bosnia and Herzegovina: preserving education through health challenges 

In a world where the right to education is paramount, there are times when exceptional circumstances test the limits of compassion and flexibility within the educational system. The story of a 14-year-old girl with disabilities and her unwavering determination, combined with REActor ‘s intervention and an exceptional decision by the school board, is a success story that exemplifies the triumph of resilience and compassion in the face of adversity.

The mother of a 14-year-old girl, an excellent student, found herself in a challenging predicament. Her daughter had spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital due to chronic illnesses, causing her to miss a significant number of school days. Faced with the legal consequence of grade repetition due to her daughter’s extensive absences, the desperate and frustrated mother turned to REActor for support and assistance. REActor understood the unique circumstances of this case and recognized the girl’s fundamental right to education. He proposed a solution to the mother: to approach the school board and request an exception based on the extraordinary circumstances.

The school board convened to discuss the case, and what followed was a significant decision that would have a positive impact on the girl’s educational journey. The school board decided to allow the girl to attend online classes prepared by her teachers. This innovative approach, a first for the school, would enable her to keep up with her studies and take her exams, all from her hospital room.

This groundbreaking decision to make online education mandatory was initiated by REActor’s advocacy. It not only secured the girl’s access to education but also pioneered an innovative educational approach previously unexplored by the school.

This success story underscores the importance of recognizing and upholding the fundamental right to education for every child, regardless of their circumstances. It showcases the flexibility and compassion that the educational system can demonstrate when faced with exceptional challenges.

This case is a prime example of how considering exceptional cases and thinking outside the box can lead to remarkable outcomes. It serves as an inspiration for educators, parents, and policymakers, emphasizing that, in the pursuit of knowledge and education, compassion should always have a place.

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Response stories

Shielding the Innocent: Human Trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Trafficking in human beings, especially of children, is one of the burning issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the public was rightfully shocked and concerned when the attempted sale of a thirteen-year-old girl into an arranged marriage with a fifty-year-old man from Serbia was uncovered. The non-governmental organization “Zemlja djece u BiH” has been fighting against the trafficking of human beings for years, and the recent case in Kalesija demonstrated the importance and effectiveness of their work.

Fortunately, the local community reacted promptly, and the Center for Social Work Kalesija, together with the non-governmental organization “Zemlja djece u BiH“, the Cantonal Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, and the Police Department Kalesija, took timely and coordinated efforts to prevent the tragedy. The Cantonal Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings had been involved throughout the entire case since the first suspicion and had been providing guidance and support, which was of significant importance. Working together, they successfully halted the wedding procession at the country’s border and rescued the girl, who was dressed in a wedding gown, completely unaware of being a victim of trafficking in human beings. The parents who withdrew her from school to sell her, as well as all those involved in this dreadful act, have been identified, and appropriate measures will be taken against them.

This case demonstrated the importance of strengthening the capacities of professionals in preventing and combating trafficking in human beings. “Zemlja djece u BiH” has been working for years on developing referral mechanisms and enhancing the skills of professionals, which proved crucial in preventing such situations. They continue to protect children at risk, providing them with a safe environment in their daily center.

Additionally, this case sheds light on another concerning issue in Bosnia and Herzegovina – child marriages, where children are sold for money. Such marriages violate the basic human rights of children, necessitating further efforts to reduce this form of exploitation.

The successful rescue was the result of the multisectoral cooperation, as well as the consistent implementation of the local protocol for the prevention and handling of cases involving child exploitation.

The collaboration of multiple sectors is crucial in combating the trafficking of human beings and protecting children from exploitation. This problem requires a comprehensive approach and coordinated efforts from all relevant sectors to achieve sustainable and effective results.

This case also serves as a reminder to society of the importance of fighting against the trafficking of human beings and safeguarding the rights of children. Education, awareness, and coordinated action are key factors in this fight, and continuous efforts must be made to ensure a secure future for all children in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Response stories

Controversial healthcare procedure canceled after public outcry in Herzegovina-Neretva Canton

The recent change in the procedure of the Institute of Health Insurance of Herzegovina-Neretva Canton (ZZOHNK) for scheduling and conducting examinations from primary to specialist healthcare in health institutions within the canton has resulted in a positive outcome for the people, which was largely due to the public’s reaction to the initial controversy over the changes.

The procedure, which aimed to divide patients based on their nationality, received a strong outcry from citizens, NGOs, and political parties who argued that it violated basic medical postulates and oaths, and numerous positive legal regulations governing the field of healthcare. The cancellation of the controversial healthcare procedure in Herzegovina-Neretva Canton is a victory for the patients’ rights to receive equal and non-discriminatory healthcare. This decision has reaffirmed the fundamental principle that patients have the right to choose their preferred healthcare providers, and that nobody should be separated or discriminated against based on their nationality or any other personal characteristic.

The success of this story lies in the power of the people to stand up for their rights and demand accountability from their institutions. Without the collective efforts of citizens, NGOs, and political parties, this discriminatory procedure could have been implemented, and patients could have been denied access to healthcare facilities based on their nationality. The cancellation of this procedure serves as a reminder that the people’s voice is powerful and that their actions can bring about positive change in society.

The public outcry against the procedure reflects the collective will of the people to ensure that their basic rights and values are respected by the institutions responsible for providing them with essential services. It sends a clear message that discrimination and segregation have no place in modern society, especially in the field of healthcare where access to quality care is a fundamental human right.

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Response stories

The Cantonal Court of Tuzla (Bosnia and Herzegovina) responded to trafficking in children effectively

Human trafficking, as a serious violation of human rights and freedoms, is still present in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Forced child begging, is one of the most common forms of human trafficking in the country and the tendency to exploit children has not stagnated. The actual situation on the ground, when it comes to children who are victims of forced begging, is much worse than the statistics show. The most frequent locations where human trafficking exploitation takes place are the largest city centers, such as Tuzla, Sarajevo, Zenica, and Mostar.

Children at high risk of being trafficked with the aim of labor exploitation or forced begging often involving Roma children routinely go unidentified. When it comes to the investigation and prosecution of child trafficking, police inspectors and prosecutors tend to categorize cases of child trafficking as other types of a criminal offences. The biggest criticism is directed at the criminal justice system. Especially in the context of the small number of indictments and verdicts for these crimes, light sentences, and weak protection of victims of human trafficking.

However, a positive example is Tuzla Canton, which leads the way in identifying and processing such cases. The Tuzla Canton has a Protocol for dealing with cases of begging, labor exploitation, and other forms of child abuse, which was defined and signed by government institutions and non-governmental organizations.

The Cantonal Court of Tuzla responded to trafficking in children effectively and passed a first-instance verdict of conviction for six defendants for organized human trafficking related to the exploitation of children for the purpose of forced begging and sentenced them to prison terms for a total of 74 years. 

The indictment stated that in the period from 2017 to February 2021, members of the organized crime group forced several children between the ages of 4 and 14 to into begging, using theirth mental deficiency, helplessness and inability to resist. The children would be woken up in the early morning, regardless of the weather, transported to various locations in over 25 places in Tuzla Canton or other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, supervising them during the begging, and children had to hand over amounts of money to members or group organizers ranging from 40 BAM (some €20) to 150 BAM (some €70) daily. In doing so, the children were exposed to all weather conditions, inadequately dressed and clothed, hungry and constantly under the threat of the use of physical force, or they were beaten and insulted.

There is progress in processing human trafficking cases, but not enough. This is facilitated by a poor identification system, as well as insufficiently developed awareness of this problem. Although human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been an ongoing issue, the current efforts will hopefully ensure a reduction in victims going forward.

The case was found in the media at the following links: navodjenja-djece-na-prosjacenje/2445785/

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The first judgment for discrimination based on sexual orientation in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Response stories

The first judgment for discrimination based on sexual orientation in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Despite that Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the leading countries of the South Eastern Europe, hate speech, intolerance towards LGBTI persons, as well as harassment or violence remain very common and still is an issue of concern. However, a significant step toward not only increasing the LGBTI community’s trust in government institutions but also strengthening standards and legal understanding of discrimination was made this year in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The first judgment establishing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics in Bosnia and Herzegovina was passed on April 4, 2022. According to a lawsuit filed and conducted by the Sarajevo Open Centre* as one of its strategic one, the trial lasted a total of two years and six months and is significant, because now there is a judgement protecting LGBTI rights in BiH for the first time in 13 years since the Anti-Discrimination Law was passed. This judgment is also crucial because the defendant, acted in a discriminatory manner as a public figure or cantonal representative in the Sarajevo Canton Assembly.

The defendant violated the right to equal treatment in relation to members of the LGBTI community whose rights the SOC protects as a plaintiff, by making a statement on the social network Facebook reading: “…Fifteen of them are sufficient to launch an initiative and organise so-called pride marches aimed at destroying the state and its people. Everyone has the right to live their lives as they like, but we also have the right to choose who we want to live with. I want people like these to be isolated and put away from our children and society. Let them go somewhere else and make a city, a state, and a law for themselves, and their own rights that no one will dispute. But NOT here!”.

The judge found that the defendant committed the following forms of discrimination: inciting and issuing an order for segregation, harassment with the intent of violating a person’s dignity and creating intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive content based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. The judge emphasized that the text of the statement is extremely discriminatory and degrading, based on extreme negative stereotypes, and that it should be distinguished from statements and posts made by unknown and politically uninvolved individuals because the defendant, as a public official, should protect the freedom and dignity of every individual in a realistic and authentic manner, refraining from expressing views such as “I want people like these to be isolated and put away from our children and society” because it represents a lack of respect for others, and the statement itself is hate speech and direct incitement to hatred, which is altogether discrimination. The defendant’s statement harmed the dignity of LGBTI people, i.e., the plaintiff, and created a hostile, degrading and insulting environment, which violates the ADL, the ECtHR and European case law that is binding in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It should be emphasized that this is a first-instance judgement, not a final one. However, this precedent is a significant step toward not only increasing the LGBTI community’s trust in institutions but also strengthening standards and legal understanding of discrimination.

* – NGO Sarajevo Open Centre works to advance human rights, especially the position and human rights of LGBTI people and women in Bosnia and Herzegovina, through representation of their realities and advocacy for legal, policy, economic, social and cultural changes in all areas of life.

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