These incidents, which saw individuals glorifying atrocities and convicted war criminals, targeting communities with hate speech and, in some cases, directly inciting violence, occurred in multiple locations across the entity. Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, notably in Bijeljina, Prijedor, Foča, Gacko, Višegrad, as well as in the district of Brčko and in Priboj and Novi Pazar, in Serbia.
“These acts, which occurred during religious holidays last weekend, included large groups of people chanting the name of convicted war criminal Ratko Mladić in torchlight processions or singing nationalist songs calling for takeover. from various places in the former Yugoslavia. In one incident, individuals fired shots into the air as they walked past a mosque,” OHCHR spokeswoman Liz Throssell told a press briefing in Geneva.
Elections planned in Serbia and Bosnia in 2022
According to the spokesperson, the fear, and the risk, is that such acts – fueled by inflammatory and nationalistic rhetoric and hate speech from some politicians – will continue to increase in 2022. Elections are due to be held in Serbia in April, then in October in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the political climate is already extremely tense.
“These incidents – some in places that saw large-scale atrocities during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as Prijedor and Foca – are an affront to survivors, including those who returned home after the conflict,” said said Mrs. Throssel. “The failure to prevent and sanction such acts, which fuel a climate of extreme anxiety, fear and insecurity in some communities, is a major obstacle to building trust and reconciliation.”
“As we have repeatedly emphasized, the rise of hate speech, the denial of genocide and other atrocity crimes and the glorification of war criminals in the Western Balkans highlights the failure to address the past of globally,” she added. “We underline once again the need for the authorities of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to respect their international human rights obligations in order to guarantee the rights to truth, justice and reparation”.
OHCHR also believes that the authorities should adopt measures to prevent a recurrence of these incidents and promote new reconciliation efforts. “We call on them to condemn and refrain from any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred,” Throssel said.
She recalled that States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – including Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina – are obliged to ensure that incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence is prohibited in law and in practice. “All perpetrators and instigators of such acts must be held to account,” she added.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, political and religious leaders have a crucial role to play in strongly and quickly speaking out against intolerance, discriminatory stereotypes and instances of hate speech. “We are heartened to see that in the wake of some of the recent incidents, officials – including senior politicians, as well as religious leaders – have moved quickly to condemn these acts, and police have launched investigations,” the spokeswoman said.
“Serious incidents such as these must be promptly, effectively and impartially investigated, in order to prevent their repetition and perpetuation, and also to strengthen public confidence in the authorities and the institutions, and within communities,” she added.