The government selectively enforced the legal rights of religious minorities and often failed to provide government services and protections to them. Entity and local governments sometimes did not enforce legal and policy protections for religious freedom. The lack of action of some government officials often posed obstacles to safeguarding the rights of religious minorities. In some cases, local governments made improvements to protect religious freedom; however, others continued to allow societal intolerance and the threat of violence to restrict religious minorities’ ability to worship in certain areas.
Religious officials of minority populations throughout the country complained that local authorities discriminated against them regarding the use of religious property, provision of municipal services, and police protection and investigation of harassment and vandalism. Compared to the four traditional religious groups, minority religious communities received unequal government assistance and benefits at the local and state levels and on occasion had difficulty obtaining permits for new churches. Religious communities tended to receive the most funding in areas where their adherents were in the majority.
The lines dividing politics, ethnic identity, and religion were often blurred. Political parties dominated by a single ethnic group remained powerful and continued to identify closely with the religion associated with their ethnic group. Some political party leaders used religion to strengthen their credibility with voters, contributing to intolerance through public statements. The appropriation of religious symbols and buildings for political purposes had a negative effect on interreligious dialogue and interethnic relations in many communities.
Officials did not always fully implement provisions in the law regarding religious education, particularly in segregated school systems or where there was political resistance from party officials at the municipal level. Students from both majority and minority religious communities sometimes faced pressure from teachers and peers to attend noncompulsory religious instruction, and most did so.
A number of controversial and highly politicized cases involving the illegal construction of religious buildings or monuments on private or government-owned land remained unresolved. In these cases, observers stated that the purpose behind the construction was to send a political message to members of minority religious communities about the dominance of the majority ethno-religious group in that area.
In June the Srebrenica Basic Court rejected Fata Orlovic’s request for relocation of a Serbian Orthodox Church illegally constructed on her property, despite the RS Ministry of Urban Planning’s 2004 decision that the church be removed. Orlovic immediately filed an appeal with the Bijelina District Court and the case was still pending at year’s end.
Authorities did not apply laws governing private property and construction of religious buildings uniformly throughout the country, and local governments sometimes applied local laws in ways that contravened national laws permitting reconstruction of houses of worship by religious minorities.
The return of former religious properties continued at the discretion of municipal officials, who usually gave preferential treatment to the area’s majority group. The four traditional religious communities’ extensive claims for restitution remained largely unaddressed.
The Serbian Orthodox Church, supported by the IRC, continued to seek the return of the building housing the University of Sarajevo’s economics faculty from the Sarajevo Canton government. As a step towards the full return of the building, in July representatives from the economic, Serbian Orthodox, Islamic, and Catholic faculties agreed to dedicate one room in the building to the establishment of an Institute for Religious Dialogue, to be managed by the Serbian Orthodox Church. Legal recognition of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ownership of the building had existed before the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, and in June 2010 the economics faculty and the governments of the Federation, Sarajevo Canton, and Sarajevo Stari Grad Municipality had agreed to an eventual return of the building.
Preventive efforts by law enforcement officials, in cooperation with religious communities, resulted in a relatively low number of attacks on religious sites for a second straight year, according to the IRC. The IRC reported 34 such attacks in 2013 compared to 56 attacks in 2012. Arrests, however, were infrequent and there were no convictions for such offenses. Of the 34 cases during the year, police identified perpetrators in only nine. In order to downplay incidents of vandalism, local police sometimes alleged that juveniles, intoxicated individuals, or mentally unstable persons were responsible for the attacks.
In July vandals desecrated the Ponjevici Orthodox Cemetery in Donji Vakuf and Catholic Cemetery in Bugojno. The slow response by law enforcement prompted the IRC, in coordination with local religious and municipal leaders, to speak out publicly against the lack of punishment for acts of vandalism against religious sites.
In March the Bijeljina Basic Court handed down sentences to five individuals who had been arrested in 2012 by police for breaking into the Atik Mosque and charged with violation of religious freedom and religious practice, as well as instigating racial and religious hatred. The court fined three of the individuals 600 marka ($422) and gave the fourth a one-month sentence, with no actual jail time as long as no other offense is committed during the two years, and acquitted the fifth individual.
In Pecista near Srebrenica, local police in March arrested two individuals for overturning tombstones in the Serbian Orthodox cemetery in November 2012. The police charged the perpetrators with instigation of religious hatred. The court gave them each a two-month suspended sentence, with no jail time required if no other offense is committed within two years.