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Damir Marjanovic, a member of the Sarajevo Canton parliament from the liberal, multi-ethnic Nasa Stranka (Our Party), told BIRN that he has filed the proposal for new legislation to the Cantonal Assembly because there is a real need for a clear and precise law that will enable people to be sanctioned for hate speech.
“With this law, we want to define and prohibit hate speech targeted against a group of people or member of a group on the basis of their racial, religious, national or ethnic affiliation, origin, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristics, including but not limited to people with disabilities and disadvantaged children,” said Marjanovic.
Existing state-level laws ban ethnic, racial and religious discrimination, incitement to discrimination, and discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. But Marjanovic argued that they do not sanction hate speech.
“Taking into consideration the atmosphere in our society and the often irresponsible, unethical and inappropriate behaviour in public spaces, whereby a large number of our fellow citizens are insulted with impunity, we consider the time has come to prevent that, but also sanction it as needs be by passing a law like this one,” he said.
His draft law says that people who misuse their position to spread hate speech, causing disorder and violence, can be punished with up to eight years in prison.
Marjanovic said that a similar law will also be proposed to parliament in the country’s Bosniak- and Croat-dominated Federation entity soon.
The OSCE mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina recorded a total of 113 suspected hate crimes in the country in 2018, and 173 in 2017. The incidents included graffiti, verbal insults, physical violence, damage to religious buildings and the desecration of cemeteries.
The OSCE logged a total of 33 such incidents in the first three months of 2019.
The importance of responding to hate crimes was recognised in Bosnia’s National Strategy for Prevention and Fight against Terrorism 2015-2020, as it is believed they can contribute to radicalisation and violence, which pose a threat to the security situation in the country.
Aleksandra Letic of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republika Srpska said that hate speech is unfortunately an accepted phenomenon in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but cautioned that any legislation must be properly implemented for it to have an effect.
“You can pass any laws you want, you can take a law over from the best state in the world, you can invent and recreate a law brilliantly, but if the professionals and judicial authorities do not apply the law in practice and do not sanction hate speech, you just have a dead letter and haven’t done anything,” Letic said.
When asked if there was a need to adopt a law penalising hate speech, the OSCE mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina cautioned that there are already provisions in the Federation’s criminal code and in the state-level criminal code which define hate speech as a crime in a similar manner and are applicable to hate speech incidents in the Sarajevo Canton as well.
“Introduction of the same or similar provisions at the cantonal level… could lead to a conflict of jurisdictions that could lead to impunity,” said Alexander Chuplygin, deputy chief of the OSCE mission.