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Act urgently to reverse deterioration of civic space and strengthen social cohesion, says UN expert

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, today called for immediate action to reverse the deterioration of civic space and social cohesion, and the weakening of democratic institutions.

“Since the end of the 1992-1995 conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, almost 30 years ago, meaningful progress has been made towards transitioning to a peaceful society,” Voule said in a statement at the end of a nine-day official visit to the country. “However, Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to endure the legacy of the deeply ethnically divisive armed conflict, marred by war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

He said a fragmented and identity-based governance system and divisive politics have entrenched discrimination and restricted free and meaningful inclusion and participation.

“This has undermined the achievements made in the past 30 years,” the expert said. “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, which are cornerstones for democracy, reconciliation and peace-building, are not sufficiently guaranteed and protected with relevant legislation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, nor in practice in many of its jurisdictions.”

Voule called on authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to overcome their differences to protect the rights of everyone across the country. They must work together to reverse the dangerous trend of restrictive laws and practices, which are undermining the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly and the fundamental right of participation, the expert noted.

“I am especially concerned by the proliferation of restrictive laws and bills in Republika Srpska related to the freedom of association, opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly,” Voule said.

He specifically referred to the re-criminalisation of defamation and the Draft law on the Special Registry and Transparency of the Work of Non-Profit Organisations (referred to as a ‘Foreign Agents Law’) as serious threats to civic space that should be withdrawn.

“I have also observed a tense political climate, and highly divisive narratives by some political leaders, including hate speech and revisionism,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Such narratives contribute to a hostile climate for constructive criticism and dissent and are a threat to democracy and to persons and communities targeted because of their ethnic background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation or non-affiliation.”

Voule said the deterioration of civic participation, including the lack of opportunities to positively influence the future of their country, has been pushing people, notably youth, to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina in large numbers.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a report on his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Human Rights Council in June 2025.

Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule was appointed Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association by the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2018. He is a lawyer currently working in Geneva in the field of human rights. Prior to his appointment, he headed the Africa programme of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). Mr. Voule has also worked as Secretary General of the Togolese Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, as a campaigner for the Togolese Coalition for the International Criminal Court and as Secretary General of the of Amnesty International-Togo. Since 2011, Mr. Voule has been an expert member of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, the Environment and Human Rights Violations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. His mandate covers all countries and was recently renewed by resolution 41/12 of the Human Rights Council.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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