News 04 Nov 14

Bosnia Federation Rules Against Ethnically-Divided Schools

Rights campaigners welcomed the Federation supreme court’s ruling that the practice of running ‘two schools under one roof’, separating Bosniak and Croat pupils, is discriminatory.

Denis Dzidic
BIRN
Sarajevo

Human rights NGO Vasa Prava (Your Rights) on Tuesday welcomed the final ruling in the long-running case which it instigated in a bid to end the practice of dividing Bosniak and Croat children who go to school in the same building but are separated from each other in different classrooms and taught different curriculums.

“We hope that this verdict will mean the end of the clear practice of the division of children in elementary and high schools,” Vasa Prava said in a statement.

The supreme court ruling said that “organising school systems based on ethnic background and implementing curriculums on ethnic principles, which divide children” was discriminatory.

It ordered schools to implement “common integrated multicultural education facilities”.

There are more than 50 schools run on this principle in the Federation.

The ruling was also welcomed by the Federation’s Education and Science Minister, Damir Masic.

“The verdict’s aim is that the Federation, after more than a decade of divisions and the separation of children, will have a chance to reinstate a system which has existed for centuries, which is for children to live with one another and spend time together,” said Masic.

He explained however that the responsibility to change the system now lies with the authorities in the ten cantons that make up the entity, not Federation officials.

The Federation “doesn’t have mechanisms to influence this process, but can advocate and assist cantonal ministries to remove this practice, which should not be allowed to continue”, he said.

The case began when Vasa Prava filed a suit at the municipal court in Mostar, which ruled in 2012 that schools run this way are discriminatory.

“The policy of division can only enhance prejudice and intolerance towards others, and lead to further ethnic isolation,” the first judgement found.

The verdict was appealed at the Mostar cantonal court, which quashed the first ruling, claiming that the statute of limitations had expired in the case.

But the Federation supreme court ruled that it had not expired, and upheld the original verdict.

“This court does not accept the position of the cantonal court in Mostar that the lawsuit was untimely, because we are dealing with systematic discrimination which carries on continuously,” its ruling said.

Education Minister Masic also said that he hoped that situation for pupils in Bosnia’s other political entity, the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, would improve as well, claiming that non-Serb children of post-war returnees are discriminated against because they are forced to study the so-called 'Serbian curriculum'.

For two years in a row, some Bosniak parents have refused to enrol their children in schools and organised a four-month-long protest in Sarajevo last year, asking to be allowed to choose a 'Bosniak curriculum' which differs in its treatment of a few subjects such as history and language.

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