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news 08 Nov 13

School Row Highlights Bosnian Returnees' Plight, NGO

As Bosniaks from Konjevic Polje demand a resolution to a dispute over schools in the mainly Serb entity, calls grow for international institutions to do more to back returnees' rights.

Elvira M. Jukic

The Union for Sustainable Return and Integrations, an organization defending the rights of returnees, said more needed to be done to uphold the rights of returnees in Bosnia, especially in the field of education.

The NGO spoke out in the context of the ongoing dispute over schooling in the eastern village of Konjevic Polje, where Bosniak returnees claim the Bosnian Serb authorities are discriminating against their children by forcing them to follow the Serb school curriculum.

This NGO said most problems in education focus on: rights to obtain teaching of so-called national subjects; the employment of returnees in educational institutions; transport of pupils; inadequate classrooms; lack of teachers and school tools.

Mirhunisa Zukic, a member of the NGO, said the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, on the Bosnian constitution is based, guaranteed the rights claimed on behalf of the children of the Konjevic Polje protesters.

“We are frustrated with the way the process of education is proceeding in Bosnia, and we want to point to the current situation in education as catastrophic,” she said in Sarajevo on Thursday, terming the protesters a priority for the authorities and for society.

This NGO held a meeting with the protesters from eastern Bosnian village, who for a month now have staged a sleep-in protest in Sarajevo across from the building of the Office of the High Representative, OHR, the body tasked with overseeing the Dayton Accords.

Zukic added that the problem of returnee educational rights was not confined to Konjevic Polje but was common to many other communities.

The protesters say the OHR must clarify whether their rights are being violated according to Annex 7 of the Dayton Accords, which refers to returnees' rights.

“Our case is a message to all people who want to return, which is that their basic human rights are not guaranteed,” Muhizin Omerovic, a protester from Konjevic Polje, said.

“This is the proof that nothing is functioning,” he added.

The OHR has declined to comment on the demands of the protesters, though it has held meetings with them.

Mario Brkic, of the OHR, told Balkan Insight on Thursday that politicians from Bosnian's mainly Serb entity, Republika Srpska, needed to work with the parents on finding a solution to the dispute, adding that education for all children is vital for the development of the country.

“The protests of the parents show how sensitive the issue of education in Bosnia and Herzegovina is,” Brkic said.

“We hope the responsible institutions at all levels of government will understand this message and start solving open questions in a systematic way,” he added.

The OHR said the priority was returning the children to class as soon as possible, and in this context it was important for everyone to show patience and accept compromise.

Manwhile, the Islamic Community has weighed in on the side of the striking parents, condemning the situation facing Bosniak returnees in Republika Srpska and castigating what it called “the indifference and inefficiency of the international and domestic political officials.

“A right to education is basic and inviolable human right,” the Islamic Community said. “Education in one's mother tongue, and the preservation of national culture, tradition, history and geography, aside from being a constitutional obligation is also a democratic and civilizational right,” it said.

“This is not a shame only for the institutions of Republika Srpska, but for the whole of  Bosnia and Herzegovina and... for the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the OHR,” it added.

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