3.7.2013. SETimes, NGO activists join demand for ID numbers in BiH

SETimes, 3.7.2013.


"Human rights activists from 20 countries voiced support for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) citizens’ demands to secure unique personal identification numbers for newborn children by creating a photo album, which they are sharing on the Internet."

The activists were attending the Nexus Fund's 2nd Annual Global Convening to End Mass Atrocities, representing organisations specialising in protection from mass war crimes.

Due to a row between BiH political parties on canton borders, the law on ID numbers was left to expire in February.

On February 12th, the Constitutional Court of BiH ruled that the current allocation of one of the numbers, which shows the place of birth, is inconsistent in a few municipalities that are divided by entity.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided into two political entities: Republika Srpska, whose population is overwhelmingly Serb, and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is home to a mainly Croat and Bosniak population. Republika Srpska officials said that aligning these numbers at the federal level will strengthen the authority of the central government and weaken the authority of the entities.

As a result of the blocked legislation, children born after February 2013 are not granted an ID number and cannot obtain medical cards or passports.

At the forefront of the call to action is the case of 3-month-old Berina Hamidovic, who was denied papers to travel to Serbia for urgent medical treatment. Berina died on June 16th.

On June 27th, the NGO Amnesty International released a statement saying the delay in adopting a new law on assigning personal identification numbers "constitutes an illegal attack on the country's citizens' basic human rights."

"The death of a baby who could not get a passport to start medical treatment abroad is one of the consequences of this practice," said Jelena Milic, director of the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade.

BIH citizens said support from other countries, including from notables such as celebrities Nikola Kojo, Sergej Trifunovic and Branko Djuric, is important.

"I am very touched by the fact that we are getting support for our babies from numerous celebrities from the region. They give us support in our fight, which is nothing but an appeal to the politicians to do their jobs," Mirela Mehovic, 37, a Tuzla resident, told SETimes.

Participants said NGO support is important because civil society and free media remain the main tools for citizens to articulate their demands and gain visibility in communicating with authorities.

"Permanent personal and collective engagement and care for our social and natural environment are the only ways for sustainable support and activism," Milic added. One of the main functions of advocacy groups and civil society institutions is to increase social awareness regarding anti-democratic practices, according to Murat Celikkan, director of the Istanbul-based Centre for Truth, Justice, Memory.

"Although some state authorities equate democracy with the ballot box, there has been a process … to establish participatory democracy and increase the functionality of some democratic institutions," Celikkan told SETimes.

Celikkan said BiH, like Turkey, has a dynamic civil movement to use social protests and resistance to demand human rights.

"For this, it is critical to build civil networks with other societies, like Turkey, to overcome the latency deriving from hard and long decision-taking processes," he added.

Some BiH politicians, such as Mladen Ivanic, a Serb delegate in the BiH parliament, said it is squarely on the politicians to solve the ID number problem.

Ivanic called on all Republika Srpska political parties to come to Sarajevo to address the issue.

"The elected officials should do their jobs," Ivanic told SETimes.