Remarks for International Human Rights Day

Chairman Bojic, Minister Borovac, Speaker of House of Peoples Tadic members of the Parliament, members of the academic community, representatives of civil society, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on this important occasion;

Human Rights Day.

Today we commemorate the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. And today is the day we not only celebrate the advances we have made as a global community protecting the human rights of all people in the last 67 years, but also reaffirm our commitment to defending the human rights of every member of society.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was for many centuries a beacon of diversity, proof that people of different ethnicities and religions could live together in harmony.  That was lost during the war in the 1990s,.  During the darkest days some twenty years ago, Bosnia became home to more than its share of human rights violations when hateful groups devoted themselves to the destruction of the rich mix of peoples and cultures that for centuries defined Bosnia and Herzegovina as an inspiration for tolerance and integration. The years after the war saw a continuation of many of the human rights challenges, but significant progress has been made over time. So much has been accomplished to repair and rebuild the tapestry of identities that form a modern and integrated Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I applaud the efforts of those on the platform with me today for their dedication to this goal.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, still has a long way to go in realizing its rejuvenated, integrated, and increasingly European identity. And it is at this juncture that we must each do our part to ensure that Bosnia and Herzegovina becomes once again the leading example of tolerance and diversity that it was not so long ago. This week we are also marking anti-corruption week. In human rights, as in all other fields, corruption impedes progress in all areas, from trafficking, to health and education.

I would like to contribute a few thoughts to the dialogue about what we can do this coming year to further advance the human rights of some of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most vulnerable populations and advance European democratic concepts on inclusion and identity.

First, the United States stands with those who have been abused, harassed, discriminated against, or have lived in fear because of who they are and who they love. It is imperative that BiH institutions work to ensure the rights of all citizens are protected, including members of the LGBTI community. The Law on Prohibition of Discrimination must be strengthened in this regard, and the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees and Human Rights Ombudsman have a particularly significant role to play.

Second, the U.S. Government recognizes the role of the government in providing a supportive environment for people with disabilities, including the implementation of legislation that ensures a high quality of life. But this is not enough. We must actively work to expand opportunities for citizens with disabilities by removing physical and social barriers, changing perceptions, and enabling full participation in community life. We need to see full implementation of current policies for responsible deinstitutionalization, and provide citizens with intellectual, psychological, and physical disabilities with the support they need to live meaningful and independent lives on their own.

Third, human slavery degrades the soul of a nation and the value of human life.  Today, there are still thousands of girls and boys and women of all ethnicities and religions kidnapped globally and forced into demeaning, humiliating acts. As recent investigations have shown, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Roma community remains particularly vulnerable. Harmonization of laws at all levels is essential, especially the long overdue passage of Federation anti-trafficking legislation. In addition, prosecutions must be more vigorous. Government has an essential role and must criminalize and penalize all forms of trafficking in BiH, including forced labor.

Around the world, government leaders must end all forms of officially sanctioned discrimination. Here in BiH, that means political leaders and citizens must unite to courageously and selflessly step forward and implement the European Court of Human Rights ruling on necessary reforms of both the constitution and the election law to allow any citizen the right to run for office, regardless of how they chose to identify.

And finally, the very traditions and diversity that have long defined Bosnia and Herzegovina will have little chance of thriving once again as long divisions are engrained in the hearts of its children through a divided education system.  Sowing the seeds of division, rather than embracing the strength of unity, will continue to rob future generations of stability and prosperity. I call on each of you to do your part to end segregation in schools and continue to foster the revitalization of Bosnia and Herzegovina as the integrated, accepting, and tolerant society it was in the past and must once again become.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak today. I congratulate you on all you have achieved, wish you success as you move forward, and assure you that the United States remains ever ready to support you as partners in your progress.