Bosnia and Herzegovina: “Culture and education hijacked by political debate,” says UN expert on cultural rights

SARAJEVO (24 May 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, today urged all levels of the Governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina to maximize the opportunities for people to engage in culture, sports, science and arts, and to have access to “neutral spaces where politics and ethno-national affiliations do not interfere.”

“Culture and education seem to have been held hostage to political debates,” Ms. Shaheed said at the end of her first mission to the country. “This has an immense detrimental effect on the artistic, cultural, scientific and academic life in the country, and on the right of all people, without discrimination, to enjoy their cultural rights and to access their cultural heritage.”

“One telling example is the current uncertainty surrounding the fate of seven crucial cultural institutions for Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the National Museum which closed its doors last year,” she added.

“I am concerned by the extent to which political bodies have expanded their influence over cultural institutions, whose independence should be guaranteed in law as well as in practice,” the rights expert said, noting that throughout her visit frustration has been expressed across the board that efforts are being blocked at the level of senior decision makers and politicians.

The Special rapporteur stressed that “one worrying trend lies in over-emphasizing cultural differences, including linguistic differences, to justify practices amounting to segregation of people based on their ethno-national affiliation, in particular in the field of education.”

“Contrasting perspectives exist on the future of this country and how its political and administrative structures should be established,” she said. However, Ms. Shaheed underscored that those perspectives were not irreconcilable: “Building a common future for all constituent peoples and national minorities can be achieved while also addressing the concerns of those who fear to be the subject of assimilation policies.”

“A dynamic, pluralistic and inclusive culture is central to reconciliation and it is most certainly the way forward, in terms of both peace and economic development for Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the human rights expert said. In her view, divisions do persist in the country almost 20 years after the end of the war, but the divide is much greater at the political level than on the ground.

“In many of the meetings I have held throughout this country, people, in particular in the cultural, educational and academic spheres, including teachers and students, expressed a desire to overcome divisions that they see are imposed on them on a daily basis, and many are finding innovative ways to overcome such obstacles,” she said. “The time has come to move forward if Bosnia and Herzegovina wishes a better future for its children.”

During her 12-day mission, from 13 to 24 May, Ms. Shaheed met with a wide range of actors in the cultural field, including cultural institutions, academics and artists, as well as civil society representatives in Sarajevo, Mostar, Jajce, Banja Luka, Brèko and Srebrenica. She also visited a number of monuments, memorials and museums.

The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report on her mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina at a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Ms. Farida Shaheed took up her functions as Independent Expert and then Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights in August 2009. She has worked for more than 25 years promoting and protecting cultural rights by fostering policies and projects designed in culturally sensitive ways to support the rights of marginalized sectors, including women, peasants, and religious and ethnic minorities. Ms. Shaheed has been the recipient of several national and international human rights awards, and is an experienced participant in negotiations at international, regional and national levels. Learn more, log on to:

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur:

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