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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Executive Summary

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a democratic republic with a bicameral parliament. Many governmental functions are the responsibility of two entities within the state, the Federation and the Republika Srpska (RS), as well as the Brcko District, an autonomous administrative unit under BiH sovereignty. The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace (the Dayton Accords), which ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war, provides the constitutional framework for governmental structures, while other parts of the agreement specify the government’s obligations to protect human rights and enable the right of wartime refugees and displaced persons to return to their prewar homes or be compensated for properties that cannot be restored to them. The country held general elections in October 2018. As of December, however, the election results had not been fully implemented, as the state-level government and two cantonal governments had not yet been formed. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) reported that elections were held in a competitive environment but were characterized by continuing segmentation along ethnic lines. While candidates could campaign freely, ODIHR noted that “instances of pressure and undue influence on voters were not effectively addressed,” citing long-standing deficiencies in the legal framework. ODIHR further noted that elections were administered efficiently, but widespread credible allegations of electoral contestants manipulating the composition of polling station commissions reduced voter confidence in the integrity of the process. More than 60 complaints of alleged election irregularities were filed with the Central Election Commission.

State-level police agencies include the State Investigation and Protection Agency, the Border Police, the Foreigners Affairs Service (partial police competencies), and the Directorate for Police Bodies Coordination. Police agencies in the two entities (the RS Ministry of Interior and the Federation Police Directorate), the Brcko District, and 10 cantonal interior ministries also exercise police powers. The armed forces provide assistance to civilian bodies in case of natural or other disasters. The intelligence service is under the authority of the BiH Council of Ministers. An EU military force continued to support the country’s government in maintaining a safe and secure environment for the population. While civilian authorities maintained effective control of law enforcement agencies and security forces, a lack of clear division of jurisdiction and responsibilities between the country’s 16 law enforcement agencies resulted in occasional confusion and overlapping responsibilities.

Significant human rights issues included: significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions of free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; significant government corruption; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against members of national/ethnic/racial minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Units in both entities and the Brcko District investigated allegations of police abuse, meted out administrative penalties, and referred cases of criminal misconduct to prosecutors. Observers considered police impunity widespread, and there were continued reports of corruption within the state and entity security services. Ineffective prosecution of war crimes committed during the 1992-95 conflict continued to be a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but governmental respect for this right remained poor during the year. Intimidation, harassment, and threats, including an increased number of death threats, against journalists and media outlets continued during the year, while the majority of media coverage was dominated by nationalist rhetoric and ethnic and political bias, often encouraging intolerance and sometimes hatred. The absence of transparency in media ownership remained a problem.

Freedom of Expression: The country’s laws provide for a high level of freedom of expression, but the irregular and, in some instances, incorrect implementation and application of the law seriously undermined press freedoms. The law prohibits expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance, including “hate speech,” but authorities did not enforce these restrictions.

Data from the Free Media Help Line (FMHL) indicated that courts continued to fail to differentiate between different media genres (in particular, between news and commentary), while long court procedures and legal and financial battles were financially exhausting to journalists and outlets. The FMHL concluded that years of incorrectly implementing the law had caused direct pressure against journalists and media and that such pressure jeopardized journalists’ right to freedom of expression.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, but sometimes this resulted in pressure or threats against journalists. The law prohibiting expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance applies to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals but was not enforced.

Political and financial pressure on media outlets continued. Some media outlets noted that allegations of tax evasion and elaborate financial controls continued to be powerful tools in attempts to intimidate and control outlets. The number of physical attacks against journalists increased during the year.

Attacks on journalists’ professional integrity and freedom of the press continued to grow throughout the year. On a number of occasions, public officials obstructed the work of journalists. During one weekend in February, for example, the FMHL registered three such incidents. In one of the incidents in Banja Luka, police stopped journalists from E-Trafika and Dnevni Avaz, who were clearly displaying press credentials, from reporting on the “Justice for David” protests there.

The practice of pressuring journalists to censor their reporting continued during the year as well. Investigative stories on corruption in the country’s judicial sector focusing on high-level officials resulted in additional pressure on journalists. In June, for example, the BiH Prosecutor’s Office issued a threatening press release announcing that it was opening a case to investigate the motives of persons disseminating negative reports in the media about their work. The BiH Journalists Association (BH Journalists) strongly criticized the statement. In April the country’s chief prosecutor, Gordana Tadic, told investigative journalists that they were to run their stories, accompanied by supporting evidence, by prosecutors or police offices before publishing them. This “advice” came after prosecutors questioned journalists who wrote high-profile investigative stories about fake university diplomas and alleged Croatian intelligence activities in the country.

Authorities continued exerting pressure on media outlets to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over a number of information outlets narrowed the range of opinions represented in both entities. Public broadcasters remained under strong pressure from government and political forces due to a lack of long-term financial stability. Public broadcasters remained exposed to political influence, especially through politically controlled steering boards. These factors limited their independence and resulted in news that was consistently subjective and politically biased.

The Public Broadcasting System consists of three broadcasters: nationwide radio and television (BHRT) and the entity radio and television broadcasters RTRS and RTV FBiH. The law on the public broadcasting system is only partially implemented and entity laws are not in line with state level law. Public broadcasters continued to be in a difficult financial situation, primarily due to the lack of an efficient, unified, and stable system of financing.

The institutional instability of the governing structures of RTV FBiH continued, as the broadcaster failed to elect a steering board or appoint organizational management and remained open to political influence. As a result, RTV FBiH continued to demonstrate political bias and a selective approach to news.

The RS government continued directly to control RTRS, which demonstrated strong support for the ruling political parties in the RS. The BHRT, which previously had a reputation for being balanced and nonbiased, caved to increased political pressure and censored its own reporting. Authorities remained subject to competing political interests and failed to establish a public broadcasting Service Corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as provided by law.

Violence and Harassment: Intimidation and threats against journalists continued during the year. Cases of violence and death threats against journalists were recorded as well. Intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for their unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities also continued.

As of August the FMHL recorded 37 cases involving violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms, five death threats, and six physical assaults. According to data from BH Journalists covering the period from 2006 to 2019, authorities prosecuted approximately 30 percent of criminal acts reported against journalists and investigated more than one-third of alleged violations of journalists’ rights.

On March 28, for example, Huso Cesir, the head of the municipal council of Novi Grad in Sarajevo, shoved and verbally harassed Adi Kebo, a cameraman at the online news magazine Zurnal, while he was filming the entrance to Cesir’s company as part of an investigation into the politician’s business dealings. Cesir’s son joined his father and also harassed Kebo, briefly taking Kebo’s camera. Kebo sustained light injuries and his camera was damaged during this attack. BH Journalists reacted and strongly condemned the attack, while Party for Democratic Action (SDA) leaders made light of it, stating that Cesir attacked the camera, not the cameraman. Sarajevo Canton police filed a case with the canton prosecutor.

Early in the year, journalists at TV Sarajevo, the public television service of Sarajevo Canton, complained they were frequently censored and harassed by their SDA-allied management and reported the case to the FMHL. In February a former TV Sarajevo employee set fire to the car of the then director of the station. The director, Edina Fazlagic, blamed false accusations about the station’s employment policies for triggering the attack. The SDA condemned the attack, calling it political pressure against press freedom. In March, BH Journalists issued a press release condemning political pressures against TV Sarajevo. The FMHL contacted the Ombudsman and cantonal labor inspector concerning the alleged violation of TV Sarajevo’s employees’ rights, which the labor inspector ultimately confirmed. Following a political reshuffle, the Sarajevo Canton government–now formed without the SDA–made Kristina Ljevak the acting director of the station in May. The SDA strongly criticized her decisions, and right-oriented web portals took issue with her ethnic background and questioned her suitability for the position, as she had spent the war in the RS. An SDA member of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly, Samra Cosovic Hajdarevic, referring to Ljevak’s appointment, commented on Facebook that Muslim names in important positions were being replaced with other ones. The comment sparked strong reactions from media professionals, who condemned it as discriminatory, while the multiethnic Social Democratic Party and Democratic Front party condemned it as hate speech.

On July 12, the Banja Luka District Court convicted Marko Colic, one of the attackers in the 2018 attack on journalist Vladimir Kovacevic. Kovacevic, a BNTV journalist based in Banja Luka, was severely beaten as he came home after covering a protest. Colic was sentenced to four years in prison. The second attacker, identified as Nedeljko Dukic, was never apprehended. Journalist associations continued to assert that this unresolved case had a chilling effect on press freedom in the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Multiple political parties and entity-level institutions attempted to influence editorial policies and media content through legal and financial measures. As a result, some media outlets practiced self-censorship.

In some instances, media sources reported that officials threatened outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. Prevailing practices reflected close connections between major advertisers and political circles and allowed for biased distribution of advertising time. Public companies, most of which were under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining advertising.

Libel/Slander Laws: While the country has decriminalized defamation, a large number of complaints continued to be brought against journalists, often resulting in extremely high monetary fines. Noteworthy court decisions against journalists included temporary bans on the posting or publication of certain information as well as very high compensatory payments for causing “mental anguish.”

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, but some restrictions remained. Although the legislation on asylum provides for freedom of movement for asylum seekers, authorities of Una-Sana Canton imposed restrictions without a due legal basis. This resulted in asylum seekers–including some who were duly registered–being forcibly disembarked from public transports at the entrance of the canton territory and being prevented from using buses and taxis within the canton. Groups of asylum-seekers and migrants were regularly marched involuntarily from Bihac to a location several kilometers away, where their movements were limited. The location itself offers very poor humanitarian and safety conditions. UNHCR’s legal aid partner legally challenged these restrictions.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum (refugee or subsidiary protection status), and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers with pending claims have a right to accommodation at the asylum center until the Ministry of Security makes a final and binding decision on their claims. Provision of adequate accommodation remained one of the biggest challenges since the beginning of 2018 due to increased arrivals of asylum seekers. It was common practice for some migrants to apply for asylum in order to gain access to temporary benefits and services, even if they had no plans to remain in the country. The increase of arrivals delayed registration procedures and access to rights and services, including legal, medical, and basic needs such as food and basic hygiene facilities and items, which were tied directly to the accommodation facilities.

According to an AP press service report, on October 24, the International Red Cross issued a statement warning of an imminent “humanitarian catastrophe” at one particular site, overcrowded makeshift migrant camp near the country’s border with Croatia. According to the statement, migrants in the Vucjak camp had no running water, no electricity, no usable toilets, and leaking overcrowded tents for the 700 persons there. The statement noted there were persons living in the camp with untreated broken limbs, and 70 percent of the population had scabies. The camp had only 80 tents and five volunteers from the country’s Red Cross Society. According to the report, local authorities restricted the camp’s water supplies in an effort to pressure the BiH government to relocate the migrants.

In official migrant centers, international organizations, NGOs, volunteers, or local actors provided services on an ad hoc basis. In May 2018 an additional facility, the Salakovac Refugee Reception Center, was opened for the accommodation of asylum seekers. Five temporary reception centers for refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants were opened and managed by the International Organization for Migration in cooperation with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs (four in Una-Sana Canton and one near Sarajevo). Nevertheless, adequate shelter capacity was still lacking, in particular for families, unaccompanied and separated minors, and other vulnerable categories. The swift processing of asylum claims was another area of concern, as there were many obstacles to registering an asylum claim, including the obligation for asylum seekers not accommodated in an official government-run center to register their address. While the situation improved over the course of the year, the Sector for Asylum still lacked resources to ensure that applicants had full and timely access to asylum procedures. In addition, asylum authorities lacked sufficient personnel, making the asylum process very lengthy and discouraging refugees from seeking asylum in the country.

Asylum seekers have the right to appeal a negative decision before the Court of BiH. The system for providing protection to refugees seeking asylum continued to suffer from a lack of transparency.

Authorities appeared to have stopped their previous practice of placing foreigners with irregular status or without documentation in immigration detention centers and issuing expulsion orders without giving asylum seekers the ability to present applications. The change came with the increase of new arrivals in 2018 and 2019. In the past, the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs held asylum seekers for 90 days, the maximum initial holding period prescribed by law. Detention decisions were issued in the Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian languages while, according to the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs, individuals were informed of the content of the decision orally with the assistance of an interpreter. A foreigner may appeal a decision on detention within three days from the date it is issued. Many asylum seekers did not receive legal aid within this timeframe and subsequently told the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that they were not informed of this possible remedy.

UNHCR paid ad hoc visits to the Immigration Center of the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs, where foreigners were detained. UNHCR’s main concern with regard to the center was the difficulty experienced by legal aid NGOs that wanted to access it on a regular basis and the fact that authorities occasionally detained families with children there, pending their voluntary readmission to countries of origin.

According to UNHCR, authorities held several individuals seeking asylum at the Immigration Center during the first eight months of the year. Information on the right to seek asylum was not readily available to potential asylum seekers in the center. UNHCR expressed concern that foreigners in detention might not have access to asylum procedures and that authorities might prematurely return some potential asylum seekers under readmission agreements before they had been afforded an opportunity to file a claim for asylum. In addition, some provisions of the BiH legislation on extradition gives authorities the possibility of extraditing a person who has expressed the intention to seek asylum if the request was made after the country had received an extradition request. In addition, UNHCR reported that applicants for refugee status did not have sufficient legal assistance; that there were no clear standards of proof or methods of assessing the credibility of claims, including country of origin; and that guidelines for determining whether there was a risk of persecution were unduly strict.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the application of the concept of “safe country of origin or safe third country.” Under this provision, authorities may deny asylum to applicants who cannot prove they were unable to return to their country of origin or to any country of transit. The application of this concept would require a list of safe third countries and countries of origin to be made by the BiH Council of Ministers.

Durable Solutions: The laws provide a program for integration and return of refugees and displaced persons. The country was party to a regional housing program funded by international donors and facilitated in part by UNHCR and the OSCE to provide durable solutions for up to 74,000 refugees and displaced persons from four countries in the region, including 14,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, returnees, and IDPs from the country. The process of selecting program beneficiaries was protracted due to capacity and management problems that resulted in extended delays in the reconstruction of homes. Fragmented institutional arrangements added administrative delays to the process, as did the political imperative to select beneficiaries proportionally from among the country’s constituent peoples.

Temporary Protection: The government provided subsidiary protection status to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In the first seven months of the year, authorities provided subsidiary protection to 17 individuals and extended existing subsidiary protection to four others.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and the law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Observers noted a number of shortcomings, however.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively nor prioritize public corruption as a serious problem. Courts have not processed high-level corruption cases, and in most of the finalized cases, suspended sentences were pronounced. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and corruption remained prevalent in many political and economic institutions. Corruption was especially prevalent in the health and education sectors, public procurement processes, local governance, and in public administration employment procedures.

While the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but political pressure often prevented the application of these mechanisms. Observers considered police impunity widespread, and there were continued reports of corruption within the state and entity security services. There are internal affairs investigative units within all police agencies. Throughout the year, mostly with assistance from the international community, the government provided training to police and security forces designed to combat abuse and corruption and promote respect for human rights. The field training manuals for police officers also include ethics and anticorruption training components.

Corruption: While the public viewed corruption as endemic in the public sphere, there was little public demand for the prosecution of corrupt officials. The multitude of state, entity, cantonal, and municipal administrations, each with the power to establish laws and regulations affecting business, created a system that lacked transparency and provided opportunities for corruption. The multilevel government structure gave corrupt officials multiple opportunities to demand “service fees,” especially in the local government institutions.

Analysts considered the legal framework for prevention of corruption to be satisfactory across almost all levels of government and attributed the absence of high-profile prosecutions to a lack of political will. Many state-level institutions tasked with fighting corruption, such as the Agency for Prevention and Fight against Corruption, had limited authority and remained under resourced. There were indications that the judiciary was under political influence, and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council was at the center of corruption scandals, including allegations that the president of the council accepted a bribe in exchange for interfering in a case. The accountability of judges and prosecutors was low, and appointments were often not merit based. Prosecutions also were considered generally ineffective and subject to political manipulation, often resulting in suspended sentences or prison sentences below mandatory minimum sentences. Authorities reported that, in the previous five years, 84 indictments were filed against high-ranking public officials, of whom 38 were found guilty.

Gathering evidence to prove corruption has been seriously impeded as of 2018, when the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional certain provisions in the BiH state law that governs special investigative measures. The BiH parliament adopted amendments to Criminal Procedure Code that define the crimes for which special investigative measures may be applied and regulate the granting of immunity to witnesses and the duration of investigations in line with the ruling of the Constitutional Court. The RS also amended part of the Criminal Procedure Code to define the crimes for which special investigative measures may be ordered.

According to professors and students, corruption continued at all levels of the higher education system. Professors at a number of universities reported that bribery was common and that they experienced pressure from colleagues and superiors to give higher grades to students with family or political connections. There were credible allegations of corruption in public procurement, public employment, and health-care services.

Financial Disclosure: Candidates for high-level public office, including for parliament at the state and entity levels and for the Council of Ministers and entity government positions, are subject to financial (assets/liabilities and income) disclosure laws, although observers noted the laws fell short of standards established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other international organizations. The Central Election Commission received financial reports of elected officials, while the Conflict of Interest Commission within the BiH parliament receives financial reports and retains records on public officials. Both institutions lacked authority to verify the accuracy of declarations, and it was believed that public officials and their relatives often declared only a fraction of their total assets and liabilities. Authorities generally failed to make financial disclosure declarations public, using as an excuse the conflicts between the laws on financial disclosure and protection of personal information.

Failure to comply with financial disclosure requirements is subject to administrative sanctions. During the year the Conflict of Interest Commission had no cases as the mandate of parliamentary members expired, and new members were not appointed. A new government in Sarajevo Canton made positive steps in the fight against corruption by adopting legislation on the verification of assets of public officials. The government also adopted a decree on public procurement, which introduces anticorruption measures to regulate these processes.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were seldom cooperative and responsive to their views, and the Council of Ministers still largely excluded NGOs from politically important or sensitive decisions. NGOs continued, however, to expand cooperation with the government at lower levels.

Government officials in both the Federation and the RS attempted at times to limit NGO activities. Observers noted that some civil society representatives working on highly sensitive issues such as war crimes and combatting corruption have been subjected to threats and verbal assaults. Several NGOs in the RS reported being pressured by local authorities while subject to protracted tax inspections, sometimes lasting up to six months. NGOs can only be involuntarily dissolved if found in violation of the law.

Civil society organizations frequently lacked adequate funding, and most were dependent on either governmental or international assistance. Local governments generally extended support to NGOs, provided the governing parties did not consider them threats.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In contrast to Federation and Brcko District governments, the RS government was noncooperative and unresponsive in dealing with the Office of the High Representative created by the Dayton Accords and given special executive powers in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state-level Ombudsman has authority to investigate alleged violations of the country’s human rights laws on behalf of individual citizens and to submit legally nonbinding recommendations to the government for remedy. Members of the international community noted that the Ombudsman lacked the resources to function effectively and had to contend with disagreements between representatives of the country’s three constituent peoples over what constitutes a human rights violation, which sometimes caused disagreements within the institution. A Bosniak, a Croat, and a Serb shared leadership of the Ombudsman Institution.

The state-level parliament has a Joint Commission for Human Rights that participated in human rights-related activities with governmental and nongovernmental organizations. Due to delays in government formation at the state level, the commission had not been formed during the year.

In January the government began implementing a 2017 cooperation agreement between the Council of Ministers and NGOs by adopting a decision to establish an advisory body for cooperation with NGOs. The decision foresees the appointment of five members by the Council of Ministers at the proposal of the Ministry of Justice.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Federation and RS labor laws provide for the right of workers in both entities to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Employers in the private sector did not always respect these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide adequately for enforcement of these protections. The labor inspectorates and courts did not deal effectively with employees’ complaints of antiunion discrimination. Unions themselves have complained that their own union leaders have been co-opted by the company and politicians, and that they mostly protect their own privileges. The law prescribes reinstatement of dismissed workers in cases where there is evidence of discrimination, whether for union activity or other reasons. Entity-level laws in the Federation and the RS prohibit the firing of union leaders without prior approval of their respective labor ministries.

The law in both entities and in the Brcko District provides for the right to strike. The law in the Federation contains burdensome requirements for workers who wish to conduct a strike. Trade unions may not officially announce a strike without first reaching an agreement with the employer on which “essential” personnel would remain at work. Authorities may declare the strike illegal if no agreement is reached. This provision effectively allowed employers to prevent strikes. Laws governing the registration of unions give the minister of justice powers to accept or reject trade union registration on ambiguous grounds. According to informal estimates, approximately 40 percent of the work force was unregistered and working in the informal economy.

The lack of workers’ rights was more pronounced in the private sector largely due to weaker unions in the private sector and to the broad and pronounced weakness of the rule of law.

The government did not effectively enforce all applicable laws. Authorities did not impose sanctions against employers who prevented workers from organizing. Inspections related to worker rights were limited. Ministry inspectors gave low priority to violations of worker rights; state officials focused instead on bolstering revenues by cracking down on unregistered employees and employers who did not pay taxes. Some unions reported that employers threatened employees with dismissal if they joined a union and, in some cases, fired union leaders for their activities. Entity-level penalties for violations included monetary fines that were insufficient to deter violations. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The governments and organizations of employers and workers in both entities negotiated general collective agreements establishing conditions of work, including in particular private employers. It was not confirmed that all employers recognized these agreements. Trade union representatives alleged that antiunion discrimination was widespread in all districts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Adequate legislation exists at the state level and in the RS and the Brcko District criminalizing forced or compulsory labor while Federation laws do not criminalize all forced labor activities. The government did not enforce the law effectively, but there was little verified evidence that forced labor occurred in the country due to the limited number of inspections into forced labor allegations. Penalties for violations were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The prosecution of 13 BiH nationals for collusion in forced labor involving 672 victims of forced labor in Azerbaijan in 2015 continued in BiH court. The government failed to prosecute organized crime syndicates that forced Romani children to beg on the streets, alleging that it was Romani custom to beg. There were reports that individuals and organized crime syndicates trafficked men, women, and children for begging and forced labor (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment of children in both entities is 15; minors between the ages of 15 and 18 must provide a valid health certificate to work. RS and Brcko District laws penalize employers for hiring persons younger than age 15. The labor codes of the Federation, the RS, and the Brcko District also prohibit minors between the ages of 15 and 18 from working at night or performing hazardous labor, although forced begging is not considered a hazardous task for all entities. The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Entity governments are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and both entities and the Brcko District enforced them. Boys and girls were subjected to forced begging and involuntary domestic servitude in forced marriages. Sometimes forced begging was linked to other forms of human trafficking. In the case of Romani children, family members or organized criminal groups were usually responsible for subjecting girls and boys to forced begging and domestic servitude in forced marriages. Several of the worst forms of child labor occurring in the country included the use of children for illicit activities, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the use of children for the production of pornography (see section 6, Children).

During the year the government did not receive reports of child labor at places of employment. Neither entity had inspectors dedicated to child labor inspections; authorities investigated violations of child labor laws as part of a general labor inspection. The labor inspectorates of both entities reported that they found no violations of child labor laws, although they did not conduct reviews of children working on family farms. The government did not collect data on child labor because there were no reported cases. The general perception among officials and civil society was that the exploitation of child labor was rare. RS law imposes fines for employing children younger than 16, but the law does not specify the exact monetary amount. Penalties were usually sufficient to deter violations.

NGOs running day centers in Banja Luka, Tuzla, Mostar, Bijeljina, Bihac, and Sarajevo in cooperation with the country’s antitrafficking coordinator continued to provide services to at-risk children, many of whom were involved in forced begging on the streets.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, other communicable diseases, social status (including refugee status), religion, and national origin. The government generally enforced these laws and regulations effectively. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, HIV-positive status, and social status (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although the monthly minimum wage in both entities is above the official poverty income level, more than 30 percent of the population was exposed to the risk of income poverty. The Brcko District did not have a separate minimum wage or an independent pension fund, and employers typically used the minimum wage rate of the entity to which its workers decided to direct their pension funds.

The legal workweek in both entities and the Brcko District is 40 hours, although seasonal workers may work up to 60 hours. The law limits overtime to 10 hours per week in both entities. An employee in the RS may legally volunteer for an additional 10 hours of overtime in exceptional circumstances. The Federation has no provision for premium pay, while the RS requires a 30-percent premium. Laws in both entities require a minimum rest period of 30 minutes during the workday.

Employees may choose which holidays to observe depending on ethnic or religious affiliation. Entity labor laws prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. The entities and the Brcko District did little to enforce regulations on working hours, daily and weekly rest, or annual leave.

The Federation Market Inspectorate, the RS Inspectorate, and the Brcko District Inspectorate are responsible for the enforcement of labor laws in the formal economy. Authorities in the two entities and the Brcko District did not effectively enforce labor regulations. The penalties for wage and safety violations were generally sufficient to deter violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations.

The Federation and the RS set mandatory occupational health and safety standards, especially for those industry sectors where working conditions were hazardous. Worker rights extended to all official (i.e., registered) workers, including migrant and temporary workers.

Governments in both entities made only limited efforts to improve occupational safety and health at government-owned coal mines; such efforts were inadequate for the safety and security of workers. Workers in certain industries, particularly metal and steel processing and coal mining, often worked in hazardous conditions. There were no official social protections for workers in the informal economy.

Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities provided no protection to employees in this situation.

Finland

Executive Summary

The Republic of Finland is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral parliament (Eduskunta). The prime minister heads a five-party coalition government approved by parliament and appointed by the president on June 6. The parliamentary election on April 14 and the presidential election in 2018 were considered free and fair.

The national police maintain internal security. Both Finnish Customs and the Border Guard have law enforcement responsibilities related to their fields of responsibility. The Border Guard has additional law enforcement powers to maintain public order when it operates in joint patrols and under police command. The defense forces are responsible for safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity and providing military training. The defense forces also have some domestic security responsibilities, such as assisting the national police in maintaining law and order in crises. The national police and Border Guard report to the Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for police oversight, law enforcement, and maintenance of order; the Ministry of Defense oversees the defense forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with little restriction.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists who covered sensitive topics, including immigration, far-right organizations, and terrorism, reported continuing harassment by private entities, including being targeted by defamation cases.

On April 12, the Oulu District Court convicted and fined journalist Johanna Vehkoo of the investigative journalistic website Long Play for defamation of Oulu city councilor Junes Lokka, an anti-immigration activist with a history of making xenophobic remarks and a member of the Genuinely Finnish Joint List political group. Vehkoo had called Lokka a “Nazi,” “Nazi clown,” and “racist.” Separately on April 1, Lokka himself was charged with four counts of defamation and invasion of privacy for his internet postings.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government continued to accept returned asylum seekers who had first entered in Finland but then moved on to other European countries according to the Dublin Regulation.

f. Protection of Refugees

Refoulement: On November 14, the ECHR decided that the government violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it deported an Iraqi man to his country of origin, where he was killed three weeks later. The ECHR found that authorities had not carried out a sufficiently thorough assessment of the risks faced by the man despite accepting his account of enduring two attacks on his personal safety while in Iraq. The police and Finnish Immigration Service subsequently suspended repatriations to Iraq, although this suspension does not apply to convicted criminals.

Following an investigation in Afghanistan in 2018, the government resumed deportation flights to that country during the year.

The number of Russian-origin members of Jehovah’s Witnesses applying for asylum based on alleged religious persecution increased significantly over 2018, reaching 200 individuals by the first seven months of the year. The Finnish Immigration Service rejected approximately 90 percent of the claims by members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and unofficial reports indicated that asylum adjudicators did not consider membership in the church alone to be sufficient basis for an asylum claim.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Parliament sets an annual quota for refugee admissions, and the government decides its allocation. Asylum seekers have the right to free legal representation throughout their application procedure. There were numerous reports by media and civil society organizations, including the president of the Supreme Administrative Court responsible for reviewing asylum decision appeals, that asylum seekers lacked adequate access to legal assistance during the initial stages of the asylum application process and during subsequent appeals.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation that establishes which EU member state is responsible for examining an asylum application.

Durable Solutions: According to the Finnish Immigration Service, 606 refugees were accepted for resettlement in the country during 2018. The government also assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: From January to August, the government provided temporary protection to 289 individuals who did not qualify as refugees but who were deemed to qualify for subsidiary protection. During the same period, the government also offered protection to 278 individuals based on “other grounds,” including medical and compassionate grounds.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: By law, appointed and elected officials must each year declare their income, assets, and other private interests that could overlap with their official duties. Officials must make their initial declaration within two months of assuming office and declare any potential conflicts of interest that arise during their tenure. The law does not provide for specific criminal penalties for nondisclosure. By law income and asset information from the tax forms of all citizens must be made public each year.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The parliamentary ombudsman enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government or party interference, and had adequate resources. The parliamentary ombudsman investigates complaints that a public authority or official failed to observe the law, fulfill a duty, or appropriately implement fundamental human rights protections.

The Human Rights Center operates as part of the parliamentary ombudsman’s office. The center’s functions include promoting human rights, reporting on the implementation of human rights obligations, and cooperating with European and international bodies on human rights matters. The center does not have authority to investigate individual human rights abuses. A delegation of representatives from civil society who participated in promoting and safeguarding human rights frequently cooperated with the center.

The parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee analyzes proposed legislation for consistency with international human rights conventions. The committee deals with legislation relating to criminal and procedural law, the courts, and the prison system.

The law requires the ombudsman for children, the nondiscrimination ombudsman, and the ombudsman for equality impartially to advance the status and legal protection of their respective reference groups. These ombudsmen operate under the Ministry of Justice. Responsibility for investigating employment discrimination rests solely with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Responsibility for developing antidiscrimination policies and legislation as well as for the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations resides with the Ministry of Justice’s Unit for Democracy, Language Affairs, and Fundamental Rights. The Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations advocates for policy changes to improve integration.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman also operated as an independent government-oversight body that investigates discrimination complaints and promotes equal treatment within the government. The nondiscrimination ombudsman also acted as the national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings and supervised the government’s removal of foreign nationals from the country.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and any restriction or obstruction of these rights.

The government effectively enforced all applicable laws regarding the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Workers without permanent residence may not be eligible to join voluntary unemployment insurance funds. Employers who violate the rights of employees to organize and retain employee representatives may face administrative measures, legal proceedings, and fines. The penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Authorities and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and there were no reports of violations. All workers, regardless of sector union membership, or nationality, are entitled to the same wages negotiated between employers and trade unions via generally applicable collective agreements.

The law does not permit public-sector employees who provide “essential services,” including police officers, firefighters, medical professionals, and border guards, to strike. An official dispute board can make nonbinding recommendations to the cabinet on ending or limiting the duration of strikes when they threaten national security. Employees prohibited from striking can use arbitration to provide for due process in the resolution of their concerns.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor depend on the severity of the crime but were generally sufficient to deter violations. Despite strong penalties for violations, some cases of persons subjected to conditions of forced labor in the country were reported during the year.

Men and women working in the restaurant, cleaning, construction, and agriculture industries were the most likely to face conditions of forced labor. The sexual services sector, legal in certain circumstances, also saw incidences of trafficking and forced labor.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor but allows persons between the ages of 15 and 18 to enter into a valid employment contract as long as the work does not interrupt compulsory education. It provides that workers who are 15 to 18 years of age may not work after 10 p.m. or under conditions that risk their health and safety, which the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health defines as working with mechanical, chemical, physical, or biological hazards or bodily strain that may result from lifting heavy loads.

Penalties for violations of child labor regulations are sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment effectively enforced child labor regulations. There were no reports of children engaged in work outside the parameters established by law.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Occupational Safety Administration (OSHA) received 500 reports of work-place discrimination in 2018. Of the 157 reports that resulted in further inspection, 7 percent concerned ethnicity, nationality, language, or religion, a number similar to previous years, 12 percent concerned age discrimination, and 2 percent concerned disability. The government effectively enforced applicable laws against employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

While there is no national minimum wage law, the law requires all employers, including nonunionized employers, to pay the minimum wages stipulated in collective bargaining agreements. Authorities adequately enforced wage laws.

The standard workweek established by law is no more than 40 hours of work per week with eight hours work per day. Because the law does not include a provision regarding a five-day workweek, regular work hours may, at least in principle, span six days. The regular weekly work hours can also be arranged so that the average is 40 hours over a period of no more than 52 weeks. Certain occupations, such as seamen, household workers, road transport workers, and workers in bakeries, are subject to separate workweek regulations. The law entitles employees working shifts or during the weekend to one 24-hour rest period per week. The law limits a worker to 250 hours of overtime per year and 138 overtime hours in any four-month period.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is responsible for labor policy and implementation, drafting labor legislation, improving the viability of working life and its quality, and promoting employment. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for enforcement of labor laws and regulations. In addition, OSHA enforces appropriate safety and health standards and conducts inspections at workplaces. Individuals who commit work safety offenses are subject to a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of one year; individuals who commit working hours’ offenses are subject to a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of six months. The center informs employers of inspections in advance unless a surprise inspection is necessary for enforcement purposes. A subsequent inspection report gives employers written advice on how to remedy minor defects. In the case of serious violations, the inspector issues an improvement notice and monitors the employer’s compliance. When necessary, OSHA may issue a binding decision and impose a fine. If a hazardous situation involved a risk to life, an inspector can halt work on the site or issue a prohibition notice concerning the source of risk.

Authorities adequately enforced wage and overtime laws. Government resources, inspections, and penalties were adequate to deter most violations.

The law requires employees to report any hazards or risks they discover in working conditions, including in machinery, equipment, or work methods. The law also requires employees, where possible, to correct dangerous conditions that come to their attention. Such corrective measures must be reported to the employer.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future