29 October 2021

Take a Stance and Enhance!

Author: Vesna Raspopović, Social worker, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Freedom of thought and expression (free expression) is a fundamental human right guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized by all major international and regional human rights treaties. At the international level, it is guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which includes “the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, orally, in writing, media, or art, or by any other personal choice and regardless of borders.” [1].

However, for some time, the governments of the Western Balkans have been threatening the right to free expression by shutting down media outlets and social movement pages, as well as intimidating certain activists on the Internet. There is also a noticeable and increasing proclivity to enact new laws censoring online content. Concerns have also been raised about the lack of effective protection of citizens’ personal data. Such measures limit and constrain civic activism while undermining democracy’s very foundations. Human rights and fundamental freedoms are protected by law on the Internet, in accordance with the relevant articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). As a result, the ECHR emphasizes that it is the responsibility of member states to implement human rights and fundamental freedoms standards on the Internet. Member States owe it to their citizens to respect, protect, and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms on the Internet. [2].

After the war, the international community established much of the legal framework in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, law enforcement is hampered by deep national divisions. The divisions also prevent the adoption of new laws and the adaptation of existing laws to international online security standards. The definition of public space was left out of the Law on Public Order and Peace, which had a negative impact on the Internet and social networks in terms of adequate regulation. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the media is deeply polarized on a national level, with political parties exerting the most pressure on the media.

Although freedom of expression is a crucial democratic right, it is not an absolute right. It is possible to violate another equally important and guaranteed human right by exercising freedom of expression, which is why this freedom can be limited. Hate speech is the most extreme form of abuse of freedom of expression, and it is one of the few justifiable reasons for restricting freedom of expression. U međunarodnom pravu ne postoji opšteprihvaćena definicija govora mržnje. Hate speech is defined as “any form of expression that spreads, encourages, promotes, or justifies racial hatred, anti-Semitism, or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including intolerance expressed through aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility towards minorities, migrants, and people of immigrant origin.” [3].

There is no special legislation in Bosnia and Herzegovina that would fully regulate the issue of banning hate speech, and particularly no special legislation that would regulate the delicate issue of banning hate speech on the Internet. Of course, hate speech is prohibited by media and public information laws. Given the division of competencies, inciting national, racial, and religious hatred is prohibited in three criminal laws: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), the Brko District of BiH (BD BiH), and the Republika Srpska (RS). What criminal legislation has in common is that criminal laws criminalize only three types of hatred: national, racial, or religious, and only among “constituent peoples and others” living in the territory to which a particular criminal law applies, which is a significant shortcoming of criminal law regulations pertaining to the prohibition of hate speech.

Personally, I believe that hate speech in Bosnia and Herzegovina is on the rise, and that certain steps must be taken to prevent the spread of hate speech and to allow everyone to express themselves constructively on the Internet. A good foundation for the initial suppression of hate speech on the Internet is the modification of legislation, imposition of obligations on the media and internet platforms regarding the prevention and elimination of hate speech, and appropriate civil protection. High fines can also help to mitigate this phenomenon.

Finally, we can see that hate speech suppression and freedom of expression are complex issues that cannot be reduced to sanctioning and removing such content from public spaces, whether it is hate speech on the Internet or in any other public space. Hate speech cannot be solved in part through social media, but rather through holistic and complementary solutions that include: efficient and rapid sanctioning of the hardest forms of hate speech, but also empowerment of groups or individuals who are the target of hate speech; civic mentality and education, and media literacy.

[1] ICCPR, Art.19. Available at: (visited 11/07/2021);

[2] European Convention on Human Rights. Available at: (visited 11/07/2021);

[3] Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers, Recommendation 97(20) about „hate speech“, 30/10/1997 available at:  (visited 12/07/2021).

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