UN concerned by hate speech in Bosnia, Serbia

The UN has voiced concern at hate speech and incitement to violence in Bosnia and Serbia, fearing inflammatory acts will escalate ahead of elections.

This file photograph taken on 24 September 2016 shows EU and Republika Srpska flags in front of government buildings. Bosnia Serbs mark national day amid fears of secession. Picture: AFP

GENEVA - The United Nations voiced concern Friday at hate speech and incitement to violence in Bosnia and Serbia, fearing inflammatory acts will escalate ahead of elections this year.

Bosnian Serbs celebrated their national day on Sunday marking the creation of the Republika Srpska (RS) - Bosnia's Serb entity that was declared three decades ago.

It was one of the events seen as putting the country on the path to the 1990s Bosnian War that killed over 100,000 people.

Rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell said the UN was "deeply concerned" by incidents that saw individuals "glorify atrocity crimes and convicted war criminals, target certain communities with hate speech, and, in some cases, directly incite violence".

She said people had chanted the name of convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic during torchlight processions, sung nationalistic songs calling for the takeover of locations in the former Yugoslavia and fired shots in the air outside a mosque.

Local media and victims' associations highlighted that in Foca on Saturday several hundred people attended a fireworks display organised by Red Star Belgrade football supporters at which a large portrait of Mladic was unveiled on a building.

The former Bosnian Serb general was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes in Bosnia, in particular for the Srebrenica massacre and the siege of Sarajevo.

TENSIONS AHEAD OF ELECTIONS

Serbia and Bosnia will hold elections in April and October respectively, and Throssell warned that "continued inflammatory, nationalistic rhetoric" risked exacerbating an "extremely tense" political environment in 2022.

The office of the UN high commissioner for human rights said the failure to prevent and sanction such acts, which "fuel a climate of extreme anxiety, fear and insecurity in some communities", was a major obstacle to reconciliation and building trust.

Bosnia was effectively split in two by the 1990s peace accords, giving one half to the country's ethnic Bosnian Serbs, with the other governed by a Muslim-Croat federation.

Last month, RS leader Milorad Dodic, the Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, set in motion plans to withdraw from Bosnia's central institutions.

The move earned fresh financial sanctions from the United States, with Washington chiding Dodic for attempting to undermine the peace accords.