Authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in neighbouring Serbia, must condemn and refrain from any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said on Friday.
Spokesperson Liz Throssell said OHCHR was deeply concerned by recent incidents in both countries which saw individuals glorify atrocity crimes and convicted war criminals, target certain communities with hate speech, and, in some cases, directly incite violence.
The fear is that such acts - fuelled by continued inflammatory, nationalistic rhetoric and hate speech of some politicians - will increase this year, ahead of elections.
"As we have repeatedly highlighted, the rise in hate speech, the denial of genocide and other atrocity crimes and the glorification of war criminals in the Western Balkans, highlight the failure to comprehensively address the past," she said.
Affront to survivors
The incidents occurred amid religious holidays last weekend, and took place in several locations in Republika Srpska, the Serb-run entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in Brčko in the north, and in the Serbian cities of Priboj and Novi Pazar.
They included large groups of people chanting the name of convicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb military leader, Ratko Mladić, during torchlight processions, or singing nationalistic songs calling for the takeover of various locations in the former Yugoslavia. In one incident, individuals fired shots into the air as they drove past a mosque.
"These incidents, some in locations that saw large-scale atrocity crimes during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina...are an affront to survivors, including those who returned to their homes after the conflict," said Ms. Throssell.
Failure to prevent or sanction them is a major obstacle to trust-building and reconciliation, she added.
"Serious incidents like these should be investigated promptly, effectively and impartially, to prevent them being repeated and perpetuated, and also to foster the public trust in authorities and institutions, and among communities, that is essential to build social cohesion and peaceful societies."
OHCHR was encouraged that some senior politicians, as well as religious leaders, have condemned the acts, and that police have begun investigations.
Ms. Throssell underlined the need for authorities in both countries to abide by their international obligations to ensure the rights to truth, justice, and reparation.
"They should also adopt measures to prevent recurrence and to promote further reconciliation efforts," she said. "We call on them to condemn and refrain from any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred."
Furthermore, she recalled that countries party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which include Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, are obliged to ensure that incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence is prohibited in law and in practice.
"All perpetrators and instigators of such acts must be held accountable," she said.