Bosnia's constitution discriminates against Jews and Roma because it does not allow them to run for parliament or president, the European Court of Human Rights said in a ruling Tuesday.
The court said Bosnia discriminated against two men by only allowing Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats to run for those offices.
The binding decision was issued by the court in Strasbourg, France, after Jewish activist Jakob Finci and Dervo Sejdic, who is of Roma ethnicity, filed a complaint in June. The court said Finci has a letter from the Bosnian election commission saying he is ineligible to run for the presidency or parliament because he is Jewish.
Bosnia's constitution was written by peace negotiators in Dayton, Ohio, in a hurry to stop Bosnia's 1992-95 war and contains many irregularities.
Internationally mediated talks to change the Constitution and give the country a chance to join the European Union are ongoing, but progress has stalled.
In October, U.S. and EU officials proposed a new draft to Bosnia's leaders that addressed this issue along with others, but the proposed changes were seen as too drastic by Bosnian Serbs and too minor by Muslim Bosniaks and Roman Catholic Croats.
The Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina, one of the main Bosniak parties advocating the abolishment of the country's ethnic division and the adoption of all EU requirements, welcomed the ruling. "Finally the discriminatory nature of the Dayton solutions was confirmed," it said, urging that the Constitution be changed.
Finci said he was "delighted that the European Court has recognized the wrong that was done in the Constitution 14 years ago," and also urged politicians "to right the wrongs in the Constitution quickly."
A statement issued by his two co-counsels in the case said the ruling represents a major step forward in Europe's struggle against discrimination and ethnic conflict.
"This decision affirms that ethnic domination should have no role in a democracy," co-counsel and director of the Human Rights Clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Sheri P. Rosenberg said.
Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch and also co-counsel, said "the U.S., EU and the other states who still play a major role in Bosnia should ensure the ruling is put into immediate effect by backing a change in the constitution."