In Brussels, 20 January 2021 – The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL is deeply concerned about a vicious public campaign against a member of our Youth Network and a well-known human rights defender in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ms. Ana Kotur-Erkić. Ms. Kotur-Erkić, a lawyer, has been the victim of hate speech and threats following her criticism of a statement made by the newly elected Mayor of Banja Luka, Mr. Draško Stanivuković. In one of his first media interviews, responding to the question about being a most eligible bachelor, Mr. Stanivuković stated that he was “taken, but not disabled”. He thus implied that persons with disabilities cannot have romantic relationships, or be sexually desirable to anyone, thus confirming the age-old stereotype about asexuality of persons with disabilities and their ability to form a family or live independently, fully included in society.

Although Mr. Stanivuković may have used this proverbial phrase in jest, as a public official, he must understand the weight of his words and his responsibility to prevent the spread of harmful stereotypes. A party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), Bosnia and Herzegovina has an obligation to provide access by persons with disabilities to all human rights. This includes taking effective and appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities in all matters relating to marriage, family, parenthood and relationships (Article 23), and raising awareness to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities (Article 8). State Parties to the CRPD are required to combat stereotypes, prejudice and harmful practices against persons with disabilities, and to encourage all sections of the media to portray them in a manner consistent with the purpose of the Convention.

Moreover, having been informed about the offensiveness of his statement by a member of the disability community, Mr. Stanivuković should have issued a public apology and used this opportunity to open a dialogue about the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in his city, and country. Instead, his silence helped encourage a flood of sexist and ableist insults and threats against our member, a young woman and a dedicated disability rights activist. This incident helped highlight the vulnerable position of human rights defenders in the country, and the failure of the authorities to sanction and prevent hate speech in the press and on social media.

The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL calls on the newly elected Mayor of Banja Luka, Mr. Draško Stanivuković, and the leadership of Republika Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina to:

  • Issue a public statement condemning the use of derogatory language against persons with disabilities, and publicly apologise for the statement made by Mr. Stanivuković on the news portal;
  • Reaffirm their commitment to protecting and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, as required by the UN CRPD;
  • Investigate and prosecute the use of hate speech against persons with disabilities, and carry out awareness raising campaigns for the public, authorities and other stakeholders, in close consultation with persons with disabilities and their representative organisations;
  • Provide adequate support to Ms. Ana Kotur-Erkić and other human rights defenders, in line with the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, taking into account the additional restrictions and abuses experienced by women human rights defenders.

We use this opportunity to remind the public and the Mayor of Banja Luka, Mr. Stanivuković, that public officials are, by virtue of the positions of power and responsibility they occupy, subject to a higher level of scrutiny and criticism by the public. They must, therefore, not perceive the activists and their criticism as a threat, but as important partners in designing inclusive policies and providing better service to citizens.

Read the statement in BiH languages here.

Photo: Ana Kotur-Erkic, from her private collection.