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Bosnia Ends Crisis Over Personal Number Law

The upper house of the Bosnian parliament has adopted a law on personal numbers, bringing to a close an issue that caused months of protests.

The House of Peoples, the upper chamber of the Bosnian Parliament, adopted changes to the Law on Personal Numbers, the ID number given to every citizen after birth, on November 5.

The passage of the law,which the lower house has already adopted, ends a crisis that prompted months-long protests in the country.

Confirmation of the law, crucial for newborns to obtain documents such as passports and health care cards, was passed on Tuesday in urgent procedure, without discussion.

The changes to the law prescribe that the registration areas for personal numbers match the internal territorial organization of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Electoral Law. The names of municipalities are also harmonized in the law, this being issue that prompted the crisis in the first place.

Nine registration areas for personal numbers are set; five in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, three in Republika Srpska – Bosnia’s other entity – and one in Brcko District.

The problem arose when Bosnia’s Constitutional Court deemed Article 5 of the Law on Personal Identification Number unconstitutional in May 2011.

It told the state-level parliament to harmonize the law with the law on local government in the Republika Srpska, the mainly Serbian entity in Bosnia, as several municipalities there have changed their names since the 1992-5 war.

As the Bosnian authorities had not solved this problem by a February deadline, the existing law was annulled, as a result of which no more personal numbers could be issued.

The logjam caused an outcry, especially after a story broke in June about Belmina Ibrisevic, a sick baby girl whose parents could  not obtain travel documents to take her to Germany for a life-saving operation. She has since died.

This case brought thousands on to the streets of Sarajevo and other towns. In the capital, the protest lasted for a month and saw a complete blockade of government buildings.

This in turn prompted security complaints from Serbian politicians, who complined of intimidation, although the protesters, mainly young, unorganized people, did not resort to violence.

The government meanwhile adopted a temporary measure on the issue of ID numbers, but the protesters did not give up their demand for a permanent law.

The House of Representatives duly adopted the law in July, paving the way for the adoption of the law by the other house of parliament on Tuesday.