Testing the Limits of Consociational Imagination: The Non-discrimination Norm in Divided Societies


Consociational democracy rests on the idea of granting certain collective political rights to the most powerful ethno-cultural groups, in addition to the individual rights of political participation of all citizens. Despite its relative popularity among scholars and international policymakers alike, its collectivist ethos has long been exposed to critique on various grounds, including the perspective of international human rights law. The essence of this critique is the allegation that, by institutionalising ethno-cultural identity as the basis of political participation, consociational arrangements discriminate against persons not belonging to the dominant groups. Focusing on the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, this article argues that equality analysis of consociational democracies, if taken seriously, illuminates our thinking about the possible compromises between the extremes of liberal individualism of the human rights perspective and inherent collectivism of consociational thought and practice. The article concludes that such compromises are both possible and necessary, but they seem to invite the embracing of additional institutional complexity in devising consociational arrangements.