Bosnia and Herzegovina
In May, the Security Council will have its biannual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The High Representative for BiH, Valentin Inzko, will brief the Council, presenting the latest report of the Office of the High Representative (OHR). No outcome is expected.
The authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) expires on 13 November.
Key Recent Developments
In February, BiH experienced the greatest civil unrest since the end of its 1992-1995 civil war, with protests that swept across the country. The protests began 5 February in Tuzla as residents demonstrated with former workers of five factories that had been privatised and had since filed for bankruptcy. Demonstrations in support of the Tuzla protestors spread to other cities—Sarajevo, Mostar, Zenica and Bihac—where grievances expanded to include high unemployment and political corruption. Noticeably absent was any ethnic antagonism.
On 7 February, protestors set fire to the Sarajevo cantonal government headquarters as well as the presidency building and, according to media reports, razed a total of 18 government buildings across the federation. By the weekend and the following week, demonstrators gathered more peacefully.
As a result of the protests, four local cantonal governments, including Sarajevo, resigned. With the exception of the Tuzla canton, however, officials have continued to serve in their positions. The security minister, who is considered a candidate for the BiH tri-partite presidency, was dismissed for not ordering police to confront protestors more forcefully.
The Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, which includes the US, UK and France among other countries, issued a statement on 11 February condemning the violence and destruction of property and calling on local leaders to engage with the protestors’ legitimate demands. Russia refrained from joining the statement, perceiving the protests as a purely internal matter.
While Republika Srpska did not experience comparable protests, smaller demonstrations, mostly made up of war veterans, occurred in Banja Luka, including one on 28 February of reportedly 2,000 people.
Emerging from the protests was the creation of “plenums”, in which citizens have continued to gather in public areas of cities and towns in the federation to state grievances and needs and address demands to local governments. These have included continuing to call on the federation government to resign, and for officials to address corruption, revision of privatisation deals, unemployment and poor education and health care systems.
EU-mediated talks between the main six political parties on 17-18 February again failed to reach agreement on implementing the 2009 Sejdic-Finci ruling of the European Court of Human Rights. (This is required by the EU for BiH’s application to join the EU to proceed.) EU Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) conclusions, released on 14 April, announced the EU’s readiness to support initiatives to help BiH address its socioeconomic challenges. Though the conclusions placed less emphasis on Sejdic-Finci compared to prior ones, the FAC noted that BiH must still fulfil its requirements for accession to proceed. When the Council renewed EUFOR ALTHEA’s authorisation in resolution 2123 on 12 November, it called on BiH to implement the Sejdic-Finci ruling, the first time it had done so.
Regarding secessionist rhetoric, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik seized on the Crimea referendum to break from Ukraine, reviving his claims that Republika Srpska could hold a referendum on secession.
In Serbia, the ruling Progressive Party, which has repeatedly stated that Serbia will respect BiH’s territorial integrity and the Dayton Accords, won the 16 March elections, giving it 157 seats in the 250-seat Parliament.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 12 March, Farida Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, briefed the Human Rights Council on her visit to BiH in May 2013 (A/HRC/25/49/Add.1). She highlighted the urgent need to reform the education system to end the segregation of pupils according to national and ethnic affiliation. She also said the country was facing numerous and difficult challenges in terms of memorialising the past. She said, however, that divisions between communities were greater at the political level than on the ground.
The recent protests in BiH should weigh heavily on the Council debate. These are connected to the political gridlock, self-serving political elite and the need for economic development, reflected by the official 44 percent unemployment rate.
Secessionist rhetoric from Republika Srpska, which is a direct challenge to BiH’s territorial integrity and the Dayton Accords, is an ongoing issue of concern.
The 5 October 2014 general elections, which will occur one month before the Council’s next scheduled meeting on BiH when it is due to reauthorise EUFOR, is another important issue.
Slow progress in achieving the criteria for closing OHR, as well as BiH’s failure to implement the Sejdic-Finci ruling are issues usually recalled by Council members, having stalled the country’s EU and NATO aspirations.
The Dayton Accords, which were necessary to achieve peace 19 years ago, created a power-sharing arrangement of multiple layers of government based on ethnic identity. This is the root of the political gridlock and has resulted in political parties playing on ethno-nationalistic fears to maintain the financial benefits of elected office, as opposed to addressing socioeconomic challenges and representing BiH as one country.
Most likely the Council will hold the debate and take no action. Conversely, it could issue a statement urging political parties to set aside narrow interests and address broader public concerns.
BiH is an issue on which the Council follows the lead of the EU. Most members view with concern its political gridlock and economic stagnation and are critical of Dodik’s divisive rhetoric. Within the EU, the UK—siding with the US—has been more cautious about drawing down international engagement in BiH, compared to France and Germany, which previously have been less convinced about the continuing need for EUFOR and OHR. Ongoing problems in BiH appear to be one reason negotiations leading to resolution 2123 proved less contentious than the prior year. Russia feels that Republika Srpska is wrongly blamed for BiH’s problems and wants OHR closed.
The penholder, which rotates monthly within the BiH Contact Group, will be Russia in May.
UN Documents on BiH
|Security Council Resolution|
|12 November 2013 S/RES/2123||This resolution reauthorised the EU led multinational stablisation mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|12 November 2013 S/PV.7057||This was a meeting record where Valentin Inzko, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, briefed the Council prior to its debate of his report.|