Bosnia and Herzegovina
Expected Council Action
In May, the Council will hold 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), expected in early May.
Key Recent Developments
The 20th anniversary of the initialling of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in BiH (GFAP) in Dayton, Ohio, occurred on 21 November 2015. Yet even after 20 years of peace, BiH has continued to grapple with ethnic and political divisions.
In recent months, political crises have revolved around BiH’s state-level judicial institutions. On 27 November 2015, BiH’s Constitutional Court ruled that the national day of Republika Srpska, celebrating the founding of the majority Bosnian Serb entity in 1992, discriminates against other ethnic and religious groups and is unconstitutional. Republika Srpska leaders said that they would not stop celebrating the holiday and demanded the removal of the court’s three foreign judges and their replacement by BiH judges. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik threatened to withdraw the entity’s representatives from state institutions if this change was not adopted. (The Constitutional Court’s ruling had been split among its nine judges. The three foreign and two Bosniak judges backed the ruling, and the two Bosnian Croat and two Bosnian Serb judges voted against it.)
On 10 December 2015, Republika Srpska announced that it was suspending cooperation with BiH’s state-level police, court and prosecutor. The decision came in response to the arrest of five Bosnian Serbs for war crimes and a search of municipal buildings by police in the town of Bosanski Novi. Following intense international criticism (the US, the EU and the OHR said in a joint letter that Republika Srpska had no right to opt out of the jurisdiction of the three state-level institutions), Republika Srpska agreed to renew cooperation on 16 December.
Intense pressure, including from Serbia, also resulted in Dodik’s announcing on 8 February the postponement of a referendum on whether to accept the jurisdiction of BiH’s state-level judiciary and the authority of the High Representative. Plans for the referendum had been underway since last summer. The preparations had prompted Inzko to submit a special report to the Security Council in September 2015, in which he characterised the referendum as one of the most serious challenges to the GFAP since the end of the war.
On 24 March, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic of genocide for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and nine other charges regarding atrocities committed during the war, including directing the siege of Sarajevo. Karadzic was sentenced to 40 years in prison. One week later, on 31 March, the ICTY acquitted nationalist Serb politician Vojislav Šešelj. He had been charged with mobilising the Serb paramilitary troops to forcibly displace Croats and Bosniaks to create a “Greater Serbia”. The decision by two of the three judges determined there was not enough evidence to link Seselj to the crimes. A dissenting opinion strongly criticised this conclusion. The ICTY prosecutor has appealed the decision. Both rulings escalated tensions and produced angry exchanges among BiH and Serbian leaders.
In the process towards its integration with the EU, BiH submitted its membership application on 15 February. BiH must still make progress in implementing an agenda of economic and governance reforms before the EU grants it official candidate status.
Ethnic divisions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs and divisive rhetoric by Republika Srpska officials remain key issues.
The socio-economic and governance problems, such as political gridlock, corruption and high unemployment, which led to violent protests in February 2014, have continued.
Another recurring issue is the need for BiH to complete a set of objectives and criteria, known at the “5+2” agenda, required by the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (composed of 11 countries and intergovernmental bodies) as conditions for closing OHR.
The Council is most likely to hold the debate without taking further action. It could, however, issue a statement encouraging BiH leaders to overcome narrow political interests and ethnic divisions, to achieve meaningful progress in implementing commitments on economic and governance reforms and the “5 + 2” agenda for closing OHR.
Most members are concerned by the divisive rhetoric from Republika Srpska officials and the country’s political gridlock, which, according to the High Representative, has stalled BiH’s peace implementation over the last ten years. They view such rhetoric and recent referenda initiatives as challenges to the GFAP and to BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Members also usually highlight the need for BiH to implement governance and economic reforms to improve the quality of BiH citizens’ lives, especially after the country’s violent protests in 2014.
Russia tends to support the positions of Republika Srspka. It argues that critics of the entity unfairly blame Republika Srpska for BiH’s problems, overlooking political dysfunction within the Federation of BiH (the predominantly Bosniak-Croat entity), which it sees as the reason behind Bosnian Serb positions. In this regard, Russia has been very critical of the High Representative’s reports and has called for OHR’s closure.
The issue of BiH’s EU and NATO integration over the last two years has given rise to a new dynamic. Russia has taken the view that the Council should not impose these decisions on BiH because they are domestic choices. This has prompted Western members to often highlight that such integration is sought by BiH. These differences have made the once-routine renewal of the EU-led stabilisation mission EUFOR Althea much more contentious during the last two years.
Russia’s support for Bosnian Serb concerns was also reflected in Russia’s vetoing a resolution that Republika Srpska and Serbia opposed on the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide in July 2015.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BIH
|Security Council Resolution|
|10 November 2015 S/RES/2247||This resolution renewed the authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) for an additional year.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|10 November 2015 S/PV.7555||This was the debate on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.|