Bosnia and Herzegovina
Expected Council Action
In November, the Council is expected to hold its semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and to renew the authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA). High Representative Valentin Inzko is expected to brief on his office’s latest report to the Council.
The current authorisation for EUFOR ALTHEA expires on 10 November.
Key Recent Developments
Tensions between Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs have worsened, in particular over a referendum in the Republika Srpska (RS)—the predominantly Bosnian Serb entity of BiH—on whether to celebrate “Republika Srpska Day” on 9 January. BiH’s Constitutional Court ruled in November 2015 that the holiday’s celebration on that date was discriminatory and unconstitutional, as 9 January falls on an Orthodox holiday and marks the day that Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of RS and its secession from the Yugoslav republic of BiH in 1992. Defying this ruling, on 15 July, the RS National Assembly voted to hold a referendum on 25 September on whether to continue observing the holiday.
Western governments and the High Representative opposed the referendum, arguing that it violated the General Framework Peace Agreement (GFAP), which ended BiH’s 1992-95 war, since the Constitutional Court’s decisions are final and binding. On 17 September, the Constitutional Court approved a temporary ban on the referendum pending final decisions on motions filed by Bosniak leaders against the vote. The government of Serbia said it opposed the referendum but would but not interfere to stop it. On 22 September, three days before the scheduled vote, RS entity president Milorad Dodik met with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, which was widely viewed as indicating Russia’s support. RS went ahead with the referendum on 25 September. Turnout was reported at 55.67 percent, with 99.81 percent voting to continue recognising 9 January as RS day.
On 26 September, the BiH prosecutor opened an investigation into the referendum. Dodik was summoned to Sarajevo but refused to attend, citing concerns over his safety.
In other developments, long-awaited results of a census that was conducted in 2013 were released on 30 June. RS leaders objected to the methodology for processing census data and rejected the results. The first census since 1991, it revealed a nearly 20 percent decrease in BiH’s population. Regarding the country’s ethnic makeup, the Bosniak population increased to 50.11 percent (up from 43.47 percent), with decreases in the Serb population (down from 31.21 percent to 30.78 percent) and Croat population (down from 17.38 percent to 15.43 percent).
Local elections were held across BiH on 2 October. Results strengthened ruling nationalist Bosniak, Croatian and Serbian parties. Mostar, the divided Bosniak and Croat city, failed for a second time to hold municipal elections due to its not having changed its electoral laws as required by a 2010 Constitutional Court ruling. Municipal elections were last held there in 2008.
Further highlighting ethnic divisions, Dragan Čović, the Croat member of BiH’s tri-partite presidency, increased calls for creating a Croatian entity by reorganising the Federation of BiH (FBiH), the predominantly Bosniak and Croat entity.
Regarding EU accession, Republika Srpksa agreed to measures for an EU coordinating mechanism. This cleared the way for the EU to accept BiH’s membership application on 20 September.
Ethnic divisions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs and divisive rhetoric by RS officials, along with recent referenda initiatives challenging the GFAP (which have included whether to accept the authority of the High Representative and state-level judicial institutions, and a possible vote on secession), remain key issues.
Socio-economic and governance problems—such as political gridlock, corruption and high unemployment, which led to violent protests in February 2014—are important issues, which the BiH political class is seen as seeking to divert attention from by focusing on ethnic divisions.
When re-authorising EUFOR ALTHEA, the Council could stress BiH parties’ continued obligations to implement the GFAP.
The resolution could also be updated to reflect recent developments, including a call for leaders of all sides to avoid divisive actions and rhetoric, condemnation of the 25 September referendum as violating the GFAP and an emphasis on the importance of socio-economic reforms to improve the lives of BiH citizens.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Most members express concern about BiH’s political gridlock and the divisive rhetoric from RS officials usually chronicled in the High Representative’s reports. They view such rhetoric and recent referenda initiatives as challenging the GFAP and BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia, on the other hand, supports the positions of RS, arguing that it is unfairly blamed for BiH’s problems and that political dysfunction and provocations in the FBIH are overlooked.
Such dynamics play out within the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB), composed of states responsible for guaranteeing the GFAP’s implementation. Russia, which is a member, has frequently not joined PIC SB statements, including recent ones opposing the RS referendum. Russia, however, continues to emphasise its support for BiH’s territorial integrity and the GFAP. Another challenge that the international community faced in responding to the recent referendum is the inability of the High Representative to enforce his authority, provided by his mandate, to strike down decisions or remove politicians who violate legal obligations.
Once relatively straightforward, since 2014, negotiations on the Council resolution to reauthorise EUFOR ALTHEA have been difficult. All members support the presence of the force. Recent difficulties, though, have revolved around previously agreed language related to Euro-Atlantic integration and broader political issues, which Russia has sought to reduce or remove. Russia’s role as penholder during last year’s negotiations resulted in many of these elements being removed from the final text.
The Contact and Drafting Group, consisting of France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK, the US and elected Council members from the Western European and Others Group and the Eastern European Group, drafts decisions on BiH. Its penholder rotates monthly in English alphabetical order. In November the penholder will be the UK.
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|
|5 May 2016 S/PV.7688||This was the biannual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina.|