May 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 April 2017
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EUROPE

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, presenting the latest report of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).

Key Recent Developments

Ethnic divisions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs continue to provoke political crises. These included the continuing controversy over celebrating Republika Srpska (RS) Day on 9 January in that predominantly Bosnian Serb entity. On 1 December 2016, BiH’s Constitutional Court annulled the results of the 25 September 2016 referendum held in the RS, in which voters decided to continue observing RS Day on 9 January. The Constitutional Court had already determined that celebration of the holiday on 9 January was discriminatory to non-Bosnian Serbs in the RS and unconstitutional since this date is an Orthodox holiday. The date also marks the day that Bosnian Serbs established Republika Srpska in the lead-up to the 1992-1995 war. During his most recent Council briefing on 8 November 2016, Inzko said that he considered the referendum to be “a grave violation” of the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) since annex 4 of the accord states that decisions of the Constitutional Court are final and binding.  

On 9 January, the RS celebrated the holiday. In Banja Luka, RS President Milorad Dodik repeated demands for greater autonomy for the entity and again raised the possibility that the entity might secede. The ceremonies in Banja Luka included the army’s Third Infantry Regiment, despite warnings from state government institutions and the NATO command in Bosnia that their involvement would violate the GFAP.

On 17 January, the US imposed sanctions on Dodik for his role in defying the Constitutional Court and obstructing the GFAP. According to a US Treasury Department statement, “By obstructing the Dayton Accords, Milorad Dodik poses a significant threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” The sanctions block any property or interest in property of Dodik within US jurisdiction, and US citizens are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the RS leader. Dodik called on the BiH government to declare the US ambassador persona non grata.

In a 1 December 2016 decision, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a challenge brought by the president of the Croatian National Congress of BiH, the flagship organisation representing Bosnian Croats. The court determined that some of the current provisions for electing delegates to the upper house of parliament in the Federation of BiH (the majority Bosniak entity) are contrary to the principle of equality of BiH’s constituent people and are unconstitutional. It is likely to prove difficult for Bosniaks and Croats to reach agreement on changes to the Federation’s election system to comply with the decision, which could have implications for the 2018 elections. On 28 January, the BiH Croatian National Congress repeated calls for the establishment of a third, Croat entity.

Ethnic tensions were exacerbated in February when the Bosniak member of BiH’s tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegović, initiated an appeal against the 2007 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Serbia had not been complicit in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. While the ICJ found Serbia had violated the Genocide Convention by not preventing the massacre, it said that there had not been enough proof that Bosnian Serb forces acted under the “direction” or “effective control” of Serbia. On 16 February, the BiH agent from the 2007 case, Sakib Softić, submitted a revision request to the ICJ on Izetbegović’s behalf, ten days before the expiration of the ten-year deadline to do so.

The current Bosnian Serb member of the presidency, Mladen Ivanić, warned that the appeal would worsen ethnic tensions and create a crisis. The two main Bosnian Serb political parties boycotted a parliamentary session on 16 February in protest. Ivanić and BiH Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak argued in a letter to the ICJ that Softić’s appeal was not valid since it was made without the authorisation of the full presidency. On 9 March, the ICJ rejected the request to review the case, saying that “no decision has been taken by the competent authorities on behalf of BiH as a state”. Izetbegović has since come under heavy criticism for seeking the ICJ review without the authority to do so, and the Bosnian Serb party, the National Democratic Movement, has submitted a criminal complaint against him and Softić.

Key Issues

A key issue is to address ethnic tensions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, and divisive rhetoric along with RS 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).

Making progress on implementing various socio-economic and governance reforms related to BiH’s EU integration and the fulfilment of a series of conditions and objectives that BiH must complete before the OHR can be closed are also recurring issues.

Options

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 and to make meaningful progress towards implementing commitments on economic and governance reforms and the criteria for closing the OHR, known as the “5 +2” agenda.

Council Dynamics

Members routinely express concern about BiH’s political gridlock, which has limited progress on reforms, and the divisive rhetoric of RS officials usually chronicled in the High Representative’s reports. Last year’s 25 September referendum was strongly criticised by most members; they viewed it as violating the GFAP and the rule of law and as challenging BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Russia, however, tends to support the positions of the RS. It argues that the entity is unfairly blamed for BiH’s problems and that political dysfunction and provocations in the Federation of BIH are overlooked. Russia is usually very critical of the High Representative, believing that his reporting is not objective and that he should focus more on encouraging intra-Bosnian dialogue and trust. It has called for his office’s closure as soon as possible. These dynamics have played out in recent years during the once relatively routine negotiations on the resolution to re-authorise the EU-led stabilisation mission in BiH (EUFOR ALTHEA). Russia’s concerns in these negotiations have also included references to Euro-Atlantic integration, arguing that there is no agreement within BiH on joining NATO.

The BiH Coordination and Drafting Group first prepares Council products on BiH. For 2017, it comprises France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, UK and the US.

UN DOCUMENTS ON BiH
Security Council Resolution
8 November 2016 S/RES/2315 This was a resolution renewing the authorisation of EUFOR ALTHEA for an additional year.
Security Council Meeting Record
8 November 2016 S/PV.7803 This was the semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina.