May 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2019
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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

More than six months after general elections in October 2018, BiH still has not formed a government. Nor have governments been formed in the Federation of BiH (FBiH)—the predominantly Bosniak and Croat regional entity—and in seven of the Federation’s ten cantons. The deadlock reflects continued divisions and tensions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs.

On 18 December 2018, the Central Election Commission issued amendments to fix the electoral law related to the indirect election of delegates to the Federation’s House of Peoples. The commission’s decision came after the parliament had failed to adopt the necessary legal changes following the Constitutional Court’s ruling in December 2016 that the electoral law was unconstitutional. Not replacing the unconstitutional provisions could, among other consequences, prevent the formation of a federation government. The main Bosniak party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), challenged the decision before the Constitutional Court, which however declined to rule on the case, saying that the decision was an action of the electoral commission and not a law.

On 23 January, the SDA said it would challenge in the Constitutional Court the name of the predominantly Serb entity, Republika Srpska (RS), which it claims is discriminatory against non-Serbs. The High Representative criticised the move as “irresponsible and counterproductive”.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the Republika Srpska leader for the past 8 years, was elected to BiH’s tripartite presidency in the elections. He has continued the divisive rhetoric regularly documented by the High Representative in his six-month reports. On 12 April, Dodik claimed that the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995 was a “fabricated myth”. The mass murder, in which over 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by Bosnian Serb forces, has been deemed an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice. In a newspaper interview published on 14 April, Dodik said that the RS “is already separated, but it has not been announced yet”, while predicting the unification of all Serb territories—a further example of public comments that the High Representative has described as challenging BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

On 18 April, the RS parliament approved amendments to the law on public security to establish an 1,100-person reserve police force. RS authorities have said that the establishment of a police reserve is to protect against security threats such as Islamist extremists and migrants passing through BiH. Critics consider that the reserve force could potentially be used in case the RS secedes. The SDA warned prior to the vote that the FBiH would form its own reserve units, should the RS authorities proceed with the proposal. Other amendments to the law that would impose fines or jail time for recording or taking photos of police have raised concerns from human rights groups and journalists that they will be used to curb press freedoms.

In other developments, NATO ministers agreed on 5 December to start implementing BiH’s long-stalled Membership Action Plan, a key step for BiH’s accession to NATO. BiH has not accepted the offer, as Bosnian Serb leaders oppose NATO membership.

On 20 March, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals increased the sentence of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president of the RS during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, from 40 years to life in prison. Both the defence and the prosecutor had appealed the result of his 2016 trial at the ICTY, in which he was convicted on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. In its decision, the court found that the 40-year sentence had not been commensurate with the gravity of the crimes for which he had been convicted. (The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals was established by the Security Council to take over the functions of the tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia).

Key Issues and Options

Ethnic divisions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs continue to create political gridlock and a dysfunctional state, hampering socio-economic reforms—including BiH’s EU integration—and fostering disregard of judicial decisions. Linked to this is the stalled progress on fulfilling the criteria and objectives for closing OHR. Regarding BiH’s failure to form a government, the main cause of disagreement reportedly remains whether the country’s NATO Membership Action Plan should be activated. A further issue, flagged by the High Representative last year, is pressure on BiH from migrants increasingly seeking to pass through the country.

Besides the debate, the Council could consider holding consultations to explore ways that the High Representative and the Council may work towards breaking the cycle of gridlock and reducing tensions in BiH.

Council Dynamics

Members regularly express frustration over the country’s political gridlock. Most raise concerns about the rhetoric and political initiatives of the RS authorities, which they view as challenging BiH’s territorial integrity and the General Framework Agreement for Peace. Russia supports the positions of the RS, which it argues is unfairly blamed for BiH’s problems, maintaining that political dysfunction and provocations in the FBiH are overlooked. Russia has been publicly critical of the High Representative, claiming that his reporting is not objective and that he should focus more on encouraging intra-Bosnian dialogue and trust. Divisions between the US and European Council members with Russia related to BiH’s Euro-Atlantic integration, particularly in NATO, have also been a factor in Council dynamics in the past five years.

The BiH Coordination and Drafting Group prepares the first draft of Council products on BiH. For 2019, it comprises Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, the UK and the US.

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Security Council Resolution
6 November 2018S/RES/2443 This was a resolution renewing the authorisation of EUFOR ALTHEA for an additional year.
Security Council Meeting Record
6 November 2018S/PV.8392 This was the meeting at which the Council adopted resolution 2443, renewing the authorisation of EUFOR ALTHEA for an additional year.

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