Bosnia and Herzegovina
Expected Council Action
In May, the Council will hold its semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The High Representative for BiH, Valentin Inzko, is expected to brief on the latest report of the Office of the High Representative (OHR). Because of the temporary measures adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the debate is expected to be held as a video teleconference (VTC).
The current authorisation for the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) expires on 5 November.
Key Recent Developments
After the general elections took place on 7 October 2018, it took Bosnia’s main Bosniak, Croat and Serb parties approximately 14 months to form a new national government—called the Council of Ministers—which was endorsed by the state parliament on 23 December 2019.
However, the predominantly Bosniak and Croat regional entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH)—one of two entities that make up BiH along with the predominantly Serb Republika Srpska (RS)—is still without a government, as are several of the Federation’s ten cantons. The deadlock reflects continued divisions and tensions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. Furthermore, the likelihood of a deal on the formation of those governments diminishes the closer Bosnia gets to local elections, set for October 2020, when parties will contend for control of municipalities in key cities, notably the capital, Sarajevo, and Banja Luka.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the RS leader for nearly a decade, continued speaking out against the country’s statehood and threatening that the RS would secede. This destabilising rhetoric is regularly documented by the High Representative in his six-month reports. In February, Dodik emphasised his desire to organise a referendum on RS independence, reiterating that Bosnian Serbs should be the ones to decide their future. Inzko said that he was convinced that a referendum would not take place or, if it did, would not have any legal validity. “Secession would mean crossing a red line”, he said in an interview with N1, a regional 24-hour news channel, “and under the Dayton Agreement, entities have no right to secede”.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic spreading in the region, on 7 April, all EU ambassadors accredited to BiH, the EUFOR commander, and the head of the EU Delegation to BiH/EU Special Representative in BiH published an essay on the official website of the delegation of the EU to BiH, calling for solidarity in order to defeat the virus. They also emphasised that BiH has been invited to join the Joint Procurement Agreement for necessary medical equipment alongside the other EU member states. On 9 April, Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic signed the agreement, which allows the country to participate in the EU procurement mechanism. The mechanism “secures more equitable access to specific medical countermeasures and improved security of supply”. Another “solidarity mechanism” is the Union Civil Protection Mechanism, which is intended to provide BiH with in-kind assistance through member state resources. According to the essay, the EU is mobilising over 410 million euros in aid for the Western Balkans for COVID-19 response, with 80.5 million euros for BiH to “help it tackle the effects of the virus both in terms of immediate medical needs and socio-economic recovery”. As of 22 April, BiH had over 1,300 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The Council held its previous semi-annual debate on 5 November 2019, during which Inzko emphasised that BiH’s failure to prioritise anti-corruption efforts is directly contributing to a “brain drain”, which according to the World Bank’s Fall 2019 update has led to 55 percent of the adult population with higher education “permanently emigrating”. Inzko also rejected a trend towards “revisionism or outright denial” of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide and other crimes committed during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. The Council was also briefed via VTC by a civil society speaker, Selma Korjenić, who is head of Programme-Bosnia and Herzegovina for TRIAL International, which fights impunity for international crimes and supports victims. She underscored her concerns that nationalist rhetoric denies the committing of serious crimes and glorifies criminals and that very little is being done concerning peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts, which are “fundamentally blocked at all political levels”.
Women, Peace and Security
During his briefing to the Council on 5 November 2019, Inzko emphasised the political elite’s lack of attention towards “issues of real importance to the citizens”. He specifically pointed out gender inequality. Women in Bosnia and Herzegovina on average earn half of what men earn. The gender gap also reaches into the political system. An existing legal obligation for women to occupy 40 percent of positions is not being implemented. Inzko called the complete lack of women in government positions “a great injustice”. He called for gender issues to be prioritised by politicians in the country.
Key Issues and Options
Ethnic divisions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs and growing disregard of judicial decisions continue to create political gridlock and a dysfunctional state, hampering socio-economic reforms and BiH’s EU integration. Linked to this is the stalled process for fulfilling the criteria and objectives for closing OHR. One of the main areas of disagreement reportedly remains whether the country’s NATO Membership Action Plan, which BiH was invited to join in 2010—a key step for BiH’s accession to NATO—should be activated because of the opposition of Bosnian Serb leaders. (The Membership Action Plan is a NATO programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. While it does not guarantee future membership, it essentially puts countries on track to joining the Alliance.) On 7 February, Dodik said that as long as he is part of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, he would endeavour to “take apart everything that has been achieved so far in the field of [NATO] integration.”
In general, Council members share concerns about BiH’s divisive ethnic politics. Most members are also critical of the RS leaders’ rhetoric, which they view as challenging BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. At the November 2019 debate, several member states expressed shock at the briefers’ accounts of rising ethnic tensions, historical revisionism, and overall regression. Some insisted that BiH leaders take action to combat these trends while others called on the Council itself to stop BiH’s regression.
The representative of the Russian Federation, which tends to be more supportive of the positions of the RS leadership and is often critical of the High Representative, questioned the accuracy of the High Representative’s information. Divisions over BiH’s Euro-Atlantic integration, particularly involving NATO, between the US and European Council members on one side and Russia on the other have also been a factor in Council dynamics in the past six years.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BIH
|Security Council Letters|
|25 October 2019S/2019/843||This was the High Representative’s report, covering the period from 16 April to 15 October 2019.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|5 November 2019S/PV.8658||This was the Council’s semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina.|