Bosnia and Herzegovina
Expected Council Action
In November, the Security 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 the latest report of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).
The current authorisation for EUFOR ALTHEA expires on 5 November.
Key Recent Developments
Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to experience political instability, which is hampering progress on socio-economic reforms and preventing effective coordination between state institutions on issues such as COVID-19 response. After the general elections of 7 October 2018, disputes between Bosnia’s main Bosniak, Croat and Serb parties—including on issues relating to the country’s possible NATO integration—delayed the formation of a national government (the Council of Ministers) for 14 months. On 23 December 2019, the state parliament endorsed the new Council of Ministers after an agreement between the parties was reached through international facilitation.
However, the predominantly Bosniak and Croat regional entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH)—one of the two entities that make up BiH along with the predominantly Serb Republika Srpska (RS)—is still without a government, as are two of the Federation’s ten cantons. The FBiH entity remains under the rule of a caretaker government. The ongoing deadlock reflects continued divisions and tensions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs.
Local elections, which were initially set to take place on 4 October, were postponed to 15 November because the Central Election Commission (CEC) did not receive sufficient funding to conduct preparatory activities. The delay in the elections was caused by disagreements between state authorities on the approval of the state budget for 2020. On 17 June, a substantial achievement was made when Bosniak and Croat leaders signed an agreement allowing local elections to be held in the divided Bosniak and Croat city of Mostar for the first time since 2008. Local elections in Mostar were stalled because of the failure of political parties to implement a 2010 Constitutional Court decision regarding the city’s election law. The CEC announced that elections in Mostar are planned for 20 December.
In recent months, limited progress was made regarding BiH’s consideration for EU membership. On 28 April, the three members of the Presidency of BiH announced the launch of a process to implement the 14 key priorities contained in the European Commission’s May 2019 opinion on BiH’s application for EU membership. The priorities include recommendations on issues of democracy, rule of law, human rights, and public administration reform. In its 6 October report on BiH, the European Commission concluded that while there was partial progress on some key priorities—including the agreement on elections in Mostar and the repeal of the death penalty in the RS entity’s constitution—the country needs to do much more to meet the obligations of EU membership.
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the early response in BiH was successful, as the country put aside political divisions and adopted strict measures to address the crisis. However, after an early relaxation of the mitigating measures, cases peaked during the summer months. The European Commission’s 6 October report noted coordination difficulties on pandemic response as management bodies acted in their respective jurisdictions and there were no unified countrywide response strategies. As at 29 October, BiH reported 46,639 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 1,182 fatalities.
The Security Council held its previous semi-annual meeting on BiH via videoconference on 6 May. Inzko briefed on his latest report and expressed concern about attempts by some political parties in the governing coalition in RS to promote discussion on the removal of foreign judges from the BiH Constitutional Court. Inzko warned that removing foreign judges could lead to certain political parties taking control over the Constitutional Court, thereby allowing them to “dismantle existing arrangements in the country”.
The Council was also briefed by Irena Hasić, executive director of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who described the ethnically divided school system in BiH and emphasised the need for inter-ethnic socialisation among young people to promote reconciliation and dialogue. She elaborated on the difficulties faced by civil society organisations because of the divided institutional system in BiH, including limits on their ability to access schools in the RS entity. Several Council members emphasised the importance of empowering youth to participate in decision-making and transitional justice processes, as well as investing in education to address the high rate of youth unemployment in BiH that is leading an increasing number of young people to emigrate.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 46th session, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a committee of 23 independent human rights experts, concluded that conflict-related sexual violence investigations in BiH have been “ineffective and too slow”, leading to insufficient compensation and support for victims. In a 19 August statement, CEDAW underscored that according to various estimates, during the war in Bosnia between 1992-1995, some 12,000-50,000 girls were raped by armed forces. It called on the BiH government, that is currently undergoing post-conflict transitional justice processes, to ensure that survivors of wartime sexual violence have full access to “national remedies, effective relief and reparations”.
Key Issues and Options
Political gridlock, lack of respect for the rule of law, and ethnic divisions in BiH remain key issues. Slow progress in advancing socio-economic reforms linked to BiH’s EU integration and fulfilling the criteria and objectives for closing the OHR are recurring issues.
Council members will be following the preparations for the local elections set to take place in November. An emerging concern in this regard is the potential for the spread of divisive rhetoric in the run-up to the elections. Since the campaign period officially started on 16 October, the CEC has already disqualified the Serbian “United Srpska” party from running because of a campaign video deemed to promote ethnic hatred.
Council members may consider issuing a press statement calling for the holding of free and fair local elections. Such a product may welcome the political agreement that allows elections to be held in Mostar and call on BiH to take additional steps to promote political and socio-economic reform.
Council members largely share concerns over BiH’s divisive ethnic politics and the urgent need for parties to take the necessary steps following the general elections in October 2018. Most members are also critical of the RS leaders’ rhetoric, which they view as challenging BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia, however, tends to be more supportive of the positions of the RS leadership and is critical of the High Representative, contending that his reporting is not objective. During the 6 May Council meeting, Russia argued that the situation in BiH does not pose a threat to international peace and security and called for the early closure of the OHR.
Divisions over BiH’s “Euro-Atlantic” integration, and those related to a possible future accession to NATO in particular, 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.
As in previous years, the decision on 5 November 2019 to re-authorise EUFOR ALTHEA for one year was not controversial, as all members of the Coordination and Drafting Group and the Council supported the continuation of the EU-led international force. The BiH Coordination and Drafting Group prepares the first draft of Council products on BiH. For 2020, it comprises Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US. The US will be the penholder in November.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BiH
|Security Council Resolutions|
|5 November 2019S/RES/2496||This resolution renewed the authorization of EUFOR-ALTHEA for another year.|
|Security Council Letters|
|8 May 2020S/2020/379||This was a letter transmitting the briefing of Valentin Inzko, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and
Irena Hasić, Executive Director, Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in an open VTC May 8th.
|Reports of the High Representative|
|29 April 2020S/2020/345||This was the High Representative’s report, covering the period from 16 October 2019 to 15 April 2020.|