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).
The current authorisation for the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) expires on 5 November.
Key Recent Developments
Political instability continues in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is interfering with progress on socioeconomic reforms and preventing effective coordination between state institutions on issues such as COVID-19 response and mass vaccinations.
On 23 December 2019, after a 14-month-long delay, 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)—remains without a government, as do two of the Federation’s ten cantons. The FBiH entity remains under the rule of a caretaker government since the last general elections were held in October 2018. The ongoing deadlock reflects continued divisions and tensions among Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs.
Local elections were postponed for over a month last year due to the Central Election Committee (CEC) not receiving sufficient funding to conduct preparatory activities. The elections, which finally took place on 15 November, saw the ruling parties losing key strongholds in Sarajevo and Banja Luka, suggesting a possible shift on the BiH political scene. The divided Bosniak and Croat city of Mostar held its first local elections in 12 years after the EU, the US and UK brokered an agreement in June 2020, which broke the deadlock between two major Croat and Bosniak political parties: the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA). The CEC announced that while HDZ and SDA had won the largest vote shares of the 35-member city council, they nevertheless fell short of outright majority. On 15 February, Mario Kordić, the HDZ candidate, was elected mayor by a majority vote in the city council.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the RS leader for a decade and now the Serbian member of the tripartite Bosnian presidency, 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-monthly reports. Furthermore, taking advantage of a controversial document allegedly sent by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa to European Council President Charles Michel, which suggested redrawing the borders of former Yugoslavia, Dodik has published recent videos on YouTube calling for a “peaceful break-up” of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, after the number of infections dropped in January, BiH saw a new peak in cases in February. Reporting a total of 198,461 cases and 8,551 deaths at the time of writing, BiH has ordered 2.1 million vaccines under the global COVAX mechanism and from the EU, but deliveries have been delayed, and the majority of vaccines procured thus far have been received as donations.
The Council held its previous semi-annual meeting on 5 November 2020, where Inzko noted that while the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace, also known as the Dayton Agreement, provided a “solid framework for future development of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, the global community erred in trusting some politicians too early; they had “used our goodwill to reinvigorate nationalistic divisive policies”. He also underscored that systemic discrimination is common against so-called “others”—citizens who do not declare themselves as members of any of the three constituent peoples (Serbs, Croats or Bosniaks). Addressing issues outlined in his report, Inzko emphasised the need for BiH to “dramatically” improve the rule of law, combat corruption and address its massive problem of “brain drain” as talented young people continue to leave the country.
More recently, on 1 April, in a letter to the tripartite presidency, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Bosnia to pursue limited changes to its constitution needed to reform the electoral system and protect the rights of all its citizens. Specifically, only constituent people of Bosnia may run for high office in elections. Minorities, who associate with other ethnicities, are not eligible to run to be presidency members. In the letter, Blinken emphasised that “limited constitutional change will be necessary to reform the electoral system consistent with the requirement of the European Union membership and the rulings of the European courts”. (In 2009 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the country’s constitution discriminates against members of minority groups by preventing them from running for high government office, but thus far, no effort has been made to change the constitution accordingly.)
Key Issues and Options
Political gridlock, lack of respect for the rule of law and growing ethnic divisions in BiH remain key issues. Slow progress in advancing socioeconomic reforms linked to BiH’s EU integration and fulfilling the criteria and objectives for closing the OHR are recurring issues.
Given the current tensions in BiH over Dodik’s continued divisive rhetoric and the reports of a document allegedly calling for the dissolution of Bosnia, Council members may consider issuing a presidential statement endorsing the continued relevance of Dayton Agreement and noting the continued willingness of the international community and major donors to lend their support.
Overall, Council members have similar 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. Russia, however, tends to be supportive of the RS leadership’s positions and is often critical of the High Representative, contending that his reporting is not objective. During the last Council debate on 5 November, Russia observed that the Council could “as an alternative” examine a report prepared by Republika Srpska and once again called for the early closure of the OHR, noting that the role of the international community in BiH has changed drastically in recent years.
While the decision on 5 November 2020 to re–authorise EUFOR ALTHEA for one year was uncontroversial, there have been difficulties in the past, with Russia objecting to the inclusion of certain language in relation to the High Representative and reference to “Euro-Atlantic” integration. Divisions over this reference, as well as those related to a possible future accession to NATO, have been a factor in Council dynamics between the US and the Council’s European members on one side and Russia on the other in the past seven years.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BIH
|Security Council Resolutions|
|23 November 2020S/RES/2549||This resolution renewed the authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA).|
|Reports of the High Representative|
|21 October 2020S/2020/1052||This was the High Representative’s report, covering the period from 16 April to 15 October 2020.|