Bosnia and Herzegovina
Expected Council Action
In November, the Security Council will hold its semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The new High Representative for BiH, Christian Schmidt, is expected to brief on the latest report of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).
The Council also expects to vote on the reauthorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) prior to its 5 November expiration.
The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace, also known as the Dayton Agreement, created two entities within BiH: the predominantly Bosniak and Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and the predominantly Serb Republika Srpska (RS). The two entities are linked by a rotating tripartite inter-ethnic presidency and a two-chamber legislative branch with even representation by the three major ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs). Both entities also have their own executive and legislative branches. However, in contrast to RS’s parliament, known as the National Assembly of Republika Srpska (NARS), the FBiH government is decentralised, consisting of ten highly autonomous cantons.
The Dayton Agreement also established the OHR and the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) to oversee implementation of the agreement’s civilian and military aspects, respectively. In 1996, IFOR was replaced by the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) and, in 2004, SFOR was replaced by the EU-led multidimensional stabilisation force (EUFOR).
In December 1995, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) was established to garner international support for the Dayton Agreement. The PIC Steering Board, which serves as the executive arm of the PIC and provides the High Representative with political guidance, consists of representatives from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK, the US, the Presidency of the EU, the European Commission, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which is represented by Turkey. In 1997, the PIC agreed to grant significant legislative powers to the High Representative. Known collectively as the “Bonn Powers”, these include the ability to adopt binding decisions and unseat elected officials who are found to be in violation of legal commitments made under the Dayton Agreement or the terms of its implementation.
Key Recent Developments
On 27 May, after the then-High Representative for BiH, Valentin Inzko, announced that he was resigning from his post effective 1 August, the PIC issued a statement appointing Schmidt as the next High Representative for BiH. Russia, a member of the PIC Steering Board, objected to the appointment, arguing that it lacked consensus among PIC members and that the Bosnian Serbs were not consulted on the matter. Additionally, Russia argued that the decision lacked the endorsement of the Security Council.
On 22 July, the Council held a vote on a draft resolution tabled by China and Russia that articulated the Council’s support for “the appointment of the High Representative until 31 July 2022 with the closure of the OHR”. The draft resolution failed to be adopted, receiving two votes in favour (China and Russia) and a record 13 abstentions. Following the vote, China and Russia asserted that the outcome confirmed that the Council did not endorse Schmidt as High Representative and, as such, the post remained vacant.
On 23 July, while still in his post, Inzko decreed amendments to BiH’s criminal code, setting prison terms of up to five years for anyone who “publicly condones, denies, grossly trivialises or tries to justify a crime of genocide, crimes against humanity or a war crime”. Inzko claimed that he issued the decree in reaction to a rise in genocide denial and “an escalation of glorification of war criminals . . . that it is also sowing the seeds for potential new conflicts”.
Bosnian Serb politicians condemned the decree. At a press conference following the decision, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik declared that “RS will have no other option but to start the…dissolution” of BiH. On 27 July, Bosnian Serb politicians began boycotting central government institutions, including the presidency and the parliament. The leader of the RS opposition party, Branislav Borenović, said, “Serb political representatives will no longer participate in the work of the common institutions of Bosnia…and will not make any decisions until this issue is resolved”. The move effectively blocked the functioning of BiH’s parliament, which relies on the approval of representatives from all three major ethnic groups.
NARS also chose not to cooperate with central authorities in the implementation of Inzko’s decree. On 30 July, it adopted amendments to its own criminal law, imposing prison sentences of up to five years for those who “disparage or label the Serb Republic or its people as genocidal or aggressor[s]” and 15 years for violations of its “constitution, integrity and independence”. This was the first time that a law explicitly challenging the High Representative’s prerogative was adopted by the NARS.
The political crisis deepened in recent weeks. On 8 October, Dodik announced that the RS would withdraw from key joint institutions—including the judiciary system, the taxation authority and the armed forces, among others—and that about 130 laws enacted by the OHR would be annulled. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar had previously warned Dodik that “threats of secession and rolling back reforms” would result in “nothing but isolation and economic despair”. On 15 October, NARS Speaker Nedeljko Čubrilović said that “no one in the RS is calling for war or seeking secession” and confirmed that the NARS would vote on the proposed changes by the end of October.
In a 14 October statement, the PIC Steering Board said it expected all leaders “to reject destabilising and divisive rhetoric…and to cease any actions in this regard, including threats of secession and calling into question the existence of BiH as a single, sovereign state comprising two entities”. Russia did not agree with the text of the statement. Incumbent Chairman of the BiH presidency Željko Komšić argued that Dodik’s announcement amounted to a “criminal act of rebellion”. BiH prosecutors subsequently launched an investigation into Dodik on 18 October for “undermining the constitutional order”.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is how to address possible objections to a briefing by the High Representative and the legitimacy of the OHR, given recent concerns raised by China and Russia. A compromise could be for the Council to include in the EUFOR ALTHEA mandate an option to review the role of the High Representative and the OHR in the future.
Another key issue is the refusal of NARS to accept Inzko’s decree and its retaliatory blocking of BiH institutions. The Security Council may consider reaffirming, in its EUFOR authorisation resolution, the final authority of the High Representative. It could also express deep concern over the tactics employed to inhibit the effective functioning of the BiH government.
An additional key issue is Dodik’s provocative rhetoric and threats of secession. The Security Council may continue to note with concern, as it has in previous resolutions, the continued polarising rhetoric and actions in BiH. It could also choose to condemn them as a threat to BiH’s territorial integrity.
If the Council is unable to reauthorise the EUFOR ALTHEA mandate prior to its 5 November expiration because of difficult dynamics, a potential option would be to adopt a “technical rollover” of the mandate for a short period to give members more time to negotiate the text.
Overall, Council members have similar concerns about BiH’s divisive ethnic politics. Most members are also critical of Dodik’s rhetoric and his recent threats of dissolution, which they view as challenging BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia, however, tends to be supportive of Dodik’s positions.
China and Russia do not recognise Schmidt’s authority as High Representative and may once again call for the early closure of the OHR, noting that the role of the international community in BiH has changed significantly in recent years. Their views are likely to make discussions on the role of the High Representative contentious in the negotiations on the EUFOR ALTHEA mandate renewal.
Several members—including EU member states, the UK and the US, among others—remain convinced that EUFOR continues to play a critical role in the stability and security of BiH.
The BiH Coordination and Drafting Group prepares the first draft of Council products on BiH. For 2021, it comprises Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Russia, the UK and the US. France is the penholder on this year’s EUFOR ALTHEA draft resolution.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BIH
|Security Council Resolutions|
|5 November 2020S/RES/2549||This resolution renewed the authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA).|
|22 November 2004S/RES/1575||This resolution established EUFOR.|
|Security Council Letters|
|6 May 2021S/2021/436||This was the briefing by the High Representative for BiH.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|22 July 2021S/PV.8823||This was a vote on a draft resolution tabled by China and Russia that articulated the Council’s support for “the appointment of the High Representative until 31 July 2022 with the closure of the OHR”. The draft resolution failed to be adopted, receiving two votes in favour (China and Russia) and a record 13 abstentions.|