Bosnia and Herzegovina
Expected Council Action
In May, the Security Council will hold its semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). High Representative for BiH Christian Schmidt 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 3 November 2022.
Key Recent Developments
BiH continues to experience political instability amid growing nationalist and separatist actions and rhetoric. On 8 October 2021, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik announced that the predominantly Serb Republika Srpska (RS) would withdraw from key national institutions, including BiH’s judicial system, the taxation authority and the armed forces. On 10 December 2021, the National Assembly of the RS (NARS) voted in favour of initiating the procedure to withdraw RS from BiH’s institutions. The proposed provisions were expected to come into force following a six-month period, during which time the Assembly could draft new laws and, if needed, amend the RS constitution.
Two days prior to the voting session, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) Steering Board, which serves as the executive arm of the PIC and provides the High Representative with political guidance, issued a statement deploring the actions taken by the NARS, which “seriously challenge the Dayton framework and damage the stability of BiH and the region”. (The PIC was established in December 1995 to garner international support for the Dayton Agreement, which created two entities within BiH: RS and the predominantly Bosniak and Croat Federation of BiH, or FBiH.)
Since Dodik’s announcement in October 2021, the NARS has passed several laws challenging the authority of federal BiH institutions and, in some cases, forming separate institutions within the RS to supersede them. On 20 October, NARS adopted a law on pharmaceuticals and medical devices that foresees the establishment of an independent body within the RS to assume the responsibilities of the national Agency for Medical Equipment and Drugs. The PIC Steering Board criticised the law on 8 December as challenging BiH’s constitution. On 3 February, the NARS voted in favour of a draft law on amendments to the law on Republic administration, which seeks to establish the Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices in RS.
Furthermore, on 10 February, the NARS initiated proceedings to undermine BiH’s judicial system, voting in favour of a draft law concerning the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council. The draft law seeks to “annul the unconstitutional establishment of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of [BiH]” and envisages an autonomous judicial and prosecutorial agency within RS that would, among other functions, be responsible for appointing and dismissing judges. On the same day, the PIC Steering Board issued a statement describing the law as “a violation of the constitution and legal order of BiH”.
During the same parliamentary session, the NARS adopted a law that seeks to establish RS’s ownership of select property used by RS public authorities that previously belonged to BiH. However, on 12 April, when the law was due to enter into force, Schmidt issued a decree suspending the law until a final decision of BiH’s Constitutional Court is rendered.
The decree was rejected by the RS, which has not recognised the High Representative’s authority since October 2021. That was when a law passed by NARS on 30 July 2021 entered into force, declaring that a decision of the High Representative did not apply to the RS. The law was in response to then-High Representative Valentin Inzko’s 22 July 2021 decree amending BiH’s criminal code, which set prison terms for anyone who publicly denies or attempts to justify genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. According to the OHR, the law adopted by the NARS “prescribes that State-level legislation shall not be applicable in the RS and obliges the RS authorities not to cooperate with BiH institutions attempting to implement State-level law”. Moreover, according to the High Representative’s 5 November report, Dodik has “warned that any attempt by BiH judicial institutions or law enforcement agencies to intercede would be met with force”.
On 9 January, the RS held a ceremony commemorating the 30th anniversary of its founding. The celebration of this holiday had been deemed unconstitutional by BiH’s Constitutional Court in 2015 because the Court found it to be discriminatory to non-Bosnian Serbs in the RS. Riots broke out in several towns across the RS. According to media reports, participants sang nationalist and Islamophobic songs and carried banners of Ratko Mladić, the Bosnian Serb general who was convicted of genocide in 2017.
On 14 January, OHCHR Spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell said that OHCHR was “deeply concerned” by recent incidents “that saw individuals glorify atrocity crimes and convicted war criminals, target certain communities with hate speech, and, in some cases, directly incite violence”.
On 24 February, the same day that Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine, EUFOR announced that it would double the number of its military forces, deploying an additional 600 troops to BiH as a “precautionary measure”. It cited the potential for the deteriorating global security situation to spread instability to BiH. Such concerns have also led to increased calls for renewed consideration of BiH’s EU membership
Key Issues and Options
The role of the OHR remains a key issue for the Council. The RS has not recognised Schmidt’s authority as High Representative since the Security Council failed to adopt a draft resolution tabled by China and Russia on 22 July 2021 that, while supporting Schmidt’s appointment as High Representative for BiH, also called for the closure of the OHR on 31 July 2022. The resolution received two votes in favour (China and Russia) and 13 abstentions. During the November 2021 debate on BiH, Russia apparently blocked Schmidt’s briefing by threatening to veto the Council’s renewal of EUFOR ALTHEA’s authorisation. As Council president in May, the US may try to invite Schmidt to brief the Council, understanding that China and Russia would likely not be able to garner sufficient support from Council members to block his participation by calling for a procedural vote.
Other key issues include the need to tackle the growing nationalist rhetoric, particularly ahead of BiH’s general elections on 2 October, and the need to address the RS’s increased efforts to withdraw from BiH institutions. Schmidt’s decree suspending NARS’ law regarding property used by RS authorities will serve as a litmus test, determining the extent to which the RS leadership is willing to undermine Schmidt’s authority and the extent to which Schmidt is willing to enforce his orders should the RS choose to do so.
Council members may consider issuing a presidential statement endorsing the continued relevance of the Dayton Agreement and urging all parties to refrain from divisive rhetoric and actions. It could also propose a review of OHR’s future role in exchange for RS’s recognition of Schmidt’s legitimacy as High Representative and the return of full authority to the BiH institutions.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Deep divisions related to BiH’s Euro-Atlantic integration and possible accession to NATO, particularly between Russia on the one hand and the US and European members of the Council on the other, colour Council dynamics on BiH. The situation in Ukraine is likely to permeate the Council’s engagement on BiH and contribute to further division between these two camps.
On several occasions, Moscow has threatened action should BiH seek NATO membership. On 17 March, the Russian Ambassador to BiH, Igor Kalbukhov, reportedly told reporters that “Ukraine’s example shows what to expect” by way of a Russian response should BiH take steps to join NATO. On the same day, the US embassy in Sarajevo described Kalbukhov’s statement as “dangerous, irresponsible, and unacceptable”, adding that “no third party has a say in security arrangements between NATO and sovereign countries”.
RS and FBiH remain starkly divided on the situation in Ukraine. After BiH announced that it would co-sponsor the 2 March General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Dodik submitted a letter to Russia on 28 February, in its capacity as Security Council president in February, describing BiH’s move as “unilateral and unauthorized” and declaring that BiH had not “reached a unanimous stand on the events in eastern Ukraine in terms of condemning the Russian Federation”.
Council members largely share concerns over BiH’s divisive ethnic politics and support efforts to reform BiH’s constitution and electoral system. Since mid-2021, the EU and the US have facilitated negotiations on a comprehensive package of constitutional and electoral reforms in an effort to resolve long-standing issues impeding the functioning of BiH’s political institutions.
Most members are critical of the RS leaders’ divisive rhetoric and recent measures to withdraw from BiH institutions, which they view as challenging BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia, however, tends to be more supportive of the positions of the RS authorities and has long been critical of the OHR, contending that its reporting is not objective. Neither China nor Russia recognise Schmidt’s authority as High Representative and may once again call for the early closure of the OHR.
The BiH Coordination and Drafting Group, which is responsible for preparing the first draft of Council products on BiH, currently consists of Albania, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK, and the US.
UN DOCUMENTS ON BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|3 November 2021S/RES/2604||This resolution renewed the authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) for another year, until 3 November 2022. At the debate, several Council members, including Norway and Estonia, expressed regret that the Security Council failed to adopt a more substantial resolution|
|Security Council Letters|
|1 November 2021S/2021/912||This letter transmitted the 60th report on the implementation of the Peace Agreement on BiH, prepared by the High Representative on BiH.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|3 November 2021S/PV.8896||This was the meeting record for the semi-annual high-level debate on Bosnia ad Herzegovina|
|General Assembly Documents|
|2 March 2022A/RES/ES-11/1||This was a resolution titled “Aggression against Ukraine”.|