Bosnia and Herzegovina
Expected Council Action
In November, the Security Council will hold its semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The Council also expects to vote on the reauthorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) prior to its 3 November expiration.
Background and Key Recent Developments
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 equal representation by the three major ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs). Both entities also have their own executive and legislative branches.
General elections in BiH were held on 2 October. Voters decided the makeup of BiH’s presidency and its lower chamber of parliament, RS’s executive and legislative branches, and FBiH’s lower chamber of parliament and the ten cantonal assemblies. In BiH’s presidential election, voters in the FBiH elected Bosniak Denis Bećirović and re-elected Croat Željko Komšić, while voters in RS elected Serb Željka Cvijanović. At the state- and entity-level parliamentary elections, results confirmed the dominance of nationalist parties among the three ethnic groups, suggesting that the political blockades of previous years will likely continue to hinder reform efforts.
The entity-level presidential election in RS was marked by controversy. On election night, opposition candidate Jelena Trivić declared victory based on preliminary polling results. However, the following morning, results published by BiH’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC), based on 98 percent of votes counted, showed that the apparent winner was Milorad Dodik, who has served as the Serb member of the BiH presidency since November 2018. Trivić alleged irregularities and demanded a recount, submitting a formal complaint to the CEC on 5 October.
On 9 October, opposition parties staged a protest that drew thousands of supporters in Banja Luka, RS’s largest city. The following day, the CEC ordered a recount of votes, with CEC President Suad Arnautović citing evidence of electoral irregularities. In a 10 October post on Twitter, Dodik accused the CEC of not respecting the law for conducting the recount. Opposition parties filed criminal complaints with the RS’s prosecutor’s office on 18 October, accusing Dodik of committing electoral fraud. On 22 October, Dodik said he would file criminal charges against the CEC for failing to publish the results of the presidential elections by the 22 October deadline. However, following its recount, the CEC declared Dodik the winner of the presidential election on 27 October.
Leading up to the general elections, High Representative for BiH Christian Schmidt issued several decrees aimed at securing the funds for organising the elections and strengthening their integrity. On 7 June, Schmidt enacted a package of decisions enabling the financing of the 2 October general elections and all others thereafter. His decree was issued following weeks of failed attempts by BiH authorities to ensure an adequate budget for the elections. On 6 June, the BiH Council of Ministers decided to allocate funding to the CEC—an amount considered “belated and insufficient”, according to an 8 October communiqué issued by the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) Steering Board. (The PIC was established in 1995 to garner international support for the Dayton Agreement and the Steering Board serves as its executive arm.)
On 27 July, Schmidt issued a decree enacting a set of measures aimed at strengthening the integrity of BiH’s elections and improving transparency in the management of the election process. The decree, which sought to bring BiH election law in line with international standards, established new prohibitions on hate speech and empowered the CEC to sanction violations of the rules of conduct in electoral campaigns, including removing a party or individual from candidacy.
Shortly after polling stations closed on election day, Schmidt issued a set of decrees aimed at improving the functionality of the FBiH’s political institutions and ensuring the timely implementation of the results of the 2 October elections. His decrees came as political parties in FBiH were unable to agree on a package of constitutional and electoral reforms in negotiations that the EU and the US had facilitated in mid-2021. The decrees, known as the Functionality Package, establish mechanisms to unblock paralysis in the FBiH’s legislatures, including setting deadlines for the formation of the government after the election. The package also improves the proportionality of representation by raising the number of representatives in the FBiH’s upper house of parliament.
Key Issues and Options
The role of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) remains a key issue for the Council. Neither China nor Russia recognise Schmidt’s authority as High Representative and may once again call for the early closure of the OHR in this month’s debate.
During the 3 November 2021 debate on BiH, Russia apparently blocked Schmidt’s briefing by threatening to veto the Council’s renewal of EUFOR ALTHEA’s authorisation. The meeting did not feature a briefing since some Council members did not want to risk setting a precedent by inviting someone other than the High Representative to brief the Council. Russia was unable to block Schmidt’s participation at the most recent BiH debate on 11 May, which took place during the US Council presidency. As Russia once again holds leverage over the renewal of EUFOR ALTHEA’s authorisation, Ghana, as Council President in November, may opt to avoid complications by once again refraining from having a briefer on the situation in BiH.
Divisions over Schmidt’s legitimacy as High Representative have also apparently adversely affected negotiations on a substantial resolution renewing EUFOR ALTHEA’s authorisation. During the November 2021 debate, several Council members, including Norway, expressed regret that the Council was unable to agree on a more substantial text. Russia described the support for EUFOR ALTHEA’s mandate renewal as the only “common denominator” among Council members on the issue of BiH.
One option for the Council is to consider a presidential statement proposing a review of OHR’s future role in exchange for recognition by the P2 (China and Russia) of Schmidt’s legitimacy as High Representative.
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 Council members on the other—colour Council dynamics on BiH. The situation in Ukraine is likely to continue to permeate the Council’s engagement on BiH and contribute to further division between these two camps.
Council members largely share concerns over BiH’s divisive ethnic politics and support efforts to reform BiH’s constitution and electoral system. However, divisions between the UK and the US, on one hand, and the EU, on the other, became apparent following Schmidt’s 2 October decision. The UK and the US expressed support for the decrees, while the EU delegation to Sarajevo stressed in a 2 October statement that the decision was “of the High Representative alone”, adding that the “Bonn Powers” entrusted to the High Representative “should be used solely as a measure of last resort against irreparable unlawful acts”. (The Bonn Powers refers to the legislative powers granted to the High Representative by the PIC in 1997. 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.)
In a 4 October interview, Schmidt downplayed the tone of the EU’s 2 October statement, saying that he did not interpret it as criticism directed at him but rather at the political community in BiH. Suggesting that the EU may have “underestimated that things in [BiH] would not happen by themselves”, Schmidt acknowledged that “sometimes they need to be pushed and supported”.
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, Ireland, Italy, Russia, the UK, and the US. Ireland was the penholder on BiH in October. It appears that, following bilateral discussions with Council members, Ireland placed a draft resolution in blue on 28 October, after it passed a silence procedure from 21 to 25 October. The draft resolution in blue is a straightforward renewal of EUFOR ALTHEA’s authorisation.
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 Meeting Records|
|11 May 2022S/PV.9029||This was the meeting record for the semi-annual debate on Bosnia ad Herzegovina.|