May 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2023
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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Expected Council Action

In May, the Security Council will hold its semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The current authorisation for the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) expires on 2 November 2023.

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.

BiH continues to experience political instability amid growing nationalist and separatist actions and rhetoric. On 28 December 2022, the National Assembly of the RS (NARS) adopted a law on “Immovable Property Used for the Functioning of Authorities”, which seeks to establish RS’ ownership of select property used by RS public authorities. A similar law, which had been adopted by NARS on 10 February 2022, had been deemed unconstitutional on 22 September 2022 by BiH’s Constitutional Court, which ruled that property used by public authorities falls under the jurisdiction of the Bosnian state rather than either of its entities. High Representative for BiH Christian Schmidt issued a decree on 27 February suspending the new law until the Constitutional Court renders a decision.

In a 27 February statement, RS President Milorad Dodik rejected the decree and insisted that the law remains in force. He threatened that RS would secede from BiH if there was any interference in implementing the legislation. RS has not recognised Schmidt’s authority as the High Representative for BiH since October 2021, which is when a law passed by NARS on 30 July 2021 entered into force, declaring that decisions of the High Representative did not apply to RS.

On 23 March, NARS adopted amendments to RS’ criminal code, criminalising acts of defamation, which received widespread criticism. In a 10 March statement, the US embassy in BiH described the legislation as repressive and anti-democratic and argued that it “benefit[s] only the ruling coalition in its effort to consolidate power”. A day prior to the legislation’s adoption, the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB) described it in a joint statement as an attempt to “shrink the civic space and reduce public debate”, urging NARS to “stop any activities that silence independent voices among media and civil society”. (The PIC was established in December 1995 to garner international support for the Dayton Agreement.)

General elections in BiH were held on 2 October 2022. Shortly after polling stations closed, Schmidt issued a set of decrees, known as the Functionality Package, intended to improve the functionality of FBiH’s political institutions and ensure the timely implementation of election results. FBiH ministers elected in 2015 after the 2014 elections have been serving under a technical mandate since 2018 because political processes have been blocked over demands for electoral reform. Schmidt’s decrees sought to improve the proportionality of representation and establish mechanisms to unblock paralysis in FBiH’s legislatures, including setting deadlines for the formation of the government.

Although the president and two vice-presidents of the entity were appointed by FBiH’s parliament on 16 February, FBiH has been unable to form a new government as political parties missed the 6 April deadline set by Schmidt’s decrees. In a 7 April statement, Schmidt urged politicians to set aside “their partisan and individual interests and recognise the higher interests of the Federation”. On 27 April, Schmidt issued a set of decrees that aim to strengthen BiH’s criminal code and to unblock FBiH’s formation of government.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In a 20 January statement at the end of an eight-day visit to BiH, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, acknowledged human rights progress achieved in critical areas, including prisons, and noted her positive impression of the “individualised and constructive approach to prisoner rehabilitation, including for persons convicted of terrorism”. However, Ní Aoláin observed that the “failure to address the legacy of the past” in BiH through transitional justice measures and rule of law reform in justice and security institutions enabled conditions that directly contribute to the rise of violent extremism. “Divisive ethno-nationalist politics undermine conflict transition and actively work against both security and human rights in the country”, she concluded.

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 call for the early closure of the OHR in this month’s debate. 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.

Another important issue is the need to address the increasing nationalist and separatist actions and rhetoric. Schmidt’s 27 February decree suspending NARS’ law on property used by RS authorities will be a crucial indicator of the RS leadership’s willingness to challenge OHR’s authority and of the High Representative’s determination to enforce the orders if the RS decides to resist. Council members may consider issuing a presidential statement reaffirming the continued relevance of the Dayton Agreement and urging all parties to refrain from divisive rhetoric and actions.

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 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.

On 15 December 2022, the European Council unanimously voted to grant BiH candidate country status, marking a milestone in the country’s path towards EU integration. In a 21 February statement, Dodik welcomed the announcement but emphasised that “BiH is a negotiating party on the way to the EU…[rather than] a subject”. He also expressed RS’s differing opinions about BiH’s potential NATO membership. During a 22 December press briefing, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the European Council’s decision as a “tool of economic and political coercion” and stressed Moscow’s commitment to “rid sovereign and independent Bosnia and Herzegovina of the obsolete external protectorate regime”.

Meanwhile, relations between RS and the UK and US have deteriorated as RS authorities pursue closer ties with China and Russia. On 8 January, Dodik reportedly awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin the RS’ highest medal of honour for his “patriotic concern and love” for Bosnian Serbs. Dodik thanked Putin for helping preserve RS’ “voice and position…under the onslaught of international interventionism”. On 8 April, Dodik said that RS “will cooperate with [China] in all areas”, stressing that if RS is unable to pursue its interests “with the EU, it can be done with someone else”.

On 24 March, Dodik said that RS will no longer cooperate with the staff of the UK and US embassies in BiH after the US imposed sanctions on three individuals, including Director of the RS Administration for Geodetic and Property Affairs Dragan Stankovic. On 11 April, Dodik further announced that RS will suspend all cooperation activities with NATO. In response, the US embassy to BiH issued a statement noting that Dodik does not have the authority to unilaterally suspend or amend the 2005 Law on Defense, which mandates RS’ cooperation with NATO.

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Security Council Resolutions
2 November 2022S/RES/2658 This was a straightforward renewal of the authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) for another year.
Security Council Meeting Records
2 November 2022S/PV.9179 This was the semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina.