Bosnia and Herzegovina: Debate and EUFOR ALTHEA Reauthorisation*
Tomorrow (3 November), the Security Council will hold its semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Council members are also expected to vote on a draft resolution renewing the authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) for an additional year. Several regional states may participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
There were sharp divisions between Council members regarding the briefer for tomorrow’s debate and the content of the draft text in blue. These centred on China’s and Russia’s objection to the appointment process of the High Representative for BiH earlier this year. (For background, see our 21 July What’s in Blue story.) It seems that these members had opposed having Christian Schmidt replace former High Representative Valentin Inzko on 1 August, did not want him to brief at tomorrow’s debate, and demanded that the draft resolution reauthorising EUFOR ALTHEA not reference the High Representative and his office. In an apparent compromise, the draft text in blue reauthorises EUFOR ALTHEA’s provisions, as outlined most recently in resolution 2549 of 5 November 2020, without referencing the High Representative and the Office of the High Representative (OHR). At the time of writing, there was no briefer expected at tomorrow’s debate.
Tomorrow’s debate takes place amid heightened tensions between the predominantly Bosniak and Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and the predominantly Serb Republika Srpska (RS). On 23 July, then-High Representative Inzko decreed amendments to BiH’s criminal code, setting prison terms of up to five years for anyone who publicly condones, denies, trivialises, or tries to justify a crime of genocide.
Bosnian Serb politicians have condemned the decree. On 27 July, they began boycotting central government institutions, including the presidency and the parliament. The move effectively obstructed the functioning of the BiH parliament, which relies on the approval of representatives from all three major ethnic groups. The RS National Assembly (RSNA) also chose not to cooperate with central authorities in the implementation of Inzko’s decree and adopted amendments to its own criminal law on 30 July, imposing prison sentences on anyone who labels the RS or its people as genocidal or as aggressors. The political crisis deepened in early October, as Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik announced on 8 October that the RS would withdraw from key joint institutions, including the judiciary system, the taxation authority, and the armed forces.
In a 14 October statement, the steering board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC)—which was established in 1995 to garner international support for the Dayton Agreement and provides the High Representative with political guidance—called on all leaders to “reject destabilising and divisive rhetoric”, demanding that they cease “threats of secession and calling into question the existence of BiH as a single, sovereign state comprising two entities”. Russia, which is a member of the PIC steering board, did not agree with the text of the statement.
At tomorrow’s debate, some Council members are likely to highlight the key findings of the latest High Representative’s report (S/2021/912), which was circulated on 29 October and covers the period from 16 April to 15 October. It argues that BiH currently faces “the greatest existential threat of the post-war period”. The report emphasises that “persistent, grave challenges to the fundamentals of the [Dayton Peace Agreement]” by the RS leadership endanger the stability of the country and the region, adding that if these challenges are not addressed, they “could lead to the undoing of the Agreement itself”. It further says that Dodik’s announcement of the unilateral withdrawal of the RS from joint institutions is “tantamount to secession without proclaiming it”.
The report concludes that the RS authorities are in “grave violation” of the Dayton Agreement and are “poised to violate it further, potentially causing irreparable damage”. It calls for greater involvement of the international community, including the OHR, in promoting the implementation of the 5+2 agenda (a set of five objectives and two conditions that need to be fulfilled prior to the OHR’s closure that was adopted by the PIC Steering Board in 2008).
On 29 October, Russia sent a letter to the Security Council containing “Republika Srpska’s 26th Report to the UN Security Council”, which addressed recent political developments in BiH. The report says that RS remains committed to the Dayton Agreement and fully respects BiH’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and constitutional order. It further maintains that RSNA is “fully within its rights to withdraw consent” from joint agreements, adding that these are “merely political accommodations, not binding treaties or legal contracts”.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to express support for the continued implementation of the Dayton Agreement. Some Council members—including European members—are likely to voice concern regarding Dodik’s announcement to withdraw the RS from joint institutions. These members are expected to call on RS leaders to refrain from actions and rhetoric which may challenge BiH’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. Other Council members, particularly Russia, are likely to contend that BiH’s political challenges should be resolved through enhanced domestic dialogue, rather than foreign interference by the OHR and the PIC.
The draft resolution in blue, which was proposed by France, renews EUFOR ALTHEA’s authorisation for a period of one year. It consists of the key operative paragraphs contained in resolution 2549 of 5 November 2020, without adding any new elements.
The negotiations on the draft text in blue were negatively affected by disagreements over the appointment process of the current High Representative and the future role of the OHR. On 27 May, after Inzko announced that he was resigning from his post effective 1 August, the PIC issued a statement appointing Christian Schmidt as the next High Representative for BiH. Russia objected to the appointment, arguing that it lacked consensus among PIC members and that the Bosnian Serbs had not been consulted on the matter. Additionally, Russia maintained that the decision lacked the endorsement of the Security Council.
On 22 July, Council members voted on a draft resolution tabled by China and Russia that would have 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, that the post remained vacant.
On 22 October, France convened a meeting of the Coordination and Drafting Group (CDG), which is responsible for drafting Security Council decisions on BiH. The CDG is comprised of France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the UK, the US and elected Council members Estonia, Ireland, and Norway. Each member chairs the group for one month, rotating in alphabetical order. France was the CDG Chair in October.
At the 22 October meeting, Russia apparently expressed support for EUFOR ALTHEA but demanded that the draft resolution on the force’s reauthorisation not include references to the High Representative. It seems that Russia also requested the inclusion of a paragraph from its 22 July draft resolution, which supported the appointment of the High Representative until July 2022 with subsequent closure of the OHR.
On 25 October, France circulated an amended draft text that did not include explicit references to the High Representative. However, that draft retained references to previous Council provisions and resolutions which mentioned the High Representative. The 25 October draft text did not include Russia’s requested paragraph on the closure of the OHR, instead referencing the 5+2 agenda. Regarding BiH’s political situation, that draft text added a paragraph noting with concern the political deadlock and resulting obstruction of state institutions.
On 27 October, France convened one round of negotiations on its proposed draft text. During the meeting, Council members apparently expressed unanimous support for EUFOR ALTHEA. However, China and Russia demanded that all explicit and indirect references to the High Representative be removed from the draft text. It seems that several other Council members, including the UK and the US, insisted on maintaining references to the High Representative.
France placed a revised draft text under silence on 28 October until the following morning. The revised draft sought to find middle ground, omitting all direct and indirect references to the High Representative— omitting, as well, a list of relevant resolutions in the preambular part of the text—and to the 5+2 agenda, while retaining one reference to the OHR. This draft omitted a paragraph that was contained in previous iterations on the political deadlock and obstruction of state institutions, as well as language characterising the RS’ polarising actions and rhetoric as challenging BiH’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.
On 29 October, Russia broke silence on the draft text, with China’s support, claiming that the draft did not address its concerns. It appears that Russia insisted on omitting the single reference to the OHR. In addition, Russia said that Schmidt should not brief the Council at the semi-annual debate. These requests appear to have been unacceptable to several other members. As a result of these tensions, France subsequently tabled a straightforward renewal of EUFOR ALTHEA’s mandate in a concise, streamlined text that avoids mentions of the High Representative and the OHR, which will be voted on tomorrow (3 November).
*Post-script: On 3 November, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2604, renewing 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. Russia described support for EUFOR ALTHEA’s mandate renewal as the only “common denominator” among Council members on the issue of BiH.