What's In Blue

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (30 April), the Security Council is scheduled to convene for a briefing on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Russia requested the meeting following a 25 April letter sent to the Security Council by the Serb member of the rotating tripartite inter-ethnic Presidency of BiH, Željka Cvijanović (S/2024/333). The letter says that BiH has faced “critical challenges” in recent years that “jeopardise its functionality and long-term sustainability”, and highlights “abuses in the area of foreign policy”, including efforts to promote a draft General Assembly resolution titled “International Day of Reflection and Remembrance of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica”. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenča and High Representative for BiH Christian Schmidt are expected to brief. Cvijanović is expected to participate under rule 39 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, while BiH and Serbia will participate under rule 37.


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.

In December 1995, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) was established to garner international support for the Dayton Agreement. In 1997, the PIC agreed to grant significant legislative powers to the High Representative, including the ability to make 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.

During BiH’s 1992-1995 war, Srebrenica was designated by the Security Council as a “safe area”, coming under the protection of UN peacekeepers in April 1993. Starting on 6 July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces launched an offensive against the enclave, entering Srebrenica on 11 July. In the ensuing days, over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and teenage boys were killed in mass executions by Bosnian Serb forces. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) later determined that the mass murder amounted to an act of genocide, a characterisation that RS and Serbia reject.

Revisionism and denial of the genocide in Srebrenica have been ongoing issues in BiH. On 23 July 2021, former High Representative for BiH Valentin 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”. Bosnian Serb politicians condemned the move. On 30 July 2021, the National Assembly of RS (NARS) 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 the NARS adopted a law explicitly challenging the High Representative’s prerogative. (For more information, see the brief on BiH in our November 2021 Monthly Forecast.) Since Schmidt succeeded Inzko and assumed office on 1 August 2021, RS has contested every decree issued by the Office of the High Representative (OHR).

Ahead of the 29th anniversary of the mass murder in Srebrenica in July, Germany and Rwanda circulated a General Assembly draft resolution that, if adopted, would designate 11 July as the “International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica”. The draft text, co-sponsored by a cross-regional group of countries—including BiH and Council members France, Slovenia, and the US—condemns “any denial of the Srebrenica genocide” and the glorification of individuals convicted by the ICTY of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The negotiations on the draft text are ongoing and appear to have been contentious. The vote at the General Assembly, originally scheduled for 2 May, has been postponed to a later date.

In a series of posts on X (formerly Twitter) on 9 April, RS President Milorad Dodik argued that the events in Srebrenica “cannot be characterised as genocide under international law” and criticised the draft General Assembly resolution as “directed against Srpska and the Serbian people as a whole”. He further claimed that the killing of 3,500 Serbs in the same area is “dismissed”, while “only the suffering of the Bosniaks is mentioned”. In a 24 April interview, German Special Representative for the Countries of the Western Balkans Manuel Sarrazin countered that the draft resolution “is not against Serbia, Republika Srpska or any other state, entity or group”.

On 18 April, the NARS adopted a 2021 report of the “International Commission for Srebrenica”, a body set up by the RS government in 2019. The report said that the crimes that took place in Srebrenica did not constitute genocide. After the NARS vote, thousands of Bosnian Serbs reportedly attended a rally in the northwestern town of Banja Luka to call for the withdrawal of the draft General Assembly resolution. On 22 April, Dodik said that adopting the draft resolution “is incompatible with the continued existence of BiH”.

At a 22 April press stakeout, Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said that Russia would “never support” such a resolution. Arguing that the draft text is incompatible with the Dayton Agreement, since one of the entities comprising the state of BiH “never gave its consent”, Nebenzia claimed that the draft General Assembly resolution could destabilise BiH. This stance is consistent with Russia’s previous actions; in July 2015, it vetoed a UK-proposed Security Council draft resolution that condemned “the crime of genocide at Srebrenica as established by judgments of the ICTY and ICJ and all other proven war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed during the conflict in BiH. The draft also determined that acknowledging the events in Srebrenica as genocide was essential for reconciliation. (For more information, see our 6 July 2015 What’s in Blue story.)

On 26 April, Council members held closed consultations to discuss Russia’s request for a Council briefing on BiH. At the consultations, it appears that Council members discussed the proposed format and briefers for the meeting, with many advocating for a closed format to mitigate any potential adverse effects on the security situation in BiH. Moreover, members discussed Russia’s request for Cvijanović to brief at the meeting, noting that the Council has typically followed the practice of inviting the incumbent Chairman of the BiH Presidency to brief under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. (An exception occurred at a 15 November 1999 briefing, however, during which Council members agreed to invite all three members of BiH’s presidency to brief. The invitation was not expressly extended under rule 37 or rule 39.)

Tomorrow’s Meeting

At tomorrow’s briefing, Schmidt is expected to provide a comprehensive update on the situation in BiH. He is likely to address the increased secessionist rhetoric and actions in RS, particularly noting ways in which Dodik’s threats pose a challenge to the country’s constitutional framework. Furthermore, he is expected to discuss ongoing issues related to the denial of the Srebrenica genocide and the glorification of war criminals in BiH.

In his latest report of 2 November 2023, Schmidt noted that the “denial of genocide and war crimes, and the glorification of war criminals are still powerful political tools for irresponsible politicians who seek to strengthen their positions by perpetuating interethnic distrust”.

Council members are expected to express diverging views on the situation in BiH. 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. 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 secession, which they view as challenging BiH’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia, however, tends to be supportive of Dodik’s positions.

Several Council members are expected to express concern about recent political developments, particularly legislation adopted by RS authorities that circumvents Schmidt’s decrees. On 26 March, Schmidt issued a decree to amend the Election Law of BiH, introducing measures aimed at bolstering election integrity in BiH. In response, on 28 March, Dodik threatened to disrupt governance in BiH unless Schmidt’s decree was annulled within seven days. Dodik proposed a series of measures, including declaring Schmidt’s decrees illegal, disempowering the Central Election Commission, and declaring key international ambassadors—from Germany, the UK, and the US—as “enemies of BiH” to be expelled. Dodik threatened that RS could withdraw from key state institutions if these demands are not met. Additionally, on 29 March, the NARS adopted its own draft legislation on elections, which proposed the establishment of a separate commission to oversee elections in RS.

Russia may criticise recent moves to advance the draft General Assembly resolution as undermining the constitutional framework and provisions established by the Dayton Peace Agreement. Specifically, it might highlight Article V(3) of BiH’s constitution, which states that the BiH Presidency—comprising all three members—is responsible for conducting the nation’s foreign policy, while emphasising that RS did not consent to the draft General Assembly resolution.

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