What's In Blue

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Debate

Tomorrow morning (15 May), the Security Council will hold its semi-annual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). High Representative for BiH Christian Schmidt is scheduled to brief on the latest report of the Office of the High Representative (OHR), which covers the period from 16 October 2023 to 15 April (S/2024/367). Denis Bećirović, the Bosniak member of the rotating tripartite inter-ethnic Presidency of BiH and the incumbent Chairman of the Presidency, is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.


The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (GFAP), 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.

Tomorrow’s Meeting

Tomorrow’s debate takes place amid continued political instability and separatist rhetoric and actions. The latest OHR report notes that there was no breakthrough during the reporting period in the implementation of the 5+2 Agenda, which is a set of five objectives and two conditions that need to be fulfilled prior to the OHR’s closure. The report highlights several obstacles to progress towards the effective implementation of the GFAP and the 5+2 Agenda. In particular, the report emphasises that secessionist rhetoric and actions taken by RS authorities—including threats to unilaterally withdraw from state-level institutions such as BiH’s judicial system, taxation authority, and armed forces—could “lead to a de facto if not a de jure dissolution of the state of BiH”.

On 26 March, Schmidt issued a decree to amend the Election Law of BiH. The decree introduced measures aimed at bolstering election integrity in BiH, including increased security for election materials, electronic voter identification, video surveillance, and electronic ballot counting for improved transparency and security. It also prohibited individuals convicted by any international or domestic court of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes from standing as a candidate in elections or holding any elected or appointed office.

In response, on 28 March, the National Assembly of the RS (NARS) adopted a set of conclusions demanding the annulment of all decrees issued by the High Representative and the prohibition of their application in RS. On 29 March, the NARS adopted its own draft legislation on elections, proposing the establishment of a separate commission to oversee elections in RS. The latest OHR report describes the draft legislation as a “clear violation of the BiH Election Law and the BiH Constitution”.

The OHR report notes that the reporting period was characterised by both progress towards BiH’s integration into the EU and unprecedented attacks against the GFAP. On 21 March, the European Council, a body that defines the EU’s political direction and priorities, decided to open accession negotiations with BiH. Stressing that the EU’s decision “is a game changer” for BiH, the report calls for BiH authorities to “seize the opportunity for a prosperous future in the EU by broadening and accelerating the reform agenda”. At the same time, the report acknowledges that such an opportunity may be insufficient to “counter the threats to BiH’s stability”, noting in particular attempts by RS President Milorad Dodik to “actively subvert” BiH institutions and, consequently, the GFAP.

At tomorrow’s debate, Schmidt is expected to highlight the key obstacles to implementing effectively the GFAP and the 5+2 Agenda. He is likely to emphasise that the challenges facing both the OHR and the High Representative’s mandate remain unchanged. According to the OHR report, RS authorities refuse to provide official documents to the OHR, prevent OHR staff from attending NARS sessions, disregard the High Representative’s decrees, and “reduce contacts to a minimum”. RS, along with Security Council members China and Russia, does not recognise Schmidt’s appointment as legitimate, arguing that it requires formal approval from the Security Council. Several other Council members contend that the appointment of the High Representative by the PIC, as outlined in Annex X of the Dayton Agreement, does not require endorsement by a Security Council resolution. (For background, see our 21 July 2021 What’s in Blue story.)

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 the RS’ 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.

Russia is expected to reference a separate report on the situation in BiH prepared by the RS and submitted to the Security Council on 29 April. The report welcomes the European Council’s decision to open accession talks with BiH, while arguing that restoring “BiH’s sovereignty and democratic self-government”—including through the closure of the OHR and the replacement of foreign judges on BiH’s Constitutional Court—is crucial in advancing BiH towards EU membership.

Russia is also likely to reiterate its objection to a draft General Assembly resolution on Srebrenica, which was proposed by Germany and Rwanda. If adopted, the draft text would designate 11 July as the “International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica”. It also 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.

On 30 April, the Security Council convened for a briefing on BiH, which Russia requested 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. The letter said 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 the draft General Assembly resolution on Srebrenica. (For more information, see our 29 April What’s in Blue story.)

At that meeting, Russia described the draft General Assembly resolution as “one-sided and politically biased” and criticised efforts to advance the draft text as undermining BiH’s constitutional framework. Russia noted that BiH’s constitution states that the BiH Presidency, comprising all three members, is responsible for conducting the nation’s foreign policy, and emphasised that RS did not consent to the draft resolution. Several other Council members countered that the draft resolution is not an indictment of any particular people and is aimed at promoting reconciliation based on respect and solidarity with all victims, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.

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