After four years of Government performance that had fallen “way short of the mark”, newly elected leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina had a fresh opportunity to make real economic gains and set the Balkan nation back on track towards European integration, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today.
Briefing the 15-member body, Valentin Inzko, High Representative for Implementation of the Peace Agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina had gone to the polls last month for their seventh post-war elections. “We expect to see complacency replaced with a sense of urgency,” he said, and a fundamental change in the way politics was conducted, especially as they came just one year ahead of the Dayton Peace Agreement’s twentieth anniversary.
Adding context, he said that catastrophic floods had recently affected nearly 1 million people. Thousands of ordinary people had helped each other regardless of ethnicity. Yet, officials and institutions around the country had not responded with the same spontaneous urgency and creativity — behaviour that typified why Bosnia and Herzegovina had been on a downward trajectory since 2006.
“Eight years is a long time for any country to be going the wrong way,” he said. People were disillusioned, angry and frustrated — particularly youth, whose unemployment was above 57 per cent. “The situation is not good.” The interests of the country — and its citizens — must be placed ahead of those of the privileged political class, he said.
The good news, he added, was that a new mandate provided the chance to take major strides towards the lasting peace and stability that came with Euro-Atlantic integration. The region’s integration into the European Union was about much more than prosperity; it was about healing past wounds and enabling people to live together without borders.
Going forward, he said people’s needs must be addressed and the country placed back on track for Euro-Atlantic integration, its declared strategic objective. Urgent steps were needed to overhaul the business environment and seize the opportunity presented by the United Kingdom and Germany to define a road map for strengthening State institutions.
Further, he said, authorities must recommit to the rule of law and the fight against corruption. “We need to see hard results,” he said, urging swift implementation of the verdicts of the Constitutional Court — final and binding under the Peace Agreement — including the decision on Mostar. The challenges to State sovereignty must stop. He had responded to calls for a referendum on secession by reminding people that entities did not have the right to secede under the Peace Agreement.
“There will be no redrawing of borders,” he asserted, and there would “almost certainly” be consequences if leaders continued the politics of the last eight years. Incoming political leaders must change their ways — once and for all — and break the cycle of tit-for-tat politics that had led the country to this point.
In the debate that followed, delegates lauded the conduct of the 12 October elections, stressing that political gridlock must give way to positive interventions that changed peoples’ lives.
The representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina pledged continued efforts to recover from the floods, stressing that the return of refugees and displaced persons would remain a priority, as would Euro-Atlantic integration. Her country looked forward to moving to the next phase of the European Union candidature process, which would give greater impetus to achieving political stability and economic recovery.
The representative of Serbia supported the territorial integrity and constitutional arrangements of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as outlined in the Dayton Peace Agreement. Serbia had accepted all decisions taken by the two entities and three constituent peoples and was committed to promoting cooperation on the basis of the closest possible relations with the Government
Along similar lines, Croatia’s representative affirmed support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Euro-Atlantic orientation, offering partnership in achieving that goal, as Croatia itself had gone through the long and highly demanding accession process. His country would also keep extending support to the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mindful of their legitimate needs and rights. He condemned the secessionist rhetoric of Republika Srpska.
Striking a different tone, the representative of the Russian Federation said the priority was implementation of the “5+2 plan”, by which Bosnia and Herzegovina must achieve certain conditions before a transition from the High Representative to a European Union presence could take place. It should not be complicated with provisions for European integration. External oversight had exhausted itself.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Lithuania, Jordan, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, France, Chile, China, United Kingdom, United States, Luxembourg, Argentina, Chad, Rwanda and Australia.
A representative of the European Union Delegation also spoke.
The meeting started at 3:02 p.m. and ended at 5:10 p.m.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) said Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European Union perspective was supported by all political forces and groups and should be respected by all. The Council resolution adopted earlier reflected that choice and was an important signal of the international community’s support of the perspective and broad engagement with the country. Euro-Atlantic integration provided the framework and incentive for reform and recent developments in the country had a great potential to generate new momentum. She expressed concern that the recent elections had seen manifestations of inter-ethnic divisions and urged all leaders to fundamentally change the way politics was conducted, to reach out to the people and to chart a path towards irreversible progress. Citizens needed properly functioning institutions capable of responding promptly to their legitimate needs and concerns. The readiness of the local community, in the aftermath of the floods in May, to work together and assist their neighbours in need signalled a real interest to seek common solutions for the future. The Dayton Peace Agreement was a necessary tool to end the worst conflict in Europe since the end of the Second World War. Collective political will was now needed to enable the country to progress towards a shared vision of unity, stability and prosperity and of moving towards membership in the European Union. The opportunity provided by the Union’s Compact for Growth and Jobs approach must not be missed, she said.
VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that the commitment of Bosnian Serbs to abide by their responsibilities was evidenced in the latest reports. The elections showed that local populations were able to shape their future; that should happen without undue external interference. Implementation of the 5+2 plan was a priority and it should not be complicated with provisions for European integration. External oversight had exhausted itself and its rapid conclusion should be pursued. International criticism of Bosnian Serbs and Croats added to tensions. More attention should also be paid to the rise of Islamist extremism there. In other areas, responsibility should be transferred to the Bosnians themselves.
DINA KAWAR (Jordan) deplored the lack of progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina and called on the parties to overcome their differences. She said that the presence of EUFOR ALTHEA was critical to allow the country to move forward on the path to peace and stability. She expressed concern over secessionist proposals and urged respect for the country’s territorial integrity. Calling the October elections a ray of hope, she encouraged the new leaders to work towards unity and progress, and in overcoming the economic challenges, exacerbated by the recent flooding.
KAYODE LARO (Nigeria) called on the three communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to overcome their differences and work towards a unified, democratic future. He hoped that a federal Government could be formed without delay. EUFOR remained critical for stability and development in the country, though the primary responsibility lay with the people of the country. He urged the parties to make progress on the reforms and stressed the need for all to respect the country’s territorial integrity as well as the rights of all communities.
PAIK JI-AH (Republic of Korea) noted the obstacles to progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including a “protracted power struggle”. She regretted the authorities’ slow response to the May floods; the ensuing protests showed the need for better governance. The recent elections were an opportunity to chart a new course, though allegations of irregularities were cause for concern. She called for a timely formulation of a new Government and an end to secessionist rhetoric by the Republika Srpska leaders. She supported EUFOR’s continued role in maintaining a secure environment for progress in the country.
ALEXIS LAMEK (France), associating with the European Union, said October polls had seen similar voter proportions to those of other European countries. While the victors were leaders of the political class which had been unable to respond to peoples’ needs, the elections had left room for hope that ethnic divisions would disappear. A new political conscience had emerged, for which he urged collective efforts to create favourable conditions. In that connection, he called the European Union a “factor for cohesion”. France wished to see Bosnia and Herzegovina join the Union and enjoying its full territorial integrity. Denying that prospect would leave it in a precarious situation. He regretted that the Russian Federation had abstained in the vote on the EUFOR ALTHEA draft, which distorted the Balkan reality and had tried to show an artificial disunity on the topic. The framework inherited from Dayton was the reference for international action. He discouraged nationalist rhetoric and warned against interference in the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
CARLOS OLGUÍN CIGARROA (Chile) welcomed the orderly elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and called on leaders to ensure the swift creation of a new Government. All must refrain from negative rhetoric and make the most of the opportunity to move towards national reconciliation. The new authorities also must work together towards European integration. Chile’s experience had shown the importance of national reconciliation in identifying and restoring the remains of disappeared persons. With that in mind, his Government had met with technical personnel in Bosnia and Herzegovina to deepen their knowledge of techniques in the search for victims. Noting that Chile was part of the EUFOR ALTHEA operation, he encouraged international support for the Euro-Atlantic future and the provision of resources for implementing the Dayton accord.
WANG MIN (China) noted that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina was stable, and with that, welcomed progress in economic development and the rule of law. China respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose people had a right to determine their own development path and diplomatic policy. China also welcomed the smooth conduct of elections, which could create enabling conditions for cooperation; he hoped that all ethnic communities would consolidate those gains and continue to implement the Dayton accord. The international community should adopt a balanced, cautious approach to the question of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said, voicing support for the High Representative.
MICHAEL TATHAM (United Kingdom) said the last four years in Bosnia and Herzegovina had seen a wasted electoral term in which the narrow interests of the political class had prevailed over a commitment to reform, good governance and change. Parliament had adopted only 14 new pieces of legislation, while youth unemployment had hit 60 per cent. He urged the creation of a reform-minded Government. February protests had shown the depth of frustration with the status quo, as well as the need to tackle corruption and create jobs. The United Kingdom was committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he said, citing the initiative by his Government and Germany to help Euro-Atlantic perspective. Nationalist rhetoric was unacceptable. Leaders must stop thinking along ethnic lines and instead focus on economic progress. There was no prospect for Bosnia and Herzegovina to join the Union as anything other than a single, sovereign State. “The redrawing of the map in the Balkans is finished,” he declared, expressing disappointment that the EUFOR ALTHEA resolution had not been adopted by consensus for the first time in 14 years.
DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) stressed that the language of the resolution just adopted had the strong support of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and that recent protests had provided a useful platform for political discourse. Recovery from the floods, in addition, had shown the need for a unified, effective government. In that context, he welcomed the peaceful conduct of the October elections. He supported the country’s long-expressed goal of European integration, which he said was also expressed by some Bosnian Serb leaders. He pledged assistance in furthering the reform agenda. Affirming that his country respected the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he spoke against divisive rhetoric. His country would continue to work with the country in important areas to improve the lives of its citizens.
OLIVIER MAES (Luxembourg), associating himself with the European Union, regretted the lack of progress in reform as well as the separatist rhetoric of some leaders of the Republika Srpska. Priority now should be timely formation of a new Government to meet the social and economic challenges exacerbated by the May floods. He expressed solidarity with the people affected. Progress was also needed on Euro-Atlantic integration, which was embraced at all levels in the country. Today’s resolution reaffirmed the support of the international community to back the commitment of the European Union in the emergence of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a prosperous, multi-ethnic European State. He pledged his country’s continued support to that goal.
MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina) said that effective implementation of the Dayton accords was critical and international support for that end should be maintained. Welcoming the recent elections, she called for heightened efforts to overcome ethnic divisions. She expressed solidarity over the May flooding and paid respect to all who had responded to the human suffering that ensued. She called for progress towards closure of the Office of the High Representative as well as towards meeting challenges of constitutional order of the country. She also called for respect for the rule of law and progress in overcoming obstacles that prevented elections in Mostar. She reiterated Argentina’s support to the Office of the High Representative in the context of peace accord’s implementation.
Mr. GOMBO (Chad) said that the search for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a complex challenge that could be seen in the context of the floods, the general elections and the contestation of territorial integrity. Noting the devastation caused by the floods, he encouraged the national authorities to step up their efforts to reintegrate the vulnerable population and build resilience to future events. He called for end to secessionist rhetoric as well as a resolution of all disputes in accordance with the Constitution and the peace agreement. He urged restraint by all and respect for territorial integrity and the rights of minorities.
OLIVIER NDUHUNGIREHE (Rwanda) expressed concern about the €2 billion in damage caused by floods, which had killed 20 people, displaced 90,000, and destroyed more than 2,000 homes. Despite reported irregularities at some polling stations, the elections were peaceful. Mostar elections had not been held and he urged all parties to implement the 2010 ruling of the Constitutional Court. Advocating reforms to address the socioeconomic situation, especially youth unemployment, he said political gridlock persisted as did a lack of progress with regard to the “5+2 objectives” required to close the High Representative’s office. It was unfortunate that divisive rhetoric continued to undermine Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. He urged Republika Srpska to disassociate itself from statements publicly advocating secession, saying that self-determination would violate the Constitution and Dayton accords. Fighting genocide denial was critical for national healing, and Rwanda hoped to see consensus on that issue in the country.
PHILIPPA KING (Australia) expressed concern at the lack of progress on a broad range of economic and governance reforms, which were essential to creating conditions of greater equity, inclusiveness and opportunity for all Bosnians. Bosnia and Herzegovina had not made concrete progress towards its own aim of Euro-Atlantic integration. That was all the more dispiriting when considered against the good progress made by some of its closest neighbours. Reaffirming her country’s support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina, she expressed deep concern at the continued use of inflammatory and divisive rhetoric by some leaders of the Republika Srpska. Australia was encouraged by the inter-ethnic and regional solidarity that characterized the local response to the unprecedented floods in May and welcomed the peaceful and orderly conduct of the 12 October general elections. It was now vital that all political actors worked constructively to ensure the swift formation of government at all levels to promote economic growth and public trust in those institutions. Welcoming the extension of the EUFOR ALTHEA mandate, she urged the leaders of the country to look beyond the divisions of the past and focus on urgent governance and economic reforms.
MIRSADA ČOLAKOVIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina), regretting that the EUFOR resolution was not adopted unanimously, emphasized that the text expressed the position of all three components of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The complex constitutional set-up of her country was reflected in the successful October elections. With civil society actively monitoring the polls, there was a 55 per cent voter turnout. Their choice must be respected. The political parties were now forming a new Government. Describing the devastation of the May floods, which she said wiped out entire villages and caused some €2 billion in damage, she thanked United Nations agencies, the European Union and others for their strong response. She pledged the continued recovery efforts of her country’s authorities together with its international partners.
The return of refugees and displaced persons, she said, remained a top priority for her country, but the necessary conditions for sustainable returns had still not been created throughout the territory. Thus, she opposed the initiative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on possible termination of refugee status. Noting that her country had long been contributing to international peace-and-security-building efforts, she said that it had recently adopted laws that prohibited any form of participation of its citizens in foreign paramilitary groups. All national institutions would cooperate in the global effort to fight extremism.
She underscored that Euro-Atlantic integration remained a high priority and her country looked forward to moving to the next phase of the European Union candidature process, which would give greater impetus to achieving political stability and economic recovery. She therefore welcomed the re-focused, progressive engagement of the Union in facilitating reform processes. Noting that the country had signed onto a United Nations project for dialogue for co-existence and diversity, she pledged her country’s continued efforts to implement positive reforms with the aim of securing stability, progress and prosperity for all its citizens.
THOMAS MAYR-HARTING, Head of the European Union Delegation, said the Union was looking forward to a new spirit of engagement with Bosnia and Herzegovina after its recent elections. A number of challenges remained and progress in political and economic reforms had been too weak for too long. More needed to be done to ensure that a united, stable, viable, multi-ethnic and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina could irreversibly move forward towards the European Union. Fostering good neighbourly relations with all neighbours and other countries in the region was of vital importance. He encouraged Council members to inspire Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political leadership to overcome internal divisions, ensure functionality at all State levels and to undertake, without delay, reforms necessary to move the country forward on its European Union path. After the elections, the leadership needed to focus on the social and economic agenda and far-reaching improvement in the functionality of institutions. Since September 2011, the Union had strengthened its political presence in the country in order to facilitate progress towards European integration and continued to accompany its progress in the security field. Authorities had so far proven capable of dealing with threats to public order and the Union would maintain EUFOR ALTHEA with a focus on capacity-building and training. However, it would retain an executive military role to support the country’s efforts to maintain a safe and secure environment under a United Nations mandate.
MILAN MILANOVIĆ (Serbia) supported the territorial integrity and constitutional arrangements of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as outlined in the Dayton Peace Agreement. Serbia had accepted all decisions taken by the two entities and three constituent peoples and was committed to promoting cooperation on the basis of the closest possible relations with the Government. “The right way forward is the honouring by the post-election majority of the political will expressed at the elections,” he said.
The political dialogue between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina was wide-ranging, he said, citing the visit by Serbia’s Prime Minister to Sarajevo following his electoral victory. The joint meeting of Serbia and the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina was expected to take place once the new Council was formed, and the countries recently had signed a memorandum of understanding on joint ventures in third markets. They would continue to directly address all outstanding issues, including demarcation, refugees, missing persons and the secession process.
He shared the High Representative’s concern about the recommendation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to lift the refugee status on those from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region, as that was premature. It would hamper both the regional housing programme and reconciliation process. He called for a lasting solution that addressed the rights of those long-displaced people. Serbia supported Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European integration through various institutions and initiatives, including the Commission on the Implementation of the Action Plan of the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Field of European Integration.
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), aligning himself with the statement delivered on behalf of the European Union, affirmed his country’s support for the stability and prosperity of its neighbour, for which he fully supported European and Euro-Atlantic orientation. Croatia offered a partnership in achieving that goal, having itself gone through the long and highly demanding accession process. Noting the importance of ethnic equality in the progress of his neighbour, he said his country would also keep extending support to the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mindful of their legitimate needs and rights. The protests that had taken place earlier this year were a telling expression of citizens’ frustration, a deteriorating socioeconomic situation and the related lack of progress on reforms that were needed to ensure stability and prosperity.
Condemning divisive, secessionist rhetoric coming from Republika Srpska, he said that the October elections were fair and inclusive. It was now of crucial importance to quickly establish the new Government. He welcomed the solidarity expressed following the floods, noting Croatia’s assistance, and pointed out that further international support was needed. Pointing to a stagnation of the European integration process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said his country had put forward a proposal for a tailor-made approach to help the country to meet all the necessary criteria. In that light, he supported the recent initiative of Germany and the United Kingdom to help restart the reform process. He deemed it particularly important that Bosnian leaders make long-term, written commitments to implement necessary reforms. He noted that the intensification of the NATO integration process was of great importance to the country.