With renewed momentum for European integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina and new Government components in place, national leaders should work together to end the “stagnation” of progress in time for the upcoming twentieth anniversary of the accords that ended fighting there, the High Representative for the country told the Security Council this morning.
“I believe that a great deal can be achieved in 2015 if there is a renewed commitment within the country and among its political leaders to pull together and to work together,” Valentin Inzko said in his biannual briefing, in which he noted that the twentieth anniversary of the Dayton/Paris Peace Accords and of the Srebrenica massacre would take place before his next appearance at the Council.
There had been much progress since those events, he said, introducing his latest report (document S/2015/300), which noted continued calm in the country. However, he said, political divisiveness, including direct challenges to the Peace Agreement, unemployment and corruption must be faced in order to take full advantage of the written commitment concluded in March between all parties in the country that has “opened the way for the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union to enter into force”.
He called it good news that there were governments in place at the State and Entity levels that showed signs of readiness to start implementing that agreement. However, concrete progress was needed in the creation of new jobs, improvement in functioning of institutions and stemming of crime and corruption.
Reporting on an April attack on a police station in the country that resulted in the death of an officer, he said that the response of authorities was swift, but closer cooperation between authorities was needed at all levels to tackle law-enforcement challenges, including the ongoing fight against terrorism, which he acknowledged was a global challenge.
Calling, in addition, for an end to the divided “politics of the past”, he said that of particular concern in that context was a declaration adopted by the Republika Srpska National Assembly on 17 April that directly challenged the authority of the Constitutional Court.
The period of drawing of borders in Bosnia and Herzegovina was over, as was division and secession, he underlined. “Their place is in the history books,” he said. Any resuscitation of such tendencies must be dealt with firmly and decisively, he added, averring that “this is the era not of division, but of renewed bridge building.”
The international community must do all it could to help the forces of positive change in the country to reach their “surge capacity”, he said. Unfortunately, international support for his office was waning and it was increasingly difficult for him to fulfil his mandate. He asked for full support to help Bosnia and Herzegovina to move along the European path.
“Let us do all we can in the next six months to help these peoples to seize the opportunity the country has been given by the [European Union] so that 2015 is remembered as the year Bosnia and Herzegovina turned decisively to the future,” he said.
Following Mr. Inzko’s briefing, Council members took the floor to welcome the consolidation of Government in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the signing of the agreement for further progress in European integration. Most urged leaders in the country to close ranks to make further progress in necessary reforms and to address the economy, given the high unemployment rate. Most also expressed concern over continued political divisiveness and urged all parties to work towards national reconciliation and against efforts to undermine the Dayton Accords.
Many also condemned the attack on a police station, calling for urgent work in the country and the region to stop terrorist recruitment. Serbia’s representative, noting that the slain officer was from the Republika Srpska, also supported regional cooperation in fighting extremism and ending the flow of terrorist fighters, while supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress towards European integration.
The representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina affirmed that after seven years, “the strong [European Union] perspective is once again occupying a central place in the political agenda of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, providing impetus for progress.
Along with internal reforms, she said the country was focusing on its enhanced cooperation within the region to deal with serious socioeconomic problems, including youth unemployment. The attack on the police station served as a reminder that violent extremism was of great concern for the region and the world; she pledged her country would continue to participate in global efforts to combat it.
The Head of the European Union Delegation, announcing that the Stabilization and Association Agreement would enter into force on 1 June 2014, following the recent commitments, invited the Council to urge leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina “to maintain the positive momentum by delivering on reforms, to look beyond persistent political divisions and to finally and decisively move the country forward on its reform agenda, towards stability and prosperity for all its citizens, on the path the EU.”
Also speaking were representatives of the United States, Chile, Russian Federation, Malaysia, Venezuela, Nigeria, New Zealand, France, Spain, United Kingdom, Jordan, Angola, China, Chad, Lithuania, Croatia and Serbia.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:03 p.m.
DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) congratulated the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the formation of a new Government following last year’s general elections. “This is a major achievement that must be acknowledged,” he said, calling on politicians to take seriously their promises to undertake socioeconomic reforms. The United States was committed to supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Euro-Atlantic integration plans. When it came into force on 1 June, the Stabilization and Association Agreement would bring progress in European Union integration. On defence property registration, the United States was pleased that there had been progress on the registration of three properties in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it would support the registration of the remaining properties. He further welcomed efforts by the country to stop foreign fighters from entering Syria. He expressed concern about continued actions by the President of the Republika Srpska, including statements calling into question the legitimacy of the country. “This is an unfortunate about-face” for a leader that had only recently promised to bring the country closer to Europe, he said. Nationalistic rhetoric threatened the country’s progress, he said, stressing, “We strongly condemn any action that seeks to undermine the territorial integrity of the State”. In addition, efforts by the Republika Srpska to curb freedom of speech online ran counter to efforts towards European integration.
CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) supported the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He welcomed the formation of the new Government in the country and urged all parties to move towards the implementation of national reconciliation. It was necessary for the political leaders of the various communities to make progress towards strengthening the country’s new institutions. “We urge them to refrain from negative rhetoric” that would obstruct national reconciliation and the path towards European integration. Chile supported efforts of Bosnia and Herzegovina to overcome its past and to re-establish its “fractured social tissue”, and reiterated its support for a Bosnia and Herzegovina with institutions that functioned in the service of peace. Chile had provided police troops through the EUFOR (European Union Force) Althea operation. His country supported efforts to monitor the rule of law and the facilitation of reforms that were under way, and the Office of the High Representative needed the necessary resources to ensure that those actions could be undertaken.
VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that the local parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina had shown they could resolve their problems without foreign intervention. Remaining reforms should be concluded by the Bosnian people; the role of the international community should be only to point them in the right direction. The High Representative was only looking for people to blame; his role was to find “artificial reasons” for the existence of an office that had become outdated. “We need to wind down this foreign protectorate which is insulting to the international community,” he said. In addition, the Council should familiarize itself with the report of the Republika Srpska. His delegation was against having the international presence viewed as an element towards integration into NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the European Union. Such far–reaching decisions could not be forced on anyone from the outside. Finally, he drew attention to several alarming trends, including extremism among Muslim communities in the Western Balkans.
RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) welcomed the formation of the Government in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the agreement signed with the European Union and urged leaders in the country to close ranks to reform the country’s economy, given the high unemployment rate. Expressing concern over political divisiveness, he urged all parties to work towards national reconciliation and stability. Efforts to undermine or change the Dayton Accords must cease. He reaffirmed commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, noting Malaysia’s investments in the country in projects that aimed to bring the ethnic groups together.
HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela) stressed that full compliance with international law was a fundamental element in the maintenance of peace and security. For that reason, he supported the balanced and transparent operation of the Office of the High Representative and welcomed recent agreements. He called for respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina while expressing concern over the attack against the police station and welcoming work against terrorism. He called on the country’s leaders to work with renewed political will for the good of the entire population.
U. JOY OGWU (Nigeria), welcoming recent agreements in Bosnia and Herzegovina, encouraged further agreements in localities. Expressing concern over continued divisiveness, she said that the interest of the Entities must be addressed within a united country. She urged all Entities to respect all rulings of the Constitutional Court as binding and called for all protests to be made within the democratic framework and for all disputes to be resolved in their proper, peaceful ways. She also urged strengthening of the criminal code to better address terrorist threats and further improvements in rule of law. She finally supported the High Representative in his call for adequate funding for his office.
CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand), welcoming the formation of a new Government, called the commitment of representatives from across the political spectrum to social and economic reforms a “very positive” step. While healthy debate unlocked a country’s full potential, the “divisive” rhetoric identified in the High Representative’s report was concerning, as attempts to undermine the country’s unity, such as through calling for a referendum on secession, distracted from the reform agenda. The five objectives and two conditions set by the Steering Board of the Peace and Implementation Council had not been accomplished. In that context, he reiterated New Zealand’s commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) welcomed the establishment of the new Government in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the delays, as well as the signing of the European initiative. He hoped that it would provide the road map for integration into the Union. Expressing concern over divisive statements, he called on leaders to refrain from such rhetoric and work for reconciliation. He also called for measures to stop persons from the country from joining terrorist groups. He welcomed the continuation of a safe and calm environment, expressing confidence for a positive future for the country if the people there worked together.
WANG MIN (China), also welcoming recent progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressed respect for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, stressing its right to choose its own path for development. He hoped for further progress in peace, stability and development there, for which further support from the international community was needed. Supporting the High Representative in performing his mandated tasks, he expressed his country’s commitment to further progress.
BANTE MANGARAL (Chad), while welcoming recent progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina, called for all parties to work more closely together. He condemned in that context the counter-productive declarations recently made. He deplored criminality and the recent terrorist attack and called for all to work for harmonious integration of the population and further progress in media independence and other areas. He supported, in addition, the efforts by the High Representative to work for the fulfilment of all conditions that would allow the winding down of his office’s operations.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania), associating with the European Union, said that this year marked 20 years since the end of a devastating war, with events at Srebrenica having been described as “scenes from hell”. The progress achieved since had been remarkable. The last two decades had offered proof of the international commitment to building a more stable region. Significant steps had been taken to realize a prosperous, united and multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lithuania’s commitment to the country remained strong. Other efforts were needed, including measures provided by the “Compact for Growth” initiative and closer dialogue with the European Union. Economic and social issues also required urgent attention, especially the high unemployment. Authorities should capitalize on the opportunities presented by the renewed European Union approach. Reconciliation, as well as strengthened rule of law and administrative capacities, required overcoming political differences.
MIRSADA ČOLAKOVIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said that positive recent political developments had taken place since the last report of the High Representative. A six-month period of intensive and sometimes painful post-election negotiations had come to an end. All institutions of Government in her country were formed and ready to address a number of important issues; for one, much-needed socioeconomic reform measures could not wait any longer. After seven years, “the strong [European Union] perspective is once again occupying a central place in the political agenda of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” she said. The joint declaration on commitment, adopted by the presidency on 29 January 2015, signed by the leaders of the 14 parties represented in parliament and fully endorsed by the Parliamentary Assembly on 23 February, reaffirmed the membership of the European Union as a strategic goal of the country.
Following that action, she said, the Council of the European Union had adopted on 21 April a decision concluding the Stabilization and Association Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was expected that the Agreement would enter into force on 1 June 2015. That new, modified approach of the European Union towards the country represented a unique opportunity “to leave behind, and for good, a period of stagnation and immobility”. It was necessary to be conscious that there was a massive task ahead and that a number of vital areas needed serious restructuring and adaptation to European Union standards. Along with internal reforms, the country was closely focusing on its enhanced cooperation within the region, especially with regard to infrastructure projects.
“We are aware that our socioeconomic situation calls for urgent reform measures,” she went on. Youth unemployment and the creation of new jobs were of critical importance. There was also a “new dynamic” in regional cooperation in the Western Balkans. “It is a clear sign of improved relations between countries and at the same time awareness that a number of issues are of common interest and can be dealt with successfully only if all interested countries are involved,” she said. Bosnia and Herzegovina was slated to take over as Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 19 May for a period of six months. Finally, she said, the attack on the police station in Zvornik that took place on 27 April served as a reminder that the threat of terrorism and violent extremism was of great concern for the region and the world. Her country remained fully committed and would continue to participate in global efforts to combat those threats.
THOMAS MAYR-HARTING, Head of the European Union Delegation, informed the Council that the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the European Union, its Member States and Bosnia and Herzegovina would enter into force on 1 June 2015, following March’s written commitment to reform and progress, adopted by the presidency and signed by the leaders of political parties endorsed by the Parliament. He called this a positive development that was evidence of the country’s commitment to the European path. The Union was now engaged with representatives of the newly formed Government and international partners, including international financial institutions on an “initial reform agenda”.
Those reforms, he said, should be in line with Union standards and focus on the Copenhagen criteria (socioeconomic reforms including rule of law and good governance) as well as coordinating mechanisms and other functional concerns. There was a long way to go before success could be declared; “deeply-rooted divisions remain and reconciliation is slow,” he said. Divisive and separatist rhetoric was of particular concern.
He said that the consolidated presence of the European Union in Bosnia and Herzegovina was fully engaged in support of the country, including accompanying the country’s security progress. In relation to continued challenges in that area, the Union was ready to keep EUFOR Althea focused on capacity-building and training while retaining the capability to contribute to deterrence capacity if required. He looked forward to further discussions on reconfiguration of the international presence and called on the authorities in the country to meet the outstanding conditions for the closure of the Office of the High Representative. Pledging continued European commitment to progress, he invited the Council to urge leaders to maintain the positive momentum by delivering on reforms, including those related to the adopting of the association agreement, “to look beyond persistent political divisions and to finally and decisively move the country forward on its reform agenda, towards stability and prosperity for all its citizens, on the path to the EU.”
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), aligning himself with the European Union, recalled that his country’s President had visited the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which showed the importance of the relationship between the two countries. Croatia strongly supported the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Its stability is of paramount importance for us,” he said. Six months after the elections, all authorities had been established. He noted with satisfaction that Croats, numerically the smallest of the three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina, after many years now had a legitimate member of the presidency and were represented at all levels of Government in an equal and legitimate manner. “The last thing Bosnia and Herzegovina needs is secessionist and inflammatory rhetoric,” he went on. For that reason, he condemned recent statements and actions by the Republika Srpska, such as the adoption of the Declaration on Free and Independent Republika Srpska, as well as the controversial interpretation of what happened at Srebrenica 20 years ago. “Such acts are completely unacceptable,” he said.
The steady and forward-looking European integration process was the most efficient and constructive way to reach the internal consolidation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said. Accordingly, Croatia welcomed the entering into force of the Stabilization and Association Agreement as of 1 June 2015. Regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina’s advancement to NATO, he urged the newly elected political leaders to intensify efforts on the implementation of the six parties’ political agreement on the issue of military property and to work to implement the agreement in order to start the first Membership Action Plan cycle as soon as possible. Finally, he said, the European Union military mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina remained of vital importance, and the Additional Protocol to the European Union Stabilization and Association Agreement was “long overdue”.
MILAN MILANOVIĆ (Serbia) underlined his country’s commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as outlined by the Dayton Agreement. While welcoming the formation of a new Government and planned reforms, he condemned the 27 April killing of a Republika Srpska officer and wounding of two others at Zvornik, stressing that the perpetrators must be prosecuted. Both Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina had amended national laws to incriminate foreign terrorist fighters. Yet, the recent terrorist attack was proof that neither would be spared such monstrous practices. Serbia was ready to cooperate with Bosnia and Herzegovina to fight terrorism, extremism and organized crime.
Turning to the countries’ high level of political dialogue, he cited the Serbian Prime Minister’s visit to Sarajevo last year and a meeting in April between the countries’ Foreign Ministers in Belgrade. On the economic front, the countries had agreed that transport, infrastructure and energy were important areas for cooperation, particularly after last year’s floods. Serbia supported Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European integration, calling the conclusion of the Stabilization and Association Agreement “good news” for the region. “European integration is the most efficient way to bring overall progress and economic development” to the region, he said.
Serbia’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s presidency of the Council of Europe would provide other possibilities to foster development, stability and cooperation, he said. Serbia was ready to work hard to find solutions to all outstanding issues in its efforts to promote mutual relations. In that context, Serbia had contributed to efforts by the Offices of the War Crimes Prosecutors to investigate and punish all such perpetrators in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbia sought to overcome the “unease” of legacies and promote regional cooperation, he said, stressing that reconciliation and stability were of mutual interest. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, he said, quoting philosopher George Santayana.