Drop Destabilizing, Divisive Rhetoric, Top United Nations Official Urges Bosnia and Herzegovina Leaders in Briefing to Security Council

SC/13803
8 May 2019
8522nd Meeting (AM)

Drop Destabilizing, Divisive Rhetoric, Top United Nations Official Urges Bosnia and Herzegovina Leaders in Briefing to Security Council

Sarajevo’s Delegate Commits to European Integration, as Russian Federation Says Cut Budget, Close Office of High Representative

The senior United Nations official in Bosnia and Herzegovina urged the Federation’s leaders today to abandon destabilizing and divisive rhetoric, create governments at the local, state and federal levels, and keep the country moving forward along the path to integration with the European Union.

Valentin Inzko, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, presenting his latest report to the 15-member Council, said that, regrettably, no State-level Council of Ministers or new federal Government has been appointed since general elections seven months ago.  Divisive and destabilizing rhetoric persists, “sometimes from the very same leaders who profess a commitment to the country’s European Union path”, he noted.

He went on to say that Milorad Dodik, Chair of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Tripartite Presidency, continues to speak out against the country’s statehood and to threaten the secession of the Republika Srpska.  He also expressed concern over the rejection by the main ethnic Croat parties of judgments handed down by international courts concerning their respective wartime leaderships.

The Republika Srpska authorities also continue to reject judgments of State and Constitutional Courts, he continued, highlighting their failure to implement decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, thereby leaving in place a system that discriminates against the right of a significant number of citizens to run for public office.  “The authorities can resolve some of these issues with a simple stroke of the pen,” he emphasized.

Urging Bosnia and Herzegovina to respect the Dayton Peace Agreements and hold elections in Mostar, he stressed that it is inconceivable that a major city in a country aspiring to join the European Union has not held local elections in more than a decade.

As delegates took the floor, Poland’s representative declared:  “Every day of prolonging provisional measures erodes further the trust of the electorate.”  Repeated calls for secession defy “every letter of the Dayton Peace Agreements”, she added, cautioning:  “We have seen in history what such a mix of pernicious rhetoric with under-the-radar-armaments may lead to.”

The United Kingdom’s representative said the divisive nationalist rhetoric that dominated the elections makes politics difficult.  It is also appalling that political leaders are rejecting the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and denying the genocide in Srebrenica, he noted, emphasizing that Bosnia and Herzegovina must demonstrate its commitment to European Union values as it aims to join the bloc.

However, the Russian Federation’s representative said the High Representative’s report is far from objective and contains negative comments about the creation of mechanism intended to deal with the large-scale increase in migration and the attendant threats, including extremism and terrorism.  Also biased is the High Representative’s reporting in relation to the Republika Srpska’s establishment of mechanisms to investigate past crimes, he said.  “We are convinced that the time of the external protectorate of Bosnia and Herzegovina is in the past,” he added, stressing that the Office should be closed and its budget cut.

An observer for the European Union delegation said Bosnia and Herzegovina’s slow progress hinders the implementation of much-needed reforms.  Election-related issues must be addressed urgently, he added, cautioning against legislative steps that would make implementation of the European Court for Human Rights ruling on the Sejdić-Finci case more challenging.  Concern also remains about the denial of genocide by elected officials, which is incompatible with integration into the European Union, he pointed out.

Serbia’s representative expressed concern that political tensions and messages that “we thought belonged to the past” have reappeared in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  He expressed hope that institutions will be formed soon so that his country’s Government can partner with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers as in the past.

Croatia’s representative said ethnic Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina feel that electoral engineering deprived them of their legitimate representation in the Tripartite Presidency.  “We cannot pretend that nothing happened,” he added, reiterating the necessity of electoral reform.  Delay will only deepen the problem ahead of the 2020 municipal elections, he warned.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s representative pledged her country’s full commitment to overcoming challenges in the process towards full integration into the European Union.  The country has intensified efforts to implement its reform agenda and is focused on strengthening the rule of law and good governance, she said.  Judicial institutions continue to process individuals involved in fighting on behalf of terrorist organizations, as well as those facilitating the recruitment of terrorist fighters.  Turning to immigration, she said authorities undertaking comprehensive measures to deal with the migrant crisis are doing so in accordance with the highest European and international standards.

Others speaking today were representatives of South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, China, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Belgium, France, United States, Germany and Indonesia.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 12:20 p.m.

Briefing

VALENTIN INZKO, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, noted that seven months after that country’s general elections, the process of building coalitions and appointing governments continues to dominate the political sphere.  While the Republika Srpska and some cantons of the Federation moved swiftly to form governments, there has regrettably been no appointment of a new State-level Council of Ministers or a new federal Government.  Nevertheless, concrete discussions among the constituent parties of a State-level coalition appear to be more advanced now, he said, calling upon the authorities to improve the transparency and integrity of the electoral system, as recommended by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Turning to integration with the European Union, he expressed concern over continuing divisive and destabilizing rhetoric, “sometimes from the very same leaders who profess a commitment to the country’s European Union path”.  Milorad Dodik, Chair of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Tripartite Presidency continues to speak against the country’s statehood and to threaten the future secession of the Republika Srpska, he noted, adding that the Chair has also stated that that entity will declare independence if Kosovo becomes a member of the United Nations.  “How might you react if a regional representative in your own country made such explicit statements and declared part of your country an independent State?” he asked.

He went on to express concern over the main ethnic Croat parties’ persistent rejection of judgments handed down by international courts concerning their respective wartime leaderships.  Calling upon the international community to remain unwavering in its commitment to the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he expressed further concern that the Republika Srpska’s legislative assembly moved forward in April with legislation to create a reserve police force, a step interpreted by some as an attempt to build an alternative military force.  “Bosnia needs less weapons and less people in police uniforms, not more,” he emphasized, calling upon the authorities to work together to maximize public security for all citizens.

Turning to developments in Mostar, he said it is inconceivable that a major city in a country that aspires to join the European Union has not held local elections in more than a decade.  The Republika Srpska authorities continue to reject judgments of the State and Constitutional Courts, he noted.  He also highlighted their failure to implement decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, thereby leaving in place a system that discriminates against the right of a significant number of citizens to run for public office.  “The authorities can resolve some of these issues with a simple stroke of the pen,” he stressed.

He went on to underline the critical need for Bosnia and Herzegovina to respect the Dayton Peace Agreements and its own Constitution.  “I cannot govern in place of the elected leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he pointed out, calling upon the authorities to take the necessary steps to move the country forward.  While urging the leaders to abandon destabilizing and divisive rhetoric rooted in the past and take strides to keep the country moving forward on the European Union path, he said the international community must increase its efforts to promote reconciliation, not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but throughout the Balkans.

Statements

XOLISA MABHONGO (South Africa) expressed concern over the continuing disagreements among political parties, saying it threatens to undermine the implementation of critical previous agreements, including the 5+2 agenda established by the Peace Implementation Steering Board.  He urged the Council to promote an environment conducive to dialogue and cooperation.  Noting that a new coalition Government should be formed soon, he nevertheless expressed concern over human rights issues, emphasizing that any country seeking lasting and sustainable peace must respect international human rights law and relevant Security Council resolutions.  “The political impasse is not sustainable,” he stressed, calling for political dialogue in order to move forward.

TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) said he remains concerned about recent developments that threaten Bosnia and Herzegovina’s chances of acceding to the European Union.  It is essential to seek peaceful solutions among the country’s communities, he said, calling on all parties to refrain from negative actions.  Concerned also about the passage of a public safety law that could have a negative effect on inter-party relations, he called upon the Republika Srpska to disband the newly created reserve police force.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), noting that progress on the 5+2 agenda remains limited, urged the authorities to strengthen the rule of law, including by appointing the Council of Ministers.  Emphasizing that the Republika Srpska must comply with previous agreements, he said that tackling organized crime and corruption must foster greater trust between citizens and the Government.  He also urged greater participation by women and young people in national processes.

YAO SHAOJUN (China), emphasizing that dialogue and consultation must advance elements of the Dayton Peace Agreement, said the international community must listen to the concerns of all parties and take a balanced approach, while lending greater support to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s economic development.

STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) said he shares the disappointment of other members over the failure to make political appointments and related developments preventing progress.  The divisive nationalist rhetoric that dominated the elections persists, making politics difficult and failing to serve the citizenship, he noted, adding that some individuals have acted to undermine institutions.  The United Kingdom supports a Bosnia and Herzegovina that represents all of its people, but recent moves by the Republika Srpska have had a negative effect on freedoms, including the freedom of speech, he said.  It is appalling that political leaders and some segments of society are rejecting the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and denying the genocide in Srebrenica, he added, stressing that Bosnia and Herzegovina must demonstrate its commitment to European Union values in its bid to join the bloc.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), associating her delegation with the statement to be delivered on behalf of the European Union, called upon the political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina to forge ahead urgently with forming the Government.  “Every day of prolonging provisional measures erodes further the trust of the electorate,” she said, also emphasizing that repeated calls for secession defy “every letter of the Dayton Peace Agreement” and pose a direct threat to peace.  “We have seen in history what such a mix of pernicious rhetoric with under-the-radar-armaments may lead to,” she cautioned.  Political elites must do everything in their power to uphold and promote the rule of law, stamp out corruption and fight organized crime, she said, stressing:  “They cannot act and be seen as defenders of narrow vested interests.”  The recent decision by the Republika Srpska to appoint a commission to reopen the interpretation of events relating to the Srebrenica massacre is only the latest attempt to rewrite history, she said, adding that the shedding of responsibility is corrosive.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) emphasized the importance of completing the appointment of officials to lead the country.  The authorities must focus on advancing the necessary reforms and building a future of shared opportunities, he said.  However, some in Bosnia and Herzegovina regrettably continue not to recognize cases of genocide that have already been confirmed by the International Criminal Court, he noted.  This kind of action certainly jeopardizes progress, he said, calling upon the parties to abstain from actions that threaten the reconciliation process and to respect justice mechanisms, as well as the media.

AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea), while reiterating her delegation’s full respect for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty, noted with concern that no Government has been formed six months after the general elections.  The delay reflects the divisive ethnic tensions among different groups in the country, she noted.  Urging the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to commit to the rule of law, she called on all parties to work jointly to entrench the rule of law and eliminate ethnic divisions, crime, corruption, violent extremism and terrorism.  They must also step up efforts towards implementation of the 5+2 agenda, she said, reiterating:  “We encourage the parties to leave ethnic differences behind.”

TALAL S.S.S. ALFASSAM (Kuwait) expressed concern over the increasingly incendiary rhetoric and divisive statements and called upon all political leaders to place the national interests above all else.  Leaders and national authorities must move forward to implement the results of the October general elections.  He called upon the authorities to ensure that the judiciary is not without tools to deal with organized crime, terrorism, corruption and extremism, warning that they remain a threat to the rule of law and social and economic development, as well as integration into the European Union.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) emphasized the need to closely monitor the backsliding into negative rhetoric about war crimes.  Calling upon political leaders to shoulder their responsibility to implement the many reforms the country needs, he said the principle of equality must be shared by all citizens.  Strengthening the rule of law remains a major challenge and the authorities must implement urgent judicial reforms to combat corruption and organized crime, he emphasized.  Concerned about the growing number of voices denying the Srebrenica genocide and glorifying war crimes, he said that such negative rhetoric must be replaced by reconciliation efforts involving women and young people.  He went on to condemn attacks against journalists, also underlining the need to enforce the freedom of assembly.  Meanwhile, the creation of a new reserve police force is contrary to a climate of reconciliation, he said, while stressing the indispensable role of EUFOR Althea in maintaining stability.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said her delegation remains concerned about challenges against the decisions of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, cautioning that such rhetoric threatens national cohesion.  The formation of a new Government must be the priority, alongside strengthening and consolidating the judicial system, she added.  Calling upon all parties to respect State authorities and decisions taken by national and international courts, she said Bosnia and Herzegovina must urgently adopt reforms in line with its progress towards European integration.  “A prosperous country and equitable justice system are within reach,” she added.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said that despite the existence of opportunities, challenges remain, including negative rhetoric and mistrust.  Developments on the rule-of-law front are inconsistent with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s desire to join the European Union, he added, emphasizing that strengthening the rule of law and tackling corruption are among the steps needed to move forward.  Only when the 5+2 conditions are met can the international community consider the Dayton Peace Agreements implemented, he said, adding that until then, the United States will continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s steps towards those objectives.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a place “we can leave behind”, highlighting such recent gains as Serbia’s commitment to the country’s territorial integrity.  While supporting the important work of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), Germany regrets the exodus of young people, he said.  Moreover, the police arms race, negative rhetoric and the deplorable state of the judiciary remain pressing concerns.  He asked what can be done to address these problems and to encourage women’s participation in government.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said the High Representative’s report is far from an objective assessment and aims only to justify maintaining a United Nations presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  He continues to “settle a personal score” with many ethnic Serb and Croat leaders in the country, he added, pointing out that some have rightfully questioned the effectiveness of the Dayton Peace Agreements.  The High Representative’s affection for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s integration into the European Union has also become commonplace, he said, explaining that, for this reason, there has been little movement towards fulfilment of the 5+2 agenda.  Hopefully, the High Representative will continue to work towards completing the work of his Office, he said, reiterating that the report contains negative comments about the creation of offices intended to deal with the large-scale increase in migration and its attendant threats, including extremism and terrorism.

Also biased is the High Representative’s reporting in relation to the Republika Srpska’s establishment of mechanisms to investigate past crimes, he continued.  The High Representative’s displays of bias indicate that those mechanisms cannot continue to provide reconciliation or justice, he said.  “We do hope that the experts of 12 countries in these commissions are able to recreate a comprehensive picture of crimes committed there.”  Calling upon the High Representative to accurately reflect the work carried out by the Peace Implementation Steering Board, he said the Russian Federation did not approve the Board’s 2018 document for a number of reasons, including its negative assessment of the general elections and its one-sided conclusions on war crimes.

He went on to note with regret that members of the Security Council only had a few days to study the High Representative’s latest report.  “We would like to have more time to study this,” he emphasized, inviting Council members interested in a deeper understanding of the situation on the ground to study the report produced by the government of the Republika Srpska.  “We are convinced that the time of the external protectorate of Bosnia and Herzegovina is in the past,” he said, stressing that the Office should be closed and its budget cut, “mainly for the purpose of local ownership”.  Continuing to exert pressure on the Republika Srpska and ethnic Serb leaders through one-sided restrictions is counterproductive and can lead to grave tensions, he warned.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity, echoing the concerns expressed over the lack of progress in anti-corruption efforts.  Indonesia also remains concerned about the limited access that the government of the Republika Srpska has granted the High Representative, he added.  “We believe Bosnia and Herzegovina will find its own way to democracy, but the bedrock of democracy is rule of law,” he stressed, reiterating that upholding the rule of law must be the main reason for all national stakeholders to come together.  “As long as there is no unity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, progress will remain dormant,” he said, adding that local elections must also be held immediately in Mostar to allow all the country’s people to determine their own future.

ŠEJLA ĐURBUZOVIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina) pledged her country’s full commitment and dedication to overcoming challenges in the process towards full integration into the European Union, saying that after fulfilling the necessary obligations for the next step in the process, Bosnia and Herzegovina hopes it will achieve candidate status for membership in the bloc by the end of 2019.  “We have intensified our efforts in a number of areas relevant in achieving this goal, namely the implementation of the reform agenda, socioeconomic reform as a matter of priority, but also continue its work in strengthening the rule of law and good governance,” she said.  Advancing friendly and constructive cooperation with regional countries is also a top priority, she added, noting that cooperation among the Western Balkan States, within the framework of the Berlin process, remains a key driver for the region’s integration into the European Union.

She went on to note that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s judicial institutions continue to process individuals involved in fighting on behalf of terrorist organizations, as well as those facilitating the recruitment of terrorist fighters.  As for processing war crimes before domestic courts, she said fighting impunity is a vital focus.  Turning to the economy, she said the situation continued to improve at a modest pace in 2018, noting that there is great concern over the outflow of young educated people.  Massive investment is needed to reverse this trend, she said, calling for more foreign direct investment in health-care, infrastructure and education projects.  Further, the international migration crisis continued to pose a substantial challenge, she said, pointing out that close to 24,000 illegal migrants have been found, most of them without documents.  In response, the national authorities have undertaken a set of comprehensive measures in accordance with the highest European and international standards, she said.

SILVIO GONZATO, observer for the European Union delegation, said that ahead of the bloc’s release of its opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership application, members commend the country’s recent gains in forming executive and parliamentary institutions, while remaining concerned about slow progress in creating governments at the state and federal levels.  This hinders the implementation of much-needed reforms, he pointed out.  Election-related issues must be addressed urgently, he said, emphasizing that no legislative or political steps should be taken that would make implementation of the ruling of the European Court for Human Rights on the Sejdić-Finci and related decisions more challenging.  The authorities must urgently resume reform efforts and work towards strengthening the rule of law, which is key for the country’s advance towards the European Union.

He went on to urge the national authorities to align legislative initiatives and law-enforcement practices with European and international standards.  While expressing support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s desire to be part of the European Union, he noted that, given that the war caused destruction and suffering to all communities, concern remains about the denial of genocide by elected officials, which is incompatible with the national perspective of integration into the European Union.  The bloc expects the country’s institutions and political leaders to uphold their commitment to lasting reconciliation, in a true European spirit and guided by the aspirations of the vast majority of their citizens, he stressed.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) said that, as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s only European Union neighbour and one of its top trade and investing partners, his country remains closely apprised of developments because, among other reasons, ethnic Croats make up one of the Federation’s three constituent peoples.  A stable, peaceful and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina will contribute to stability in the European Union as a whole, he said, recalling that Croatia cautioned in previous Council meetings that a political impasse and divisive rhetoric pose a risk of derailing progress on much-needed reforms and undermining the country’s functionality and stability.  The national authorities remain responsible for taking ownership of political reform and must prove that they know how to do so and that it will build consensus among all political stakeholders.  The path towards European Union membership must not be held hostage to partisan politics, he stressed.

Urging all political leaders to assume their responsibilities and proceed without delay to the formation of local and state governments, he said that ignoring the goals of the Dayton Peace Agreements remains counterproductive.  However, the ethnic Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina feel that electoral engineering deprived them of their legitimate representation in the Tripartite Presidency, he noted, underlining that “we cannot pretend that nothing happened”.  Expressing deepen concern about that adverse development and its political ramifications, he reiterated the necessity of electoral reform and its paramount importance for stability, warning that delays will only deepen the problem ahead of the 2020 municipal elections.  “The year 2019 does not have to be part of the negative cycle,” he said.  “On the contrary, it provides an opportunity for the country to enhance its functionality for years to come,” he added.  “Our goal is to see Bosnia and Herzegovina fully entrenched on the European path.”

MILAN MILANOVIĆ (Serbia) said that although his delegation is firmly committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, political tensions and messages that “we thought belonged to the past” have reappeared amid unproductive rhetoric.  Serbia’s approach aims to stabilize the situation and help to calm tensions he said, adding that dialogue is the best way to address outstanding issues.  Noting that the Western Balkans region is changing, with stabilization, reconciliation and European Union integration on top of the agenda, he said that in order to continue on this path, “we need to strengthen regional confidence”.  In light of the 2018 elections, Serbia hopes that institutions will be formed soon and that they will take up their full responsibilities to the benefit of all citizens, he said, adding that the Government of Serbia will partner with the Council of Ministers, once formed, as in the past.

He went on to recall President Aleksandar Vučić’s recent statement that Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina must continue to build a common future of peace and stability, regardless of potholes in history and different perspectives.  Since the two countries are important trade partners, operating in accordance with the Central European Free Trade Agreement, it is to be hoped that the international community will step up pressure on Kosovo to reverse its recent imposition of tariffs on Serbian goods.  Meanwhile, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as other neighbours, are resolved to work together in linking peoples, regions and economies, he said, underlining that Belgrade strongly supports Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European Union membership aspirations.  “Peace, stability, good-neighbourliness have no alternative and are lodestars on our region’s road to the European Union,” he said.  “They are achievable only through dialogue, mutual respect and civility.”

Mr. INZKO, High Representative, took the floor a second time in response to comments and questions.  Responding first to the Russian Federation’s statement that his report is far from objective, he cited the words of the Republika Srpska Prime Minister to the effect that the report does not paint that entity in an unfair light.  In response to questions by Germany and France about the rule of law, he reiterated that some in Bosnia and Herzegovina are rejecting the verdicts of international courts outright.  Citing corruption as a factor in that trend, as well as in universities and other employment sectors, he said it would be helpful to have some foreign judges and prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while also emphasizing the importance of local ownership.

For information media. Not an official record.