25 Years after Historic Peace Accord Signing, Real Reforms Stalled amid Divisive Rhetoric, Threat of Succession by Main Serb Party Leader, High Representative Says
The Security Council decided to extend for one year its authorization to States working as part of the multinational stabilization force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and heard a briefing by the high representative in that country, with voting results announced virtually in accordance with the temporary silence procedure* adopted for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unanimously adopting resolution 2549 (2020) under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the 15-member Council welcomed the European Union’s readiness to maintain the military operation — known as EUFOR-ALTHEA — and authorized Member States acting through or in cooperation with it to undertake measures related to the implementation of the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for 12 more months. It reiterated that the primary responsibility for implementing the Peace Agreement, which is also known as the Dayton Agreement, lies with all the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina themselves, while noting the continued willingness of the international community and major donors to lend their support.
At the meeting’s outset, Council members heard a briefing from Valentin Inzko, the High Representative and European Union Special Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, who outlined the contents of his latest report (document S/2020/1052) and noted that November marks 25 years since the signing of the Peace Agreement in Dayton, Ohio. “As it turns out, the Dayton Agreement — while a solid framework for future development of Bosnia and Herzegovina — brought an imperfect peace,” he said. Undeniable progress has been made on the agreement’s priorities, which were to stop the bloodshed and enable future reforms. However, he said the global community also made a grave mistake by trusting some politicians too early. “They used our goodwill to reinvigorate nationalistic, divisive policies,” he said.
Since 2006 in particular, he noted, institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina have remained blocked and there has been little progress on real reforms. Systemic discrimination against so-called “others” — citizens who do not declare themselves as members of the three constituent peoples — is common. Some politicians still ignore core European values, such as the lessons learned in the Nuremberg trials. In that regard, he echoed the recent declaration by Germany’s Foreign Minister that “there is no place in the European Union for those who glorify war criminals”, while calling for the full implementation of the country’s Revised War Crimes Processing Strategy and for the creation of a genocide denial law.
Turning to the local elections slated to be held in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 10 days, he expressed concern that some campaigns have been characterized by divisive rhetoric. Most recently, Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and leader of the main Serb party, stated that Bosnia and Herzegovina is the “wrong country” and threatened that Serbs and Croats would disassociate from the nation if their new plan for how Bosnia and Herzegovina should function is not accepted. “To be clear, Mr. Dodik is talking about secession of the Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he warned.
Emphasizing that a plan already exists for how Bosnia and Herzegovina should function — the 1995 Dayton Agreement — he described statements to the contrary as irresponsible and unfounded. He went on to call for the long-overdue appointment of a new Federation Government as soon as possible, stressing that elections are meaningless if their results are not implemented. Among other issues outlined in his report, he underscored the need for Bosnia and Herzegovina to dramatically improve the rule of law, combat corruption and tackle its massive problem of “brain drain” as talented young people continue to leave the country.
He voiced regret that, despite repeated calls from the Council, little progress has been made by the authorities to implement the “5+2 Agenda” — namely, the five objectives and two conditions required before the closure of his Office. “It is in our common interest to leave behind a lasting and irreversible stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he stressed, calling for a rethinking of past approaches — which included attempts at “robust interventionism” and hands-off local ownership — and instead advocating for more diversity and tolerance.
As Council members and the representatives of concerned countries delivered virtual remarks, many praised recent progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the new Revised Strategy on War Crimes and preparations for upcoming local elections. However, several sounded alarms over stalled reforms in other areas, as well as instances of divisive rhetoric. Many speakers urged the parties to refrain from provocative words and actions, calling on them to instead unite in combating the greatest challenges facing the country — including corruption, radicalization and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The representative of the United States said that by combating corruption and pushing back against divisive rhetoric, the country’s leaders now have a chance to help their people move forward. He noted that 2020 also marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, in which some 8,000 men and boys were tragically killed. “This painful event must never be denied nor forgotten,” he stressed, calling on all nations to take steps to ensure that such a painful event never happens again. He also called on the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities to combat divisive rhetoric in the upcoming local elections and to take more action in support of refugees — especially as the winter months loom. The United States fully supports EUFOR-ALTHEA as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s efforts to “stay the course” towards a free, peaceful society and Euro-Atlantic integration.
Likewise, Germany’s representative emphasized that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to make more progress in tackling such challenges as corruption, and in implementing reforms laid out by the European Union. Welcoming work on constitutional reform, he nevertheless expressed regret over recent attacks on the Constitutional Court and its judges, as well as incendiary speeches that deepen divisiveness. Describing the glorification of war criminals as particularly abominable, he echoed calls for the adoption of an anti-war-crimes-denial law. More must also be done to promote the political participation of women in the country and to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Council President for November, spoke in her national capacity and acknowledged efforts to contain COVID-19 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Expressing regret that a functional mechanism was not established for that purpose, she called on the parties to cooperate in efforts to safeguard public health. She encouraged the parties to engage in more collaboration, urging them to end divisive rhetoric and advance reconciliation. Welcoming a recent agreement on the country’s electoral law, she called on the parties to ensure that all people can exercise their political rights. In the interest of peace and stability in the region, she also reaffirmed her country’s support for the extension of EUFOR-ALTHEA’s mandate.
The representative of Belgium also welcomed the Mission’s authorization renewal, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress toward European integration. In pursuit of that goal, more efforts are needed to strengthen the rule of law and tackle corruption. Turning to the upcoming elections — of which the poll in the city of Mostar is particular important — he called on parties to avoid provocative rhetoric and underlined the need to respect the principles of human rights, equality and non-discrimination. There can be no place for denying genocide and war crimes and for glorifying criminals, which undermines reconciliation and adds to the pain of the victims, he stressed.
The United Kingdom’s representative joined other speakers in commending the ongoing preparations for local elections in 2020 despite the challenges the country is facing amid COVID-19. She said the agreement which enabled the Central Election Commission to prepare for the 20 December local elections in Mostar is a “breakthrough” that would propel the country. Stressing the importance of the exercise of democratic rights, she urged the authorities to follow human rights rulings. International judges continue to safeguard the country’s judicial system. Warning against divisive statements and glorification of war criminals, she urged Bosnia and Herzegovina to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the peace agreement correctly.
Tunisia’s representative also welcomed the agreement to hold local elections in Mostar but expressed regret about the already deepening political division. Noting that this year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the peace agreement, he urged Bosnia and Herzegovina to use this occasion to focus on positive developments, instead of misgivings, hatred and ethno-nationalism. He expressed support for the Office of High Representative, in line with the Dayton agreement and Security Council resolutions. All parties must fulfil the objectives and conditions for closing the Office. He urged the country’s parties to pave the way for young generations to prosper, calling for national reconciliation and implementation of reforms.
South Africa’s representative, also welcoming progress in planning for elections, called for the speedy appointment of judges, as well as other elements needed for law, order and effective governance. Calling upon all parties to respect the rule of law and ensure harmonization of local laws with the Constitution, he said dialogue and compliance with Security Council decisions are needed to bridge differences between parties. Welcoming the Revised Strategy on War Crimes, he underlined the importance of reconciliation as well as regional cooperation, both internally and across borders.
The representative of Estonia commended the Office of the High Representative and EUFOR-ALTHEA, calling on all parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina to put aside their differences and unite to face challenges. Welcoming European solidarity in helping the Balkan region recover from the COVID-19 crisis, he went on to condemn the denial and glorification of war crimes and call upon political parties to implement all European Union reform recommendations. He also asserted the importance of free and fair local elections and called for the speedy implementation of European integration priorities, with all parties working in solidarity to that end.
France’s representative joined others in welcoming the agreement on local elections in Mostar, expressing hope that all local elections due to be held in Bosnia and Herzegovina in November and December will be conducted peacefully in line with democratic norms. Underscoring the importance of transitional justice and reconciliation for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he welcomed the renewal of EUFOR-ALTHEA’s mandate; described the implementation of the opinion of the European Commission in 14 priority areas as absolutely necessary; and urged the country to welcome migrants and refugees at all levels.
The representative of the Dominican Republic welcomed the upcoming elections but voiced regret that many urgent issues remain unresolved due simply to a lack of political goodwill. Praising the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Group of States against Corruption — as well as internal reform measures that will help facilitate the country’s membership in the European Union — he expressed hope that, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Dayton Agreement, the parties will turn the page on conflicts, leave behind divisive speech and demonstrate unity.
Niger’s representative echoed other speakers in voicing concern over the political climate in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Emphasizing that the rule of law is essential for stability and democratic progress, he urged the parties to strengthen the rule of law, abide by constitutional and legal requirements and comply with judiciary independence. Despite the tireless efforts of the international community, the implementation of the Dayton Agreement is still not effective, he said, calling on the parties to commit to constructive policy and ownership of that accord.
The representative of Indonesia, speaking also for Viet Nam, agreed that insufficient progress has been seen as the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Dayton Agreement approaches. Underlining the importance of local ownership of the political process, he called for measures to develop the economy, enhance regional cooperation and build human capital. Pointing out that both Indonesia and Viet Nam are themselves multiethnic countries, he said they therefore understand the critical importance of national unity. Meanwhile, the international community must respect the principles of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity when implementing Security Council resolutions.
China’s representative also spotlighted the importance of respecting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty, noting that the country has been generally peaceful and stable for the last 25 years. Urging the authorities to strengthen cooperation and enhance trust, he also called on them to invest more in health care, infrastructure and development. The High Representative should work in accordance with his mandate, remaining impartial and neutral, and provide support for the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities. For their part, the authorities should adhere to the United Nations Charter, respect other countries’ sovereignty and refrain from engaging in their affairs, he said.
The representative of the Russian Federation — recalling that his country was one of the guarantors of the Dayton Agreement — voiced support for its implementation and called on all Council members to do the same. The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina remains stable and poses no threat to international peace and security. However, the country has seen an increase in interethnic tensions and a decline in trust, largely resulting from attempts to destroy the Dayton architecture — with the support of some outside States.
Warning against external interference, he called on the authorities to act responsibly ahead of the upcoming elections. Noting with regret that the High Representative continues to paint a subjective picture of the situation, he said that, as an alternative, the Council should become acquainted with a report prepared by Republika Srpska. The High Representative must present a more balanced view of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which does not fall under his remit. “The time is ripe to consider closing the [High Representative’s] office,” he said, noting the role of the international community in the country has changed drastically in recent years.
Germany’s representative, taking the floor for the second time, rejected the criticism of the High Commissioner by the representative of the Russian Federation regarding allegations of bias. The High Commissioner, he said, is clear in criticizing all parties for their negative actions. He noted that he didn’t hear anything in the Russian representative’s statement criticizing the glorification of war criminals, including for the naming of a dormitory in the Republika Srpska for a notorious war criminal.
In response, the representative of the Russian Federation said that his criticism of the High Representative underlines the need to finally complete his Office’s mandate. In support of his statement, he called for the report by Republika Srpska to be thoroughly read. He said he is grateful for the German representative’s objection to glorification of war criminals, although he added that he wished for consistency in such objections in regard to glorification of war criminals in countries associated with the European Union.
The head of the European Union delegation recalled that in December 2019, the Council of the European Union reiterated its unequivocal commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European Union perspective as a single, united and sovereign country. The bloc urged executive and legislative bodies at all levels of Government to begin addressing the 14 key priorities identified for membership. Noting that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s authorities have made some steps to address those priorities in recent months, he welcomed progress in holding local elections — including in Mostar — and the June agreement reached on further electoral reform. Another welcomed development was the adoption of the Revised National War Crimes Strategy, which should now be swiftly implemented. “Only by delivering on reforms will Bosnia and Herzegovina advance towards the European Union,” he said, calling for more efforts to strengthen the rule of law, fight corruption and organized crime, counter radicalization, promote gender equality and guarantee the independence of the media.
The representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina welcomed the Council’s extension of the EUFOR-ALTHEA mandate, pointing out that the country has enjoyed fruitful cooperation with the operation in capacity-building and training of its armed forces. Noting that the situation in his country has long been peaceful and calm, he recalled that EUFOR-ALTHEA has been reconfigured in recent years to correspond to the situation on the ground, shifting its primary focus from deterrence and provision of a safe and secure environment to capacity-building and training. Turning to the 20 December in Mostar, he said the authorities have finalized all necessary measures to ensure their smooth, democratic and credible conduct. Bosnia and Herzegovina remains committed to implementing all the reforms required for full-fledged integration into the European Union, he said, citing efforts to obtain candidacy status in 2021.
He went on to note that, during the reporting period, Bosnia and Herzegovina continued to fulfil its international obligations with regard to countering terrorism and violent extremism. The country has taken significant steps forward in strengthening the rule of law, fighting organized crime and processing war crimes in an effort to combat impunity. Pointing out that the country has also experienced a significant increase in refugees and migrants on its territory — most of whom crossed the border illegally — he said the country’s national institutions lack the capacity needed to curb the current migrant crisis.
The representative of Serbia said COVID-19, while posing a difficult challenge, has encouraged a high level of solidarity between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbia has taken steps to provide medical assistance to its neighbour, which has been reciprocated. Expressing her country’s firm commitment to forging a common future with Bosnia and Herzegovina based on the principle of mutual respect, she said the two countries should continue to cooperate with the mutual goal of achieving European Union membership in mind. Expressing full support for the holding of local elections with the highest democratic standards, she also welcomed agreement on the Mostar polls.
She went on to emphasize the need to reaffirm the relevance of the Dayton Agreement, while underlining Bosnia and Herzegovina’s right to conduct independent foreign policy, including joining military-political alliances. It is nevertheless necessary to be heedful of “individual activities that may or may not be conducive to the membership in those alliances”. Noting also that any change in the Dayton Agreement must be agreed by the two Entities and the three constituent peoples, she emphasized that external solutions are unacceptable. While sharing concerns raised over destabilizing rhetoric, she reiterated her opposition against “recourse or a threat of recourse to unilateral acts contrary to the Dayton Agreement”, and instead called on all political actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina to be more responsible.
Croatia’s representative said a stable, functional, prosperous and secure Bosnia and Herzegovina is critical to European stability more broadly. Voicing support for the country’s strides towards European Union integration, he expressed hope that it will soon be anchored in European values with the rights of all citizens guaranteed. Significant political, institutional and economic reforms — enacted through an inclusive, internal, consensus-based process — are needed to achieve those goals. He noted with concern that, in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s current electoral system, smaller constituents — such as Croats — are “majorized” by the larger Bosniak constituent, contributing to political tensions. Calling for prompt electoral reforms, he added that more attention is needed to the urgent issue of migration. “This is particularly important in the present context due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable groups, refugees and migrants,” he said, reiterating Croatia’s support and friendship.
Making additional remarks, Mr. Inzko said that an international mission can be beneficial, explaining that the presence of a foreign allied force for 10 years helped bring democracy to Austria. He said he does not intend to stay in his current position forever but closing his Office must be based on the situation on the ground. If conditions are met, he would be pleased to leave the country. The fact is that the office is undergoing a “slow death”. Fifteen years ago, it employed 700 personnel with a budget of $30 million, but now has only 80 workers with only $5 million budgeted, and the mandate has remained the same. His report is comprehensive, as he must capture all the deficiencies. He did not criticize entities but individuals.
Republika Srpska is not a State but a region, which cannot directly send a report to the Security Council, he said. It must be channelled through the proper routes, such as through the country’s mission to the United Nations. Joining NATO is a self-declared goal of Bosnia and Herzegovina and changing course requires a revision to its defence law. Glorification of war criminals elsewhere does not excuse Mr. Dodik. He said that in 2008, Mr. Dodik said that there was a genocide but he later changed his mind. If there is constructive news from Republika Srpska, these will be reflected on his report to be issued in six months.
At the close of the meeting, the representative of the Russian Federation said the problems he raised are not with the High Representative personally, but with his Office, which should not be used to create more friction. Noting that the parties to the Dayton Agreement — including Republika Srpska — have the right to relay their views to the Council, he advocated for the holding of an Arria formula meeting in the coming weeks to allow the voices of each of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three constituent peoples to be heard.
* Security Council resolutions are currently adopted through a written procedure vote under temporary, extraordinary and provisional measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as set out in a letter (document S/2020/253) by its President for March (China).