Federation’s Delegate Pledges to Keep Working
to Improve in All Areas, Including Reforms, Rule of Law, Good Governance
With Bosnia and Herzegovina’s general elections scheduled for 7 October, and in light of a worrying uptick in divisive nationalist rhetoric, the international community must remain united and coordinate its efforts to ensure a united, stable and prosperous country, the top international official in the federation told the Security Council this morning.
Valentin Inzko, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the past six months had seen a worrying escalation in irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric challenging the fundamentals of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Dayton Peace Accords. Senior officials from the Republika Srpska were still denying the federation’s statehood and advocating eventual secession, he added, noting also that some Croat officials had mused about territorial reorganization and threatened dissolution of the State, while senior Bosniak officials had mooted the possibility of renewed conflict.
With elections on the horizon, he said, time was running out on electoral reforms that must be put in place following a 2017 Constitutional Court decision on indirect elections to the House of Peoples. The deterioration of the rule of law was another concern, he added, noting that prominent elected officials ignored or rejected the decisions of State-level courts while corruption prevailed in the political system. There was a risk that divisiveness and a sense of unease about the future would slowly seep into the fabric of society, in addition to the risk of nationalism and extremism and a growing sense of socioeconomic stagnation.
With the United Nations, among others, well-placed to play a prominent role in promoting reconciliation, there must be a change in the practice of politics within Bosnia and Herzegovina, he emphasized. The international community must use all the tools at its disposal to keep the situation from getting worse and be ready to respond to words and actions that risked further destabilizing the political and security environment.
[The High Representative’s semi-annual briefing to the Council coincided with the announcement by the Central Election Commission in Sarajevo that elections would be held on 7 October for the Croat, Serb and Bosniak members of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, as well as for the lower house of Parliament plus regional leaders and assemblies.]
In the ensuing discussion, speakers echoed the High Representative’s concerns, detailed in his latest report on implementation of the Dayton Accords (document S/2018/416), particularly about the tone of political discourse. They reaffirmed their commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called upon its political leaders to embrace compromise and pursue reforms that would, in due time, lead to European Union membership.
France’s delegate noted that, 20 years after the signing of the Dayton Accords, Bosnia and Herzegovina was at a crossroads. The glorification of war criminals and anything that could lead to violence was irresponsible, he added, cautioning leaders against stirring up the ghosts of the past. The priority should be to strengthen central institutions and to uphold decisions of the Constitutional Court as soon as possible. Calling on political parties to reform the electoral law, he stressed that at stake is the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In similar vein, the representative of the United States, expressing concern over the rise in divisive nationalist rhetoric, called upon all parties to embrace key political, socioeconomic and electoral reforms. Otherwise, it could be hard to form a Government after the October general elections, she warned, sharing the High Representative’s concerns about hypothetical comments about a potential future war. The United States looked forward to a time when it could be said with confidence that Bosnia and Herzegovina had met its Dayton responsibilities and was on course for European integration, she added.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, however, said that the High Representative’s report, besides having been published late, contained an anti-Serb tone. It was full of politicized assessments, citing Republika Srpska as a culprit behind the political crisis that had overtaken the federation. Noting that the situation was characterized by a systemic political crisis, he emphasized that the October elections must be free and independent.
Taking the floor after all 15 Council members, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s representative said his country would keep working to improve in all areas � including reforms, strengthening the rule of law and good governance � and emphasized its unwavering commitment to membership of the European Union. He also underscored intensified efforts to fulfil its international obligations to combat terrorism and violent extremism. He went on to emphasize Bosnia and Herzegovina’s respectable and fruitful cooperation with the EUFOR Althea peacekeeping force and expressed readiness to continue working towards a better future.
Croatia’s representative said Bosnia and Herzegovina’s goal of European Union membership required appropriate institutional conditions based on federalism and decentralization as well as legitimate and proportionate representation. With elections fast approaching, electoral reforms were of paramount importance, he said, adding that what Bosnia and Herzegovina needed today was not inflammatory rhetoric, but the wisdom to embrace fundamental principles and political features deeply rooted in its complex history and essential to a prosperous future.
Serbia’s delegate, describing Bosnia and Herzegovina as a crucial and reliable partner on the road to a politically stable and economically dynamic Western Balkans region, said occasional discordant tones had created unnecessary problems among the federation’s constituent peoples which had also affected the wider region. Serbia was committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and considered potential differences between entities to be internal questions, he added.
Also speaking today were representatives of Peru, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Netherlands, CAte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, United Kingdom, Bolivia, Kuwait, Sweden, China and Poland, as well as the European Union delegation.
The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 12:08 p.m.
VALENTIN INZKO, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that despite some positive steps towards Euro-Atlantic integration by that country’s leadership, the pace of reform remained extremely slow and the common goal of irreversible stability had not been achieved. In the past six months, there had been a worrying escalation in irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric challenging the fundamentals of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Senior officials from the Republika Srpska were still denying the country’s statehood and advocating eventual succession. Public comments also glorified convicted war criminals and called for the return of a Republika Srpska army. Some Croat officials had mused about territorial reorganization and threatened the dissolution of the State, while senior Bosniak officials had referred to the possibility of renewed conflict. A general trend of armament was going on, he said, adding that he would report further on that in November.
Within that overall political climate, he said, Bosnia and Herzegovina was entering another election cycle, with the Central Election Commission expected this week to announce the next poll for October. Following a Constitutional Court decision in 2017 that struck down provisions of the election law regarding indirect elections to the House of Peoples, the European Union and the United States were working to facilitate an agreement on the issue among the main political parties. There were a range of possible solutions, but time was running out and the main parties must step back from maximalist demands, he said.
The deterioration of the rule of law was another concern, with prominent elected officials ignoring or rejecting the decisions of State-level courts and corruption prevailing in the political system, he continued. In Mostar, meanwhile, citizens were still being deprived of the right to elect local representatives due to a failure to implement a Constitutional Court decision. Emphasizing that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina required ongoing international attention and effort, he said progress must not be taken for granted. There was a risk that divisiveness and a sense of unease about the future would slowly seep into the fabric of society, in addition to the risk of nationalism and extremism on all sides and a growing sense of socioeconomic stagnation.
With the United Nations among others well-placed to play a prominent role in promoting reconciliation, there must be a change in the way politics was carried out within Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said. Given the current environment, the international community must use all the tools at its disposal to keep the situation from getting worse. It should also be ready to be provide more prescriptions about the reforms needed to take the country forward and respond to words and actions that risked further destabilizing the political and security environment. He appealed for the international community to be united in its approach and coordinated in its efforts to achieve the common goal of a united, stable and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina.
SAMER MELKI (France) said that 20 years after the Dayton Accords, Bosnia and Herzegovina was at a crossroads ahead of the announcement of legislative elections in October. The glorification of war criminals and anything that could lead to violence was irresponsible, he added, cautioning leaders against stirring up the ghosts of the past. The priority should be strengthening central institutions and upholding decisions of the Constitutional Court as soon as possible. Calling on political parties to reform the electoral law, he stressed that at stake is the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Expressing regret over the slow pace of reforms, he said European integration was a north star guiding Bosnia and Herzegovina and welcomed the fact that such efforts enjoyed unanimity in the country. The European Union Force Althea (EUFOR Althea) would adapt to an evolving security situation to enable security forces to act in an autonomous manner, he said, stressing: this moment requires political courage.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) underscored the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina, noting that the 1995 Peace Agreement had established a basis for upholding peace. Yet, he noted slow progress in carrying out the 5+2 agenda required to close the Office of the High Representative. He welcomed efforts to comply with decisions of the Constitutional Court but voiced concern over the lack of legislative action to amend the electoral law and the criminal code. Peru was also concerned about violations of the law on the temporary prohibition of the disposition of State assets, he said, emphasizing also that the Constitutional Court’s decisions must be implemented. Upholding peace called for building a shared vision of the future for and by citizens. Ethnic, cultural and religious diversity must undergird society, he said, encouraging the participation of women and young people in the political process. The Parliamentary Assembly had prevented the appropriate functioning of the State, he noted, citing the questioning of State authority, secessionist threats and arms purchases by law-and-order agencies.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) reiterated his country’s commitment to the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign and united country, ahead of general elections in October. Noting that all parties must focus on the earliest possible adoption of the election law, he called on leaders to implement the Peace Agreement and observe all provisions and procedures that were integral to that settlement, including the rulings of the Constitutional Court. The aggressive rhetoric of certain party representatives negatively affected the political climate and the country’s overall stability, he noted, encouraging all political actors to resolve disputes through the established legal processes, dialogue and within the constitutional framework, while acting in accordance with the Peace Agreement. He also called on them to resolve pending issues that obstructed respect for human rights, notably by implementing reforms with a strong focus on good governance and the rule of law.
AMY NOEL TACHCO (United States) said Bosnia and Herzegovina’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic values remained critical. The door remained open to its integration with the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but its leaders must demonstrate strong political resolve. Expressing concern over the recent uptick in divisive nationalist rhetoric, she called on all parties to embrace key political, socioeconomic and electoral reforms. Otherwise, it could be hard to form a Government after the October general elections. Sharing the High Representative’s concerns about hypothetical comments about a potential future war, she said the United States looked forward to a time when it could be said with confidence that Bosnia and Herzegovina had met its Dayton responsibilities and was on course for European integration. Until then, the international community must support reforms in order to reach that milestone and maintain its commitment to the Office of the High Representative.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said divisive rhetoric was challenging the constitutional order and the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s judiciary system. All sides must fully respect decisions of the Constitutional Court and refrain from provocative statements and actions. Disagreements over changes to the electoral law must be handled very wisely, he said, adding that with elections due in October, there must be a serious political dialogue to address outstanding differences.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), associating himself with the statement to be made by on behalf of the European Union, said he shared the High Representative’s concerns over the political situation. Expressing concern over attempts to undermine the rule of law, he called upon the Council of Ministers and Parliament to pass the required amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on the Intelligence Security Agency. He added that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political leaders must step up implementation of reforms so as to make progress towards Euro-Atlantic integration, with electoral reforms being a first step towards avoiding a constitutional crisis in October.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the High Representative’s report had been published late, underscoring the need to comply with the timeframe for submitting such documents to the Council. The report also had an anti-Serb tone and was full of politicized assessments, describing the Republika Srpska as a culprit in all difficulties encountered by the peace framework and in the political crisis that had overtaken the Bosniak and Croat federation. The testimony to which it referred was based on unverified information, notably around the celebration of Republika Srpska Day in January, which had taken place in accordance with a 2016 law that had not raised any objections by the Constitutional Court at the time it was passed. He expressed surprise at concerns over the pilgrimage tour in March of the multinational Knight Wolves motorcycle club � a topic that had been mixed up with the inappropriate mention of unilateral sanctions and Ukrainian issues. The Knight Wolves had coordinated their actions with law enforcement and sought to pay tribute to glorious ancestors who had defeated fascism during the Second World War, he pointed out.
Calling upon the High Representative to implement the 5+2 plan as a top priority, he expressed support for the transfer of all responsibility to local authorities, as well as the reduction of the High Representative’s budget and personnel in compliance with existing criteria. Noting that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina had been characterized by a systemic political crisis, he said the non-functioning of State agencies was based on violations of trust and cooperation among the three peoples who comprised the federation. There were worries over the integrity of the founding premise of the Dayton Accords � equal rights. Stressing that there was no viable alternative to the Dayton architecture, he said the October elections must be free and independent.
He said that while the international community’s role was to encourage national reconciliation and the strengthening of mutual cooperation among all peoples, partners had taken steps to interfere with the work of the federation’s authorities. Pressure had been exerted on the highest judicial council to the effect that its decisions were not in line with expectations. International mediators had favoured one side, which did not make for an atmosphere of trust, he said, adding that the semi-secret Bern process initiated by some States represented a closed diplomatic club that sought broad constitutional reform. The High Representative had taken part but did not officially inform us, he said, noting that the report made no mention of that meeting. He urged the Council to read a Republika Srpska report that referred to financing from abroad for a range of media that positioned themselves as independent. The Russian Federation would continue to implement the peace agreement, he emphasized.
Mr. DJEDJE (CAte d’Ivoire) underscored the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina, welcoming the country’s submission to the Economic Commission answers to the questionnaire for its candidacy for membership in the European Union. He also welcomed the legislative measures taken for resumed cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), while expressing concern over political tensions which could undermine gains of the Dayton Peace Accords, notably statements by the Republika Srpska calling for secession. He urged leaders to focus on economic and social priorities, avoid getting dragged into the rhetoric of division, and carry out reforms to ensure the democratic nature of the October elections. Further, he expressed concern over Parliament’s lack of response to deficiencies in the criminal code and to in the fight against corruption, urging it to carry out reforms in response to economic, social and security challenges. For its part, the Security Council must be constantly attuned to the difficulties that the High Representative could face in implementing the peace agreement. All political groups should engage in dialogue to find peaceful solutions to differences, and neighbouring countries should work together to promote peace, he said, underscoring the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said Bosnia and Herzegovina had made significant strides over the last six months to become a member of the European Union and of NATO. Highlighting the trilateral meeting between the President with leaders from Croatia and Serbia, he expressed hope that it would soon be repeated, as it signalled a common vision for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He voiced concern over the divisive rhetoric of some political leaders, often on ethnic grounds, saying they complicated implementation of the Peace Agreement and preparations for elections and reforms. He voiced support for the High Representative’s contribution to implementation of the Peace Agreement, while agreeing that elected political leaders had an obligation to foster peace and reconciliation. National interests must be prioritized ahead of any interests of political groups, he added.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom) said Bosnia and Herzegovina was at a crossroads. There had been incremental progress on reforms, yet vestiges of division were preventing the country from reaching the potential its citizens deserved. Underscoring the achievements of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, including the conviction of Ratko Mladic, he said it was regrettable that some political leaders had disputed its decisions. Inflammatory comments about a return to conflict must be condemned. Failure to implement agreed legal reforms, including amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, would undermine the fight against corruption and organized crime as well as the security of partner countries, he said, adding that failure to carry out electoral reforms would, meanwhile, expose Bosnia and Herzegovina to unnecessary and serious risks. Political leaders must make compromises, move towards European standards and demonstrate a commitment to a better and more secure future, he emphasized. Noting that huge numbers of people were leaving every year in search of political stability and employment opportunities elsewhere, he said the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserved better.
CARLA CECILIA CARDONA MOSCOSO (Bolivia) said the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina must act consensually on electoral reforms, work in accordance with the Dayton Accords and put the interests of the people first. Constitutional Court and other judicial decisions must be respected and all sides must refrain from nationalistic rhetoric. Bolivia hoped that the Office of the High Representative would keep playing a constructive role within the framework of its mandate and encouraged the entire population to live in harmony and overcome their past differences, with the international community taking a neutral and equitable approach.
TALAL S. S. S. ALFASSAM (Kuwait), while welcoming positive developments, expressed concern about the challenges described in the High Representative’s report, including divisive rhetoric and statements inciting hatred. He urged the country’s political leaders to put the interests of their people first and to step away from narrow ethnic concerns. He called upon the High Representative to step up efforts to ensure full implementation of the 5+2 programme, going on to reaffirm the unity and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and calling upon all actors to tackle the challenges before them.
JOAKIM VAVERKA (Sweden), associating himself with the European Union, recalled that the European Union Council had reiterated its commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European perspective, central to which was its integration process and reform agenda. Yet, the pace of reform had stalled since 2017, yielding only modest results, he noted, calling for adequate reform of the electoral law while voicing regret over the lack of desire to reach compromise on that issue. Implementation of the reform agenda must be urgently stepped up, as unemployment and corruption had fostered a worrying trend of young educated people leaving the country. The recurrent use of separatist, divisive and nationalistic rhetoric threatened the federation’s integrity and unity, he said, calling upon all parties to refrain from engaging in ethnically motivated disputes and agendas. Advocating strengthened cooperation to address organized crime, terrorism and migration, he said regional cooperation and reconciliation in the Western Balkans were crucial for stability in the region. Underscoring the need to address sexual and gender-based violence committed during the war, he also acknowledged the need for the expressed support for phasing out the international presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina in due course, when the situation on the ground allowed for it.
WU HAITAO (China) outlined his country’s respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressing support for various ethnicities living in peaceful coexistence and welcoming efforts towards national reconciliation. China hoped that ethnicities would work to consolidate progress on building society, resolve differences through peaceful means and implement the Dayton Peace Agreement. Indeed, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s stable development and ethnic harmony were in the international interest, he stressed. The global community should focus on the views of all concerned, taking a balanced approach so as to help Bosnia and Herzegovina achieve national reconciliation. He welcomed the High Representative’s efforts to advance the political process, adding that China would play its part to help the country achieve durable peace.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland), recalling her country’s work to bring about peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that in 1991, the first non-Communist Polish Prime Minister had been appointed Special Rapporteur for human rights in the former Yugoslavia and his reports had played a key role in decisions on the country’s future. Poland was critically interested in the vitality of Bosnia and Herzegovina, she said, stressing that in a volatile world, nothing can be taken for granted, and the importance of laying the conditions for a sustainable future. Indeed, staying on the path to European integration was the best hope for the federation’s people to enjoy quality life in a stable framework of shared values. That task must be carried out with a sense of responsibility by governing elites. Yet, divisive rhetoric by political leaders persisted, while institutions were openly flouted. Stressing that inclusivity, equality and participatory democracy were at the core of European values, she noted that respect for the rule of law was set out in the European strategy for the Western Balkans. Yet the Constitutional Court’s decision on the electoral law remained unimplemented, while failure to reform the Criminal Procedural Code threatened efforts to fight corruption and organized crime. She underscored Poland’s interest in the federation’s European and Euro-Atlantic future.
Milos Vukasinovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said that during the six-month reporting period, his country had intensified efforts to implement the reforms needed for Euro-Atlantic integration. The federation looked forward to the European Commission’s response to the questionnaire it had submitted in February, which reflected its readiness to join the European Union. Bosnia and Herzegovina would keep working to improve in all areas � including reforms, strengthening the rule of law and good governance � thus emphasizing its unwavering commitment to membership in the regional bloc. Noting the special attention paid to strengthening cooperation with other Balkan countries, he said Bosnia and Herzegovina would actively participate in next week’s European Union-Western Balkans summit in Sofia.
He went on to say that Bosnia and Herzegovina had intensified efforts to strengthen the rule of law in several areas, including by fulfilling its international obligations to combat terrorism and violent extremism. In that regard, judicial institutions had been prosecuting individuals connected with terrorist organizations, he noted. Progress had also been made in combating organized crime, trafficking in drugs and human beings, corruption and money laundering. Regarding the prosecution of war crimes in domestic courts, he said that fighting impunity was vital for a complex and multinational State like his federation. Implementing the national strategy for prosecuting war crimes � regardless of the national or religious origin of the perpetrators or victims � was essential for reconciliation and long-term stability.
Turning to the economic situation, he said progress had been made in establishing a market economy, with annual economic growth averaging 2.5 per cent over the last five years and unemployment dropping to 6.9 per cent in 2017, although youth unemployment remained above 50 per cent. He said the arrival of refugees and migrants had continued in 2018, temporarily exceeding the country’s capacity to accommodate them in January. He went on to emphasize Bosnia and Herzegovina’s respectable and fruitful cooperation with the EUFOR Althea, particularly in capacity-building and training the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He expressed the authorities’ readiness to continue working towards a better and prosperous future and thanked international partners for their support.
JOANNE ADAMSON, European Union delegation, said that the submission of replies to the Commission questionnaire, the adoption of excise legislation or the removal of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Grey List of the Financial Action Task Force proved that gains could be made if Government coalition partners focused on improving citizens’ lives. Bosnia and Herzegovina had made clear its desire to become a European Union member, a commitment that should be followed by reforms. With elections to be held on 7 October, the question was what new proposals the new Government would make for the reform agenda. There was no place in the electoral campaign of a European country aspiring to join the European Union for glorifying war criminals and playing the secessionist card, she emphasized.
Unless political leaders broke the reform impasse, there was a risk that elections would fail to produce a Government, she warned, stressing their obligation to prevent a political crisis. She noted that there was little willingness on all sides for cross-party compromise and urged them to find one. Emphasizing the principles of equality of all citizens and non-discrimination, she said the most pressing issue was to find a solution enabling the formation of the Federation House of Peoples and the political institutions linked to it, as required by national court decisions taken in 2016 and 2017. Electoral reforms should be approached in a spirit of dialogue and the parties should implement the recommendations by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to help the country move towards European standards. Drawing attention to the bloc’s adoption of its Western Balkans strategy in February, she said that on 17 May, European Union leaders would hold a summit in Sofia with their Western Balkans partners. Indeed, 15 years after the Thessaloniki summit, the door to the European Union remains open, she said.
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) emphasized that, in looking to the future, history should not be forgotten. Having played a role in ending the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia bore a special responsibility to its neighbour and remained committed to its territorial integrity as a sovereign and united country with equality among its constituent Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. Croatia supported Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ambition for European Union membership, but that goal required appropriate institutional conditions based on federalism and decentralization as well as legitimate and proportionate representation. With elections fast approaching, electoral reforms � following the Constitutional Court rulings in the Ljubic and Mostar cases � were of paramount importance for stability and implementation of the voting results. On the election of the members of the federation’s tripartite presidency, he said that issue should be addressed as soon as possible. He went on to stress that what Bosnia and Herzegovina needed today was not inflammatory rhetoric, but the wisdom to embrace fundamental principles and political features deeply rooted in its complex history and essential to its prosperous future.
MILAN MILANOVIC (Serbia), describing Bosnia and Herzegovina as a crucial and reliable partner on the road to a politically stable and economically dynamic Western Balkans region, said occasional discordant tones had created unnecessary problems among the federations entities and constituent peoples, affecting the wider region as well. Serbia was firmly and genuinely committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and considered potential differences between entities to be internal questions to be addressed through genuine and open dialogue. One-sided acts, exchanges of heated negative messages, the recycling of old divisions and problems, and the creation of new ones ran against the true interests of all the federation’s citizens. Noting that Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina had a shared aspiration to join the European Union, he said their peoples were very close, with the Republika Srpska, in particular, being home to many Serbs. Open questions from the past should be addressed, but must be taken in stride and not allowed to affect the realization of present-day interests, he stressed.
Source: United Nations