Bosnia and Herzegovina - Security Council Open VTC

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06-May-2020 02:36:02
Progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina hampered by political standstill, corruption, High Representative tells Security Council.

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Corruption and political stalemate still hamper post-war progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 25 years after the Dayton Peace Agreement, but the international community must not lose sight of what is at stake in the Western Balkan country, High Representative Valentin Inzko said during a 6 May videoconference meeting* of the Security Council.

Presenting his semi-annual report (document S/2020/345) on the implementation of the Dayton Agreement, formally known as the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the High Representative appealed for patience and warned against changing the international presence in the country.

He opened his remarks by saying that Bosnia and Herzegovina has so far avoided significant loss of life due to the COVID-19 outbreak, after its two entities — the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska — swiftly took appropriate measures and initially showed preparedness to work together.

However, while the international community is providing financial and material assistance at all levels, a functional coordination mechanism has yet to be put into place to deal with the health crisis and its economic consequences. Nor, he added, have the authorities reached agreement on the distribution of International Monetary Fund (IMF) assistance.

That opens the door to potential corruption, he warned, strongly recommending that the international community set up and run mechanisms to counter profiteering, alongside national efforts to investigate alleged wrongdoing.

On the political front, the High Representative — whose briefing came on the same day as a European summit hosted by Croatia on the future of the Western Balkans — applauded the launching on 28 April by the tripartite Presidency of a process to implement 14 key priorities for achieving European Union membership.

He expressed concern, however, that some political parties “will soon return to the pre-pandemic status quo” in which decision-making at the State level was blocked by parties belonging to Republika Srpska’s governing coalition. Those parties had tried to force a discussion on the removal of the three foreign judges who sit on the Constitutional Court — an outcome that would potentially enable those groups to enforce separatist agendas with the Court’s assistance, he said.

He went on to note that, more than 18 months after country-wide general elections, a new Government has yet to be appointed in the Federation. In Mostar, citizens still lack the right to vote in municipal elections. And no State budget has been adopted for 2020, prompting the Central Election Commission to warn that it might not be possible to prepare for municipal polls scheduled for October.

Looking ahead to the twenty-fifth anniversary in July of the Srebrenica genocide — in which thousands of Bosniak men and boys were slain by Bosnian Serb forces in a United Nations-declared safe area — he said that commemorative events might need to be scaled back due to the pandemic, “but the tragedy nonetheless looms large in our collective memory”. No one can rewrite history, yet there are still people who deny the genocide and glorify war criminals. “This must stop,” he said, suggesting it might be time to legislate an end to genocide denial.

“Above all, Bosnia and Herzegovina must improve the rule of law and the fight against the big pandemic called corruption,” he said, describing how young people are emigrating not for lack of jobs, but for the lack of the rule of law. He added: “The international community must not lose sight of what is at stake in Bosnia and Herzegovina and work together to preserve its collective investments in time and money over the last 25 years — not for their own sake, but in honour of the lives that were lost during the conflict and in honour of those who survived and are still hoping for a better future for themselves and future generations.”

Irena Hasić, Executive Director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also briefed the Council, explaining that gaps in the educational system must be filled if young people are to become active and responsible citizens and drivers of change. Fifty-six schools are operating under the “two schools under one roof” paradigm, in which students are divided not only by ethnicity, but also by textbooks. They even enter through different doors. “Something that was established as a temporary solution to overcome conflict has become permanent” and young people now consider segregation a natural state of living. She discussed the Youth Initiative’s work to address the problem, organizing alternative schools, open discussions, visits, exchanges, cultural events where young people are given facts and an opportunity to connect with others from different ethnic and religious groups. During a Youth Forum in 2019, participants discussed youth and the political situation, activism in formal education and reconciliation. Their recommendations were clear: proper political education, awareness of the importance of voting and restoring trust in institutions. “They are aware of flaws and irregularities in the election process,” she said. “It is time to modernize it.”

Young people lack a voice in their communities, she added. They need tools, mechanisms and education to contribute to change and bring their ideas to life. However, civil society organizations face financial and institutional obstacles. In Republika Srpksa, the Youth Initiative is denied access to schools, while in the Federation, it must get permission from the Ministry of Education in each individual canton. Moreover, she explained, the political elite portrays diversity as a weakness and as “weeds to be uprooted”. It thus falls on civil society to advance human rights and democratic values, and create a better future for — and with — young people. Twenty-five years after the Dayton Agreement, which transferred the conflict to the political stage, no one is satisfied, as the current administrative configuration — far from sustainable — is ineffective and unable to invest in development. Emphasizing that Bosnia and Herzegovina has Europe’s highest percentage of youth unemployment, and a growing number of young people emigrating, there is an urgent need for reforms and investment, and to update the Dayton Agreement. “For that, we need help from outside,” she said, adding that it is time to find answers together.

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