Bosnia and Herzegovina - Security Council VTC Debate

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04-May-2021 02:25:16
Bosnia and Herzegovina remains in effect ‘a frozen conflict’ as political leaders push nationalistic agendas, High Representative tells Security Council.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a de facto frozen conflict, where political leaders pursue wartime goals, generate divisions and push nationalistic agendas, the top United Nations official overseeing implementation of the 1995 Dayton Accords told the Security Council today, warning that hate speech and genocide denial risk eclipsing hard-won democratic gains.

“The multi-ethnic and diverse society that existed prior to the conflict has all but disappeared,” said Valentin Inzko, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, during his last briefing to the Council. The reality is made all the more poignant by the twenty-fifth anniversary of the General Framework Agreement for Peace — initialled in Dayton, Ohio, in the United States and signed on 14 December 1995 in Paris.

While a joint statement issued by the tripartite Presidency underlines the importance of strengthening trust, peace and mutual respect “among all peoples and citizens of the country”, Republika Srpska aims to roll back reforms and reclaim competencies from the State, he said.

Led by Milorad Dodik, Republika Srpska authorities are challenging the fundamentals of the Framework Agreement, leaving open the option for “peaceful dissolution” of the country, he continued. In Mr. Dodik’s 2020 Arria formula briefing, “it was clear to everyone what kind of irrational, destructive policy and mindset we are dealing with”. His more recent disclosure to a foreign diplomat that peaceful dissolution is “the only option”, apparently without pushback, and launch by his Alliance of Independent Social Democrats party of an online campaign promoting the idea are equally alarming.

“It is unthinkable in our countries, that the President wants to destroy the very country of which he is President,” he said. Anyone else making such claims would be labelled a traitor, secessionist or seditionist — and possibly arrested.

He went on to stress that Republika Srpska leaders in April met near Banja Luka, where Mr. Dodik announced the formation of teams to negotiate with the Federation on the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina — and that Republika Srpska’s national assembly would adopt a platform as the basis for discussions. The draft platform makes it clear that, if the direction and outcome of these discussions are not to Republika Srpska’s liking, it would reserve “the right to finally decide on its future status”, he said.

As expected, these developments “stirred up” Federation-based parties, he said, particularly Bosniak parties, most of which dismissed the possibility of a peaceful dissolution. Others predicted a war if secession attempts were made.

“I want to be clear: Dayton does not give the right to entities to secede,” he said. He described the political atmosphere as poisoned. He denounced that Republika Srpska had chosen a moment when the country is in the grips of COVID-19 and when Republika Srpska itself is borrowing €300 million through a bond sale to cover its budget deficit because it would not accept the “easy money” and reforms proposed by the International Monetary Fund.

During his mandate, he said he has seen a shift from rhetoric to action in challenging State competences, institutions and decisions. At best, the goal is to roll back reform achievements of the last 25 years, including those covered by the 14 European Union priorities. At worst, “this is a setup”, with ultimatums that Republika Srpska knows are impossible to achieve but which it would use to claim it is being “forced” to unilaterally decide on the country’s future status.

For the international community, he said the question is over how long this destructive behaviour can be tolerated — and both Mr. Dodik and Republika Srpska can be regarded as partners. He pointed to moves in the electoral reform process — at a stalemate for years — as an opportunity to end discrimination and improve transparency.

“We must not allow this process to lead to further ethnic or territorial divisions,” he clarified, adding that the non-response from Republika Srpska on removing decorations awarded in 2016 to three war criminals — Radovan Karadžić among them — underscores the need to criminalize the glorification of war criminals and genocide denial. On the upside, local elections in Mostar — after 12 years — and the election of Benjamina Karić as Mayor of Sarajevo have given signs of hope.

He urged the tripartite Presidency to live up to its pledge to organize a joint commemoration of the victims of the Second World War, pointing to the “Warsaw genuflection” by then West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who in 1970 knelt before a memorial to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. “This is what leadership looks like,” he observed.

He also urged authorities to implement the third national action plan on resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, stressing that the many Bosnian women refugees who have risen to political prominence in other countries only drive home the point that Bosnia and Herzegovina is losing its greatest asset — human potential — due to corruption and a general lack of the rule of law.

After years of robust interventionism, Bosnia and Herzegovina should be firmly on its path to European Union accession, he said. “Perhaps it is time to consider a different approach, somewhere in the middle” he suggested. The international community must take a decisive stand to stop such centrifugal tendencies which carry security implications beyond the region to the rest of Europe.

Until there is a genuine, demonstrated commitment to peace, it must retain all instruments at its disposal to address potential threats, including the executive powers of the High Representative, the maintenance of international judges on the Constitutional Court, international mechanisms in Brčko District and the international military presence in the country, he said. Both the international community and progressive actors in the country are making a fundamental mistake if they assume “things will somehow work out”, because time is working in their favour.

In the ensuing debate, several delegates described separatist political rhetoric as dangerous and expressed strong support for the Special Representative’s efforts to foster respect for the Framework Agreement. Others described his report as unbalanced and replete with arbitrarily interpreted information.

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