posted on MON 7 NOV 2016 4:33 PM
Bosnia and Herzegovina debate and re-authorisation of EUFOR ALTHEA

Tomorrow morning (8 November), the Council is expected to adopt a resolution renewing the authorisation of the EU-led multinational stabilisation force (EUFOR ALTHEA) for an additional year in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). It will also hold its semi-annual debate on BiH. Valentin Inzko, the High Representative for BiH, will brief on developments in the country covered in both his 28 October six-month report and an appended 21 October special report (S/2016/911).

Tomorrow’s Council session comes as tensions have worsened between Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs, in particular over the organisation of a referendum in Republika Srpska (RS) - the predominantly Bosnian Serb entity of BiH - on celebrating “Republika Srpska Day” on 9 January. BiH’s constitutional court ruled last year that the day’s celebration on 9 January was discriminatory and unconstitutional since this falls on an Orthodox holiday. The date 9 January also marks when Bosnian Serbs announced the creation of RS in 1992 in the lead-up to BiH’s 1992-1995 war.

The referendum, held on 25 September, prompted the High Representative’s special report to the Council. Inzko asserted that the referendum seriously violated the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) since decisions of the Constitutional Court, which also ordered RS to suspend the referendum, are final and binding. Inzko further underscored that if the action of RS authorities “remains unchecked, there will be an increased risk that BiH will slide further towards disintegration and legal anarchy…These actions seriously call into question the durability of the implementation of the civilian aspects of the GFAP and represent a direct threat to international peace and security.”

At tomorrow’s debate, a number of members may highlight similar concerns about the broader implications of the referendum, given other examples of RS authorities ignoring or challenging the BiH judicial system, as well as the inclusion by the RS ruling party in its party platform of a referendum on secession in 2018. Members are likely to further exchange views on other issues addressed in the High Representative’s reports, including divisive rhetoric, the 2 October local elections, BiH Euro-Atlantic integration and the role of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).

As was the case last year, negotiations to obtain consensus on the resolution reauthorising EUFOR ALTHEA proved challenging. The UK was this year’s penholder , and it organised the first round of negotiations in the Contact and Drafting Group for BiH (CDG) on 24 October. The CDG, which drafts Council decisions on BiH, is made up of Council members from the Western European and Others Group and Eastern Europe, along with Germany and Italy. After four negotiating sessions of the CDG and further bilateral negotiations with Russia, the UK circulated the draft to the full Council membership in the evening of 3 November. One negotiating session of Council members was held on 4 November before the draft was placed under a silence procedure, which it passed earlier today.

The decision to reauthorize EUFOR ALTHEA was not controversial, as all members in the CDG and the Council support continuing the EU-led international force. However, difficulties emerged for the third successive year in addressing broader issues covered by the resolution. This year, these seemed to revolve around how to address the 25 September referendum and the role and authority of the High Representative.

For most CDG members, it was important that the resolution address the referendum’s violation of Constitutional Court decisions and thus violation of the GFAP. Russia, though, opposed discussing the referendum within the resolution, apparently on the grounds that this is a divisive issue in BiH.

A compromise was struck by which the draft resolution, while not mentioning the referendum, urges the parties, in accordance with the GFAP, to abide by their commitment to cooperate fully with all institutions involved in implementation of the peace settlement, as described in the GFAP, including Annex 4. Additionally, the draft resolution reaffirms that BiH consists of two entities existing by virtue of the BiH constitution, and that any change to the constitution must be made in accordance with its amendment procedures. This latter language, drawn from a 2 December 2015 Peace Implementation Council Steering Board (PIC SB) communiqué that Russia agreed to, seems intended to signal to the BiH parties not to follow through with a secession referendum, as well as how they should deal with other controversial issues such as calls for creating a third Croat entity or changes to the constitutional court. (The PIC SB is made up of states that provide the High Representative with political guidance.)

A second difficult issue related to the role and authority of the High Representative. Last year’s resolution resulted in significantly streamlined text regarding the High Representative that was moved from the resolution’s operative section to its introductory preamble (S/RES/2247). A number of CDG members felt that it was important to try to strengthen this language in this year’s draft. This was something that it seems Russia, which served as penholder on last year’s resolution, found objectionable. Russia is a frequent critic of the High Representative’s work, and has made clear that it opposes the use of his “Bonn Powers”. These powers allow the High Representative to dismiss public officials who violate legal commitments and the GFAP, and to impose laws if BiH’s legislative bodies fail to enact them.

Following the negotiations within the CDG, the draft resolution circulated to the Council included a new sentence reaffirming the High Representative’s final authority in interpreting civilian implementation of the GFAP. The US apparently expressed its dissatisfaction with this outcome in the Friday session, as it would have preferred restoring the language to the operative section. The draft, however, was placed under silence procedure without any further changes, which it cleared at noon today, and is now in blue.

Among some of the other differences that emerged, Russia objected to reinserting a reference to “Euro-Atlantic” integration, which was also removed from last year’s resolution. Meanwhile, it was updated to refer to developments related to BiH’s European integration. Russia has pointed out that, whereas there is agreement among BiH’s political leadership on pursuing EU membership, there is no such agreement on joining NATO, so it would not be appropriate for the Council to appear as encouraging this decision.