The present report covers the period from 16 October 2019 to 15 April 2020. At the time of writing, Bosnia and Herzegovina, like nearly every other country on the planet, is in the throes of battle with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are confronting these extraordinary circumstances with discipline, solidarity and unity, thereby contributing to the efforts of the authorities to invest in saving lives and preserving livelihoods. I also welcome the fact that political and institutional leaders showed an extraordinary level of preparedness to cooperate and coordinate in the period of crisis, in particular at its beginning. Over time, however, as the health crisis appears to be relatively under control, some politicians again resumed their divisive rhetoric.
In order for the efforts of the authorities to combat the pandemic and mitigate its effects to succeed, they must also be well devised, properly targeted and closely coordinated. Equally so, they must fully adhere to the constitutional and legal framework of the country, be proportionate and transparent, and always in full compliance with the highest international and European standards on human rights and fundamental freedoms, as also enshrined in the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Above all, the crisis that Bosnia and Herzegovina now confronts must in no way be used to promote or achieve narrow political party interests and policy goals.
The international community has been providing financial and material assistance to the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina at different levels, while at the same time encouraging political and institutional leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina to improve their cooperation and coordination, and assisting them in those efforts. The international community has also been closely monitoring the work of the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities at all levels, based on the above parameters. It is important to acknowledge the important work of various actors of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which have, in accordance with their respective mandates, played a very useful and constructive role in assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina to manage this crisis.
While challenges associated with the pandemic have now come to the fore, it is my duty as High Representative responsible for upholding the civilian aspects of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina to draw the attention of the Secretary-General to preceding developments that in many respects challenge the key principles of the Agreement.
In this regard, I must report that it was almost the end of 2019, more than a full year after the holding of general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2018, before the new State-level Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers was appointed, while the new Federation entity Government and 2 of 10 cantonal governments remain unappointed. There has also been no genuine political dialogue to resolve the situation regarding the City of Mostar, where local elections have not been held for over a decade.
Moreover, the promise of progress following the appointment of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers in December was dashed by February, when the authorities of the Republika Srpska, led by the Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), reacted to a ruling of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitutional Court affirming State-level competence over the issue of State property by renewing threats to withdraw from the Bosnia and Herzegovina institutions and largely successfully pursuing a policy of blocking all decision-making at the State level. This is the consequence of similar threats by SNSD and its allies over the past decade having been indulged by the international community and represents the continuance of the assault by the authorities of the Republika Srpska on the fundamentals of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, which began in September 2019, as outlined in my previous report.
As a result, among other things, the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina finds itself in the middle of a pandemic without an adopted State-level budget under which funds could be appropriately targeted to address the most pressing demands. Instead, the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina operate under temporary financing, which provides far less flexibility. As an illustration of what could be done, we saw the Brčko District Assembly adopt, on 25 March, a budget for 2020 and a law on its execution that took into account the current situation and – through reallocations and restrictions on grants and material expenditures – laid the groundwork for these funds to be used to mitigate the medical and economic consequences of COVID-19.
Herewith, I would also emphasize that the adoption of the State-level budget for 2020 is a precondition for organizing and conducting local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are currently scheduled for October but are likely to be delayed, as technical preparations for them are made more difficult, if not entirely unfeasible, owing to the restrictions on movement and gatherings and other measures necessary to combat the pandemic.
In any case, according to statements by SNSD President and member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik, the blockade of decision-making at the State-level is expected to resume once the crisis ends, which would be a highly worrying development.
It is high time for the authorities at all levels in Bosnia and Herzegovina to live up to their commitment to a peaceful and viable State that is irreversibly on course for Euro-Atlantic integration. I urge the political leaders to rise to the challenges directly ahead and to view the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, in 2020, as an incentive to this end.
I expect that the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina will act upon these recommendations and address the deficiencies identified prior to and since the outbreak of the pandemic, as noted in the present report.