Over the last six months, the run-up to the 7 October General Elections has amplified the negative trends noted in my previous report and defined the overall political dynamics in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). This was reflected in continued stagnation in the pace of reform at all levels and particularly in a new level of divisive and provocative rhetoric from some senior political figures. The significant increase of migrants seeking to transit to the European Union through BiH this year has additionally tested the state’s limited resources and revealed reluctance by certain lower levels of governance to assist the state level in the implementation of its competencies.
The country’s aspirations for European Union (EU) integration remained firmly on the agenda despite the difficult political environment, and it is noteworthy that following the submission of initial answers to the European Commission Questionnaire during the previous reporting period, the BiH authorities are working on answers to some 650 follow-up questions received in June. A rare piece of good news in the rule of law sector came in September, when after several months of disagreement, the BiH Parliamentary Assembly, with the assistance of the wider International Community, finally adopted long-outstanding amendments to the BiH Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) in a compromise agreement acceptable to nearly all political parties.
On 7 October 2018, citizens voted in BiH’s eighth General Election since the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, selecting representatives to the state, entity and cantonal levels. The elections were held without any major security incident and described as “genuinely competitive” by international observers. However, international and local stakeholders raised concerns about the ethnically-divisive nature of the campaign and a number of reported irregularities, including financial threats and incentives to voters, problems with polling station committees, inflated voter rolls, problems with the count and a high number of invalid ballots, reported at over half a million by the BiH Central Election Commission (CEC).
Despite clear recommendations from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on legislative and other changes to improve the integrity of the election process, the parties did not institute these improvements ahead of the elections. The CEC is currently working to complete the counting process and to process election-related complaints, including several requests for recounts, and official certified results are expected by 6 November. While preliminary results for state, entity and cantonal parliaments are also available, much of their significance will depend on the process of coalition-building and government formation yet to come.
The fact that the parties failed to agree on electoral reform in the wake of the BiH Constitutional Court’s “Ljubic” decision related to the indirect election of delegates to the Federation House of Peoples, could further complicate the formation of authorities. It is also worth mentioning that prior to the election, officials of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ BiH) party and others warned that if Zeljko Komsic were elected as the Croat Presidency Member it could trigger a crisis since now Komsic appears to have been elected.
In August, the Republika Srpska (RS) government repealed the 2004 RS Government Report on Srebrenica, which had officially acknowledged the involvement of RS military and police forces in the July 1995 events in Srebrenica. The 2004 report had not only been required for the enforcement of a final and binding decision of the Human Rights Chamber of BiH, but was also a crucial step towards reconciliation, based on the concept of individual rather than collective guilt. The RS government’s decision to reject this approach highlights the extent to which the reconciliation process has deteriorated over the last several years.
I must again draw attention to an increase in divisive and destabilizing rhetoric from a number of political representatives in BiH, including a continuation of statements by the RS President denying the statehood of BiH, while advocating for the secession of the RS and a union with Serbia. Although international media reported in September that he had refrained from secessionist rhetoric in the run-up to the elections, he again threatened the dissolution of BiH in an interview published in the final days of the campaign period.
In this context, under the authority vested in me under Annex 10 of the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP), I reiterate that the entities have no right to secede from BiH and that the GFAP guarantees the sovereignty and territorial integrity of BiH and the internal constitutional position of the entities.