We welcome High Representative Schmidt’s decision today to bolster the stability and functionality of Bosnia and Herzegovina through amendments to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Constitution and the BiH Election Law. This action was both urgent and necessary.
The High Representative’s decision addresses problems that have plagued the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina for many years. Four years after the 2018 elections, the Federation has not implemented the results, and the Federation Constitutional Court is nearly paralyzed. This has deprived Federation residents of their constitutional rights, undermined the rule of law, and emboldened ethno-nationalists across BiH. Together, these problems threaten BiH’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and multiethnic character.
For years, political parties have had multiple opportunities to resolve outstanding functionality and power-sharing problems in the Federation, including in August and September when the High Representative called on them to search for a good-faith compromise. Instead of doing so, many of them have found new ways to attack this country’s institutional integrity. BiH citizens need and deserve a functional government that responds to a growing number of internal and external crises. Dysfunction is not just irresponsible, it is dangerous.
When the Republika Srpska ruling coalition took steps to undermine state institutions and the integrity of BiH, the international community took action to sanction the leaders responsible. When self-interested leaders attempted to hold election financing hostage, the international community took action to provide the CEC with the resources necessary to hold elections and to protect BiH citizens’ democratic rights. The international community cannot allow Federation dysfunctionality to continue for yet another four years, and it can no longer place its faith in empty pledges and commitments by political leaders that, this time, they will negotiate in good faith, they will make meaningful compromises, and they will put the interests of the people they represent above their own, narrow ethnonationalist or financial interests. The time is past for empty paper promises from leaders who consistently fail to deliver.
All parties will find things they like and things they dislike in the amendments. Some will be disappointed that this decision does not change the fundamental structure of government in BiH. The Dayton Peace Agreement defined BiH as one country consisting of two entities, three constituent peoples, Others, and all citizens. The High Representative cannot amend the Dayton Constitution; that is the responsibility of BiH’s political parties, as the European Court of Human Rights has underscored. The High Representative’s responsibility is to implement the Dayton Peace Agreement. This includes ensuring that BiH’s institutions and their power-sharing mechanisms function. If they do not function, then citizens are unable to debate and decide whether and how they want to modify the way they are governed.
The restoration of functionality to the Federation is the first step toward restoring the internal balance BiH requires to address governance issues, deliver prosperity, respond to wider geopolitical challenges, and secure its place in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations.
The United States strongly supports Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and multiethnic character. It is now up to the political leaders of the Federation to use this opportunity to put aside their differences, work for progress, and build a better future for those they represent. Those who seek to break this country’s institutions, whether from the Federation or from the Republika Srpska, to benefit their political interests will be held accountable.