Unfinished Business: Why Bosnia and Herzegovina Still Needs OHR

We just completed our semi-annual meeting of the political directors of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) November 29 and 30.  At the meeting, PIC members heard directly from Chairman of the Council of Ministers Bevanda and his two deputies about what they are doing to move the country forward.  Certainly much work remains to be done to achieve BiH’s top foreign policy objectives: NATO and EU membership.  You can read the communiqué from today’s PIC meeting here at the OHR website.

In recent weeks, we have heard much from some in BiH about whether OHR is still needed.  Unfortunately, many of these comments have been in the form of insults and vulgarities rather than constructive suggestions for moving BiH forward.  The U.S. view is clear and consistent:  we want to see OHR close.  But closure can only happen when Bosnia and Herzegovina is ready to stand on its own.  In 2008, the PIC laid out the “5+2” set of objectives and conditions that need to be met before OHR can close.  Many of the people who criticize OHR for having overstayed its welcome are the same ones who are blocking progress on the 5+2 agenda. 

To offer a few specific examples, two of the objectives deal with finding sustainable solutions to registering and distributing state and defense property.  In March, political leaders agreed to a framework for resolving both issues.  But leaders then became more interested in rearranging membership in various bodies of government than in resolving these issues.  The failure to move forward on the defense property issue over the last two and one half years has kept BiH from participating fully in NATO’s Membership Action Plan.  When political leaders met recently in Mostar, they once again agreed to resolve this issue on the basis of the March agreement.  But I must ask, where is the list of concrete steps they will take to do so?  And the recent decision by the Constitutional Court of BiH on the state’s ownership of property which must be factored into the solution was not even mentioned by the political leaders in Mostar.

Another condition in 5+2 is that there must be “a positive assessment of the situation in BiH by the PIC Steering Board based on full compliance with the Dayton Peace Agreement.”  It will be hard to say that this condition has been met as long as leaders challenge what is clearly stated in the Dayton Accords. 

The U.S. looks forward to the day when the situation in BiH is such that OHR can close its doors.  For over four years, we have been clear on what needs to happen to make that possible. But as long as these criteria are not met and until Bosnia and Herzegovina is making significant progress toward EU and NATO membership, we believe that there is an important role for OHR to play in monitoring implementation of the Peace Agreement.  Rather than criticize OHR and the High Representative, I urge local leaders to focus on making the decisions and creating the environment that will permit closure of OHR.