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news 13 Jul 12

Bosnia Risks 'State Failure', ICG Warns

"In Bosnia the government and its politicians are not only unable to resolve the problems; they have become a key problem themselves,” report by prominent think tank warns.

Valerie Hopkins
BIRN
Sarajevo

In a report published on Friday, the International Crisis Group, ICG, a leading think tank, warns that Bosnia and Herzegovina faces the risk of violent disintegration and state failure it it cannot manage the process of constitutional reform.

The report says that merely amending constitution to bring it in line with the December 2009 verdict of the European Court of Human Rights in the so-called Sejdic-Finci case will not be enough.

In a case brought by a Bosnian Jew and a Roma, the court ruled that Bosnia must amend its constitution so that ethnic minorities can run for top posts currently reserved for the three constituent nations: Bosniaks [Muslims], Serbs and Croats.

Bosnia's main parties have since then failed to agree on how to implement the decision.

The ICG warns that the process of constitutional reform will necessitate re-opening the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war, which could risk “extending political paralysis and leading to state failure.

“Bosnia must use the [2009] European ruling as a springboard toward a modern constitutional architecture,” Marko Prelec, the ICG's Balkans Project Director, said in a news release accompanying the report, entitled “Bosnia’s Gordian Knot: Constitutional Reform.”

Bosnia “should not defer taking action but reform will be a long process; and the next steps will decide whether the country survives to move towards Europe or begins a process of disintegration which will not end peacefully.”

The report concludes that, due to its complicated nature, the European Union should not make constitutional reform a precondition for a Stabilization and Association Agreement, SAA, which is the first step towards EU accession.

“The EU should understand that there is no easy way to implement the [Sejdic-Finci] ruling and satisfy all the main political parties. It should work on comprehensive constitutional reform with the Bosnian leaders as the end goal of membership talks, not its precondition,” it said.

The ICG says the stalemate on constitutional reform is taking place against a backdrop of a political crisis that has grown more acute, especially following the government’s collapse in May.

It notes “rising tensions” between Bosnia’s federal system and the aspirations of its three constituent peoples—Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs—which have become “increasingly difficult to reconcile”.

The report points out that Bosnia is again without a government, noting that it took 14 months after the October 2010 general elections to form the government but only six months before it fell apart.

“In Bosnia the government and its politicians are not only unable to resolve the problems; they have become a key problem themselves,” says the report.

The think tank bemoans that current “efforts to reform the constitution have focused on cementing main party leaders’ already extensive hold on power rather than ensuring greater democracy and accountability”. 

Meanwhile, says the ICG, “institutions at all levels are highly inefficient and politicians ignore difficult policy choices and seem immune to domestic or international pressure.”

The ICG says a solution to the crisis needs to “provide room for those who identify as citizens rather than in ethnic terms; and avoid overly complex rules that can create obstruction”.

The report warns that the wrong amendments could worsen an already fragile situation: “a botched set of amendments could make keeping the country together much harder.”  

The Council of Europe has warned that neither it nor the EU will consider the 2014 elections for parliament legitimate without the necessary constitutional amendments.  

The ICG writes that “discrimination against minorities such as Jews and Roma is repugnant,” and that all parties in Bosnia agree it must be eliminated.

However, the parties disagree on how to “preserve the rights of Bosnia’s constituent peoples, especially those of the Croats who are the smallest group”. The ICG anticipates that once Croatia joins the EU in 2013, Croat voices will have a “new boost”. 

A second report on constitutional reform, elaborating options for new laws and amendments, will be published in early 2013, according to the news release.

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