Dear Mr. Countryman,
On behalf of Congress of North American Bosniaks, an umbrella organization representing more than 350,000 Bosniaks in the United States and Canada, I am writing to express grave concern regarding the continuing deterioration of democratic principles and institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following the October elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the nationalist and divisive rhetoric has only intensified, leaving the country without a formed government. This is further complicated by the talks of creation of yet another entity inside this small country of less than 4 million people. These problems are certainly being politicized and misused by the representatives of the Bosnian Serbs who are continuing their calculated efforts to destabilize the country, and to promote the so called interests of Republika Srpska at the expense of viable state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Meanwhile, Bosnian citizens are suffering through an economic recession, while Bosniak returnees are still struggling to return to their homes in the smaller of the two entities, due to threats of violence, intimidation, and destruction of personal and religious property.
The latest struggles to form a government make it painfully obvious that the Dayton Agreement was never fully enforced and that in fact it is being misused for political gain by majority of the politicians, who only choose to apply those aspects that suit their agenda For example, Bosnian Serb representatives continue to violate the Dayton Agreement and openly defy the statehood and sovereignty of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while illegally trying to make the Republika Srpska entity into something that was never authorized by the Dayton Agreement, as a state that operates independently of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Failure to deal with these abuses and to fully enforce the Dayton Agreement means that this document can no longer protect the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina nor serve as the model for future Euro-Atlantic integration. Thus, we believe that comprehensive reforms are necessary to correct abuses and failures of the Dayton Agreement, in order to protect the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This will ensure that it can legitimately function and prosper on the basis of truly democratic institutions for all of its citizens.
This goal cannot be accomplished through decentralization of the government in Bosnia because it will result in more bureaucracy, uncertainty, and human rights abuses. Instead, Bosnia needs to be centrally governed through a democratic process that ensures protection of constitutional rights of all its citizens. We envision a Bosnia where the guiding principles are not based on ethnicity or religious affiliation, but on the principles of diversity (of people and thought); a country that will be unified and not divided; and a country that will join its neighbors on the rightful path to EU membership and NATO. We see Bosnia as a democratic state where protection of human rights is at the forefront of those discussions, and inclusion of minorities in the political process is an essential part of its makeup, in accordance with its historical tradition as a multiethnic nation.
It would be a grave miscalculation for the United States or the European Union to stand idly by, while ultra-nationalists continue to tear down every fiber of democracy in Bosnia. Their latest offensive includes talks of creation of a third entity that would only serve to divide the country further, with unimaginable consequences for the peace and stability in the region for years to come. The failed ultra-nationalist policies of the 1990s continue to haunt Bosnia today because many politicians have not yet given up on the ideology of hatred and intolerance. As proponents of free and democratic societies, we cannot give in to those who wish to redraw historical borders through ethnic cleansing and genocide, and hope to legitimize them through “loopholes” in the Dayton Agreement. The United States should demonstrate its commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens by ensuring that this resurgent ideology of hatred is forever put to rest. This can only be done through comprehensive reforms that include a review of what works and does not work in the Dayton Agreement, realizing that these accords were meant to stop the war and not be the tool for destruction of democracy. To that end, the Office of the High Representative must continue to function until such reforms are fully enforced.
The political discussions should be focused on eliminating harassment and intimidation of returnees in Serb dominated areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The law enforcement authorities of the Republika Srpska entity continue to employ a “laissez faire” approach and allow intimidation and attacks on Bosniak returnees without any fear of consequence for the perpetrators. These events are widespread across the entire territory of the Republika Srpska entity, with the clear aim of intimidation and prevention of reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Such events would not be plausible if the law enforcement authorities actively enforced the law, arrested the perpetrators, and made sure that the rights of all citizens were protected. Such actions are in direct violation of the Annex 7 of the Dayton Agreement whereby all refugees “have the right to return to their homes of origin in safety, without risk of harassment, intimidation, persecution, or discrimination, particularly on account of their ethnic origin, religious belief, or political opinion.” It also states that all parties are obligated to “take all necessary steps to prevent activities within their territories which would hinder or impede the safe and voluntary return of refugees and displaced persons…and…to demonstrate their commitment to securing full respect for human rights and creating conditions suitable for return…” The extremely low numbers of Bosniak returnees are a good indicator that Bosniaks have not been able to return to their homes of origin because the necessary conditions have not been met. They are exposed to intimidation and discrimination on a regular basis and are afraid for their personal safety and the safety of their families.
We urge you to immediately call for greater protection of returnees and to exercise diplomatic pressure on the main actors to start the process of constitutional and democratic reforms so that Bosnia and Herzegovina can take its rightful place as a democratic state and a future member of the European Union and NATO. We stand ready to assist and share ideas on how this can be accomplished.
Haris Alibasic, MPA
President of the CNAB Board of Directors
cc. Ms. Jennifer L. Brush
Director of the Office of South Central European Affairs
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520