Dear Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Inzko,
On behalf of survivors of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) numbering at over 350,000 who currently reside in the United States and Canada, we are deeply concerned about this week’s vote at the National Assembly of Republika Srpska – BiH’s smaller entity – to hold a referendum on the State Judiciary, questioning the authority of national courts over Bosnian Serbs. This is clear violation of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) and a direct attack on the sovereignty, security, stability, and prosperity of BiH. We call on both the Office of High Representative (OHR) and the U.S. Department of State to respond firmly and swiftly to this latest aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The call for a referendum came only a day after the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), among whose members are the United States and EU nation states, warned that such a referendum would mark a “fundamental violation” of the DPA, which ended the war in BiH between 1992 and 1995, and would be “a direct threat to the sovereignty and security” of BiH that “cannot be tolerated.”
During the war in BiH, the likes of President Dodik were constantly testing the boundaries of international community’s commitment to BiH, increasingly encouraged by the hesitations and half-measures that left over 100,000 dead and over 2,000,000 displaced. This week’s vote is just another attempt to continue the aggression and test the boundaries of international community’s commitment to sovereignty of BiH today. Last April, President Dodik announced that BiH’s smaller entity plans to seek a referendum in 2018 on the entity’s secession from BiH. Such calls for secession must not be looked at as empty threats and must be denounced immediately as they threaten international law, and if carried out, would have grave and negative consequences throughout Southeast Europe. Allowing this type of rhetoric and political maneuvering to remain unchecked not only bolsters Mr. Dodik and his sympathizers, but also undermines the attempts at reconciliation and efforts of BiH’s eventual integration into the European Union and NATO.
The timing of this vote is also highly suspect as it comes on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide. This is an attempt to change the conversation away from the genocide victims and survivors and continue the aggression through political means. The ongoing crisis in the Balkans and Ukraine calls for greater U.S. and more clear EU engagement. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial integrity must be affirmed and safeguarded against dangerously nationalist rhetoric and destabilizing forces both within and outside its borders.
We welcome the recent statement of the OHR in reaffirming that the pursuit of this referendum is in violation of the DPA and outside the jurisdiction of the entity authorities. The statement also highlighted that the call for a referendum is irresponsible and “shows the readiness of a powerful elite to continue to drive the Republika Srpska and BiH into an even deeper crisis.”
We also welcome the statement of the Embassy of the United States to Bosnia and Herzegovina in opposing the referendum and calling any preparation for it “a violation of the Dayton Peace Accords,” noting the fear of “repercussions it will have for the people in the RS and for BiH as a whole.” We are encouraged by the commitment of the U.S. Embassy to engage “relevant U.S. government departments and agencies to determine an appropriate response to those responsible for creating this political provocation.”
Now is the time to respond to this political maneuvering and send a strong and clear message that any calls for secession will not be tolerated. We urge the OHR to use all resources available, including the Bonn powers, to respond to this latest aggression on BiH and ask U.S. to reaffirm its position as a guarantor of the Dayton Peace Accords and pledge to commit armed forces, if necessary, to suppress the illegal calls for secession. We ask that you stand with us as we work on meaningful reforms to preserve Bosnia and Herzegovina as a united, multi-ethnic, democratic nation on a clear path towards membership in the EU and NATO.
Congress of North American Bosniaks (CNAB)
Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina (ACBH)