Brcko: What Bosnia Could Be
Brcko: What Bosnia Could Be
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Report 31 / Europe & Central Asia

Brcko: What Bosnia Could Be

The fate of the Brcko area, whether it should be in the Federation or Republika Srpska, was considered too contentious to be resolved in the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) and was left to binding arbitration.

The fate of the Brcko area, whether it should be in the Federation or Republika Srpska, was considered too contentious to be resolved in the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) and was left to binding arbitration.  The Arbitral Tribunal announced an interim decision on 14 February 1997: the Tribunal retained jurisdiction on the matter for another year; maintained the territorial status quo leaving the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL) which divides the pre-war municipality; enumerated obligations for the parties to fulfil, including the return and reintegration of displaced person and the establishment of a multi-ethnic administration in part of the municipality held by Republika Srpska; provided for the establishment of the office of an International Supervisor to oversee the implementation of those obligations; and conditioned the final outcome of the arbitration on the conduct of the parties during the year.  The Tribunal is scheduled to give a final ruling by 15 March this year

In the year since the interim decision, the Republika Srpska authorities obstructed almost all measures promulgated by the Supervisor.  Federation authorities also failed to fulfil part of their obligations.  Despite these challenges, the Supervisor implemented plans for returns and reintegration of displaced persons, reconstruction and economic revitalisation, and the establishment of a multi-ethnic administration, with mixed results.

The long-delayed final Award could have serious consequences, but it must be announced by 15 March.  If the decision is postponed again, the fate of Brcko will remain in limbo, hampering both returns and the reintegration of displaced persons, as well as the economic revitalisation of the municipality.

Awarding Brcko town and surrounding areas to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federation cannot be supported fully.  While such an outcome has some basis on legal and equitable grounds, it will not be conducive to long-term stability and peace.  The Federation has also failed to fully fulfil its obligations, in particular by failing to create conditions necessary for displaced Serbs to return to Sarajevo.  More importantly, the outcome urged by the Federation will split Republika Srpska in two.

The outcome urged by Republika Srpska -- maintaining the status quo as a final solution -- cannot be supported on any of the grounds enunciated by the Tribunal.  Such an outcome will neither ultimately achieve an “equitable result” nor will it “ease the regional tensions that have given rise to this dispute”, goals sought by the Tribunal.  On the contrary, it will be a trophy awarded to ultra-nationalists for crimes against humanity committed during the war and, since then, for total obstruction of the DPA as well as the provisions of the interim Award.

The commitment to the DPA by recently elected Prime Minister of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik is welcome and significant, but of itself it does not change the terms of the interim Award -- the determining factor for the final decision is the conduct of the parties during the past year.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) proposes an alternative, which avoids creating “winners” and “losers”, or strengthening hard-liners in both entities.  ICG hopes its proposal can serve as a starting point for the parties themselves to develop a common position that would be submitted to the Arbitral Tribunal before 15 March.  The proposal is the following:

  • The entire pre-war municipality, including both Republika Srpska-held Brcko town and surrounding areas as well as territory under Federation control, should be placed under the shared jurisdiction of the two entities.  Thus the two entities would overlap in Brcko.  At the same time, a new municipal council, to be elected according to a new system, should have broad administration powers in order to minimise interference by the two entities or the Tuzla Canton.
  • In order for the three communities in the municipality to develop the necessary confidence to reintegrate, limited autonomy rights could be provided for the preservation and development of their respective cultural, educational and religious rights.
  • The Arbitral Tribunal should relinquish its jurisdiction on the dispute after the final award is published.  The Supervisor’s mandate should be extended for two years and strengthened so that the retention of jurisdiction to adjust the award based on the conduct of the parties to the dispute will no longer be necessary.  Moreover, the award should include general principles for the constitution of the shared municipality as detailed in the report.
  • Except for NATO-led forces, the Brcko municipality should be a completely demilitarised zone.  The Arbitral Award should provide additional powers to the International Police Task Force, especially the right to remove from office local police officers found in dereliction of their duties.

While complex, this proposal has the advantage of setting precedents for co-operation between the entities.  However, the way in which the Arbitral Award is presented is crucial.  The Tribunal must explain to the people of the Federation that it is not in their best interest to split Republika Srpska in two, leaving municipalities east of Brcko to the stranglehold of hard-liners in Pale.  To the people of Republika Srpska, the Tribunal must explain that, during the past year, their hard-line leaders in Pale failed to implement the provisions of the Arbitral Award, and that the shared responsibility for the entire Brcko municipality is a reprieve for their new moderate Prime Minister.

Sarajevo, 10 February 1998

Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec about the precarious situation in the Western Balkans, as Serb separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the frozen Kosovo-Serbia dispute continue to stoke regional instability.

The Western Balkans, a region defined in part by not being in the European Union, also contains several countries that were devastated by war in the 1990s. Now it faces new troubles, driven in part by the legacies of the old. Bosnia and Herzegovina is confronted with calls for secession in the autonomous Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, as well as the ongoing electoral grievances of its Croat minority. Meanwhile, efforts to resolve Kosovo’s dispute with Serbia over its independence have come to a standstill, leaving minority communities on both sides of the border vulnerable.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Consulting Senior Analyst for the Balkans, about why ethnic tensions persist in the region and whether there is any risk of a return to conflict. They discuss the prospects for European integration, asking whether the promise of EU membership remains an effective incentive for resolving these longstanding disputes. They also consider what impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had for stability in the Western Balkans, a region where painful memories of war are still very salient today.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Balkans regional page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report on the risk of instability in the Western Balkans.

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