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Too Little Too Late: Implementation of the Sarajevo Declaration
Too Little Too Late: Implementation of the Sarajevo Declaration
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 44 / Europe & Central Asia

Too Little Too Late: Implementation of the Sarajevo Declaration

Sarajevo’s Bosniac authorities were given the opportunity to demonstrate their much-vaunted commitment to multi-ethnicity when, on 3 February 1998, representatives of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia), the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina (Federation), Sarajevo Canton and the international community adopted the Sarajevo Declaration.

Executive Summary

Sarajevo’s Bosniac authorities were given the opportunity to demonstrate their much-vaunted commitment to multi-ethnicity when, on 3 February 1998, representatives of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia), the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina (Federation), Sarajevo Canton and the international community adopted the Sarajevo Declaration. The Declaration stressed the importance of the Bosnian capital “as a model of coexistence and tolerance for the rest of the country” and made it clear that: “The international community will condition continuation of assistance for Sarajevo on fulfilment of the benchmarks set out in this Declaration and on adequate progress toward meeting the 1998 goal of at least 20,000 minority returns.”

Seven months on, the Sarajevo authorities have failed to meet most of the Declaration’s main benchmarks or take adequate, concrete steps to enable the return of anywhere close to 20,000 minorities this year. Indeed, as of early August, only 1,300 minorities -- 7 percent of the target number -- had actually returned. These failures are, in large part, due to stalling, incompetence and general lack of will on the part of Sarajevo authorities and officials of the ruling SDA (Party of Democratic Action).

The much-heralded “year of minority returns” has failed to materialise. Nonetheless, the low number of returns to Sarajevo are among the most shameful failures, in light of several factors: the large amount of foreign aid -- 500 million DM -- lavished on Sarajevo since the end of the war, augmented by huge sums injected into the local economy by thousands of foreigners living in Sarajevo; a low level of violence against returnees owing in substantial part to the large foreign presence; and the low number of minorities who have stayed in or returned to Sarajevo -- only 13 percent today, compared with 50 percent before the war. Even this percentage is jeopardised by the continued influx of Bosniacs, including tens of thousands who did not previously live in Sarajevo; the outflow of minorities; and the fact that a large percentage of minorities who have returned (or remained) are elderly.

Sarajevo officials have argued that the main reason for the low number of minority returns is a lack of housing space, and have accused the international community of thwarting returns by not providing enough assistance for housing reconstruction.  In fact, the number of people per home on average has declined from 3.6 before the war to 3.2. A major reason for the housing shortage is that many families that remained in Sarajevo during the war now occupy two or more homes. Bosniacs displaced from elsewhere have been treated shabbily; many have been evicted from their temporary accommodation in order to make them available for people with political connections, including those whose pre-war homes are habitable.

In response to threatened sanctions in the Sarajevo Declaration, Federation authorities did eventually amend the entity’s property legislation in line with the demands of the Office of the High Representative (OHR). Although the amendments remove most legal obstacles to return, Federation authorities refused to make further reforms, citing the failure of Republika Srpska authorities to amend their property laws. Moreover, Sarajevo officials have applied the laws regarding socially-owned apartments so as to favour Bosniacs who remained in Sarajevo over minorities and even over Bosniacs displaced from elsewhere in the country.

  • In light of the slow progress in minority returns to both entities, and for numerous other reasons, the 4 October 1998 deadline for the filing of claims to recover socially-owned apartments should be extended for twelve months.
  • The international community should condition further aid to Republika Srpska on adoption of non-discriminatory property laws; and should urge that entity’s authorities to adopt property laws that do not suffer from the defects from which the Federation laws suffer, on the grounds that their greater obstruction of minority returns to date justifies demands for speedier progress now.

The Sarajevo Declaration called on the Sarajevo Cantonal Police Force to hire more minority officers, and to develop a plan for hiring officers over the next two years so as to reach percentages that reflect the composition of the pre-war population. The current force has an adequate percentage of Croats but only 2 percent of officers are Serbs or “others”, well below even the current population composition (5 percent Serb and 3 percent others).

Initial progress in identifying offensive passages in school texts and materials has not yet resulted in their deletion. The Cantonal Ministry of Education agreed to remove or black-out all offensive passages and accounts of the recent war, but by the start of the school year in September, had not yet done so.

In July of this year, because the Canton had failed to meet most of the Sarajevo Declaration’s main benchmarks, the US suspended 9 million DM of reconstruction assistance, and the European Commission introduced clauses in reconstruction contracts totalling some 18 million DM stating that the projects would not be started pending advice from the OHR concerning the Canton’s compliance with the Declaration.

Aid should continue to be withheld until the Cantonal authorities take at least the following steps:

  • They must accept the international community’s definition of double occupancy.
  • They must undertake a systematic investigation of the Canton’s property records in order to root out abuse, in particular double occupancy, giving high priority to the records of the homes of the 7,100 non-Bosniac families that have registered to return.
  • They must evict illegal occupants, especially where housing would thereby be made available for minorities who wish to return, and must find alternative accommodation for people who truly have no alternative accommodation available to them .
  • They must resolve the 80 or so remaining priority cases (out of 166) brought to their attention by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Federation Ombudsmen and the Jewish community.
  • They must cancel permanent occupancy rights granted after 7 February 1998.
  • They must process claims for socially-owned apartments expeditiously, without discrimination and consistent with the law.
  • They must take concrete steps to hire immediately at least 100 Serb and “other” police officers.
  • They must stop making false or misleading statements in the media suggesting that compliance with the demands of the international community would require them to throw people out on the streets who stayed in Sarajevo throughout the war.

Sarajevans rightfully have urged that officials -- including members of the ruling SDA -- who are responsible for obstruction and are profiting from double occupancies should be punished. The OHR has not been sufficiently vigorous in pressing officials to live up to their obligations.

  • The Reconstruction and Return Task Force should appoint a team to investigate claims of housing abuse and identify the officials who are responsible for the failure to fulfil the commitments made in the Sarajevo Declaration and/or who are benefiting from double occupancies. This task should be made a top priority, and High Representative Carlos Westendorp should ensure that the investigatory team has the resources and political support to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

Sarajevo, 9 September 1998

Report 232 / Europe & Central Asia

Bosnia’s Future

While the physical scars of the 1992-1995 Bosnia war have healed, political agony and ethnic tension persist. Real peace requires a new constitution and bottom-up political change.

Executive Summary

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH, or Bosnia) poses little risk of deadly conflict, but after billions of dollars in foreign aid and intrusive international administration and despite a supportive European neighbourhood, it is slowly spiralling toward disintegration. Its three communities’ conflicting goals and interests are a permanent source of crisis, exacerbated by a constitution that meets no group’s needs. The political elite enjoys mastery over all government levels and much of the economy, with no practical way for voters to dislodge it. The European Union (EU) imposes tasks BiH cannot fulfil. A countrywide popular uprising torched government buildings and demanded urgent reforms in February 2014, but possible solutions are not politically feasible; those that might be politically feasible seem unlikely to work. Bosnia’s leaders, with international support, must begin an urgent search for a new constitutional foundation.

The international project to rebuild Bosnia has had success: war’s physical scars are largely gone, and the country is peaceful. The political agonies, however, show the intervention’s limits. Years of well-intentioned reforms, imposed or urged, have left a governing structure leaders circumvent, ignore or despise. May’s floods left scores dead and thousands homeless, exposing the price of poor governance. With growing frequency, Bosnians ask the questions that preceded the 1992-1995 war: shall it be one country, two, or even three; if one country, shall it have one, two or three constituent entities, and how shall it be governed?

The heart of the problem is in Annex 4 to the Dayton Peace Agreement, known as the constitution (and in several changes imposed by courts and international officials). It defines BiH as a state of two entities, in effect but not explicitly federal, but also the state of three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs), and yet, simultaneously, of all citizens. A suffocating layer of ethnic quotas has been added, providing sinecures for officials increasingly remote from the communities they represent. The tensions created by constitutional schizophrenia are pushing BiH to the breaking point. A new design is needed: a normal federation, territorially defined, without a special role for constituent peoples, but responsive to the interests of its three communities and the rights of all citizens.

The state administration’s need to reform is made acute by a 2009 decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that in effect requires BiH to change the ethnicity-based way it chooses its chief executive and part of its legislature. Existing proposals try to squeeze the constituent peoples into an ostensibly ethnicity-blind structure on top of which a complicated network of indirect elections would allow party leaders to choose the executive with as little democratic input as possible. The EU and the outside world support this tinkering with Dayton to satisfy the decision, though such proposals have manifestly failed. Bosnians need to rebuild their political structure from the bottom up.

There is no consensus on where to start, but Bosnia may have to break from its political system based on constituent peoples and their rights. Crisis Group has not reached this conclusion lightly. It reflects long experience and observation that no one has been able to frame a broadly attractive vision on the existing flawed basis. With stresses and frustrations accumulating in all communities, Bosnia must conceive new foundations to survive. Agreement may take years and much experimentation and debate, but the search should begin.

BiH is home to three political communities: those primarily loyal to the Bosnian state, usually but not always Bosniaks; those loyal to Republika Srpska (RS), usually Serbs; and those desirous of Croat self-government, usually Croats. Giving the Croats what they want, their own entity to make a three-entity Bosnia, is absolutely rejected by Bosniaks. Building virtual representative units for the three communities, possibly with new emphasis on municipalities as basic building blocks, is intellectually plausible but requires a leap of faith few seem ready to take. A purely civic state is inconceivable to Serbs and Croats.

Neither leaders nor civil society have deeply explored alternatives to three constituent peoples in two entities; any consensus would take time. Nevertheless, the goal should be clear. The head of state should reflect Bosnia’s diversity, something a collective does better than an individual. The same body could be the executive government. Some decisions should require consensus, others a majority. All three communities should be represented, not necessarily in equal numbers. There should be no ethnic quotas; representation should reflect self-defined regions and all their voters. Poorly performing, unnecessary state agencies and ministries should be slimmed or abolished, with powers reverting to the entities; but the state would need new ministries and agencies required for EU membership. The ten cantons in the larger of BiH’s two entities, the Federation (FBiH), are an underperforming, superfluous layer. They could be abolished, their powers divided between the municipalities and the entity government.

Political culture is part of the problem; an informal “Sextet” of party leaders in effect controls government and much of the economy. A multi-ethnic coalition persists, election to election, with only minor adjustments. Membership is earned by winning opaque intra-party competitions in which voters have little say. Change in this system can only come from within: Bosnians should join parties and participate in genuine leadership contests. Sextet power is further buttressed by control of hiring, investment and commercial decisions at state-owned firms, a situation that chokes private investment and growth.

Bosnia is unimaginable without the work of international officials who did much to shape political institutions and implement peace, but the international community has become more obstacle than help. BiH is trapped in a cycle of poorly thought-out, internationally-imposed tasks designed to show leaders’ readiness to take responsibility but that put that moment forever out of reach. The only way to encourage leaders to take responsibility is to treat the country normally, without extraneous tests or High Representatives. The EU could signal a new start by stating it will receive a membership application – the first of many steps on the long accession road. It should then be an engaged, not over-didactic partner in Bosnia’s search for a way to disentangle the constitutional knot.