NATO: Bosnia is Currently a Participant in the Membership Action Plan

Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of North Macedonia are current participants in the Membership Action Plan (MAP), NATO said on its website on 31.01, adding that “participation in the MAP does not prejudge any decision by the Alliance on future membership”.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina should continue pursuing democratic and defense reforms to fulfil its NATO and EU aspirations and to become a well-functioning independent democratic state”, the alliance said.

Bosnia’s cooperation with NATO is defined in the Reform Programme the country sent to the alliance in December 2019, which includes “the reforms the government intends to undertake and facilitates the provision of support by NATO toward these efforts”.

The country was invited to join the MAP on 22 April 2010, as Allied foreign ministers called on Bosnian authorities to resolve its key issue regarding the matter – to register its immovable defense property to the state.

The ministers decided that NATO is ready to accept Bosnia’s Annual National Programme in December 2018 but “the registration of immovable defense property to the state remains essential”, the NATO website said.

The countries participating in the MAP submit their annual national programs on their preparations for possible future membership in the alliance, which cover “political, economic, defense, resource, security and legal aspects”.

The MAP provides “focused and candid feedback mechanism on aspirant countries’ progress on their programs”.

“This includes both political and technical advice, as well as annual meetings between all NATO members and individual aspirants at the level of the North Atlantic Council to assess progress, based on an annual progress report. A key element is the defense planning approach for aspirants which includes elaboration and review of agreed planning targets”, the website said.

Meetings and workshops with NATO civilian and military experts take place throughout the year, allowing for discussion regarding the “spectrum of issues relevant to membership”, is outlined in the message.

Borrell: Dialogue with Kosovo to be Continued with EU Special Representative

European Union High Representative Josep Borrell told (31.01) in Belgrade that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue must be renewed and that he would appoint a special representative to work on the issue permanently.

“Renewed for sure. Until now the dialogue has not been very positive and in the end, there was a rift … There are still many wounds to be healed and there is a lot of effort to find a solid foundation for peace and solidarity” he said and cited the example of France and Germany who fought wars and now live in peace. “The EU is about reconciliation and peace and we have given the best example in history of people who were fighting and now they live in peace… I think this is something that the Balkans also have to do”, Borrell said and added that the EU would be happy to help all Western Balkans countries to follow this example.

Asked about the obstacles between Belgrade and Pristina, Borrell said that there are many of them. “All the parties have to make an effort in order to accept changes. The mediator is not the one who dictates the final result, just the one who tries to bring both parties together and create positive dialogue. I think we need to nominate a special representative because this will require permanent work not one weekend and then let’s see next month. It requires also, not only political skill but technical capacity, mutual trust and overall the will to reach a solution”. 

He said that he wanted to visit Kosovo and Serbia to show the importance of resuming dialogue to normalize relations “because this is strongly needed on their way to the EU”. Borrell warned that the European prospects of both Serbia and Kosovo are strongly conditioned by the problem of Kosovo. “The EU is just a mediator … the negotiations will be led by Belgrade and Pristina but I think the EU has to be more involved”. 

“I’ll do my best and I will be involved in the process because the Western Balkans are not something strange to our history and culture. They are part of Europe and their success will be our success. Their security and stability will contribute to our security and stability”, he said.

Borrell added that the EU is investing a lot in the region, not just financially. “This is the less important thing. The most important thing for us is to guarantee stability, democracy and prosperity. If this happens in the Western Balkans this would be good for all of us”, the EU High Representative said. 

He warned also for the upcoming difficulties due to migration from the region. “Many people are leaving these countries, the population is decreasing and if this continues there will be tremendous difficulties. I think we need realism to face the challenge with a will to solving this problem. This can be solved, it should be solved, we need to solve it and I will be very much engaged personally”, he said but added that he would name a special representative because he has to deal with many other issues. 

Asked about his meeting with part of the opposition which was not attended by the Alliance for Serbia that advocates a boycott of the coming elections, Borrell said the EU does not want to interfere in the internal issues of countries. “This is an internal issue, but we have been talking about it with the government and opposition and I told them that from the European point of view there is no wisdom in boycotting the elections. I encourage both parties to talk and find an agreement on the framework of the Venice Convention and to solve the issues and show that in Serbia you have a democracy that fulfills the highest standards of the election process”, he said. 

The High Representative said that for the EU freedom of media and expression are very important as well as defending the diversity of sources of information. “Everything that goes in the direction of limiting freedom of expression is against our principles and the way we understand political life. We support everything that goes in the direction of freedom of expression and plurality of opinions in the media”, he added.

For Greta Ferusic It Was Harder to Survive Siege of Sarajevo Than Auschwitz

Tragedies such as the Holocaust, when millions of innocent people died, must be remembered more often and not only on one day, underlined the President of Bosnia’s Jewish Community Jakob Finci speaking about the Holocaust Remembrance Day and life of Jews in Bosnia.

“That’s the reality that is now behind us and that we speak and know little about”, said Finci.

Bosnian capital marked on Monday (27.01) the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and commemorated the victims of Nazi regime at the Old Jewish Cemetery and the premises of Jewish Community.

In April 1941, around 15 000 Jews lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including 10 500 in Sarajevo.

Nearly 2500 survived WWII, according to Finci.

“They were mostly surviving by three ways. Some of them survived fighting together with Partisans, the army which accepted them and fought for the country’s liberation. Another part survived hiding at their friends’, neighbours’, distant relatives’ places. Some survived in the camps. There was someone in each of those horrible camps who managed to survive”, he said. They all eventually returned to Sarajevo because of nostalgia, said the Jewish Community leader.

“Nostalgia is a disease of the Jews and they all came back to Sarajevo. America was too far away, Israel did not exist back then, Europe was devastated so they got back home in Sarajevo,” said Finci.

“We have a lady in Sarajevo who survived Auschwitz, Greta Ferusic. She spoke a lot about that during the siege of Sarajevo. She said in Haris Pasovic’s movie that it was harder for her to survive the siege of Sarajevo than Auschwitz”, he added.

Speaking about the failure of Bosnia’s authorities to implement the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling, which treats the rights of Jews and Roma to run for the State House of Peoples and the State Presidency, Finci said he was not surprised nothing has been done 10 years after the court ruling.

“I won’t be surprised if more time passes. If Bosnia and Herzegovina wants to be a candidate and member of the European Union, we will have to implement that decision. A country cannot be a candidate if it breaches the European Convention on Human Rights”, he underlined.

TI: Corruption Perceptions Index for 2019 Shows No Change in Serbia’s Position

The latest Transparency International (TI) report published on 23.01.2020 shows that a substantial number of countries had little to no improvement in tackling corruption, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2019, which saw Serbia at the same place as in the year before with the index of 39 points out of 100 possible.

Last year, Serbia held 87th position with the same 39 index points. The latest ranking at the 91st place pushed the country in the lower part of the list for the first time.

“Our analysis also suggests that reducing big money in politics and promoting inclusive political decision-making are essential to decrease corruption”, the TI report adds.

It said that in the last year, “anti-corruption movements across the globe gained momentum as millions of people joined together to speak out against corruption in their governments”, adding that “the current state of corruption speaks to a need for greater political integrity in many countries”.

The report suggests that in curbing corruption, the countries should “strengthen checks and balances, limit the influence of big money in politics and ensure broad input in political decision-making.” The CPI evaluates 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to local experts and business people.

Index “100 is very clean, and 0 is highly corrupt. This year, our research underlines the relationship between politics, money and corruption. Unregulated flows of big money in politics also make public policy vulnerable to undue influence.”

The report adds that “countries with stronger enforcement of campaign finance regulations have lower levels of corruption, as measured by the CPI.” That means that countries with comprehensive and systematic finance regulations campaign have an average score of 70 of the CPI, whereas countries without such a process or a poor one, score an average of just 34 and 35 respectively. It is further elaborated that the countries with lower CPI scores had a higher concentration of political power among wealthy citizens.

As for the Western Balkans countries, corruption is becoming an official policy for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Transperancy International warns.

The report notes that “with a score of 36, Bosnia and Herzegovina declined by six points on the CPI since 2012.”

During the 2018 elections in BiH, “political parties and civil society organizations raised concerns over voting irregularities, threats against voters, the misuse of public resources and unequal access to the media.” “A lack of political will and a decline in implementation of laws and regulations are real challenges”.

The report outlines that brutal repression and threats to voters, manipulations with the voters list and election results, and complete mobilization of the country resources by the ruling parties, are the things that keep the country away from taking political responsibility and democracy.

“BiH has found itself in a situation in which corruption became official state, entity and cantonal policy, and this can be seen in every action of the institutions – if you analyze any appointment, tender, regulation, you will see a very clear, particular interest behind” , it was emphasized by the Chairman of the TI BiH Board of Directors, Srdjan Blagovcanin.

According to the CPI, Kosovo score is 36, and the report said it was experiencing “a shift in parliamentary power that could offer an opportunity for change, by abandoning the usual practice of political appointments in state-owned enterprises and by establishing a strong legal obligation for financial disclosure by political parties.”

Serbia Falls Five Places on EIU Democracy Index for 2019

According to the Democracy Index for 2019, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Serbia fell to 66th place, five lower than the last year and is still among the “incomplete democracies”.

The index measures the state of democracy according to 60 indicators in 167 countries, of which 166 are sovereign states and 164 are UN member states.

The countries are divided into four categories: complete democracy, incomplete democracy, hybrid and authoritarian regimes.

The index measures electoral systems and pluralism, the functioning of the government, democratic political culture and civil rights.

Authoritarian regimes have index 0, while the countries with index ten are considered full democracies. The Republic of North Macedonia went up one place to 77th, according to the Skopje media. But it belongs to the hybrid regime with other countries with indexes from four to six.

Montenegro is at 84th place with 5.65 indexes, Bosnia and Herzegovina is ranked 102nd with 4.86 points, and Albania with 5.89 points holds 79th place (all three are in the hybrid regime category).

In the category above – incomplete democracies – are Croatia with 6.57 at 59th place, one up than before; Serbia with 6.41 point at 66th place, five lower than previously; while Slovenia remains at 36th place with 7.5 points.

Norway tops the list with 9.87 index points, while North Korea is at the bottom with 1.08 points.

Changes to the Dayton Peace Agreement are Inevitable

Changes to the Dayton Peace Accords, which include Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Constitution, are necessary and inevitable, Miro Lazovic, a participant in the negotiation process that led to the end of the 1995 war, told TV N1 on 21.01. He added that politicians in Bosnia do not want such changes because the current system holds them in power.

TV N1 Question: Local media recently reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Croatia’s Zoran Milanovic have spoken about possible changes to the Dayton Agreement!

Lazovic: This can be a”good thing”. “If this information is correct, I interpret it, considering that the circumstances are such that we in BiH are hostages to the Dayton Agreement, which to a certain extent creates instability in the region.”

“The fact is, in recent years, much has been said about the need to change the Dayton Agreement or to adopt a ‘Dayton 2’ Agreement, especially in regard to Annex 4.”

Lazovic explained that it was clear to everyone involved in the negotiation process 25 years ago that no stable and democratic country could emerge from such a system. He added that this was also mentioned during talks with Richard Holbrooke, the US diplomat who brokered the Agreement.

“He (Holbrooke) replied, ‘… you have to live like that for 15 years and then the time will come for a change’.”

“We’ve been living with it for 25 years. The Dayton Agreement has turned Bosnia and Herzegovina into a cripple”, Lazovic said, adding that under such a political system, each ethnic group faces discrimination in at least one of the country’s entities.

According to the Dayton Peace Agreement, the country’s Presidency consists of representatives of Bosnia’s three constituent peoples – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. The House of Peoples is also filled with members of these groups only.

In 2009, the European Court for Human Rights ruled in favor of a lawsuit submitted by Dervo Sejdic, a Roma and Jakob Finci, a Jew, who said the system did not allow them to run for president or member of the upper house of the parliament because of their ethnicity.

The court ordered the country to remove this discrimination from its constitution, but since then nothing has been done to implement the ruling.

The issue also concerns members of the three constituent peoples who live in areas of the country dominated by one of the other two groups or peoples.

Bosniaks and Croats living in the Serb-dominated part of the country, Republika Srpska (RS), cannot run for president or upper house lawmaker either and neither can Serbs from the Federation (FBiH), which is the other half of the country mostly populated by the other two groups (Bosniaks and Croats).

Lazovic also commented on statements by Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik, who rejected any possibility of changing the Dayton Agreement.

“I remember a time when Dodik was against the Dayton Accords and at one point he changed his mind and vocabulary”, Lazovic said, adding that US envoy for the Western Balkans, Matthew Palmer, also said a few months ago that BiH needed a different constitutional framework.

“This is inevitable”, Palmer said.

The reason Dodik opposes any change is that “this position is appropriate for him and for those who are similar to him as it protects their power”, Lazovic argued.

“They are aware that if the Sejdić-Finci ruling is implemented, the constitutional framework must be changed – citizens should be a priority, not ethnic groups”, he said.

Lazovic does not believe that a new agreement will be reached, a ‘Dayton 2’, but that the existing one will rather be modified” on an evolutionary path during the Euro-Atlantic integration process”.

According to the ruling of the Human Rights Court, the term “citizens” should have already been included in the Constitution, he stressed, adding that BiH has no chance of becoming an EU member with its current constitutional framework.

But such a change is unlikely to happen “without the strong involvement of the US administration” and “pressure from Brussels”, he said, adding that Election Law would also have to change.

Dodik: Talks on Dayton-2 and Questioning Republika Srpska Status Would be the End for BiH

Any discussion on Dayton-2 and questioning the status of the Bosnia’s Serb Entity Republika Srpska (RS) would mean the death penalty of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serb Presidency member and Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said on January 17th, 2020 in Belgrade, after talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

“Many allow themselves to speak of the Dayton Peace Agreement. For us, Serbia is the guarantee of the Dayton Accords, but the international community has removed Serbia from its important ad-hoc body responsible for implementing the Dayton Accords, which is also not part of that Agreement – the Peace Implementation Council”, Dodik said.

Together with the Council, the High Representative, who is the  international community’s official in charge of overseeing the civilian implementation of the Dayton Accords which ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, virtually destroyed the Dayton Peace Agreement, Dodik noted, adding, that RS and Serbia will protect what was left of it.

“All requests to discuss the Dayton Accords will result in RS leaving Bosnia and its constitutional framework. Those who think they can apply their political concepts, as Bosniak Muslims do by imposing the idea of ​​Dayton-2, should know that any such talk will mean the death penalty for BiH and leave us with no reason for staying in Bosnia”, underlined Dodik.

“We are in Bosnia because we respect the remnants of the Dayton Peace Agreement and because we believe that this agreement is still valid. It must be made clear to everyone that the RS has sufficient capacity and that no adjustments to the Dayton Agreement are possible without the RS. I have no intention of discussing anything other than a return to the original Dayton Accords that could somehow save Bosnia. Anything else would mean that RS would not be part of Bosnia”, he stressed.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said they indeed discussed the Dayton Accords as a historically important agreement and the only possible solution.

“This is the only possible solution where all parties are winners and losers at the same time. I said that as far as Serbia is concerned, we will accept the agreement of all three peoples. Nobody else and no two peoples (Croats and Bosniaks) can impose solutions to anyone people”, Vucic said.

“We want the RS to be within Bosnia and Herzegovina, we want full compliance with the Dayton Peace Agreement and any violation or amendment of the Dayton Accords must have the approval of the Serb people and the RS. There will be no change to the Dayton Agreement without the approval of the Serbs”, Vucic noted, adding: “I know that it is best for us to keep the RS within Bosnia, because that is how we guarantee peace and stability.”

BiH’s Security Minister Announces New Approach to Migrant Crisis

Bosnia’s new Security Minister Fahrudin Radoncic will step up monitoring on the border with Serbia and Montenegro to stop the influx of illegal migrants from those countries and coordinate activities with ministers of the interior in the region, the Security Ministry said in a statement on 15.01.

The statement was issued after a meeting of the operational group in charge of illegal migrations.

Announcing the new approach to dealing with illegal migration in the country, Radoncic said his ministry cannot be the only institution in the country responsible for the care of migrants and that all institutions and state agencies should become involved.

Radoncic told heads of local police agencies who are members of the task force that he would focus on more effective border control and the prevention of illegal arrivals of migrants, as well as on strengthening the capacity of border police and office for foreigners, adding that he will also hold talks with the neighboring countries ministers of the interior on ways to tackle the problem together.

Due to winter conditions, the number of illegal migrants arriving in Bosnia and Herzegovina is decreasing and currently around 5,500 illegal migrants are staying in reception centers in the country.

The measures announced by Radoncic were also backed by former Security Minister Dragan Mektic, who said he had also proposed similar measures but never received the support of the government for them.

The Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, strongly opposed proposals of Mektic, soldiers to be deployed along Bosnia’s eastern border (with Serbia) to help police prevent illegal entries, and the state-level leadership has to date not approved the filling of more than 500 vacant police posts.

At the same time, the authorities and institutions of the Republika Srpska have stubbornly refused to open reception centers in their territory to ease the pressure of migrants in the Bihac area along the border with Croatia. On the other hand, many communities in the Federation, mainly in the south and west, also refuse to open reception centers.

HRW: In 2019 Bosnia and Herzegovina Saw Little Improvement in Protecting People’s Rights

In 2019, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) marked a slight improvement in the defense of human rights, the state fails in practice to protect women from gender-based violence, and media freedom remains compromised and the pace of war crimes prosecutions slow, stated Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its latest report on Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“December 2019 marked 10 years since the Sejdić-Finci ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which found that the Bosnian constitution discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities by not allowing them to run for the presidency. In the decade that followed, the ECtHR has found similar constitutional violations in three further cases, but the constitution still has not been amended”, the HRW report said. In October, the ECtHR ruled that Bosnian authorities had discriminated against a resident of the city of Mostar on the grounds of her place of residence, by failing to hold municipal elections for 11 years because of a disagreement among its main parties about the voting system. The court ordered Bosnia to hold elections in Mostar within six months (by April 2020).

The 2019 World Bank study examining Roma inclusion in the Western Balkans between 2011 and 2017 found only limited progress in improving access to education, employment, health, housing, and documentation for Roma in the country.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) between January and September 2019 registered 109 incidents of hate crimes – 66.67 percent involving religion or ethnicity.

As for the number of asylum seekers coming to BiH – the report notes their increase. “Between January and August 2019, the state Service for Foreigners’ Affairs registered 18,071 new asylum seekers, 5,000 more than the same period last year. The most common country of origin was Pakistan, followed by Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq and Syria” is noted in the report. In the first of half of 2019, 17,165 people indicated an intention to seek asylum. Only 426 people actually applied during the same period.

On accountability for war crimes HRW underlines that the revised National War Crimes Processing Strategy to improve the process of allocating cases across courts has awaited approval by the Council of Ministers since February 2018, made no progress in 2019, slowing down the rate at which war crimes cases are prosecuted.

“In a positive move, in July 2019 BiH signed agreements with Serbia and Croatia to facilitate better cooperation in the search for missing persons from the 1990s wars. There was less progress in coming to terms with the past. In April, the Serb member of the Bosnian Presidency Milorad Dodik called the Srebrenica genocide a myth”, the report warns.

Regarding women’s rights, HRW notes that BiH has an established legislative framework for tackling gender-based violence and human trafficking and institutional gender equality mechanisms, including in politics. Implementation remained patchy or non-existent in 2019, according to women’s rights organization Kvinna Till Kvinna, leaving women vulnerable to domestic violence and employment discrimination, and underrepresented in political life.

“The state response to gender-based violence remained inadequate, despite the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. According to Kvinna Till Kvinna, police officers do not always inform women of their rights and available support, and perpetrators are just given a warning”, the report said.

On media freedom, HRW underlines that journalists continued to face interference with their work. “As of August 2019, the BiH journalists’ association BH Novinari recorded 41 violations of journalists’ rights, including three verbal threats, eight instances of political pressure, six physical assaults, and five death threats. Most of the cases were reported to police and at time of writing 15 were with the relevant prosecutor’s office. Although the number of solved cases has not significantly increased, BH Novinari reported police were more engaged and proactive with cases than in the past, and that other relevant state institutions communicated better regarding attacks on journalists”, according to the HRW report.

HRW: Serbia Slightly Improved the Protection of Human Rights in 2019

The latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on Serbia notes that in 2019 there has been a slight improvement in human rights protection in the country, that the prosecution of war crimes in national courts is slow, the asylum system remains flawed while the situation with journalists remains insecure, with ongoing attacks and threats for reporting on sensitive issues.

The report also indicates that the EU-mediated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue stalemate continues. “In August, the US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy called on Belgrade and Pristina to stop thwarting the European Union-mediated dialogue, stalled since 2018.”

In its May 2019 report on Serbia’s accession negotiations, the European Commission stressed that the lack of progress in the area of freedom of expression and media freedom was aserious concern and called on authorities to step up efforts to investigate attacks and threats against journalists. The Commission also called on Serbia to increase measures to protect the rights of LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS and other vulnerable individuals.

“Serbian journalists continued to face attacks and threats. Pro-government media outlets frequently smear independent outlets and journalists, describing them as “traitors” and “foreign mercenaries”, the report underlines, adding that “Media plurality was compromised by majority of media being aligned with the ruling party.”

“Between January and late July, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) registered 27 incidents of violence, threats, or intimidation against journalists, including eight physical attacks and 19 threats. Serbia dropped from 76th to 90th place on the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index list out of 180 countries.”

The reports also highlights some of the individual cases of harassment against reporters, including Pristina journalist Zana Cimili, who received anonymous death threats on social media, and Slobodan Georgiev, Serbia’s editor for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), who was threatened in a video in which he and other independent journalists have been declared traitors.

HRW also states regarding accountability for war crimes that “progress on prosecutions was slow and lacked political will, adequate resources and strong witnesses support mechanisms. The low numbers of high-ranking officials prosecuted and convicted by courts remained a problem.”

The report recalls that Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT)” expressed concern in July to the UN Security Council that in Serbia, and other former Yugoslav countries, convicted war criminals are considered heroes and glorified by politicians, with widespread denial by public officials of war crimes. He called on Serbia and neighboring countries to support the regional cooperation process to hold war criminals to account.”

The HRW report further elaborates that members of the US Congress called on Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to “take action to resolve the 1999 murders of three Albanian-American Bytiqi brothers after they were detained by Serbian police. In May, Vucic told the Serbian parliament that there is no evidence of who committed the murders. In July, Congress’s House of Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution urging Serbia to hold responsible people to account for the three killings.”

Regarding the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and the normalization of relations, HRW says EU-sponsored negotiations stalled in November 2018 after Serbia blocked Kosovo from joining Interpol. In response, Kosovo imposed 100 percent import duties on all goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The report also warns that in Kosovo, progress towards accountability for serious war crimes committed during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war was slow. “Tensions between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians continued, particularly in the north. Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian communities continued to face discrimination.”