Another of my Balkans friends has sent me a long missive about a recent ICG letter to the EU’s Political and Security Committee. Happily, I am told the letter did not have the desired effect, as the committee was deeply unsympathetic with the views put forward. As always, comments are welcome, so long as they address the issues and avoid personal invective:
On 2 May International Crisis Group (ICG) President Louis Arbour sent a three page letter to the ambassadors of the European Union’s Political and Security Committee in advance of their May 3 meeting. The letter contained ICG’s version of events in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as policy recommendations.
The ICG letter contains a number of factually inaccurate claims. These claims not only paint a false picture of events on the ground, but are also used as the basis for subsequent recommendations. Here are some of the blatant inaccuracies in the text:
- The letter claims that the Republika Srspska (RS) referendum “does not purport to have legal effect”. This statement is factually incorrect: the RS Law on Referendum and Citizens’ Initiative clearly states that referendum results are legally binding. The referendum decision adopted by the RS National Assembly is a legally binding act and it entered into force upon publication in the RS Official Gazette.
- “The government of the…Federation was formed illegally”. This statement has no legal basis under BiH domestic law or international law. This contradicts not only Bosnia’s domestic legal framework, but also the views of the OHR and the wider international community. The Ambassadors of the Peace Implementation Council’s Steering Board (Canada, EU Delegation, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, Turkey, UK and US) along with OHR and other representatives of the international community (UNHCR, EUFOR, EUPM, OSCE, NATO) consider the current Federation government legitimate.
- The letter implies that the RS referendum decision was triggered by the High Representative’s decision of March 27. This claim has no basis in fact, as these actions were clearly part of a longstanding RS policy to push for state dissolution and is in no way linked with the High Representative’s intervention in the Federation. The RS passed similar conclusions in May 2009, which the High Representative was forced to annul at that time. The RS’ intention to hold a referendum was announced long before the High Representative’s March 27 Decision, as both the RS Government and RS National Assembly passed official acts on this matter in December 2009. To link the March 27 Decision and RS referendum implies a non-existent causality.
- The letter claims that the High Representative’s March 27 Decision suspending a decision of the Central Election Commission (CEC) annulling the “formation of the FBiH (Federation) government” and “the consequent interference with the right to appeal that ruling, have undermined state bodies and the rule of law”. In fact, the CEC never annulled the formation of the FBiH government and the High Representative’s Decision left open the door to authorized officials to challenge and clarify the constitutionality of the formation of the FBiH government before the FBiH Constitutional Court. Croat parties did submit several appeals to the FBiH Constitutional Court, but then inexplicably withdrew their appeals before the Court issued a ruling. Domestic legal remedies still do exist for aggrieved parties in this matter, and the High Representative’s Decision in no way circumscribed the use or application of these remedies.
Unfortunately, the ICG letter follows the ideological path of several recent ICG Bosnia reports, in that it resorts to false claims and factually inaccurate information to push a policy line that repeats nearly verbatim the official propaganda emanating from Republika Srpska. The letter could have been written in Banja Luka. This ICG line – which has consistently parroted RS policy since early 2009 – is causing tremendous damage to BiH at a time when the country can ill afford it.
Perhaps an even more significant problem than the things that ICG writes, are the things it omits. None of the ICG reports of the last two and a half years has mentioned Milorad Dodik’s high profile push towards state dissolution, nor have they attempted to analyze his motives for obstructing and dismantling state institutions. They have failed to discuss the tendentious, provocative and highly combative nature of statements by RS officials. ICG gives scant shrift to RS’ constant denials of genocide, even though the ICTY and ICJ confirmed that genocide had occurred in several rulings. ICG fails to mention that RS is disputing the Final Award of the Brcko Arbitral Tribunal and has attempted to dismantle state institutions mandated by the Dayton agreement. ICG doesn’t mention the state capture of media inside the RS or the RS government’s heavy-handed bullying tactics against opposition figures and missing persons groups. ICG also fails to mention that the current media atmosphere inside RS is similar in tone to the wartime years, a sharp contrast to the Federation media.
RS media gave unusually prominent positive coverage to the ICG letter, as they have to all ICG reports published recently. At a time when Bosnia is headed on a downward trajectory, ICG’s work is playing an active role in undermining relations within the country, while sowing dissent within the international community.