Legal Dynamite: A Bosnian court ruling threatens the protectorate

23 March 2007

On 27 February, the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council – the 55 governments and agencies running the international mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina - decided to extend this mission until June 2008, including the powers of the High Representative to dismiss public officials and impose legislation. Only ten days earlier, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia had published its ruling declaring the absence of any right of appeal for individuals sacked by the High Representative a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Under the Bosnian Constitution, the Convention is the highest law of the land.

Instead of using the opportunity to soften, or at least bring in accordance with human rights standards, the international protectorate in Bosnia, the Steering Board "noted with concern that domestic actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina have challenged actions undertaken on the basis of Dayton and UN Security Council Resolutions." It called upon the High Representative to take appropriate action, which he did on 23 March, issuing an "Order" how the ruling is to be implemented: through him and nobody else. On the same day, he annulled the formation of the Federation Government following last year's election because the OHR had not had the time to complete the vetting of ministers.

The purpose of these heavy-handed actions is to safeguard the OHR's dwindling authority: there has been no threat to the peace process. Whatever moral credibility the Office still had has now been squandered in a show of force that highlights declining European 'soft power' in the Balkans.

This raises fundamental questions for future EU missions, such as in Kosovo where the EU Special Representative is to be entrusted with similar powers to those exercised by the High Representative. The existence of unaccountable international authority undermines the very standards the mission is supposed to promote.

Read an article that ESI Director Gerald Knaus and ESI Senior Editor Marcus Cox wrote for the workshop "Whither Bosnia? – A Balkan Conundrum" organised by the Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw on 5 March.

Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Orthodox and Catholic Cathedrals in Sarajevo - Copyright ©  by Alan Grant