Thank you Madam President, and congratulations on taking up the Presidency. We wish you every success. Thank you also to High Representative Inzko, and your team, for your objective and detailed reports and for your continued efforts to support the implementation of the General Framework for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. You have the United Kingdom’s full and continuous support.
Madam President, I would agree with my French colleague that today, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains at a crossroads. In the six months since we last met, there has been some small, incremental reform progress, and the reaching of at least two significant milestones. And yet, the vestiges of division continue to mar that progress and to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina reaching the potential its citizens deserve. I will briefly touch on those two milestones.
First, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued its final judgments in November and, at the end of the year, transferred responsibility to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. We recognise the tribunal’s achievements, including the first instance conviction of former wartime commander Ratko Mladić of genocide and crimes against humanity. Although Mladic’s conviction will not bring back the thousands who lost their lives, it demonstrates that the architects of suffering will be held to account, giving others around the world hope that there can be justice for appalling human rights abuses. The court has accumulated a wealth of practical knowledge and experience over the 24 years it has been operating. And it is important that the lessons learnt are shared with other international criminal courts and tribunals.
The Tribunal has done ground-breaking work to investigate, prosecute and convict perpetrators of wartime sexual violence. I would like to echo the report of the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee in welcoming Bosnia and Herzegovina’s initiatives to integrate women, peace and security in counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) issues through the development of national and local action plans, and the UK would encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to continue and intensify its efforts on this trajectory.
Madam President, it is a matter of regret that some political leaders have disputed the rulings of the Tribunal and the decisions of domestic war crimes chambers in the region, and have even made inflammatory remarks about a return to conflict. I agree with my American colleague that we should condemn such rhetoric, which privileges the pursuit of political advantage ahead of the pursuit of justice for victims and a peaceful future for all.
Second, Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted its EU questionnaire earlier this year. We commend Bosnia and Herzegovina for this achievement, which was not insignificant given the complexities of the system being assessed.
But we have been disappointed to see only limited commitment to the difficult but essential reforms that underlie the political commitment to becoming an EU member state.
Now the questionnaire has been submitted, Bosnia and Herzegovina must demonstrate the commitment to uphold the rule of law and to implement agreed reforms.
Among these, as my Dutch colleague has already highlighted today, there is an urgent need to amend the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code on special investigative measures in order to comply with the Constitutional Court decision of June 2017 and align with international standards. Failure to do so would seriously undermine the fight against corruption and organised crime, put in jeopardy international cooperation, and the security of partner countries.
Madam President, as the High Representative noted, 2018 will also be a significant year for Bosnia and Herzegovina with elections expected in October. However, amendments to the electoral law are necessary so the results of those elections can be implemented. If political leaders fail to agree to amendments, the entire country will be exposed to an unnecessary and serious risk. Political leaders must demonstrate their ability to compromise on a solution without further delay, and move towards European standards.
As elections approach, we see an opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina to focus on the future, not the past. Divisive nationalist rhetoric demeans those who use it and does a disservice to the people and the country as a whole. The United Kingdom encourages the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to demonstrate to their people and the European Union that they are committed to building a better and more secure future for them and their children.
The consequences of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s divisive politics are easy to see. Huge numbers of young people leave every year in search of the political stability and employment opportunities that they are denied at home. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve better.
As a longstanding friend of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the UK will continue to stand in solidarity alongside those who want a better, more prosperous and stable future for the country, including as Bosnia and Herzegovina pursues Euro-Atlantic integration. The UK’s hosting of the Western Balkans Berlin Process summit in London this summer is a signal of that solidarity and commitment. We remain committed, too, to Operation Althea and the High Representative, including the use of Bonn Powers if the situation requires, until stability and security are firmly entrenched.