TRIP REPORT 2002-4 - 1-7 SEPTEMBER 2002

In the summer of 2002, the Mediator concentrated his efforts on three specific areas: Serb return to Croatia, rule of law in Canton 10 and the return process in the eastern RS.  Property law implementation (PLIP) is moving ahead and it is foreseen that it could be finished by the end of 2003.  In order to accomplish this goal, much needs to be done in areas where the return process has either faltered or is moving at a slow pace.  The Mediator has undertaken a sustained effort in the last year to pry open the door to two-way returns between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BaH).  While returns have been going on independently from his efforts, returns have been spontaneous and with very little effective organisation. 

The problem with returns to Croatia lies mainly in the fact that Croatia has still not provided a return-friendly environment and returnees encounter very real and overwhelming obstacles to return.  In addition there is a growing perception in the Serb community that there are two sets of human rights standards: one for Croatia and one for BaH.  The difference is that in BaH, where the international community (IC) has a strong mandate and is responsible for the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accord, there is a framework that demands respect for universal human rights and places obligation on all levels of government to fulfil them.  In Croatia the situation is quite different.   The IC does not have an executive mandate to impose change or reform and has had some disagreement with the Government of Croatia (GoC) on how best to ensure these rights.  Moreover, there is still a gap between the two sides as to what exactly are Croatia's obligation vis-à-vis returnees.

The summer of 2002 has demonstrated that Croatia is moving at a slow pace in the area of political and social reforms while at the same time it is seeking fast track to the European Union and the economic advantages presented by membership.  As a result, the international community has been grappling with the issue of how best to encourage reform in Croatia.  Some are demanding strict compliance and other would like to see a subtle but effective diplomatic effort.  The experience in BaH has shown that conditionality might be the most effective way in handling this problem and the IC should evaluate its strategies to ensure that enough positive sanctions or incentives are built into their efforts to ensure that the rights of return, property, to live free from fear, and to participate in the daily life of the community are respected by all states in the region, including Croatia.  If the international community does not instil these values now, time will slip away and refugees will have no other choice but to demand to stay in their host countries permanently.  Given that there are still 1 million refugees in the region, this is not a sign that the region has overcome its past divisions.  It will be a severe blow to advocates of peace and reconciliation and will make host countries hesitant to accepting refugees in the future.

To this end the Mediator visited Dubrovnik and made efforts to encourage the local leader to engage their counterpart in Montenegro and BaH, specifically the municipality of Trebinje, in developing the region and reducing the obstacles to return.  It is only through incremental steps of functional cooperation that the fears and hatreds of the war will subside and give way to reconciliation.  Continuing this effort, the Mediator visited Trebinje to follow-up on the Agreement of 13 July 2001 and to seek the mayor's support for a trilateral meeting of mayors to discuss technical cooperation with Dubrovnik and Herceg Novi.

During the second half of the trip, the Mediator visited the municipalities of Foca-Srbinje in the eastern Republika Srpska (RS) and Glamoc in Canton 10 (Federation of BaH).  The two municipalities are very different and yet are symbols of some of the same problem facing all municipalities the new democratic Bosnia: how to develop democracy principles at the local level that ensure a multiethnic state.  In Foca-Srbinje the municipality has improved its technical compliance with many aspects of the return process but returns are not happening in great numbers.  This can also be observed in several municipalities in the RS, such as Trebinje.  The problem is that technical compliance does not give returnees a feeling of security or that they have a real chance of rebuilding their lives.  As long as the municipal leaders do not undertake a public campaign to reassure returnees that they are welcome and can be equal members of the community, returns will not happen in great numbers.  In addition, as long as there is the perception that war criminals can find sanctuary in the municipality, returnees will not feel safe and the international community will not lift sanctions.

In Glamoc returns have been very successful and Serbs now constitute the majority.  However, the new Serb leadership in Glamoc has not extended the hand of cooperation to the groups now in the minority.  Instead they have moved ahead to implement their priorities and consultation with the Croat community are almost non-existent.  The Croat community feels exposed and vulnerable, a problem that is faced in many other BaH municipalities.  The SDA (Bosniac) has been working together to HDZ for its own reasons and perceptions of exclusion by the new municipal leaders.  The challenge for the IC and the Serb leadership will be to develop strong democratic principles that will convince the Croat and Bosniac communities to stop supporting the extremist elements in their communities.  Now that the Serbs are in power, they should not use their power in a manner that is seen as discriminatory.  In the end the Serb leadership will have to work with their Croat counterparts at the cantonal level if they wish to be an equal municipality in the canton.

Similarly, the Croat leaders will have to accept that they are no longer the majority group, and they will have to live with the Serb majority.  If they wish to secure their interests they will have to cooperate at all levels of government with the other groups.  They should separate the people from the issue and seek problem-solving mechanisms that ensure that their underlying needs and interests are met jointly with those of the Serb and Bosniac communities.

Trip Report 2002-4 - 1-7 September 2002
(WORD, 48KB)