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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
In preparing for and orchestrating the proximity talks that
marked the end of the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH), the
authors of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) placed a particularly high priority
on the return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their pre-war
homes. Annex 7 of the DPA is devoted entirely to ensuring the right of return. The
peacemakers hoped that such return might one day reverse the territorial,
political and national partition of the country that the DPA otherwise
While the first four years of peace saw large-scale return
by both refugees and internally displaced persons to areas where their own
nations were a majority, the chauvinist agendas and entrenched power structures
of the nationalist parties kept “minority” returns to a minimum. By 2000,
however, there was a surprising reversal. Not only has this trend continued, as
ordinary people seek to return to their pre-war homes in ever-larger numbers,
but it has begun to alter the prevailing political climate in much of the
The results of Bosnia's
fourth post-war general elections on 5 October 2002 seemed to point in
the opposite direction. They were
widely interpreted by the international media and some of the domestic press as
an unalloyed victory for the nationalist parties that made and fought the war –
and had done their worst since to preserve its spoils, including the
homogenisation achieved by "ethnic cleansing". The outcome was seen
as an ominous setback for efforts to put the complex multinational state
recreated in Dayton on the path to stability, legitimacy, prosperity and
The Cassandras overlooked several factors. Not only did
support for two of the three nationalist parties, the Croatian Democratic Union
(HDZ) and Serb Democratic Party (SDS), decline, but the latter faced its most
serious challenge to date from the moderate Alliance of Independent Social
Democrats (SNSD). This was sufficient to undermine its longstanding claim to be
the natural party of government in "its" entity, Republika Srpska (RS). Moreover,
the votes of returnees and potential returnees, voting in absentia, have begun
to affect politics, permitting Federation-based parties to claim 17 per cent of
the seats in the RS National Assembly in the October elections.
The media also failed to consider that the biggest losers,
the multinational Social Democratic Party (SDP) that had led the "Alliance
for Change" in the Federation and on the state level, may have done most to
contrive their own defeat. In any case, the low turnout (55 per cent) was as
much a vote against politics-as-normal as for nationalism.
Perhaps more remarkably, the press missed the story of the
more than 367,000 Bosnians who have "voted with their feet" against partition
and returned to live as "minorities" in areas governed by former foes. Years of
international effort to open up returns through targeted reconstruction
assistance – and to ensure that refugees and displaced persons have every
opportunity to reclaim pre-war residences – have borne fruit. Official figures
show that some 900,000 people have returned to homes from which they fled or
were expelled during the war. High Representative Ashdown can reasonably claim
that "we’ve invented a new human right here, the right to return after a war."
The Peace Implementation Council will consider refugee
issues in January 2003. There are worrying indications, however, that impressed
by recent success in creating and implementing a legal framework for
repossessing pre-war housing, it may declare Annex 7 officially "implemented"
before the job is done. That would suit the authorities in RS and parts of the
Federation who are keen to equate property law implementation with actual
return and close the book before creating the conditions that make return
sustainable. Yet Annex 7 makes clear that the Bosnian authorities must also
create the "political, social and economic conditions conducive to the
voluntary return and harmonious reintegration of refugees and displaced
persons, without preference for any particular group".
While highlighting the positive role return has had in
moderating nationalist politics in some areas, this report examines why many
refugees are not yet in a position to choose freely where they will live. Depressed
economic conditions are part of the answer. Discrimination in many
municipalities prevents the full realisation of potential returns, threatens
the sustainability of achieved returns and encourages returnees who do stay to
huddle in enclaves rather than to reintegrate.
The Bosnian authorities' gradual acquiescence, under
pressure, in the right to reclaim pre-war housing has not been matched by
willingness to eliminate the institutionalised discrimination that condemns
many "minority" returnees to second-class citizenship. While high unemployment
afflicts BiH in general, returnees face particular obstacles, including flawed privatisation.
Bosnia's education system, with three separate and politically charged curricula, is
another reason often cited by families with children for not returning, as is
discrimination in accessing utilities, healthcare and pensions.
Although the security situation has improved considerably,
intimidation of "minority" returnees still occurs. Local police, prosecutors
and courts often fail to bring those responsible for nationally motivated
violence to book. In some parts of the RS a returnee is ten times more likely
to be the victim of violent crime than is a local Serb. Even where the actual
threat may be low, the continuing presence of putative war criminals –
especially if in public office – sends a message to potential returnees.
Nationalist authorities also create economic incentives for
"their" people to relocate through the often-illegal distribution of building
plots and business premises, with the apparent intention of ensuring that
returnees remain a poor minority.
This report also analyses the impact of recent amendments to
the constitutions of Bosnia's two entities.
These aim to eliminate discrimination by annulling the special
constitutional status once accorded Serbs in the RS and Bosniaks and Croats in
the Federation and require local administrations to hire returnees according to
national quotas, based on the population in the last, pre-war census. If
implemented, these amendments will give returnees greater opportunity to defend
The partial nationalist victory in October prompted some
commentators to suggest the time had come for the international community to
give up on its multinational experiment in BiH and accept a final partition. The
will of hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons to return has
already rendered such a division nearly impossible, barring more war and
"ethnic cleansing". The experiences of Cyprus, Kashmir and many
other cases demonstrate the perils of
partition. Bosnian returnees have rejected the nationalist programs,
encapsulated in the wartime refrain that "we cannot live with these people
anymore", by returning to their pre-war homes. The viability
of the Bosnian state and the stability of the region depend in large measure
upon whether they can stay and prosper.
To the Peace Implementation Council, High Representative and
international organisations and donors:
1. Resist the temptation to declare prematurely that
Annex 7 has been implemented and hold
domestic authorities to the requirement that they create the "political, social
and economic conditions conducive to the voluntary return and harmonious
reintegration of refugees and displaced persons, without preference for any
2. Insist that
cantonal and municipal authorities implement the reforms demanded by the 2002
amendments to the entity constitutions which require "fair representation" of
"constituent peoples" and ensure that other national power-sharing arrangements
are implemented consistently.
promoting staff exchanges between the entities, particularly in areas where
proximity makes commuting across former confrontation lines easy, in order to
facilitate the national reintegration of local administrations required by the
4. Step up
efforts to eliminate discriminatory practices against returnees in accessing
employment, pre-war property, healthcare, pensions and other social benefits.
To international donors, international financial institutions
increasing, or at least do not decrease, funds for housing reconstruction and
economic sustainability projects in 2003-04, taking advantage of the belated
opportunity offered by the rising tide of interest in return on the part of
Bosnian refugees of all nations.
6. Work with
the BiH governments to create an economic development strategy based on the
model of economic regions, exerting pressure to reform laws and regulations
that discourage investment, ironing out regulatory discrepancies that divide
Bosnia's economic space, and wherever possible, conditioning donations, loans
and investments on employment opportunities for returnees.
specific sanctions against entity and canton governments where the police and
judiciary fail to investigate and prosecute crimes against returnees.
To the Return and Reconstruction Task Force (RRTF), Office
of the High Representative (OHR) and entity and cantonal governments:
8. Require entity and cantonal governments
to increase budgetary support of the return
process, so that each devotes perhaps some 10 per cent of its budget to funding
reconstruction of housing and infrastructure, provision of alternative
accommodation and initiation of sustainability projects.
9. Bolster the Joint Project Fund at the state level,
with one account to be managed by a
board consisting of representatives of the cantonal, entity and state refugee
ministries – and if need be regulate it through High Representative Decisions –
so that it can better support refugee return under the State Commission for
Refugees and Displaced Persons, which in turn should be encouraged to:
(a) set assistance priorities;
(b) apply transparent criteria in the selection of beneficiaries;
(c) oversee tenders and the identification of beneficiaries; and
(d) monitor project implementation.
10. Do not transfer RRTF functions to BiH authorities
until domestic capacity has been developed, in particular until the Joint
Project Fund administered by the State Commission for Refugees is fully functional.
To the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE):
efforts to reform Bosnia's divided education system, in particular by
facilitating agreement on a common core curriculum and standards and assessment
agency, while pushing for interim arrangements to allow returnees to take
"national subjects" according to the curriculum of their choice and for the
hiring of returnee teachers, in line with the Interim Agreement on Special
Needs of Returnee Children.
To OHR and the entity governments:
12. Examine the relationship between the cantons
and municipalities in the Federation and the entity ministries and municipalities
in the RS with a view to enabling municipalities to collect, control and
be accountable for more of their own revenues.
Sarajevo/Brussels, 13 December 2002