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Bosnia's Brcko: Getting In, Getting On and Getting Out

To access this report in Bosnian, please click here.


It is time to consider the future of Brcko District. In particular, it is time to chart an exit strategy for the supervisory regime that will serve both to preserve and extend its and the people of Brcko’s accomplishments.

The Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), approved in January 2003 a Mission Implementation Plan (MIP) submitted by High Representative Paddy Ashdown. Among its specific goals is the legal, political and financial integration of Brcko District in the state of Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH). Both Brcko Supervisor Henry L. Clarke and the United States government have since asked the PIC Steering Board to discuss the status of the district at its meeting in June. The Supervisor is expected to present his own MIP on that occasion.

Ownership of the divided and strategically vital Brcko municipality in north-east BiH proved too contentious to settle at Dayton in 1995. The question was left for binding, post-war arbitration. The result, in a series of three arbitral awards between 1997 and 1999, was to establish a fully-fledged international administration separate from and more all-embracing than that of the High Representative in Sarajevo.The Final Award of March 1999 decreed that the three wartime municipalities should be unified as a neutral and de-militarised district under the sovereignty of the state. But the district’s powers of autonomous government derived from the entities, which were deemed to overlap in Brcko.

The first Supervisor, Robert W. Farrand, initiated the establishment of multinational institutions, the harmonisation and reform of entity laws, and the drafting of a district statute. On 8 March 2000 he proclaimed the creation of the district and promulgated its statute. He proceeded to appoint an interim government and a 29-member assembly. These interim authorities are still in place.

Once seen as the most likely flashpoint for any renewed warfare in BiH, Brcko has since prospered to such an extent that it is regularly and rightly invoked both as the shining example of international stewardship in BiH and as a model for emulation by the rest of the country. Brcko’s reforms of the civil and criminal justice systems, of education and of municipal government have led the way in BiH. The establishment of fiscal discipline, a sensible and effective tax regime, and a business-friendly environment have resulted in significant foreign investment, a promising privatisation program, and the highest average wages in the country. Success has bred success. Those ‘cleansed’ during the war have returned in large numbers. Displaced persons who came to Brcko have opted to stay. The American-led supervisory regime has served to attract the disproportionately generous donor assistance that has helped make all this possible.

Even though most other essential requirements of the Final Award have been or can soon be fulfilled and it has been three years after the formation of the district, there have been no district elections to test whether something viable and transferable has taken root in Brcko. The last municipal poll was six years ago, and no new vote is yet scheduled. However wise it was of the Arbitral Tribunal to leave it to the Supervisor to decide when to call elections, the Final Award does nonetheless require that they be held before the Supervisor can assure either the PIC or the Tribunal that implementation is complete and secure.

The High Representative’s MIP is testimony to the fact that the ad hoc arrangements mandated by Dayton for BiH are nearing their end. Although the PIC’s target date of 2005 is likely to slip, it still provides a basis for planning in Brcko. The supervisory regime in Brcko need not wind up before OHR, but it cannot linger on thereafter. It would be useful, however, if the Supervisor were to go first. That could provide a salutary example of the reality of international disengagement while still leaving time for the High Representative to ensure that the state is in fact exercising its responsibilities towards an autonomous Brcko District.

District elections should be called no later than October 2004, when the next round of entity municipal elections is due to take place. Fear that the wrong parties might win is an increasingly lame excuse for their deferral, especially if the Brcko model of clean and effective multinational government is to have any salience for the rest of BiH. In any case, by 2004 the parties in government will have had plenty of time to win over the populace. Whether they do so or not, it will still be possible – and advisable – for the Supervisor to stay on for up to a year to mediate the transition.

The Arbitral Tribunal reserved for itself the right to vary the Final Award should circumstances so require. OHR’s aim to integrate Brcko District in the state can be regarded as consonant with the Final Award, but only if the Supervisor and the Tribunal are satisfied that such integration preserves and protects Brcko’s powers of autonomous self-government. Integration must thus be defined not as absorption or subordination, but as a guarantee of the district’s constitutional status while the entities endure. This will be the best means of ensuring that as much as possible of what has been achieved in Brcko does not remain an isolated phenomenon of liberal colonialism, but is, instead, ‘mainstreamed’ into BiH. For this to happen, however, the PIC and OHR and the BiH authorities will have to buy in. This report aims to show why they should.


To the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council

1.         Encourage the Brcko Supervisor to move towards completing his mandate, some time after the municipal elections.

2.         Call upon the Council of Ministers to fulfil and elaborate upon their October 2002 co-operation agreement with Brcko District and in that context demonstrate their support for and relevance to the people of the district.

3.         Support Brcko's bid to become the seat of the Sava River Commission.

To the Office of the High Representative

4.         Work with the Supervisor to ensure he can fulfil the Final Award while OHR is still present to guarantee Brcko’s effective integration into the state.

5.         Ensure that the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council respects the Final Award and recognises the integrity of the completed reform in Brcko.

To the Supervisor of Brcko District

6.         Reorient priorities towards handing over and bowing out.

7.         Complete preparations to call elections by October 2004. Avoid counterproductive efforts to make electoral defeat of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) a principal object of the electoral exercise.

To the United States Government

8.         Assist the Supervisor in finding an alternative use for Camp McGovern that will enhance both the security of the district and the role of the state.

To the Council of Ministers

9.         Act to implement the October 2002 agreement on co-operation with Brcko District and to establish, in agreement with Brcko’s government, viable mechanisms for regulating the district’s relationship with the state while the supervisory regime remains in place.

10.       Demonstrate the state’s interest in and relevance to Brcko residents by insisting that Croatia permit the import of petroleum products through the district, and acting on the Supervisor’s proposal to site an important state institution in Brcko.

To the Brcko District Government and Assembly

11.       Operate a serious public information campaign to acquaint district residents with the aims and activities of the government and assembly.

Sarajevo/Brussels, 2 June 2003


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