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ICG in the Balkans:
Past achievements and future priorities,
March 1996 - March 1998

ICG Bosnia Project, April 1997
Part 1 of 2


Since February 1996 the International Crisis Group (ICG) has been engaged in Bosnia and Herzegovina in support of the international effort to implement the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA). Based in Sarajevo, ICG staff have monitored progress towards implementation of the peace accords, identifying potential obstacles, alerting the international community to the existence of such obstacles and advocating strategies for overcoming them. At all times ICG's priority has been to assist the international community, including all those organisations involved in implementing the peace agreement, and to identify and pre-empt any threats to the peace process before they have a chance to re-ignite the conflict that ravaged the region between 1991 and 1995.


More than 14 months after the DPA ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the guns remain silent but little else has been achieved. The civilian provisions of the peace process are in crisis. By ICG's reckoning, the only two objective criteria by which to measure the success of DPA implementation, beyond whether the cease-fire is holding, are the number of those indicted by the International Tribunal for Crimes in Former Yugoslavia who have been arrested and the number of displaced persons who have returned to their homes. The record on both counts is extremely poor.

Nationalist leaders were given a fresh mandate last September in what were clearly fraudulent elections. Since the September vote, Bosnia and Herzegovina's joint, national institutions, whose creation was used by western governments as a reason to justify the holding of national elections, have come together in name though not in substance. Moreover, Bosnian Serb obstructionism has so far blocked adoption of key legislation necessary to begin the reintegration process and revitalise the economy.

Despite the conclusions of December's London Implementation Conference which referred specifically to the need to attach clear conditions to economic aid, the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina appears determined to start giving money to Republika Srpska despite the failure of the entities leaders to co-operate with implementation of the Dayton accords. Given the European Union's experience of the divided Croat-Bosniac city of Mostar, where more than 270 million DM - close to 5,000 DM per person - was invested to no avail, such a policy is likely to be both costly and doomed to failure.

While an end to the killing has taken events in Bosnia and Herzegovina off the television screens and the front pages of western newspapers, the conflict has not been resolved and may yet spill over into bloodshed again. Indeed, unless the international community takes immediate and resolute action, we believe there is a real possibility that the DPA will go down in history not the basis for a lasting peace in Bosnia but rather as one of the most expensive cease-fires in history.


Since opening its Sarajevo office in February 1996, ICG has assumed a unique role among NGOs active in Bosnia and Herzegovina by serving both as the leading watchdog of the international community and authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina and as a valued source of information, advice and ideas. While ICG does not shrink from offering criticism where criticism is due, it is best known and sought after for its analysis and constructive recommendations, based on close knowledge of the country and its leaders, solid field research and a bold problem-solving approach. In all that it does, ICG seeks to promote compliance with the basic principles of the DPA, including the right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their pre-war homes, arrest of war criminals, restoration of a multi-ethnic society characterised by tolerance and respect for minority rights, and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. ICG's Bosnia team includes two international lawyers and six experienced policy analysts, one of whom is Bosnian and several of whom have lived in the region for several years and/or speak the local languages.

The international and Bosnian media now routinely seek ICG's comments about breaking developments as well as major policy debates. ICG staff write for a number of influential publications, including the Economist and International Herald Tribune, and have been interviewed by the BBC, CNN, NBC, CBC, NPR, RFE, and other broadcasters. Most recently, ICG was featured in a CBS "60 Minutes" TV segment on indicted war criminals (broadcast in April 1997). The local Bosnian press regularly reproduce substantial parts of ICG reports and ICG staff are interviewed on local radio and TV every month.

The ICG Bosnia Program's most significant achievements to date can be summarised as follows:


  • By exposing fraud in the conduct of last September's national elections, ICG was instrumental in convincing the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), charged by the DPA with supervising and conducting the elections, to postpone the holding of municipal elections until conditions for elections could be improved. The municipal elections were initially postponed from September to November 1996, and then to September 1997. ICG has also revealed flaws and inadequacies in the OSCE's preparations for elections, in a number of cases unveiling evidence of cases of fraud and other serious irregularities.

  • ICG produced five separate reports on the conditions for the September 1996 elections and on the conduct of the elections themselves. These reports were quoted, often extensively, in more than 400 wire service reports, newspapers and journals in Bosnia and around the world.

  • ICG was influential in having the terms of office for national, entity and cantonal representatives elected at the September 1996 poll limited to two years, thus opening the possibility for non-nationalists to gain influence at these levels in two rather than four years' time.

  • ICG has worked closely with the OSCE to help improve the procedures for municipal elections now due in September 1997. It helped redraft rules and regulations with the goal of eliminating gaps, tightening controls, and preventing fraud and other forms of abuse. It also provided the OSCE, in response to specific requests, with suggestions on how to structure the Brcko and Mostar elections and how to encourage the installation, post-election, of winning candidates who are ethnically in a minority in the municipality where elected.

Promoting the Use of Economic Assistance as a Leverage for Compliance with DPA

The international community's main source of influence over authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina is economic assistance (given the limited uses to which military carrots and sticks can be applied). Yet, while the principle of conditioning aid on compliance with the DPA is generally accepted, there is disagreement as to how it should be applied in practice, and some donors have subordinated the principle to other, bilateral objectives. Aid conditionality can only be effective if there is consensus as to how it should be applied and uniformity in its actual application. ICG has worked to persuade leaders of the international community and other opinion and policy makers of the wisdom and effectiveness of strict economic conditionality.

  • ICG commissioned a seasoned international economist to develop a cogent, principled defence of the wisdom and effectiveness of conditioning aid to Bosnian authorities and companies on DPA compliance.

  • ICG has consistently urged the use of economic conditionality to achieve certain fundamental aspects of the DPA, in several reports and in meetings with policy and opinion makers.

The Brcko Arbitration

Brcko, the most intensely contested strategic target during the 43-month war, remains the flashpoint most likely to re-ignite hostilities between Bosnia's two sub-state entities (the Bosniac-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska). Which entity was to have jurisdiction of Brcko Town was the one territorial issue left undecided by the DPA. The matter was referred to an Arbitration Tribunal which decided, in February 1997, to leave jurisdiction with the Bosnian Serbs (who comprised only 20% of the pre-war population but now, as a result of "ethnic cleansing", comprise more than 96%). Brcko Town will now be subject to a weak international administration for one year after which, in March 1998, the Tribunal will revisit its decision. In theory, if the Bosnian Serb authorities substantially fail to comply with their obligations under the Award and the DPA, the Tribunal could decide to award the Town to the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Brcko Town will receive considerable international assistance to rebuild homes, stimulate the economy, and jump-start minority returns.

  • ICG published two comprehensive studies of the Brcko dispute, in August 1996 and January 1997, making recommendations which the Arbitration Tribunal adopted in part: the Tribunal retained jurisdiction for a period of one year (ICG had recommended five years); and decided to leave open the possibility of awarding Brcko Town to the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ICG had recommended that Brcko Town be awarded now to the state).

  • The day after the Brcko decision was announced, ICG published a statement underscoring the importance of compliance, and offering recommendations on how to compensate for the decision's shortcomings. The ICG statement was fully reprinted in the Bosnian press and widely reported in the international media.

  • Within the first days of the arrival of Brcko's international Supervisor, ICG sent him a memo recommending a series of concrete steps to take in order to monitor the parties' compliance with the Award and the DPA and to stimulate minority returns. In addition, ICG provided him with a well-researched summary of the companies doing business in Brcko Town, identifying those which should not receive any assistance (owing to the likelihood that their owners or managers will obstruct minority returns) and also identifying those which merit assistance, owing to their records of non-discrimination and sound business management.


Within the Bosniac-Croat Federation, the area wracked by the most intense ethnic tensions has been the city of Mostar, previously multi-ethnic, now divided into Croat-controlled west Mostar and Bosniac-controlled east Mostar. Few Bosniacs or Serbs remain in west Mostar, from which more than 80 Bosniac families were forcibly evicted during the past year. On 10 February, increasing tensions culminated in the shooting by Croat police into a crowd of unarmed civilians, killing one pensioner and wounding several.

  • ICG investigated this incident first-hand and published a detailed account and recommendations within 3 days. The report was reprinted by the Bosnian press and, because of its timeliness, prompted firmer statements by members of the international community than might otherwise have been expected.

  • ICG issued a report in April 1996 urging that the Mostar election scheduled for May 1996 be postponed because conditions and election preparations were far short of those needed for a free and fair poll. The report was credited as a major reason for the election's postponement and the subsequently successful poll.

  • ICG has continued to monitor the situation in Mostar and, owing to good relations established with local and international authorities and media during the pre-election period, has been an active participant in discussions about how to respond to various incidents.

Support for State Sovereignty

  • The parliaments of the two sub-state entities have been working on privatisation laws for all assets previously owned by the former Yugoslavia. Under international law, these assets clearly belong to the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the successor to the former Yugoslavia. ICG became concerned that, in the head-long rush towards privatisation, no attention was being paid to safeguarding the financial viability of the state and its institutions.

  • ICG published an analysis, written by international law experts on state succession matters, setting forth the arguments for concluding that the assets belong to the state under well-settled principles of international law and that the DPA did not reverse that presumption. This paper has stimulated considerable interest and debate among Bosnian government officials, World Bank and US Treasury representatives and others working on the privatisation issue. As a result of ICG's paper and advocacy, attention is now being devoted to how best to safeguard the state's financial viability, and to ensure that the state's sovereignty over the assets is recognised in law. Inter alia, this will make it more difficult for either entity to break away from the state.

Accountability and Arrest of War Criminals

The arrest and prosecution of people indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia are crucial preconditions for building genuine peace and reconciliation. Displaced persons cannot be expected to return to their pre-war homes in areas from which they were ethnically cleansed while the rule of law, not to mention the murder of their families and neighbours, is so flagrantly ignored.

  • ICG has focused considerable international diplomatic and media attention on the need to arrest and deliver to the Hague those indicted by the International Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.

  • ICG actively solicited the support of prominent individuals and key NGOs in securing needed resources and staff for the Tribunal.

  • ICG prepared a substantial assessment of the first year of the DPA's implementation, with specific recommendations as to how the international community should and could more effectively hold accountable authorities at all levels of government, political leaders, police and military for obstructing the DPA and committing war crimes. These recommendations, and the media coverage they received, helped shape the international community's approach and the outcome of the London Implementation Conference in December 1996, especially on the issue of the arrest of war criminals.

Support for Independent Media

  • ICG assisted alternative media, especially in Republika Srpska, by linking them with international funding sources, in order to promote media outlets capable of countering ultra-nationalist propaganda from the main media sources. In the lead-up to last September's national elections, ICG provided direct support to two new alternative newspapers in Banja Luka.

  • ICG prepared a report surveying the state of local media in Bosnia and Herzegovina and recommending to donors ways to more effectively promote professionalism and independence, especially in parts of the country where the independent media is weakest. ICG staff and Board members have met with donors to focus attention on its recommendations and discuss appropriate follow-up action.

  • ICG has assisted the OSCE's Media Experts Commission (MEC) in developing procedures and policies for promoting free and responsible media. In particular, ICG helped develop guidelines on inflammatory statements, call-in shows and physical intimidation, and helped persuade the MEC to expand its membership to include independent journalists.

Return and Reintegration of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

Since the signing of the DPA, only some 250,000 out of more than two million displaced person have returned to their pre-war homes, very few from outside the country, and almost all to areas where they belong to the majority ethnic group. During the same period, some 80,000 people have been displaced from areas where they were in the minority. 1997 is a crucial year for breaking the return and reintegration logjam. If substantial progress is not made during this year before the international forces (SFOR) leave Bosnia, the prospect for returns and reintegration thereafter will be severely curtailed. Without reintegration, the centrifugal political forces may prove impossible to resist, dooming Bosnia to inevitable and de jure disintegration. The consequences will be further conflict and a growing humanitarian disaster, including new mass population movements.

  • ICG embarked on a major assessment of the international community's programs to promote returns and reintegration in Bosnia during 1996 with a view to drawing lessons from the experience. A report on ICG's findings and recommendations will be published in April 1997.

  • ICG made a substantial contribution to efforts to persuade Serbs to remain voluntarily in Sarajevo during the transfer of authority in February 1996 by providing much needed support to a local Serb civic group.

  • Through its Board of Trustees, ICG appealed for support for the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons and Refugees, helping secure the necessary funding for the Commission's work, especially during the initial six months of its operation. In addition, ICG assisted the Commission in the development of its guiding principles.

  • ICG assisted the Property Task-Force of the Office of the High Representative in the development of guiding principles for amending war-time property ownership and usage laws which discriminate against displaced persons and are contrary to DPA. ICG also provided support to the OHR in developing a strategy to convince the legislature to amend the laws, and a litigation strategy to bring about the necessary changes through the courts should the legislatures fail to do so.

  • ICG provided logistical support to the Federation Mediator Dr. Christian Schwartz-Schilling during his missions in the country, accompanied him during his missions as part of the delegation, and assisted with the follow-up to the meetings and agreements reached. A main component of the Mediator's effort has been the promotion of conditions conducive to the return and reintegration of displaced persons.

  • The presence of some six million unexploded shells and land mines strewn across the country poses a substantial deterrent to returns. In April, ICG will issue a report examining why de-mining efforts during 1996 fell so far behind projected targets, and recommending concrete steps for increasing the likelihood of success of efforts undertaken in 1997 and thereafter, stressing the need for sustainability and coherence.

Reports Published in Sarajevo

To date, the following reports have been produced in Sarajevo:

  1. Eastern Slavonia

  2. Analysis of the International Police Task Force (14/05/96)

  3. Security, Repatriation, Elections and Reconstruction (01/04/96)

  4. Military Security post-IFOR (15/04/96)

  5. Bosnia Policy Framework Report (20/04/96)

  6. Conditions for Democratic Elections in Bosnia (22/05/96)

  7. The Political Crisis in Republika Srpska (23/05/96)

  8. Elections in Mostar (28/05/96)

  9. ICG Statement on the Elections in Bosnia (05/06/96)

  10. An Independent Six Month Review of the Dayton Peace Accords (13/06/96)

  11. Inside Radovan's Republika - The Struggle for Power in Republika Srpska (11/07/96)

  12. Political Lessons from Mostar Elections (13/07/96)

  13. Electioneering in Republika Srpska (08/96)

  14. Why the Bosnian Elections Must be Postponed (14/08/96) (69Kb)

  15. Brcko Arbitration - Discussion Paper on the Future of the Northern Bosnian Town of Brcko (08/96)

  16. Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (22/09/96)

  17. Aid and Accountability: Dayton Implementation (24/11/96)

  18. Brcko Arbitration: Proposal for Peace (20/01/97)

  19. Grave Situation in Mostar: Robust Response Required (13/02/97)

  20. State Succession Report (20/02/97)

  21. Media in Bosnia and Herzegovina (18/03/97)

  22. Going Nowhere Fast: Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina (30/04/97)

Additional Bosnia papers:

In addition, the following reports are in progress and will be published in April:


The current professional team consists of the following, with their nationality indicated in parenthesis:

DirectorHrair Balian (US, Lebanon)
Legal AdvisorSandra Coliver (US)
Senior Political AnalystChris Bennett (UK, US, Slovenia)
Media Relations/Political AnalystAnna Husarska (Poland, France)
Political AnalystRandolf Ryan (US)
LogisticsSenad Lulo (Bosnia)

In addition, three Bosnian support staff are employed as receptionist/interpreter, office assistant, and driver.

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