P R E S S R E L E A S E
On 13 August the International Crisis Group called for the postponement of the elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the grounds that the minimum conditions for a free and fair poll did not exist. Though this call was partly answered by the decision of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to postpone municipal elections because of the blatant manipulation of refugee voter registrations, OSCE did not regard this as sufficient reason to postpone the general elections. On 14 September the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina voted in multi-party elections for the first time since 1990. The Parties had not created the minimum conditions for elections: repatriation and reintegration of refugees had not begun; indicted war criminals continued to exert influence behind the scenes; and freedom of movement and expression remained severely restricted. Under such handicaps the elections were bound to confirm the effective division of the country on ethnic lines.
On the day those who were able to vote did so in an atmosphere free of violence, but many thousands were prevented from voting. Serious technical errors in the registration of voters may have disenfranchised as many as 200,000 refugees abroad and a considerable number within the country. The vast majority of some 150,000 displaced persons in the Federation entitled to vote in the Republika Srpska did not attempt to cross the Inter-Entity Boundary Line because tight security restrictions prevented them from voting in their former neighbourhoods and because of confusion over security arrangements. By contrast, tens of thousands of Serb refugees were bussed into Republika Srpska from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to vote where instructed or lose their refugee status and benefits.
Against this background of adverse conditions, electoral engineering, and disenfranchisement, these elections cannot be described as free, fair or democratic.
The International Crisis Group is a private, multinational organisation created to reinforce the capacity and resolve of the international community to prevent crises arising from human causes. Members of the ICG board include former heads of state and government, foreign ministers, MPs and leading figures in business and the media. ICG is chaired by the former US Senate majority leader, George Mitchell.