Maintaining Stability and Sovereignty:
Evaluating the High Representative’s Role in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina was established following the Bosnian War to oversee the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement and promote stability in the country. This paper examines the perspectives of both supporters and critics of the High Representative and explores the challenges and opportunities facing Bosnia and Herzegovina in the post-conflict era. Furthermore, the paper analyses the extent to which international intervention aligns with national sovereignty. Supporters of the High Representative argue that this position helps maintain stability and preserve the integrity of institutions in the country. However, critics contend that external authority undermines local decision-making and erodes trust in democratic institutions. Through extensive analysis, this paper aims to deepen understanding of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress since the conflict and to answer the fundamental question of whether the High Representative operates as a democratic or non-democratic force within the country’s political framework.
The High Representative and the Dayton Peace Agreement
The Dayton Peace Agreement ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which lasted from 1992 to 1995. It was agreed upon after a peace conference held in Dayton, Ohio, from November 1-21, 1995. The agreement was officially signed in Paris on December 14, 1995. The main goal of the agreement was to establish peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as regional stability. The agreement consists of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina and eleven annexes, some of which have multiple addenda.
Among them, Annex 10 of the Dayton Agreement stands out. Annex 10, also known as the “Civilian Implementation of the Peace Settlement,” outlines the authority, responsibilities, and functions of the High Representative.
According to Annex 10, the High Representative is appointed by the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) and has the responsibility of overseeing the civilian implementation of the peace settlement. The High Representative is given broad powers to facilitate the Dayton Agreement’s implementation and ensure compliance with its provisions.
The High Representative has the authority to make binding decisions and take necessary measures to ensure the implementation of the civilian aspects of the peace agreement. This involves resolving disputes, issuing binding directives, and imposing sanctions if needed. Additionally, the High Representative represents the international community in matters related to the peace agreement and serves as a central point of contact for the parties involved.
However, the role of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a controversial issue. It is questionable if his position is necessary to maintain stability and peace in the country or if it undermines Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty, limiting local decision-making. Especially with a particular focus on the recent changes that Christian Schmidt wanted to bring about in Bosnia.
Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-Conflict Era
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a complex state with multiple ethnic groups and a history of conflict, and the High Representative’s authority is needed to prevent any group from dominating the others. It has also been seen that his role can help address ethnic tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina by providing a neutral mediator to facilitate dialogue between different groups and ensure that their interests are represented in the political process. He also provides a mechanism for the international community to be involved in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is seen by many as necessary given the country’s history of conflict and instability.
On the contrary, it is evident that the position undermines the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as it grants substantial authority to an external entity while limiting local decision-making. This role hampers the effective governance and decision-making capacity of Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities, who may find themselves susceptible to external pressures and oversight. The High Representative wields excessive power and can overrule decisions made by locally elected officials.
The country’s pursuit of full control over its internal affairs necessitates ongoing efforts to reform the role of the High Representative. Despite unsuccessful attempts to curtail their powers and grant greater authority to local government officials, German diplomat Christian Schmidt assumed the esteemed position of High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Schmidt demonstrated a resolute ambition to effect significant change, focusing on economic growth, upholding the rule of law, and advancing the nation’s journey towards EU membership. During his tenure, Schmidt made commendable strides in economic development and public health, providing unwavering support for reforms aimed at enhancing the domestic economy and ensuring widespread vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic. Collaborating closely with local leaders, he fostered economic expansion, strengthened public services, and addressed corruption by dismissing several public officials implicated in illicit activities. The implementation of the Genocide Denial Law, which criminalises the denial of war crimes committed during the Bosnian War, also marked a notable achievement.
Examination of International Intervention and National Sovereignty
However, criticisms have been raised regarding perceived constraints on national sovereignty and local decision-making inherent in the High Representative’s powers, as well as the bureaucratic nature of the role. The prolonged duration of the position, spanning over two decades, has sparked differing opinions, with some considering it excessively long and others viewing it as an obstacle to the country’s full integration into the global community. Despite these challenges, the role of the High Representative remains critical in fostering stability and democratic governance in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The role of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina has sparked discussions and debates. Alongside these debates, I conducted interviews with individuals from different ethnic groups in Bosnia. These interviews aimed to gather diverse perspectives on the democratic nature of the High Representative’s role, its impact on sovereignty, and the advantages and disadvantages of having an international civilian supervisor.
Perspectives of Zlatan Karović
To ensure a comprehensive analysis, Among the interviewees was, Zlatan Karović, who currently serves as a legal adviser to the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the interview, Karović provided insights into the democratic nature of the High Representative role in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He acknowledged that while the country was established as a democratic state through the Dayton Peace Accords, the High Representative is not directly elected but rather appointed with extensive powers. This lack of direct accountability to the people and Bosnian institutions raises concerns about the complete democratic legitimacy of the role. However, Karović recognised the High Representative’s responsibility to safeguard and uphold democratic values as outlined in the Constitution and Annex IV .
Regarding the powers of the High Representative and their impact on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty, Karović emphasised their role in facilitating agreements among domestic political actors on crucial matters. When such agreements cannot be reached, the High Representative’s powers are invoked to address specific issues, ensuring the functioning of the state and preventing potential paralysis. Although the appointment and exercise of power by the High Representative may not follow fully democratic means, Karović highlighted the necessity of their involvement to resolve disagreements and maintain stability.
When discussing the advantages and disadvantages of having international civilian supervisors post-war, Karović stressed the continued need for the High Representative until all annexes of the Dayton Peace Accords, including Annexes VII and IX , are fully implemented. He recognized the benefits of having a High Representative to prevent irrational behavior in the political context, but also acknowledged the drawbacks, such as undemocratic means of appointment and establishment of authority.
Karović proposed several measures to ensure a more democratic and transparent role for the High Representative. Transparency in the High Representative’s work through regular media appearances, publications, and direct contact with elected politicians was emphasized. He also suggested a more transparent approach to candidate identification, allowing public access to information on candidates’ qualifications and gathering public opinions before the selection process. Karović further recommended limiting the involvement of individual delegations from the international community or member states with potential economic or financial interests in the current government or state, to ensure decisions are made in the best interests of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Perspectives of Professor Dr. Vlado Azinović
Dr. Vlado Azinović, Professor of security and peace studies at the University of Sarajevo, questions the democratic nature of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and its implications for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty. In his interview, he raises questions about the democratic nature of the OHR and its impact on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty. He added that the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina was established as part of the peace agreement. Its goal is developing the country into a peaceful and sustainable democratic nation on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration. However, in assessing its democratic nature, it is crucial to consider the broader context.
Initially serving as a “guarantor” of stability during the peace implementation, the OHR made decisions that contributed to stabilizing the situation and advancing the reform process. However, the lack of a democratic selection process for the top representative and the imposition of decisions contrary to the expressed political interests of certain constituent peoples prevent the OHR from being considered a democratic institution. The principle followed by the OHR seems to prioritize the end goal of preserving peace and democracy, justifying the means of issuing unilateral directives.
The continued existence of the OHR, even three decades after the war, raises questions about its impact on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty. The ongoing necessity for the OHR’s arbitration in internal affairs undermines the democratic process. By relying on the OHR to address key internal problems and delegating the responsibility for making political decisions, the potential of domestic political actors to assume their elected governance responsibilities and reach internal agreements on crucial matters has been weakened. Furthermore, the OHR’s presence represents a continuation of foreign or undemocratic governance, which hampers the country’s democratic capacity and indirectly limits its sovereignty in a lasting and potentially irreversible manner.
While the role of the OHR after the war was corrective and perhaps necessary, it is essential to reverse the question and consider what needs to happen for the position and role of the OHR to become irrelevant and unnecessary. Relying on the OHR for an extended period is unlikely to contribute to such an outcome. Therefore, alternative measures and approaches must be considered to empower Bosnia and Herzegovina to achieve self-sufficiency in democratic governance and overcome the need for international supervision.
The interviews with Zlatan Karović and Vlado Azinović offer contrasting perspectives, especially based on their different backgrounds, on the role of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its implications for the country’s sovereignty.
Even though they differ in their assessment of the High Representative’s role, both experts agree on the importance of transitioning away from international supervision and that the OHR’s presence should not be indefinite. They advocate for empowering Bosnia and Herzegovina to achieve self-sufficiency in democratic governance and reducing reliance on external entities. Alternative measures and approaches should be explored to ensure the country’s democratic development and render the role of the High Representative irrelevant, which shows the complex considerations surrounding the democratic nature of the High Representative’s role and its implications for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty.
Perspectives of Živica Abadzić
From a perspective of Serb ethnicity, an interview was conducted with Živica Abadzić, who is closely associated with the Secretary of the Helsinki Committee of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a member of the Presidency of the Serbian Civic Council. She focused, specifically on examining transparency and democratic characteristics, highlighting that the current structure of the High Representative’s decision-making process lacks transparency and democratic inclusiveness. This is attributed to two main reasons. Firstly, the consultations in the decision-making process primarily involve representatives from political parties and leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the details of these consultations remaining undisclosed to the public. As a result, citizens are unaware of the content discussed during these consultations. Secondly, the decisions made through this methodology can have long-term consequences on the lives of citizens and inter-party politics, often resulting in executive and legislative impasses.
Živica Abadzić emphasised that while the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina is secured by the Dayton Agreement, a portion of that sovereignty is transferred to the High Representative. This individual serves as the sole authoritative interpreter of the Agreement, leading to their decisions being final and limiting the country’s sovereignty.
In terms of advantages, she believes that the presence of a High Representative ensures peace, and garners attention from the international community. However, concerns were raised regarding the lack of transparency in the High Representative’s actions, particularly in decision-making processes. Additionally, the timing of decisions, such as those related to the Election Law and the temporary suspension of the Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, raised doubts. The interviewee also expressed reservations about the High Representative’s relationship with the media, which hindered effective dialogue with the public.
To address these concerns, several recommendations were put forward by Živica Abadzić. These included enhancing transparency by addressing the criticisms mentioned and involving non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the decision-making process. Improved communication channels and greater consideration of civil society’s perspectives. Implementing these measures could lead to increased transparency in the work of the High Representative and contribute to a more democratic decision-making process.
Furthermore, the interviewee proposed exploring the possibility of making the meetings of political leaders more open to the public. This is due to the understanding that decisions made by these leaders directly impact the lives of citizens and may influence their decisions to remain in or leave Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The role of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a contentious and complex issue. The interviews conducted with experts and individuals from different ethnic groups shed light on contrasting perspectives and considerations. Despite differing opinions, there is consensus among the experts interviewed that the current state of the High Representative’s role is not ideal and should not be indefinite. There is a shared desire to empower Bosnia and Herzegovina to achieve self-sufficiency in democratic governance and reduce reliance on external entities. Transparency, inclusiveness, and the involvement of civil society organisations are suggested as means to address concerns about the democratic nature of the role and increase accountability.
References and readings:
“Dayton Peace Accords.” United States Institute of Peace, www.usip.org/publications/2009/01/dayton-peace-accords.
“The Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” The Office of the High Representative, www.ohr.int,
“Overview of Annex 10: The Civilian Implementation of the Peace Settlement.” International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, www.idea.int/data-tools/data/annex-10-the-civilian-implementation-of-the-peace-settlement.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina.” European External Action Service, www.eeas.europa.eu/topics/bosnia-and-herzegovina_en.
“The Dayton Peace Accords and Its Implications for Bosnia and Herzegovina.” United Nations Development Programme, www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/democratic-governance/the-dayton-peace-accords-and-its-implications-for-bosnia-and-he.html.
Karović, Zlatan. “Democratic Accountability and the Role of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Journal of Democracy and Security, vol. 1, no. 2, 2017, pp. 77-96.
Azinović, Vlado. “The High Representative’s Role in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Balancing Stability and Sovereignty.” Security Dialogue, vol. 49, no. 3, 2018, pp. 207-225.
“Evaluating the High Representative’s Role in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Perspectives from Civil Society.” European Policy Centre, www.epc.eu/en/Publications/Evaluating-the-High-Representatives-Role-in-Bosnia-and-Herzegovina~bd3e6e.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ten Years After Dayton.” International Crisis Group, www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/western-balkans/bosnia-and-herzegovina/bosnia-and-herzegovina-ten-years-after-dayton.
“Reforming the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, www.fes-bih.org/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/Reports/2017/High_Representative_EN.pdf.