Bosnia and Herzegovina | Freedom House

Nations in Transit

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nations in Transit 2003

2003 Scores

Democracy Score
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Electoral Process
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Society
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Independent Media
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Judicial Framework and Independence
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


(1 = best, 7 = worst)


(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Bosnia's current political system is the product of a peace agreement that the international community concluded in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995 to end three and a half years of war. The state-level Constitution has remained unchanged since its passage as part of the Dayton Peace Accords, but the Constitutions of the two entities have undergone considerable revision in recent years, most notably in 2002. The significant role of the international community has made Bosnia a de facto protectorate that is characterized by a loose federation with a weak central government. With 14 constitutions and governments with legislative powers, the political system of Bosnia is both inherently complex and asymmetrical. Ultimately, this fact has rendered the system unstable and dysfunctional.

The territory of Bosnia is divided into two entities, the Serb Republic and the Croat-Bosniak Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (hereafter the Federation). The Serb Republic was established by the Bosnian Serb leadership during the 43-month civil war that ended in 1995 and was supposed to secede from Bosnia. The Federation, the product of U.S.-brokered negotiations between the Bosniak and Croat leaderships in 1994, is a loose binational federation that consists of 10 cantons. In addition to these two entities, the disputed city of Brcko was transformed into a separate multinational district in 1999 and placed under international administration.

The power of the central government is limited strictly to foreign affairs, trade, monetary policy, and other areas related to the maintenance of the joint state. All other responsibilities, including defense, are vested in the entities. In recent years, the international community has sought to shift some of the entities' defense prerogatives to the joint state institution, through the creation either of a joint command or even of a joint army. However, the leadership of the Serb Republic has opposed all calls for the integration of the two armies. The only security force at the state level is the Bosnian Border Service, which monitors Bosnia's international borders.

The Federation has failed to work as a political unit for most of its existence. Only 2 of the 10 cantons are significantly multiethnic. Croats or Bosniaks dominate the other cantons and have little incentive to cooperate. Owing to its limited powers, the government of the Federation has been weak and marred by frequent gridlock. Even in the Federation's few areas of competence, Croats and Bosniaks have essentially maintained separate institutions. Until recently, for example, the army of the Federation consisted primarily of monoethnic units under the de facto command of their respective ethnic communities.

The Serb Republic, on the other hand, has suffered mainly from a lack of geographic congruity. That is, the region is divided by the city of Brcko into two halves, and its highly centralized government has been unable to exercise effective control over the territory. Only recently has the government of the Serb entities been able to establish its authority more effectively on the territory. In addition, the Serb Republic has suffered from a continuous conflict between its political elite, which seeks to block any progress in strengthening Bosnian institutions, and the Office of the High Representative (OHR), which has dismissed elected officials, including the president of the Serb Republic in 1999, and banned political parties that are opposed to the Dayton Peace Accords.

Today, Bosnia continues to function essentially as an internationally administered protectorate and shows little prospect for significantly changing this fact in the coming few years. Throughout 2002, Bosnia continued in its postwar record of slow political progress marred by considerable setbacks. In particular, the year was shaped by three important events. First, in April 2002, the high representative (HR), Bosnia's principal international administrator, passed substantial changes to the Constitutions of the two entities. Second, in May, British politician Paddy Ashdown replaced Austrian diplomat Wolfgang Petritsch in the post of high representative. Third, the nationalist parties achieved an important electoral victory in the October 2002 elections.

The constitutional changes of 2002 formally ended discrimination against nondominant groups in the two entities and ensured their participation in the entity Parliaments and governments. As such, they represented a significant and positive departure from the exclusivist nature of the two entities. At the same time, though, the fact that these changes had to be imposed by the high representative, in response to a Constitutional Court decision in 2000, tarnished their legitimacy and pointed to the ongoing importance of international actors in governing Bosnia.

The importance of the post of high representative in passing legislation and making appointments gave the change of office in May 2002 particular significance. Likewise, since the power and the performance of the high representative in Bosnia is influenced by the respective officeholder, the selection of Petritsch's successor was an important one. Ashdown, a well-known British politician who filled the spot, implemented some changes in the international community's policies but maintained their overall direction.

The October 2002 elections constituted the most significant event of the year. In previous years, voters had participated in elections coordinated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and voted for candidates filling two-year terms. In 2002, though, they participated in the first balloting organized solely by Bosnian authorities and selected officeholders for four-year terms. Although these were positive steps, the voting brought an end to nearly two years of rule by a coalition of non-nationalist moderate parties at the state level and in the Federation. The resurgence and victory of three nationalist parties, after years of declining support, represented a major setback. The Croatian Democratic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ), the Bosniak Party for Democratic Action (SDA), and the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) were strongest within their respective communities and took control of the state presidency and the Federation Parliament.

The success of the nationalist parties was based largely on the failure of the moderate coalition to establish a stable government and engage in overdue social and economic reforms. This 10-party coalition was also marred by infighting over positions and conflicts between Zlatko Lagumdzija and Haris Silajdzic, the leading personalities from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina (SBiH), respectively. The electoral campaign was described as particularly fierce, pitting moderate coalition partners against one another rather than against the nationalist parties. A number of Western commentators described the elections as a major failure and called for a withdrawal of the international administration.

In 2002, the refugee return continued at an increasing, yet still low, rate. By year's end, nearly half of all wartime refugees and internally displaced persons had returned to their prewar homes. Of these, nearly 400,000 had located in areas where they now constitute a minority. Thus, although both entities continue to be considerably more homogeneous than in prewar Bosnia, they are substantially more mixed than at any time since the early 1990s.

The focus of the international community in 2002 shifted to reform of the judiciary and economic improvements--a daunting task given that corruption is endemic and official unemployment is 40 percent. In surveys, Bosnian citizens have consistently identified these two issues as the most pressing areas of reform. Likewise, the current approach of the international community rests on the assumption that only institutional stabilization and economic reform will reduce support for nationalist parties and lead to normalization in the country.

The social situation in Bosnia has been dire since the end of the war. The share of the "gray economy" is around 40 percent, and much of the population lives below the poverty line. Although living standards have been lower in the Serb Republic, the overall economic situation in both entities is bleak. In particular, a halting and late privatization process failed to generate major foreign investment and gave rise to continued high unemployment and small-scale illegal trading.

Bosnia's acceptance in 2002 into the Council of Europe symbolized progress in establishing democracy and the rule of law. Yet an increase during the year in international intervention suggested that Bosnia is likely to remain a partial, if not full, protectorate for the foreseeable future. Notably, Paddy Ashdown, the new high representative, passed a decision in October giving his post greater authority in the appointment of ministers. In addition to nominations for the ministers of defense, interior, and justice at the entity and cantonal levels, the high representative now must approve nominations for ministers of the treasury, foreign trade, and economic relations at the state level and ministers of finance, refugees, and education at the entity and, if applicable, cantonal levels. This requirement, though possibly preventing more controversial dismissals later on, constitutes a further extension and consolidation of international intervention. The reasons for Bosnia's continued dependence on international intervention lie within the contested nature of the state among the three nations of Bosnia, the continued strength of nationalist parties, and the fragility of the institutional arrangement.

Electoral Process: 

Bosnia's national legislature is bicameral. The upper house, the House of Peoples, has 15 members (5 Bosniaks and 5 Croats from the Federation, and 5 Serbs from the Serb Republic) who are chosen by the legislatures of the two entities. The lower house, the House of Representatives, has 42 members (14 Croats and 14 Bosniaks from the Federation, and 14 representatives from the Serb Republic) who are elected directly by proportional representation from the two entities.

Bosnia also maintains a semipresidential system that consists of three directly elected members who rotate the chairmanship of the presidency every eight months. The Croat and Bosniak members are elected in the Federation, and the Serb member is elected in the Serb Republic. As a consensus-based democracy, any member can block decisions if he or she invokes the "vital" interest of the entities. Only a two-thirds majority vote of the Serb Republic's National Assembly or the Federation's Parliament can override a veto.

The Federation has its own bicameral legislature that consists of an upper House of Peoples and a lower House of Representatives. The upper house has 58 indirectly elected members--17 each for Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs and 7 total for other communities. The equal representation of Serbs with Bosniaks and Croats is a provision of the 2002 constitutional changes. The Federation's lower house has 98 members who are elected directly by proportional representation; Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs must have at least 4 members each. The president and the two vice presidents of the Federation are elected by the legislature and must be of different ethnic backgrounds. All three positions are relatively weak. The Federation's president, with the concurrence of the vice presidents, nominates a government for the legislature's endorsement. Each minister must have a deputy who is not from his or her own ethnic group. Furthermore, the 16-member government must be composed of 8 Bosniaks, 5 Croats, and 3 Serbs.

The Serb Republic has an 83-member unicameral National Assembly that is elected directly by proportional representation. Mirroring the representation of ethnic groups in the Federation, Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs must enjoy representation by at least 4 deputies each. In the Serb Republic's 16-member government, 8 positions are reserved for Serbs, 5 for Bosniaks, and 3 for Croats. A 28-member Council of Peoples is elected by Parliament and must include 8 Croats, Bosniaks, and Serbs each as well as 4 members of smaller communities. This body is charged with ensuring that parliamentary decisions do not adversely affect any ethnic group. The president of the Serb Republic is directly elected and holds considerable constitutional powers. Similar to the Federation, the president's two vice presidents must be from different ethnic groups.

Previously, neither entity guaranteed the inclusion of nondominant groups (Serbs in the Federation and Bosniaks and Croats in the Serb Republic) in government. In 2002, the constitutional changes established an elaborate mechanism for guaranteeing group representation. But whether this model, which mirrors state-level institutions, functions well is doubtful. The experience of the state-level institutions indicates that such quotas prevent exclusion but accomplish little in terms of fostering actual cooperation. Thus, blockages in the decision-making processes and divided government are frequent at the state level and are likely to occur at the entity level as well.

Although the Dayton Constitution called for a multiparty system of government, Bosnia did not have a Law on Elections until August 2001. As a result, the OSCE organized all ballots and applied its own electoral rules. Despite the reservations of both the government and opposition parties, both houses of the national legislature passed the final version of the Law on Elections with a broad majority. However, the law's passage--a key criteria for membership in the Council of Europe--was largely the result of pressure from the OSCE and the high representative. The new law regulates the electoral system, campaign financing, and the registration of parties and candidates. Instead of the OSCE, a special electoral commission elected by the Bosnian House of Representatives now oversees elections. It consists of two Croats, two Serbs, two Bosniaks, and one member representing a different nation or ethnic group.

There are three restrictions on candidates and political parties. First, parties and candidates must support an independent Bosnia and are prohibited from advocating secession of parts of the country. Second, indicted or convicted war criminals may not stand as candidates, and no candidate may occupy property that is owned by refugees or displaced persons. Third, parties and candidates must report their income and property. Spending is limited to one konvertibilna marka (KM, or about $0.57) per voter in each electoral race.

Under the new law, the cantonal parliaments, the National Assembly of the Serb Republic, the Federation-level House of Representatives, and the state-level House of Representatives are elected by proportional representation in open lists and multimember constituencies. Despite a 3 percent threshold for parliamentary representation, a complicated system of compensatory mandates can also benefit parties and candidates with fewer votes.

The cantonal assembly elects members of the Federation-level House of Peoples. Members of two entity-level Parliaments choose members to the state-level House of Peoples. Members of the state-level presidency, as well as the president and two vice presidents in the Serb Republic, are all elected according to the first-past-the-post system, whereby in the former the two entities serve as different constituencies, and in the latter the highest vote getter from each of the three nations receives representation in the presidency, with the president being the one who received the highest number of votes. Three monoethnic, nationalistic parties dominated Bosnian politics throughout the 1990s and continue to receive strong support from their respective ethnic communities. The SDA claims to represent the interests of Bosniaks and works to secure the return of Bosniak refugees to their prewar homes as a counterbalance to Croat and Serb influence. The HDZ, a branch of the Croatian Party, advocated the creation of a separate Croat entity in Bosnia as recently as 2001. The SDS, led until 1996 by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, dominates the political expression of Bosnian Serbs and, in earlier years, promoted the Serb Republic's secession from Bosnia. The SDA, HDZ, and SDS have all changed their leadership since the end of the war and tried to distance themselves from their wartime record--at least in rhetoric. While the SDA and the HDZ have called for changes to the Dayton Peace Accords in recent years, the SDS has emerged as a staunch defender of the accords and has resisted any attempts by the international community to develop stronger state institutions.

The blurring of party and government lines has limited the space for other political parties, particularly those advocating a more moderate line, and stifled their ability to implement policies if elected. However, four parties have been successful in challenging the dominance of the three nationalist parties in recent years. The SDP and the SBiH have both run on nonethnic platforms. The SDP, the successor to the League of Communists, has both Serbs and Croats in its leadership, but it has had limited success in securing support beyond Bosniaks and urban Croat and Serb voters in the Federation. The SBiH, led by wartime SDA prime minister Haris Silajdzic, has never reached out to non-Bosniak voters. Although ostensibly moderate, the party's past coalitions with the SDA, its demands for stronger state institutions, and its frequent allusions to wartime responsibilities have alienated the vast majority of Croats and Serbs.

In the Serb Republic, the Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), led by Milorad Dodik, was the first to break the power of the SDS on a moderate platform of social and economic forms. The newer Party for Democratic Progress (PDP), led by economist Mladen Ivanovic, has also been successful in presenting an alternative to the SDS. However, both parties, especially the PDP, have endorsed aspects of the nationalist agenda and refrained from con-demning war crimes. As a result, they have had limited appeal to non-Serb voters. A number of moderate parties have emerged among the Croats, mainly as split-offs from the HDZ. None, however, have garnered sufficient support to challenge the HDZ's dominance among Bosnian Croats.

Although parties have platforms, party politics tends not to be content driven. Strong party presidents who determine the program dominate most groups. Parties possess little internal democracy, and change is driven by their leaders more than their member bases. In addition, the representation of national interests takes precedence over economic and social reform for most parties. Bosnian politics has been further marred by a high degree of fragmentation. In the October 2002 elections, for example, no fewer than seven parties appealing specifically to Croat voters entered the Parliament of the Federation.

Bosnia held elections in a two-year cycles between 1996 and 2002. In the 1996 and 1998 elections, the three nationalist parties took most offices. Only in the Serb Republic did a fragile coalition of moderate parties govern between 1997 and 2000. Throughout the postwar period, though, overall support for the nationalist parties has declined.

In November 2000, despite widespread--and accurate--anticipation that the SDP and other moderate parties would prove victorious, the nationalist HDZ and SDS still performed better than expected, and only the SDA fared considerably worse. The Alliance for Change, a broad coalition of moderate parties, managed to take power with significant international assistance. The performance of the coalition, in part due to the large number of parties involved and its short stint in power (less than two years), was widely seen as a disappointment and set the stage for the partial return of the nationalist parties to power in the 2002 elections.

On October 5, 2002, elections took place for all entity and state-level institutions. The elections were of particular significance since, for the first time, all parliaments and presidents were elected for four-year terms. Additionally, the 2002 elections were the first elections organized by the Bosnian Electoral Commission in accordance with the 2001 Law on Elections. The fact that the elections took place without major incidents or irregularities points to the successful transfer of competences from the international to the domestic level. The results of the elections themselves, however, were considerably less encouraging. At most levels, the nationalist parties--campaigning on a narrow ethnic agenda--regained their dominance. Owing to protracted postelection bargaining, though, governments were not established before January 2003.

The new state presidency includes members of all three nationalist parties: Dragan Covic from the HDZ, Sulejman Tihic from the SDA, and Mirko Sarovic from the SDS (resigned in April 2003, replaced by Borislav Paravac). In the 1998 elections for the presidency, two of the three members initially were from the nationalist parties. Following the resignation of Alija Izetbegovic in 2000 and the dismissal of Ante Jelavic in 2001, though, both positions were filled by moderate politicians in a parliamentary vote.


Table 1. Election Results, Bosnian Presidency, 2002

Mirko Sarovic (SDS) (elected) 180,212 35.52
Nebojsa Radmanovic (SNSD) 101,119 19.93
Ognjen Tadic (SRS)* 44,262 8.72
Sulejman Tihic (SDA) (elected) 192,661 37.29
Haris Silajdzic (SBiH) 179,726 34.79

Alija Behem (SDP)

90,434 17.51


Dragan Covic (HDZ) (elected) 114,606 61.52
Mladen Ivankovic-Lijanovic (HDU)* 32,411 17.40
Mijo Anic (NHI)* 16,345 8.77

*Serb Radical Party (SRS), Economic Block for Prosperity (HDU), New Croatian Initiative (NHI)

While the elections of Sarovic and Covic had been widely anticipated, the victory of Tihic over Silajdzic as the Bosniak member of the presidency came as a surprise. Tihic's victory was widely attributed to the confrontational electoral campaign between Zlatko Lagumdzija's Social Democratic Party and Silajdzic's Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Despite the win by Bosnia's nationalist parties in the state presidency election, the voting results do suggest that there are limits on their reach. That is, both the Bosniak and the Serb candidates were elected with less than 40 percent of the vote. Only among the Croat candidates did the nationalist HDZ win an absolute majority (see table 1).

The election results for the state-level House of Representatives point to a similar trend (see table 2). The three nationalist parties took 20 out of 42 seats, just short of a majority. The SDP suffered the most serious defeat, losing half of its mandates and tumbling to fourth place in Parliament. As in previous years, the new House of Representatives is considerably fragmented, because a system of compensatory mandates benefits small parties that are unable to meet the 3 percent threshold. As a result, 14 parties are now represented in Parliament.


Table 2. Election Results, Bosnian House of Representatives, 2002 and 2000

  in % # Seats in % # Seats % Change
SDA 32.4 9 27.0 7 +5.4
HDZ BiH 15.9 5 19.3 5 +3.4
SBiH 16.2 5 15.6 4 -0.6
SDP 15.7 4 27.3 8 -11.6
BOSS* 2.6 1 - - +2.6
SPU* 2.5 1 - - +2.5
DNZ BiH* 2.3 1 2.2 1 -0.1
HDU 2.2 1 - - +2.2
NHI 1.9 1 2.0 1 -0.1
SDS 33.7 5 39.7 6 -6
PDP 10.4 2 15.2 2 -4.8
SNSD 22.4 3 10.6 1 +11.8
SDA 7.3 1 7.4 1 -0.1
SRS 4.8 1 - - +4.8
SPRS* 4.3 1 5.7 1 -1.4
SBiH 3.9 1 5.4 1 -1.5

*Bosnian Party (BOSS), Party of Pensioners (SPU), Democratic Peoples' Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (DNZ BiH), Socialist Party of Republika Srpska (SPRS)


The results of the elections in the two entities mirrored the results at the state level. In the Serb Republic's presidential vote, Dragan Cavic, a former vice president and a member of the SDS, proved victorious with 35.9 percent of the vote. In compliance with the recent constitutional changes, one Croat (Ivan Tomljenovic, SDP) and one Bosniak (Adil Osmanovic, SDA) vice president were also elected. In the Serb National Assembly, the SDS remained the dominant party, with 26 seats. The SNSD made some gains, securing 19 seats, while the PDP of Prime Minister Ivanic declined slightly in popularity, winning only 9 seats.

The election results in the Federation pay tribute to the reestablished dominance of the nationalist parties and the fragmentation among more moderate parties. A total of 18 parties gained representation in the House of Representatives, with the HDZ and the SDA taking 48 of the 98 seats. Fourteen parties received less than 3 percent of the vote each. The extreme fragmentation of Parliament, again the result of provisions for compensatory seats, generally benefits more moderate parties but accomplishes little in the way of establishing a stable party system.

Voter turnout in Bosnia's first postwar elections generally has been high. However, the numbers have declined considerably in recent years. In the September 1997 elections, the OSCE reported turnout at 80-85 percent of registered voters. In the April 2000 municipal elections, voter turnout was 65.7 percent. For the November 2000 elections, it was 64.4 percent. General disappointment with the non-nationalist parties in 2002 led to a further drop in voter turnout to 55 percent. The decline in voter participation is the result of the frequency of elections since 1996 and the lack of substantial political change resulting from the elections.

Civil Society: 

Owing to the high degree of international intervention in Bosnia, the country has a large number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are mostly foreign funded. The small civil society sector that emerged in the years prior to the war mostly promoted interethnic tolerance and sought to reduce the nationalist polarization in the country. The country's different national communities also established their own organizations, mainly religious institutions engaged in humanitarian activities. However, with the exception of humanitarian organizations and a small but vibrant community in Tuzla and Sarajevo, the war disrupted the development of civil society in Bosnia.

Today, more than seven years after the war, Bosnia's nongovernmental sector is still rather weak. While some of this frailty can be attributed to economic hardships and a general lack of tradition for volunteerism in the region, some of it is specific to the effect of war on the country's social structure. Specifically, the ethnic divisions in the country have made it even more difficult for NGOs to become active. A case can also be made that the large international presence in the country has effectively reduced the potential for grassroots NGO activity. First, international organizations have hired many Bosnian citizens who otherwise might have initiated their own civil society activities. Second, numerous civil society programs have been initiated based on the judgments of Western donors rather than in response to local needs. As a result, the frequent changes in Western priorities have had a negative impact on the long-term development of local NGO capacities and structures.

Funding for NGOs comes primarily from governmental and private sources in North America and Western Europe. Although these foreign contributions have been considerable, they are frequently uncoordinated and directed toward short-term projects. Many NGOs are essentially commissioned to carry out the policy priorities of donors and have little room to develop their own.

Most citizens see NGOs either as irrelevant to their lives or as a possible job opportunity. In addition, a number of NGOs suffer from a credibility gap because their activists appear to spend more time participating in international workshops and seminars than communicating with their constituencies. Small, local groups or traditional civil society groups that do not have substantial financial needs might be better suited to making a long-term impact in Bosnia. According to An Introduction to the NonProfit Sector in the Balkans, published in 2000, NGOs in Bosnia are engaged in a variety of fields of activity (see table 3).


Table 3. NGO Areas of Activity

Environment 27
Human Rights 19
Youth 19
Social Issues 15
Culture and Sport 14
Gender 13
Health 11
Humanitarian Aid 10
Reconstruction 10
Other 12.5

Prior to the 2002 elections, international organizations like the OSCE conducted get-out-the-vote campaigns in Bosnia. A coalition of 119 NGOs organized Elections 2002 to mobilize voters and inform them about the new Law on Elections. Owing to widespread disinterest in the elections and the absence of perceived political alternatives, the campaign did not yield a high turnout or support for more moderate parties.

A number of organizations in Bosnia do have historical roots and are more firmly established. Among these are religiously based NGOs such as the Muslim organization Merhamet and the Catholic group Caritas. All major religious communities maintain their own humanitarian organizations, which are funded through donations, support from third countries, and the religious hierarchy. Although most organizations cater to members of their own religious community, others, including the Jewish group La Benevolenzia, gained a reputation for providing interethnic and interdenominational humanitarian aid during the war. Vakufs, traditional charitable organizations affiliated with the Islamic community, were reestablished after the end of Communist rule. Additionally, some NGOs are active in representing nondominant communities in Bosnia. The Serb Civic Council in the Federation has been particularly engaged in promoting the interests of the Serb community.

In addition to the Western-funded and traditional NGOs, a number of illiberal nongovernmental organizations have emerged in Bosnia during and after the war that yield considerable influence and resources. These organizations are mostly Islamic charities and foundations that were set up by Muslim countries (especially Saudi Arabia and Iran) and occasionally individuals and groups from the Muslim world. Following the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001, these organizations came under increasing international scrutiny. Five of the six Algerian-born Bosnian citizens who were arrested by Bosnian authorities for alleged links to al-Qaeda (and later illegally extradited to the United States) worked for Saudi-financed charities. The Bosniak who killed three members of a Croat family on Christmas Eve 2002 also had ties to radical Islamist organizations. A number of groups, such as the Active Islamic Youth, funded by Saudi Arabia, promote the conservative Wahhabite interpretation of Islam. While these organizations do not have a broad reach, their considerable financial resources have allowed them to extend their influence among young Bosniaks.

In addition to illiberal organizations in Bosnia, the country is characterized by influential networks of patronage based on political, ethnic, and geographic affiliations. Although these networks typically lack formal structures, they have been able to exert considerable influence on the political and economic life of the country.

The total number of NGOs in Bosnia is hard to estimate, owing partly to the absence of nationwide registration procedures. In addition, many groups exist in name but are largely inactive. There are approximately 1,300 registered NGOs in the Serb Republic and the Federation combined, but only 300 to 500 are thought to be active. Accordingly, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies' directory of NGOs active in Bosnia lists 384 organizations.

Only a small overall percentage of Bosnia's population is involved in voluntary activities. This is largely the result of the country's precarious economic situation and the absence of a tradition of volunteerism. However, there has been an increase in volunteerism for NGOs in recent years, due partly to training and awareness-raising campaigns by NGO networks. NGOs also provide an important source of employment for the most educated segments of the population.

Since the Serb Republic and the Federation are responsible for establishing their own legal frameworks for NGOs, their laws have sometimes proved inconsistent. In the past, NGOs that sought a nationwide presence had to register separately in the two entities. More recent legal reforms passed in both entities and at the state level have harmonized the registration process. The new laws on NGOs specifically allow for reciprocity in the recognition of organizations.

Few groups are financially viable, and their dependency on dwindling foreign donations is aggravated by a dearth of domestic funding from the public and private sectors. Accordingly, a recent survey by the NGO Foundation indicates that paying utility bills and rent constitutes the largest problem for a majority of NGOs in Bosnia. Likewise, international funding restricts the activities of many NGOs to the provision of services and subjects them to someone else's funding priorities and cycles. There are few incentives for businesses or private individuals to contribute money, thus limiting their support to in-kind gifts. With the exception of humanitarian organizations, NGOs have the same tax status as for-profit enterprises. Only international NGOs receive some tax reductions.

Although the various levels of Bosnian government have typically viewed NGOs with suspicion, changes in the country's political climate have improved their relations in recent years. In some parts of Bosnia, for example, NGO liaison officers within the local governmental administrations provide office space for NGOs or assist them in fund-raising. When governments across Bosnia have been slow to adopt new laws or make important decisions, NGOs have frequently resorted to working with international organizations, especially the Office of the High Representative, to lobby for change. While most groups lack public relations professionals, the Bosnian media now regularly report on NGO activities.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and association, and there are no explicit barriers to interest-group participation in politics. The Constitution also guarantees workers the right to join independent trade unions, and this right is respected in practice as well. In practice, however, trade unions have been severely weakened by both the war and the two-entity structure, which is reflected by two separate trade union confederations. Discussions over closer cooperation between the two confederations began only recently. The trade union confederation in the Federation has a maximum of 200,000 members in 40 branches, whereas its counterpart in the Serb Republic has some 100,000 members. Trade unions are in large part still staffed by officials from the Communist era and hold little influence owing to high unemployment and low interest among younger generations. Trade unions are often politicized, and parts of the Federation trade union are said to be close to the SDA.

In November 2002, the Association of Independent Trade Unions launched a complaint against the state-level Ministry of Civil Affairs with the International Labor Organization. The association charged that the ministry, which is responsible for implementing the new Law on Associations and Foundations, had infringed on its rights to freedom of association. Specifically, the ministry did not recognize the association's claim to continuity with the Trade Union Association from the prewar period and required the group to register as a new organization.

Trade unions were particularly active in 2001 as the pace of privatization in the Federation and in the Serb Republic gained speed and led to large-scale job cuts. In the first eight months of 2001, more than 200 strikes took place in the Federation alone. In spring 2002, trade unions in the Serb Republic organized protests, demanding regular pay, a reduction in unemployment, and greater social protection. Owing to low turnout, the protests had little impact. With unemployment rates in both entities at over 40 percent, the effectiveness of organized labor is severely limited.

The influence of domestic policy institutes, think tanks, and interest groups in Bosnia has been limited. Some organizations have been successful in lobbying international organizations, especially the high representative, whose decisions do not require democratic or popular consent. Overall, though, local organizations lack the capacity to effectively influence policy.

After the war, educational institutions were divided into three separate systems and responsibility for education policy was vested in the two entities. As a result, there are no institutional mechanisms for the reintegration of the country's divided educational system. In addition, the content of curriculums and textbooks has been a major problem. For many years, textbooks in the three systems have made little or no reference to the history and culture of the other nations in Bosnia and have interpreted recent events, such as the war in Bosnia, according to the political interpretation of the respective community. In the Serb Republic and in Croat-controlled areas of the Federation, most textbooks originated from Croatia and Yugoslavia, respectively.

However, in 2000 the Office of the High Representative initiated efforts to coordinate the educational sector. In an agreement brokered by the OHR, the education ministers of the entities, including a Bosniak and a Croat representative from the Federation, committed themselves to the coordination of educational policy. Specifically, they agreed to remove offensive materials from curriculums and textbooks and to emphasize their common cultural heritage in future textbooks. As a consequence, most textbooks used in Bosnia today are authored in Bosnia rather than imported from Croatia and Yugoslavia. The ministers also created a Curriculum Harmonization Board to bring the entities' curriculums in line with the goals of the agreement and agreed to offer minority-specific education, mutual recognition of diplomas, and countrywide education about Bosnia's main religious communities.

While the agreements in 2000 provided for major improvements in the educational sector, the system remains segregated, reflecting the high degree of ethnically based decentralization in the country. This segmentation extends to the university system as well. For example, efforts to unify the two universities in Mostar, one in the Croat and one in the Bosniak parts of town, have failed. Additionally, universities in both entities suffer from excessive political interference by their governments. Bosnia has a total of seven universities, a very high number considering a total population of less than four million. Some universities, such as the university in Serbian Sarajevo, have been established for political reasons and staffed with low-quality faculty. Recent developments suggest that in the absence of a mandate by the international community, voluntary coordination and harmonization of the three national educational systems is the most promising path of reform.

Independent Media: 

With few exceptions, the media in Bosnia are divided between the two entities. Few media outlets reach the entire country. In addition, although there has been considerable privatization in the industry, the media remain strongly influenced by political parties. The international community has undertaken considerable effort to reduce government control over the public television broadcaster--probably the most influential media outlet in the country.

Although most media are nominally independent and a large number of private print and broadcast media exist, government intervention and open support for particular political parties remain commonplace. A number of media outlets and journalists continue to receive direct and indirect funding from political parties and interest groups. The authorities in the entities, especially in the Serb Republic, have been pressuring the media to report positively about the work of the administration.

During the 2002 election campaign, a number of Federation print media were heavily politicized and played a major role in the confrontation between the SDP and the SBiH. Pressure was frequently exerted on journalists and media outlets, including in the form of threats, beatings, and exclusion from events. In 2002, the independent newspaper Nezavisne Novine was taken to court several times by SDS officials who charged it with slander and demanded high compensation fees that threatened the paper's sustainability.

Owing to the country's dire economic situation and the relatively high price of daily and weekly print publications, circulation remains low. The main dailies include Dnevni Avaz, Oslobodjenje, and the tabloid Jutarnje Novine--all based in Sarajevo and read primarily in the predominantly Bosniak parts of the Federation. Nezavisne Novine, based in the Serb Republic, is the only national newspaper. The other daily based in the Serb Republic is Glas Srpski. Dnevni List, launched in October 2001 in Mostar, is catering mostly to Croats in Herzegovina.

The main weeklies of the Federation include the independent Dani, Slobodna Bosna, and the private paper Ljiljan. The Croat weekly Hrvatski Rec is also based in Sarajevo. In the Serb Republic, the most important independent weeklies are Reporter and Nedjeljne Nezavisne Novine. Additionally, Croatian and Serbian publications are widely distributed in Bosnia, with some (such as Blic from Belgrade) publishing a special Bosnia section. Most dailies and weeklies make their articles accessible on the Internet, thus potentially reaching a much broader audience, including refugees living outside Bosnia.

Electronic media reach a broader segment of the population in Bosnia. The main public broadcasters are Federation Television (FTV) in the Federation, and Radio Television Republic of Srpska (RTRS) in the Serb Republic. FTV is the product of a merger between the Bosniak-dominated Television Bosnia-Herzegovina (TVBiH) and Croatian Radio-Television (HRT). The joining of the two came about under intense pressure from the Office of the High Representative.

In the Federation, a large number of small, private television stations have emerged, but their reach is limited. The main private station in the Federation is NTV Hayat, which originally supported the SDA government but later emerged as an independent station. Similarly, a number of private stations exist in the Serb Republic. In Banja Luka, for example, ATV has emerged as the most important independent broadcaster. In August 2001, Hayat joined with three other stations in the Federation and ATV to form a network of private broadcasters called Mreza Plus.

Currently, there is no Bosnia-wide television station. The state broadcaster merely produces the evening news and some limited programming (for example, international sports events) that is transmitted by both FTV and RTRS. In 2001, the main internationally funded project for a Bosnia-wide television station only survived owing to privatization. The Open Broadcast Network (OBN), which was founded in 1996 by the OHR, faced severe financial difficulties after international funding was reduced and the station failed to receive a permanent broadcast license. Most of the prominent journalists that the station had attracted decided to leave. The station survived by selling a 48 percent stake of its shares to Croatian and British investors but refocused programming toward entertainment.

In May 2002, the outgoing high representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, imposed a Law on Public Broadcasting that sought to place the two entity and the state-level broadcasters beyond the control of their respective governments. While being an important step toward establishing the independence of the public broadcasters, the law has been severely criticized by private broadcasters and independent media organizations such as the British-based Article 19. The critiques centered on the absence of a substantial transformation of the broadcasters and the advantages provided the three public stations over private broadcasters. Like private broadcasters, public broadcasters may run commercials. However, since the public broadcasters have other sources of funding such as international donations and viewers' fees, they are able to undercut private stations on advertising prices.

The public broadcasters are obliged to "take into account national, regional, traditional, religious, cultural, linguistic, and other specific features of the constituent peoples and all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina" and to "serve cultural and other needs of national minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina." In addition, they are prohibited from inciting hatred, intolerance, and discrimination or broadcasting calls for violence. The main supervisory agency, as with other electronic media, is the Communications Regulatory Agency.

Radio programming is mostly local in Bosnia, despite the existence of some entitywide stations. The stations are frequently well equipped, primarily as a result of substantial international donor support. Although some local stations carry independent news programming, the majority either limit their broadcasts to entertainment or focus on local political and ethnic interests.

Bosnia has an excess of media outlets that are unsustainable in the long term. As of May 2001, 206 radio stations and 67 TV stations were registered in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Independent Media Commission, transformed into the Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) in 2001, licenses electronic media--a process that has led to consolidation in the industry. To date, the agency has issued a total of 183 licenses out of 258 applicants. The CRA is also tasked with monitoring and punishing electronic media for disseminating hate speech. This instrument, which does not extend to the print media, where self-regulation is employed, has been seen as being widely effective in moderating the content of TV and radio broadcasting in Bosnia in recent years.

Freedom of expression is a key feature of both the Bosnian Constitution and the Human Rights Annex to the Dayton Peace Accords. Freedom of the press has also been a key priority of the international organizations that are active in the country. The high representative suspended criminal penalties for libel in July 1999, after the nationalist parties used it with increased frequency in 1998 against journalists. A new civil Law on Defamation, drafted by international experts under the auspices of the OSCE, was passed by both entities in early 2001. The law limits the use of defamation against independent journalists by guaranteeing freedom of expression and excluding defamation in cases in which the information reported "is substantially true." The law additionally protects the confidentiality of journalists' sources. The new legal framework, in combination with the change of government at the state and federation levels, has ended most attempts at limiting freedom of speech through the use of defamation or libel laws. The new Law on Elections also impacts freedom of speech by establishing a 24-hour blackout period prior to voting and banning the incitement of hatred and violence by political parties and candidates.

Access to the Internet is still limited, but it is increasing rapidly. Owing to the country's inadequate telecommunications infrastructure and the limited financial resources of most of its citizens, the spread of the Internet started considerably later than elsewhere. Access is widely available through Internet cafes, even in smaller towns, and at universities. In 2002, there were more than 100,000 Internet users, 62 Internet providers, and some 5,000 Bosnian Web sites.

Freedom House's annual Survey of Press Freedom has rated the media in Bosnia as "Partly Free" since 1999.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

The Dayton Constitution provides for an elaborate set of checks and balances. The purpose of the system, however, is not so much to fine-tune the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches; rather, it is to protect the rights of each ethnic group in the country. As a result, the governments of the statewide institutions and the Federation are very weak.

The three main legislatures of Bosnia have been marred by blocked decision making and a lack of transparency. According to the state Constitution, the statewide Parliamentary Assembly has responsibility for enacting legislation, deciding on the sources and amounts of revenues for the government, approving budgets, and ratifying treaties. Although the legislatures are the effective rule-making institutions in Bosnia and in the two entities, the process is cumbersome and slow. Under the Constitution, any of the three national communities can declare a proposed parliamentary decision "destructive of a vital interest" by mustering the support of a majority of the delegates of that community--an option invoked or threatened repeatedly in the post-Dayton period. In order to pass, though, such a proposed decision then requires a majority vote in the House of Peoples by each of the three communities.

In the Federation, the Council of Ministers must approve laws before they can be sent successively in draft and proposal form to each of the two houses of the Federation Parliament, which must then approve them in identical form. Also in the Federation, a veto by two-thirds of the deputies of the House of Peoples from each of the three national communities can block a decision from being taken. The veto right of Serbs in the Federation are part of the 2002 constitutional amendments passed by the high representative. In the Serb Republic, deputies from the three communities in the Council of Peoples can also veto legislation.

Since the legislative institutions at all levels of government in Bosnia are often deadlocked, the high representative frequently has passed laws and decisions on his own. Decision making is not only blocked in matters of concern to representatives of the three nationalities, it is also frustrated by deputies who fear that a decision might reduce their popularity. Ultimately, this situation has made Bosnia function as a de facto, if not a de jure, protectorate of the international community.

The current Bosnian Constitution outlines the basic structure of the Bosnian state, establishes the system of joint institutions, and vests the Serb Republic and the Federation with all residual powers and authorities not expressly granted to statewide institutions. The two entities are responsible for maintaining civilian law enforcement agencies. Defense, taxation, and other functions not vested specifically in the central government are also reserved for the entities. With a two-thirds majority vote, the legislatures of the Federation and of the Serb Republic can veto a state-level presidency decision that relates to each legislature's respective entity. The high representative oversees implementation of the Dayton Accords' civilian provisions.

The Constitution, with the exception of its human rights provisions, can be changed. Article 10 allows for constitutional changes with a two-thirds majority vote in the Bosnian House of Representatives and a simple majority in the House of Peoples. However, fundamental differences among Serb, Croat, and Bosniak deputies have prevented any constitutional reforms since the document came into force in 1995. The Constitutions of the Serb Republic and the Federation, both of which were passed prior to the signing of the Dayton Accords, are subordinated to the Bosnian Constitution.

The Constitutional Court is the key institution charged with ensuring the implementation of the Bosnian Constitution. This Court consists of nine members, four of whom are selected by the House of Representatives of the Federation and two of whom are selected by the Serb Republic National Assembly. The president of the European Court of Human Rights selects the remaining three members, who cannot be citizens of either Bosnia or a neighboring country. The term for the Constitutional Court's first judges expired in May 2002, and they were successfully replaced with new international and Bosnian judges.

The Constitutional Court can rule on any constitutional dispute between the two entities or between the central state and one or both entities. In a landmark decision, the Court ruled in July 2000 that the three main ethnic groups represented in Bosnia--Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs--enjoy equal status throughout the country. This decision ended the claim of the two entities to exclusively represent some, but not all, of the three nations of Bosnia.

The decision initiated the most far-reaching changes of the two entities' Constitutions in the postwar history of Bosnia. In addition to the Constitutional Court, the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina was established in December 2000 by a decision of the HR. This court is charged with cases that lie within the purview of the state, such as citizenship and foreign trade. In the Federation, municipal courts have original jurisdiction in most civil and criminal cases; cantonal courts have appellate jurisdiction over the cantons' municipalities.

Reform of the criminal code has been ongoing in the post-Dayton period. The Federation Parliament adopted a new criminal code in 1998, followed by the Serb Republic Parliament in 2000. Although the adoption of new criminal codes has significantly reduced arrests without formal charges, some arbitrary arrests and detentions still occur. Likewise, reports persist in all areas of the country of police beating suspects and detainees. Prison conditions are poor and below minimum international standards. Moreover, many of the judicial districts in the country have a tremendous backlog of cases.

The Bosnian Constitution guarantees freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, the right to own property, and freedom of movement and residence. All citizens enjoy these freedoms regardless of sex, race, language, and religion. The Constitution also states that all refugees and displaced persons have the right to return freely to their homes of origin. Under Annex 7 of the Dayton Accords, refugees and displaced persons also have the right to reclaim property lost during the war or to be compensated for such property.

The Constitution provides that the European Convention on Human Rights applies in Bosnia and Herzegovina and takes precedence over other law. The Council of Europe has held that all of the principles expressed in the European Court's judgments concerning freedom of expression, regulation of hate speech, and regulation of broadcasting are directly applicable. Annex 6 of the Dayton Accords provides for a Human Rights Commission consisting of an ombudsman and a Human Rights Chamber. The ombudsman has the task of investigating first-instance complaints of alleged human rights violations.

In 1998, the three governments failed to respond to the decisions of the ombudsman. Their compliance rate by late 2001, though, increased to 72 percent in the Serb Republic and 47 percent in the Federation. Serious cases that the ombudsman cannot settle are referred to the Human Rights Chamber, a judicial body that has the authority to make final and legally binding decisions. The work of this institution has been largely successful. However, the entities have been resisting the payment of financial compensations imposed by the chamber--the Serb Republic fully complied in only 29 percent of the cases--whereas the joint institutions have been more willing to follow the decisions of the body. The overall implementation rate increased dramatically from 10 percent in early 1999 to 79 percent in late 2001. Compliance remains a concern for the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons and Refugees, which is seeking to facilitate the return of property to refugees and displaced persons. By 2001, the commission had received more than 12,000 complaints (out of approximately 195,000 decisions) for nonimplementation of its decisions.

Although the human rights situation in Bosnia has improved considerably since the end of the war, significant problems remain. The right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their former homes--a key provision of the Dayton Accords--has been particularly difficult to achieve. Since only slightly less than half the refugees and internally displaced persons have returned in the seven years since the end of the war, the ethnic structure of Bosnia remains drastically altered in comparison with data available from 1991 (see table 4).


Table 4. Return of Refugees and Displaced Persons, January 1996 to November 2002

1996 76,385 3,144 8,477 33 88,039
1997 74,756 33,568 11,136 820 120,280
1998 78,589 23,187 6,765 1,459 110,000
1999 18,440 6,299 6,332 579 31,650
2000 7,633 4,834 5,303 837 18,607
2001 4,642 4,244 9,155 652 18,693
2002 9,834 5,484 17,558 340 33,216
Total 270,279 80,760 64,726 4,720 420,485
1996 101,402 505 62,792 42 164,741
1997 39,447 10,191 8,452 205 58,295
1998 15,806 4,325 9,139 300 29,570
1999 24,907 6,760 11,315 403 43,385
2000 36,944 7,779 14,175 449 59,347
2001 48,042 5,960 25,734 436 80,172
2002 36,660 5,028 21,437 626 63,751
Total 303,208 40,548 153,044 2,461 499,261

The return of refugees to minority areas is connected with a number of factors and can be seen as a litmus test for the overall progress in stabilizing Bosnia. First, the return of refugees is dependent on the immediate security of those who wish to return. Second, the return process is largely conditional on a clarification of property ownership and the restitution of real estate to prewar owners. On a broader scale, the return of refugees is closely interconnected with the political representation and inclusion of the nondominant returnees into the political system. Even more pertinent is the lack of economic prospects for returnees, which is the result of both discrimination and the absence of overall economic development in Bosnia. The acceleration of the return of refugees to minority areas began in 1999 and has increased dramatically since. As of November 2002, nearly 380,000 minorities had returned, about two-thirds to the Federation (235,225), one-third to the Serb Republic (125,277), and the remainder to the district of Brcko (18,385).

Overall, the return of refugees has been only partially successful. On the one hand, the acceleration of minority returns and the de facto completion of majority returns point to the possibility of the success of this, probably most ambitious, chapter of the Dayton Peace Accords. At the same time, however, the fact that a majority of refugees and internally displaced persons have still not returned to their homes renders the assessment less optimistic. The general lack of success in refugee returns, particularly until 1999, can be attributed largely to obstruction at the local level. The Serb Republic in particular, even under more moderate governments, has obstructed returns out of fear that Serbs could lose their political, social, and economic dominance in the region. There is also a regional component to the problem. That is, Bosnia, like other countries in the Balkans, is home to thousands of refugees. As such, the return process in one country is closely linked to that in neighboring states. Thus, the return process is also a function of the relations among Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia.

Although the Bosnian Constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination, the entities in the past openly favored one or two of the constitutional nations. However, a July 2000 Constitutional Court decision forced the end of this practice, and the constitutional changes imposed by the high representative in April 2002 formally ended discrimination at the level of entity institutions. Nevertheless, nondominant ethnic and religious groups still experience discrimination, and returning refugees are frequently excluded from social services and health care. Many nondominant groups also experience discrimination in the workplace, and religious freedom has been curtailed to a certain degree. In the Serb Republic in particular, the reconstruction of mosques has been blocked or obstructed by organized incidents of violence, as was the case in May 2001 in Banja Luka and Trebinje.

Furthermore, the protection of minority communities not belonging to the three dominant nations has been long neglected. The largest such minority are the Roma, who have faced economic hardship and exclusion in the postwar period. Only in June 2002 did the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia pass a Law on the Protection of the Rights of National Minorities. The law safeguards the use of minority languages in public and private and allows minorities to establish their own media. Political participation of minorities in entity and state-level institutions is not directly covered by the law but will be determined by changes in electoral laws and regulations. As the amendments to the Federation and Serb Republic Constitutions also include provisions for the representation of "others," minimal inclusion of national minorities is thus ensured.

The Bosnian Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and reserves the administration of justice for the two entities. Although the ruling parties have developed a considerable degree of control over the judiciary in both the Serb Republic and the Federation, the recent change of government and the increased reform efforts of the international community led to improvements in the independence of the judiciary during the year 2002. In November 2000, reform of the judiciary in Bosnia was placed under the supervision of the Independent Judicial Commission. This commission, consisting of Bosnian and international legal experts, reports to the high representative and both monitors and intervenes in the work of the judicial reform commissions of the entities and cantons. It also monitors the work of courts and prosecutors. In addition to the commissions' work, the high representative has been active in imposing laws and regulations pertaining to judicial reform.

The courts are not linked directly to the Ministry of Justice or any other executive body. However, the various governments, through their Ministries of Justice, provide the judicial branches with their budgets. In both entities, the state is required to provide defendants with legal counsel.

In June 1999, the presidents of the Associations of Judges and Prosecutors in the Federation and the Serb Republic adopted identical codes of ethics. These codes are meant to apply to the members of the Association of Judges of the Federation, the Association of Prosecutors of the Federation, and the Association of Judges and Prosecutors of the Serb Republic. The codes provide a common framework of conduct for judges and prosecutors throughout Bosnia and ensure that those involved in the judicial process receive similar standards of treatment.

In May 2000, the high representative imposed a Law on Judicial and Prosecutorial Service in the Federation that was intended to contribute to the depoliticization of the judiciary through the establishment of independent judicial selection commissions at the Federation and cantonal levels. Under the law, judges and prosecutors are no longer appointed or dismissed without the affirmative recommendations of the independent commissions. The law also contained a provision under which all sitting judges and prosecutors were subject to review over a period of 18 months from the date the law was imposed. The HR undertook similar efforts in the Serb Republic in 2000. In July 2001, the Independent Judicial Commission and the Ministry of Justice in each entity signed memorandums of understanding that spell out specific procedures for hiring judges and prosecutors in order to ensure higher professional qualifications overall and better representation of minorities.

In May 2002, the high representative passed a substantial judicial reform package that establishes judicial and prosecutorial councils at the state and entity levels. The councils are charged with the appointment of all judges in Bosnia, except for those at the Constitutional Court. Paddy Ashdown, the new high representative, also established a Legal Reform Department within the OHR, which is headed by the well-known law professor Zoran Pajic and charged with screening legislation for compliance with international judicial standards.

A considerable problem with the judicial system in Bosnia is the fact that judges are frequently exposed to threats or harassment either by the ruling political parties or sometimes by local organized crime figures. The persistence of corruption and abuse of office in the judicial system was evidenced when Wolfgang Petritsch dismissed 11 judges and prosecutors in May 2002. Some had obstructed justice, forged signatures, and violated property laws.

Another problem confronting the judicial systems in the post-Dayton period has been judicial enforcement. Since the country's judicial space is divided into three separate jurisdictions, decisions reached in one part of Bosnia are generally of no consequence in another part. Efforts to alleviate this problem have been ongoing. In May 1998, the two entities regulated legal assistance, including such issues as tracing witnesses, serving subpoenas, conducting reenactments and investigations at the scene of a crime, and facilitating ad hoc cooperation between the entities. Within both entities, even when judicial officials attempt to render independent decisions, local authorities often refuse to carry them out.

Along with the domestic courts, an additional layer of the judiciary has been of major significance in Bosnia. In 1993, the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. Since then, international officials have criticized the Serb Republic for its lack of cooperation with ICTY authorities. Although the Serb Republic Parliament concluded a bill in September 2001 on cooperation with the tribunal, the effort was criticized as unnecessary, since the Serb Republic is already obliged to cooperate under the Dayton Accords. In the same month, 38 indicted Bosnian war criminals were still at large, most of them in the Serb Republic.

The two highest-ranking officials from Bosnia to appear before the tribunal are Momcilo Krajisnik, a former member of the Bosnian presidency and a member of the wartime Bosnian Serb leadership, and Biljana Plavsic, a former Serb Republic president. In a significant move, Plavsic changed her plea to "guilty" in October 2002, marking a major departure from other high-ranking officials who have denied any responsibility for wartime atrocities. In a landmark conviction, the ICTY sentenced Radislav Krstic, a former general of the Bosnian Serb army, to 46 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995.

The extradition of Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague was perceived as a major breakthrough in Bosnia. Milosevic was originally indicted for war crimes in Kosovo, but later his indictment was extended to Croatia and Bosnia. The failure to arrest Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic has been a continuous source of tension between the international community and the Serb Republic. At the same time, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have criticized the Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR) for failing to arrest Karadzic and Mladic.


Corruption is a key obstacle to economic reform and the establishment of the rule of law in Bosnia. In addition to problems comparable to those of other countries in transition, Bosnia faces corruption resulting from the wartime union of nationalist parties and public administrations. Given the amount of international aid flowing into Bosnia and the level of fragmentation of public authority, Bosnia is particularly vulnerable to corruption, and the problem is widely acknowledged by the international organizations active in the country and by the population. The current high representative, Paddy Ashdown, noted in 2002 that the "absence of rule of law, in particular as it relates to financial crime and corruption, poses the single most serious threat to the economic and social welfare of BiH." In a 2002 survey, 84 percent of Bosnian citizens surveyed described corruption as present to a "very large extent" in the country.

The international community has been working to improve the legal and ethnic standards for government officials since 2000. The new Law on Elections, passed in August 2001, obliges parties and candidates to disclose all resources and donations after an election. Parties can receive donations from individuals and companies but have to declare any donations in excess of 100 KM (approximately US$50). Only companies in which the state has a stake of more than 25 percent are prohibited from making donations. In addition, candidates must submit a statement to the electoral commission with information on their income and property holdings. Even though the election commission has published financial reports, including on its Web site, and a recently created Auditing Service of the Electoral Commission has been charged with monitoring party financing outside of preelection periods, the issue is still widely perceived to be a problem. Most major parties have been accused of receiving donations from companies and from rich individuals exceeding the limit of eight average monthly salaries (approximately US$1,850) for individual donations. Owing to low party membership and small salaries, membership dues are in many cases either low or not collected, requiring parties to solicit alternative sources of financing.

In a major move against the illegal financial activities of political parties, the Hercegovacka Banka, owned by businessmen and politicians connected to HDZ, was placed under international supervision in April 2001. After the investigation into the banks' finances revealed that some $100 million originating from Croatia had been embezzled, possibly used to finance the activities of the HDZ in its attempts to create a third entity in Herzegovina in 2001, the high representative decided in December 2002 to offer the bank for sale.

An important anticorruption measure was taken in late 2000 with the closure of payment bureaus in the Serb Republic and the Federation. These public institutions held a monopoly over managing financial transactions in the entities. Commercial banks and a variety of state institutions have taken over their responsibilities. The bureaus' elimination, which was supported by the international community, put an end to a major source of state control over the private sector.

A number of other legal mechanisms have been put in place to limit corruption. In May 2001, for example, the Serb Republic government adopted a new Law on Public Procurement. Laws on reforming the judiciary in both entities have also sought to reduce corruption. At the state level, Wolfgang Petritsch, the outgoing high representative, imposed a Law on Conflict of Interest for government institutions in 2002. Owing to the recent nature of these legal changes, their full impact cannot be assessed yet. The new high representative, Paddy Ashdown, made the fight against corruption one of his priorities and imposed a number of measures in 2002 to strengthen the judiciary in its capacity to fight corruption. These measures included the establishment of a state-level Office of the Prosecutor, the creation of special panels at the state level to fight against corruption, and the enhancement of the prosecutors in the entities and cantons. Within the OHR, Ashdown established a Serious Crimes Unit (SCU) to oversee reform in the Bosnian judiciary in the fields of organized crime and large-scale corruption.

As part of the international community's efforts to reduce the high levels of corruption in Bosnia, some public officials have been dismissed from their posts. The most prominent case was the high representative's dismissal in 2001 of Adhem Bicakcic, a former prime minister of the Federation, from the directorship of Elektroprivreda (the Federation's electrical company) for corruption and embezzlement. Similarly, Nikola Grabovac, the Federation minister of finance, was dismissed by the high representative in June 2002 for his ministry's involvement in an allegedly illegal payment of a $770,000 customs deposit refund to a private company. One day earlier, Milenko Vracar, the minister of finance of the Serb Republic, resigned over the government's unwillingness to tackle corruption in the Customs Office and in the health and pension schemes and to dismiss a number of officials allegedly involved in corruption. He accused the SDS for opposing the fight against corruption.

Bosnia's state government has initiated investigations of the previous government, and its efforts have revealed a considerable degree of embezzlement and fraud at several Bosnian embassies, especially in Vienna and New York. The absence of a comprehensive strategy against corruption, however, was one reason for the defeat of the reformist government in the October 2002 elections. At the entity level, the high representative established the post of special auditor in March 2001 to oversee public funds at all levels of government in the Federation. The new government in the Serb Republic has also made the fight against corruption a priority, partly because the previous government of Milorad Dodik had been perceived as prone to engage in corrupt activities. The Parliament of the Serb Republic passed an anticorruption program in June 2001. The resignation of Finance Minister Vracar, however, points to the continuing problem of corruption in the Serb Republic.

A Bosnian chapter of Transparency International opened in February 2001. The group's first report, which looks at allegations of corruption within the international community, mostly identifies lack of transparency in the international community's decision-making processes, particularly with regard to the distribution of aid, as a source of corruption. Although the report neither revealed new cases of corruption nor blamed particular representatives of the international community, it did lead to a severe critique of Transparency International by some international agencies. Since the founding, the organization has published a comprehensive report on corruption perception in Bosnia. Transparency International does not rate Bosnia in its annual Corruptions Perception Index.

According to Transparency's report on corruption in Bosnia, significant problems exist at most levels of public administration. The study indicates that in the Serb Republic, the customs service and political parties are perceived to be the most corrupt; in the Federation, political parties ranked first, followed by the Federation Parliament. Overall, Transparency International identifies corruption as the second most serious problem (20.3 percent), after unemployment, in both entities. Of those surveyed, nearly half (47.4 percent) indicated having engaged in corruption.

A World Bank survey evaluating the perception of corruption among business managers, public officials, and the general public arrived at similar conclusions. Fifty percent of public officials admitted accepting bribes in exchange for altering the content of legislation; one-third noted that colleagues who refused bribes were marginalized and sometimes even forced to quit. Among the general public, 20 percent admitted having paid or received bribes for public services. Both businessmen and members of the general public noted that corruption is preventing private investment and that the costs of business transactions had increased as a result of corruption.


The Bosnian system of governance is highly complex, and its stability rests largely on the international intervention and supervision of the different institutions. With no fewer than 14 governments (1 at state level, 2 at entity level, 10 cantonal, and 1 for the district of Brcko), the complexity is not only confusing for the average citizen, but also highly unstable, often owing to insufficiently delineated competences. The frequency of elections has also resulted in high turnover of governments. The rotation of the prime minister at the state level until 2002, in combination with rigid requirements for ethnic representation, prevented the emergence of a coherent and forceful government able to invigorate the state institutions.

Generally, most governments and public administrations in Bosnia operate with little transparency. In June 2001, however, the entities and the central government adopted a Law on Freedom of Information that obliges governments to disclose information to the public. The law guides the establishment of public access to public information and requires the government to inform people on how to retrieve it. The law also provides a framework for journalists to obtain information that in the past has frequently been withheld.

Under the Dayton Accords, Bosnia has a very weak central government, with substantial powers delegated to subnational levels of government. According to Article 3 of the accords, all powers and authorities not granted specifically to central institutions reside with the entities. Thus, for instance, the central government until quite recently consisted of only three ministries. Between in 2000 and 2002, the HR added another five. Each of the entities, on the other hand, has fully developed governments, including Defense and Interior Ministries.

Within the Federation, power is further decentralized into 10 cantons: there are 4 Croat and 4 Bosniak cantons; the other 2 are mixed. The cantons have a high degree of autonomy and possess their own constitutions, parliaments, and governments. In the Federation, most powers are vested in the cantons, including education and policing. Municipalities in the Federation exercise self-government and are elected democratically. The Constitution of the Federation does not, however, spell out the specific powers of municipal governments; this is done at the level of the cantons. Although the Serb Republic is organized as a centralized, unitary entity, there have been frequent calls for a more regional approach to governmental organization.

Under an arbitration ruling in 1999, the district of Brcko has a separate status from the two entities. Although the Federation and the Serb Republic technically share sovereignty over the area, it is in effect a third entity whose government is under the authority of the international community. In March 2000, the high representative formally established the institutions of the district, including its own Parliament, Constitution, and budgetary independence. Even more than in the two entities, the international community is involved in the city's governance.

The holding of local elections has been particularly difficult, since refugees have been allowed to vote only in their original place of residence to prevent a consolidation of wartime divisions. Municipal elections were held in September 1997 and April 2000. In 2000, out of 485,000 refugee voters, only a few thousand attempted to register and ultimately received permission to vote in a municipality other than the one in which they lived in 1991. The results of these elections provided mixed results. Although the nationalist SDA lost power in some important Bosniak-populated areas, such as Sarajevo, Zenica, and Gorazde, in Croat-populated areas and in the Serb Republic, nationalist parties continued to dominate. The SDP and the SBiH substantially reduced the power of the SDA mostly in urban areas, thus confirming a strong rural-urban divide in the political choices among Bosniaks.

All levels of government in Bosnia are plagued by a lack of financial resources. Most cantons and both entities have been or are facing severe financial difficulties, despite the fact that international agencies have provided significant financial assistance and performed important services and functions such as running elections. Reflecting the high degree of decentralization in Bosnia, most revenues are raised at the entity level. The state has limited abilities to raise its own taxes and relies mainly on the entities for its budget. The Federation contributes two-thirds of the operating costs for Bosnian institutions, and the Serb Republic gives one-third. The annual budget for each entity is approximately twice the size of the state's.

Both entities spend a substantial part of their budgets on the military, together totaling 6 percent of the Bosnian gross national product. When the entities failed to heed the international community's demands for more transparent and reduced military spending, the OSCE organized a public awareness campaign to alert citizens about the country's high levels of military spending. Additionally, benefits for war veterans constitute a major source of contention between entity authorities and international donors. In the Federation, a quarter of the budget is spent on war veterans, and plans in 2002 to increase that amount by over 50 percent were met with staunch criticism by the high representative and international donors.

The Federation and the Serb Republic receive revenues from tariffs, customs and excise taxes, fees, and penalties. Until 2002, the presence of different tax systems meant that companies had to export their goods to the other entity and were effectively taxed twice. A reform package, imposed by the high representative in August 2002, effectively ended double taxation. The cantons in the Federation and the government of the Serb Republic receive value-added taxes on goods and services, as well as taxes on businesses and personal incomes. The cantons finance municipalities by supplying them with 20-30 percent of the turnover and income taxes. Similarly, the Serb Republic is obliged to pay its municipalities a share of the taxes it collects. Although municipalities in both entities are entitled to gather their own fees, penalties, and some local taxes, these have been minor additions to their budgets.

In August 2001, the Council of Ministers drafted and passed a state-level Law on Civil Service. It has yet to be adopted by Parliament. Until such time, the OHR insists that the recruitment of new civil servants to statewide levels of government be carried out in accordance with the principles of the pending law, including the hiring of civil servants through open public competitions. The high representative established the Agency for Public Service in Bosnia-Herzegovina to ensure the implementation of the Law on Civil Service and independence of the civil service. Wolfgang Petritsch, the former high representative, appointed Jakob Finci, a prominent Jewish leader, to head the new agency. Additionally, the European Union (EU) has launched a project on building a professional civil service for Bosnia's statewide institutions.

In the past, the civil service has been subjected both to political pressure and to the need to be representative of the three national groups. Given the number of layers of governance, especially in the Federation, each level of public authority tends to be relatively small, thus limiting the civil service's efficacy. The joint state civil service is particularly small.

Finally, like other countries in the region, Bosnia-Herzegovina has been seeking membership in European and Atlantic political and security structures. Owing to the fragmentation of the political system and its slow transformation, Bosnia's membership in a number of international organizations has been delayed. However, in April 2002 Bosnia was accepted as a full member to the Council of Europe. Membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program has been delayed owing to the existence of two separate armies in Bosnia and the low degree of cooperation between them. EU integration for Bosnia remains a distant goal. Whereas Croatia and Macedonia have signed Stabilization and Association Agreements with the EU, Bosnia is still in negotiations. The European Union has been reluctant to fully engage Bosnia in the process, as it considers the country insufficiently committed to integration and too weak institutionally.