Bosnia and Herzegovina | Freedom House

Nations in Transit

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nations in Transit 2011

2011 Scores

Democracy Score
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4.50

Regime Classification

Transitional Government or Hybrid Regime

National Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.25

Electoral Process
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

3.25

Civil Society
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

3.50

Independent Media
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4.75

Local Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4.75

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

4.25

Corruption
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4.50

Capital: Sarajevo
Population: 3.8 million
GNI/capita, PPP: US $8,770
Source: The data above were provided by The World Bank, World Development Indicators 2011.

*Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance, to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. 

Executive Summary: 

General elections were held in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in 2010 amid anti-Dayton Peace Accords rhetoric from political actors who frequently questioned the sovereignty and constitutional order of the state, resulting in a hostile and polarized political atmosphere. Leadership of the Republika Srpska (RS), one of the country’s two main political entities, openly questioned the sovereignty and sustainability of BiH, referring to the possibility of a “peaceful dissolution.” To the detriment of interethnic relations, RS leaders also challenged rulings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) relating to the Srebrenica genocide of July 1995. Challenges to the integrity of BiH, mostly emanating from the RS, have increased following the July 2010 ruling by the ICJ that Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law.[1]

Political elites in RS and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), BiH’s other main political entity, still lack a shared vision for the country and a consensus on its political system, which prevents constitutional changes. As a consequence, an estimated 60 percent of the state budget is spent on the upkeep of nonfunctional or ineffective government apparatus.[2] After the October 3 general elections, the winning parties organized into blocs in the evident hope of building a coalition. However, disagreements between the two sides over issues such as which party would represent ethnic Croats in the ruling coalition blocked the formation of both the FBiH and BiH (State) governments.

BiH’s democratization process remained stagnant throughout 2010, with few successful reforms. Though the European Union (EU) invited BiH into its visa-free travel zone in 2009, the BiH authorities continued to dawdle on reforms critical to EU accession. Meanwhile, ethnicity remained a divisive issue. The Bosnia and Herzegovina 2010 Progress Report, an annual report by the European Commission (EC) on BiH’s progress on EU membership, asserts that “the functioning of the state-level executive and legislative bodies has continued to be negatively affected by the prevalence of ethnically oriented considerations.”[3] Improvements are still urgently needed in media independence and depoliticization of the education system to provide the conditions for democratization and long-term stability in BiH.

National Democratic Governance. The ethnic ruling elite in BiH made no serious headway in improving democratic governance in 2010. RS calls for secession took center stage in pre- and post-election debates. Likewise, sharply opposing views on the future of the country among the election winners blocked the decision-making process entirely, seriously compromising the country’s stability and impeding democratic governance. Though BiH was granted EU visa liberalization, reforms required for EU membership foundered, as did ongoing, vital efforts to improve public administration in BiH. Due to a lack of progress on democratic governance and critical reforms, BiH’s national democratic governance rating remains at 5.25.

Electoral Process. Despite some reports of electoral fraud, international observers judged the October general elections as free and fair. However, BiH’s electoral rules continued to violate Protocol 12 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in December 2009 that ethnicity-based limitations on political representation and suffrage in BiH violate the convention, but authorities have not redressed the problem. BiH maintained previous dynamics observed in the electoral process; its rating for electoral process remains unchanged at 3.25.

Civil Society. Civil society in BiH was more energetic and effective in 2010, especially in FBiH, where organizations managed to refocus the preelection debate from ugly nationalist rhetoric to socioeconomic issues. However, funding is a critical problem, with civic groups continuing to rely on international financing, and it is unclear whether NGOs can act as an effective government watchdog in the postelection period. Despite the strong preelection performance of some civic groups, BiH civil society is immature. BiH’s civil society rating remains unchanged at 3.50.

Independent Media. The media in BiH generally operate under political influence, and their editorial policy is strongly dependent on ownership. A variety of independent media outlets exist, but the majority took sides in the 2010 pre-election campaign and continued their partisan editorial policy. Journalists are also subject to political attack and threats. Partisan editorial policies among media outlets and political pressure and violent threats against journalists all contribute to the worsening of BiH’s independent media rating from 4.50 to 4.75.

Local Democratic Governance. Local governance in BiH remains at the mercy of the higher levels of government and party hierarchy. Local self-government (LSG) legislation is in place, but it is often ignored in higher legislation. As a consequence, LSG units lack the necessary funds to serve their local communities. The final status of the Brčko District is still unresolved. BiH’s local democratic governance rating remains unchanged at 4.75.

Judicial Framework and Independence. The BiH judicial system does not meet European standards of independence, efficiency, or quality, and 2010 saw no substantial improvements in these areas. Authorities made weak efforts to implement the Justice Sector Reform Strategy for 2009–2013. The National War Crimes Prosecution Strategy was also poorly implemented, while the lack of a single body similar to a supreme court has left judicial powers fragmented between independent judiciaries in BiH, RS, FBiH, and the Brčko District. As a result, the judicial system is overly complex and inefficient, with a significant backlog of cases. Moreover, the state judiciary lacks an autonomous budget, leaving it open to political influence through budgetary pressure, and BiH has no state prison to incarcerate sentenced criminals. Due to the lack of substantive progress on judicial reform and war crimes prosecution—as well as political entanglement in the judiciary— BiH’s judicial framework and independence rating declines from 4.00 to 4.25.

Corruption. BiH continues to confront considerable challenges in combating corruption. No discernible progress toward implementing the anticorruption strategy adopted in 2004 was evident in 2010. Meanwhile, authorities proposed legislative amendments that several civic organizations argued would weaken existing laws to prevent conflict of interests and other areas related to corruption. Patronage hiring for government posts remains common. Due to BiH’s poor record on corruption and the lack of political will to tackle the issue, its corruption rating remains unchanged at 4.50.

Outlook for 2011. If institutional reforms are implemented in 2011, they may still have a positive effect on the long-term stability of the country. However, the governance deadlock of 2010 shows signs of continuing into next year, which could lead to social unrest and potentially threaten the survival of the state. Despite 80 percent popular support for EU membership, the enthusiasm of elected officials for the reforms that would bring BiH closer to the EU remains low, and state-level legislation required to prepare BiH for EU membership may continue to be blocked in 2011. Calls for RS secession are likely to continue, as well. In this context, the stability of the country and the region will continue to rely on a meaningful international presence.

National Democratic Governance: 

Under the Dayton system of post-conflict power sharing, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has neither the cohesiveness nor the agency of a unified sovereign state. BiH operates under international supervision as a loose, asymmetrical federation of autonomous entities: the centralized Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS), the decentralized Bosniak and Croat-dominated Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), and Brčko, a district with its own governing institutions. At the state level, BiH has a tripartite presidency with one Bosniak representative, one Serb, and one Croat. This structure was introduced by the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) in 1995 as a temporary measure to end a terrible war. Fifteen years later, BiH remains dependant on international involvement, especially the Office of the High Representative (OHR), which is responsible for the civilian implementation of the DPA.[4]

The power-sharing arrangement has made deadlock one of the most common characteristics of governance in BiH. Policymaking in 2010 was characterized by unwillingness to compromise and ineffective decision-making at every level. Even BiH’s football federation refused to comply with international FIFA regulations by replacing its tripartite presidency with a single president. In April, the North Atlantic Council said it would accept BiH’s application to join NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP) as soon as so-called “immovable defense property,” including military bases, had been officially registered to the state for use by the BiH Ministry of Defense. Joining MAP is an essential step toward full NATO membership, but the property issue remained unresolved at end 2010.

Reforms required for EU accession were once an engine of positive change in BiH, but since 2005 the process has lost momentum, with mainly RS officials routinely voting down reforms that the EU expects to be implemented at the statewide, all-BiH level. In 2010, the only area of significant improvement on EU reforms was visa liberalization. Following several key achievements and appointments by BiH authorities, the EC determined that the conditions for visa liberalization had been met and granted BiH citizens the right to visa-free travel in the Schengen area of more than 20 European countries, effective December 15.

Legal and political attacks on state-level institutions and policies continued in 2010, usually originating in the RS government—as did RS challenges to the authority of the OHR and the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC). One important example is the RS’s Law on Referendum, which its parliament passed in February 2010. The law makes it easier for the RS to hold referendums on national issues. RS President Milorad Dodik, who opposes the OHR, has said he will hold a vote to gauge support for Dayton and the High Representative. Moreover, some observers fear that would mean the first step toward a referendum on independence for RS.

Meanwhile, belt-tightening measures mandated by the International Monetary Fund further destabilized politics in the FBiH entity, which was approaching bankruptcy even before the global economic downturn of 2009. Planned cuts in government spending for war veterans drew protesters to the streets in April 2010, and violent clashes with police ensued. Relations between members of the FBiH’s Bosniak-Croat ruling coalition were poisoned by disputes over ethnic representation within the coalition and divergent economic interests of the coalition parties.

Outstanding requirements for the closure of the OHR were not met in 2010. Discussed by the PIC Steering Board in 2008, the requirements include five strategic objectives and two other conditions that BiH authorities must achieve before the transition can occur. The five objectives are the resolution of state property disputes, resolution of defense property disputes, resolution of the status of the Brčko District, the fiscal sustainability of the state, and the entrenchment of rule of law. The two conditions were the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), the initial step in EU accession proceedings, and a positive assessment of the political situation in BiH by the PIC. “Very little progress was made towards meeting these requirements,” the EC’s annual report on Bosnia noted.[5] The OHR completed a State Property Inventory in December 2009, but authorities effectively ignored it. No agreement was reached on settling state property disputes, nor were talks conducted on much-needed constitutional reform.

Once again, parliament failed to pass the state-level law required for a population census. The EU Delegation to BiH has repeatedly emphasized that passing a census law is crucial to European integration, but even establishing how many people live in BiH has become a matter of deep disagreement. Ethnic representation in all governing structures of BiH was originally determined on the basis of demographic proportions recorded by the last census, conducted in 1991. The war has altered these numbers, and the resulting shift in the ethnic proportions might lead to different ethnic representation and rights after the new census numbers are known. The EU office of Statistics (EUROSTAT) would allow the census to be held without including so-called “national questions” related to ethnicity, religion and language, but RS authorities insist upon their inclusion. In 2010, after parliament rejected the original bill, an ad hoc committee charged with preparing a new draft attempted to reach a compromise, without success. Meanwhile, the RS National Assembly (RSNA)—the entity’s legislature—adopted its own, entity-level census law in April, despite the EU’s statement that it would only accept a statewide census law for European integration purposes. The entity-level census may still be useful to the RS government for internal, political purposes.

Public administration reform, a prerequisite for EU membership, saw little progress in 2010. In development since 2004, the Public Administration Reform (PAR) Strategy envisioned a comprehensive overhaul of general administrative capacities in three stages, from 2006 through 2014. While complex in its ambition to improve and consolidate everything from systems for public finance to administrative procedure, the PAR’s overarching goal is to build a professional, competent, and accountable civil service at all levels of governance in BiH, as alluded to in the EC’s annual report.[6] However, the strategy was only partially implemented in 2010, and overall progress on PAR is paltry. For instance, BiH’s administrative structures remain murky, “with an unclear division of powers across the various levels of government.”[7]

Before the election, the RS prime minister made frequent calls for secession and the peaceful dissolution of BiH. FBiH leaders appeared to regard his comments as empty preelection rhetoric and did not respond. However, citizens of FBiH, mainly Bosniaks, immediately objected to the secessionist statements, insisting that a peaceful dissolution of BiH is impossible. After the election, Zlatko Lagumdžija, Bosniak former chair of the Council of Ministers (prime minister) and president of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), echoed this sentiment, telling The Times that he would use “physical force” to prevent Serb secession. He also warned that a new war could start if RS tried to secede.[8] Meanwhile, Dragan Čović—the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH)—advocated for a Croat “third entity” and reestablished his previous alliance with RS President Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). This discourse highlighted the continued significance of ethno-nationalist politics in BiH, which are irreconcilable with the SDP’s platform to represent all BiH citizens, regardless of ethnicity. The election year demonstrated the weakness of larger civil society in

BiH. Some NGOs are able to influence authorities through advocacy and other means, but power remains with the ethno-national parties, which prevent checks and balances between the legislative, executive, and judicial authorities by focusing influence within the hands of a few strong party leaders. Political influence on the media erodes government transparency. The privatization of state-owned companies is incomplete, leaving government in control of major industries such as energy and telecommunications. Overall, the performance of government structures at the state and FBiH levels was poor in 2010. During its 2006-2010 mandate, the BiH Parliamentary Assembly adopted only 170 laws, a mere 30 percent of its planned legislative agenda.

Electoral Process: 

BiH’s second postwar elections to be administered entirely by local authorities were held on October 3, 2010. The polls were conducted in accordance with the country’s constitution and Election Law, which violate both Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 7.3 of the OSCE 1990 Copenhagen Document by placing ethnicity-based limitations on representation and suffrage. Citizens who do not identify themselves as Bosniak, Croat, or Serb are essentially barred from running for the presidency. Moreover, RS voters may only vote for a Serb member of the BiH presidency, while voters in the FBiH may only vote for either a Bosniak or Croat candidate. Likewise, a Serb registered in the FBiH or a Bosniak or Croat registered in the RS cannot run for the BiH presidency. The same restrictions apply to the House of Peoples, the upper chamber of the BiH Parliamentary Assembly (the House of Representatives is the lower chamber.) In December 2009, the European Court of Human Rights issued a legally binding decision that ethnicity-based ineligibility is “...incompatible with the general principles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”[9] BiH authorities failed to redress the issue before the elections.

Voter turnout was 56.28 percent, the highest figure since the general 2000 elections.[10] Approximately 255,000 more people voted in 2010 than in the 2006 general election, which drew 54.48 percent. In total, the Central Election Commission (CEC) registered 3,900 candidates; 37.7 percent were women, who received less media coverage than male candidates in electoral programs monitored by the OSCE/ODIHR.[11] The monitoring mission characterized the campaign as generally calm, with some nationalist rhetoric and inflammatory statements by certain candidates. Some candidates in official positions reportedly received preferential treatment by the media.

As in previous elections, most political parties targeted their ethnic communities, without attempting to reach across ethnic lines. Some parties— including a coalition of Our Party and New Socialist Party (NSP), the People’s Party Work for Betterment (NSRzB), and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDS)— took a more multiethnic approach. So did the main opposition SDP, although its support base has traditionally been Bosniak.[12]

In the BiH tripartite presidential election, SDP incumbent Željko Komšić won as the Croat representative with 60.61 percent of the vote, receiving approximately 70,000 more votes than his party. Bakir Izetbegović, son of the late President Alija Izetbegović, won the Bosniak seat (34.86 percent), defeating the incumbent Haris Silajdžić. The race for the Serb member of the presidency between SNSD incumbent Nebojša Radmanović and Mladen Ivanić, president of the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), was tight. Radmanović won 48.92 percent and Ivanić

47.31 percent, with the latter alleging voter fraud and other election irregularities. More than 10 percent of the ballots (58,350) were invalidated in this race, where the margin of victory was a mere 16,500 votes.

In the Čapljina and Banja Luka municipalities, the PDP contested the election result for the Serb member of the presidency, citing an unrealistically high turnout with few spoilt ballots—or ballots that election officials deem invalid for being incorrectly filled in, among other reasons—at some stations. The CEC ordered a recount and appealed to the Court of BiH. The court found irregularities at 11 polling stations in Čapljina, where evidently forged signatures on the voter registry were found to be similar to those at voting stations in Banja Luka. Forensic experts confirmed a large-scale forgery of signatures in Čapljina. The CEC annulled the results from the Čapljina voting stations for the cantonal level. The Banja Luka results were not annulled because they could not affect the election outcome.

In the race for the BiH House of Representatives (HoR), within the FBiH, SDP won 26 percent of the vote, SDA 19 percent, HDZ BiH 11.5 percent, SBB 13.6 percent, SBiH 7.1 percent, HDZ 1990 5 percent, and NSRzB 4.9 percent. Among RS voters, SNSD won 45.4 percent, SDS 22.4 percent, PDP 6.76 percent, and DNS 4.6 percent. FBiH-based parties did not pass the 3 percent threshold in the RS. SBiH, led by Haris Silajdžić, suffered the biggest defeat in the BiH HoR elections, losing six seats. SDA dropped two seats in the BiH HoR. On the Croat side, the HDZ BiH reaffirmed its position as the dominant party among Bosnian Croats with three seats in the HoR.

At the entity level, FBiH voters elected 98 members to the FBiH HoR. SDP received the highest number of votes and won 28 seats, 11 more than in the previous convocation. The Croat parties won 22 seats, as did the Party for Democratic Action (SDA). The newcomer Radončić’s Alliance for a Better Future (SBB) won 12 seats, luring voters from the Party for BiH (SBiH), which dropped from 20 to 9 seats. The FBiH HoR met for the first time on November 22 but had not elected a speaker by year’s end.

In the RS, voters elected 83 members to the National Assembly as well as an RS president and two vice presidents, which were all inaugurated in November. SNSD remained the strongest party, winning 38.01 percent of the vote but dropping from 41 to 37 seats. The new Democratic Party of former RS President Dragan Čavić won three seats. Milorad Dodik won the RS presidency, and power within the republic is likely to shift from the government to Dodik.

Corruption and the economy were the hot button issues for the elections in the FBiH. The Bosniak electorate voted overwhelmingly for the civic, multiethnic SDP, as well as the now more moderate SDA, supporting campaigns that focused on anticorruption and economic progress while downplaying nationalism. Meanwhile, the RS reaffirmed the power of SNSD leader Dodik, who practices ethno-nationalist politics and advocates for the secession of RS from BiH.

The end of the year was consumed by the formation of the new BiH government. Speculation abounded over which combination of parties would acquire the 23 seats needed to secure a majority and what coalition would sustain a two-thirds majority for passing future constitutional changes. The SNSD and the second strongest RS party, Serb Democratic Party (SDS), signed a postelection platform to act jointly in BiH institutions. At the same time, the SNSD strongly backed Dragan Čović and his HDZ BiH for the position of chairman of the BiH Council of Ministers, the executive branch of the BiH government. Božo Ljubić’s HDZ 1990 joined the SNSD-led bloc, leaving its preelection coalition partner HSP. On the other side, SDP led the formation of another bloc in agreeing on a platform to form a government in the FBiH and cooperate on policy in BiH institutions during the 2010–2014 mandate. The agreement was signed by Zlatko Lagumdžija’s SDP BiH, Sulejman Tihić’s SDA, Mladen Ivanković Lijanović’s Narodna Stranka Radom za Boljitak, and Zvonko Jurišić’s HSP. However, the two blocs remained at odds over critical issues such as the State Court, and BiH did not have a government by year’s end. In addition, by staying out of the SDP bloc, the HDZ parties effectively prevented the formation of the FBiH government and House of Peoples.

As regards government formation, the SNSD president put forward a precondition that obliquely questioned the jurisdiction of the State Court. He said it would be difficult to form a state-level coalition with any of the FBiH-based parties because the latter do not want to abolish the Court. The Law on the Court of BiH was enacted by a Decision of the High Representative in November 2000 and subsequently amended several times. RS politicians have challenged the law before the Constitutional Court of BiH twice, but both attempts were unsuccessful. On both occasions, the BiH Constitutional Court confirmed that BiH must implement its responsibilities in criminal law enforcement, among other areas. A reduction of the competencies of the Court would interfere with competencies that belong to BiH, as confirmed by the Constitutional Court. Disagreement over the future of the State Court, as well as other significant differences between the two blocs, left the state with no government in 2010.

Overall, the general election results indicated that power would likely continue to rotate among well-known members of the postwar political elite, signaling a failure to improve the democratization process in BiH. The political system designed in Dayton, and the electoral law based on the DPA solution to the conflict in BiH, continued to encourage perpetual ethnic division and confrontation within the political sphere.

Civil Society: 

Throughout 2010, the BiH public remained largely removed from political life. However, the general elections inspired civic groups to promote “get out the vote” campaigns. The Center for Civic Initiatives (CCI), Dosta (Enough), Alumni Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies (ACIPS), and Transparency International (TI) were among the most active, vocal, and visible groups in analyzing the government’s performance over the previous four years, and they tried to focus the pre-election debate on bread and butter socioeconomic issues rather than ethnic rhetoric.

The efforts of these groups aligned with the SDP’s campaign and may have contributed to the party’s election results in FBiH, as well as to the high voter turnout. Overall, it was in the FBiH that civic groups showed the most improvement in performance and effectiveness in areas such as electoral gender issues. NGOs in the RS did not have the same level of citizen outreach. And though active before the vote, NGOs did not maintain this level of oversight or advocacy after the elections.

In more general work, NGOs seemed more vibrant in FBiH last year, comprising a wide spectrum of groups representing liberal, green, and LGBT interests, to veteran organizations, all of which are skeptical toward the dominant ruling structures. In contrast, the most active RS-based NGOs are pro-government and thus followed by the media, which largely support the RS ruling elite. Strong NGOs with regional branches, such as the CCI, engaged in anti-government advocacy, but their presence was weaker in the RS, where the media gave them less coverage than in FBiH. Even for established groups such as the CCI—which has solid organizational capacities, including a core of experienced practitioners and trainers—funding remained a problem. Civic groups cannot function without international financing. Thus further “efforts are needed to support the development and funding of the civil society sector,” the 2010 EC annual report concluded.[13]

Government officials at all levels were unreceptive to policy advocacy in 2010, except when pressured by heavy media exposure. Public policy research groups are largely ignored, and the government rarely consults with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) over policymaking decisions. On a positive note, the media increasingly turned to civic organizations in 2010 for analysis, especially if the CSOs’ stances corresponded with their editorial inclinations. In addition, some NGOs said they managed to increase oversight of BiH authorities in 2010.

The education system remained a top concern in BiH in 2010, with negative implications for the stability of the country. The system remained segregated at the elementary level, and subject to political influence and ethnic-division propaganda at all levels. In addition, higher education continued to suffer from corruption, outdated curriculums, and a lack of sufficient action on reforms required by the Bologna Process, which aims to create a European Higher Education Area with high standards of education and academic exchange among European students. Despite recognizing the severity of the problem, international agencies did not have much success on integration, depoliticization, or reform efforts.

Finally, religious groups proved less influential in BiH in 2010 than in previous years. If anything, their image has deteriorated, especially after members of the radical Salafi movement bombed a police station in Bugojno, killing one police officer and injuring five other people. The public condemned the act, and a robust debate began over the clash between traditional Bosnian Islam and the ideas of radicals who began to come to BiH during the war.

Independent Media: 

While media ownership in BiH continued to significantly affect editorial policy and newsgathering in 2010, media remained free in legal terms. They comprised a diverse and complex landscape, with some 200 broadcasters and 100 print media outlets. That includes three national public broadcasters: BHT, on the state level, and RTRS and FTV in the entities.

The “get out the vote” spots produced by domestic and international organizations during the preelection period probably contributed to a higher turnout than in previous elections, but the media climate was also marked by biased reporting and extensive coverage of government officials, according to the OSCE/ ODIHR. Some members of the press were also candidates. Smaller parties and candidates without links to government or media complained frequently about systematic media underexposure.[14]

The new SBB party, led by media mogul Fahrudin Radončić, received heavilybiased coverage from his publication Dnevni avaz (Daily Voice), the daily with the highest circulation in BiH,[15] as well as TV Alfa, also owned by Radončić. Haris Silajdžić’s SBiH was openly promoted by TV1, a private channel that began broadcasting only a few days before the official start of the election campaign. The main opposition SDP had strong backing from the federal public broadcaster, FTV, while the ruling RS party of Milorad Dodik, SNSD, received favorable coverage from the majority of RS-based media. RS opposition parties claimed that the RS government effectively bought the support through 5 million KM (about US $3.5 million) in media budgetary allocations before the elections, as reported by Radio Slobodna Evrope/Radio Free Europe in July 2010.

The OSCE/ODIHR also noted bias in print media. Dnevni Avaz strongly favored the SBB while criticizing other parties, whereas Oslobodjenje (Liberation) portrayed the SBB negatively. Two RS-based newspapers, Glas Srpske (Voice of Serbia) and Nezavisne Novine (Independent Newspaper), clearly favored SNSD and RS officials. Dnevni List (Daily) primarily covered the Croat parties.[16]

The long overdue reform of the public broadcasting system proceeded slowly in 2010. A key issue in EU accession negotiations, the reform—which began in 2002—was intended to create an integrated system with public broadcasters overseen by a single corporation, striving for balanced and objective reporting. It also envisioned a joint newsroom shared by all three public broadcasters in BiH. However, due to a lack of political support for a unified system, cooperation among the public broadcasters remained poor. BiH’s main telecommunications and electronic media regulatory body, the Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA), has not had a director-general since 2007. Moreover, the CRA Council members’ mandate ended in April 2009, but no new nominations were made last year. The regulator’s budget was also halved.[17]

Media remained vulnerable to political influence and attack, alarming international observers. In April, the High Representative and EU Special Representative, Valentin Inzko, publicly warned officials that it was essential for the media “to report freely, accurately, and fairly from all parts of the country.”[18] Likewise, both the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the European Parliament repeatedly expressed concern over the media climate in BiH. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, said that media were increasingly under political attack. She added that “mutual accusations” between the various press outlets in the entities exacerbated the polarization of Bosnian society.[19]

The most prominent case of media harassment concerned FTV investigative journalist Damir Kaletović. The RS prosecutor indicted Kaletović for the “unauthorized taping of former Human Rights Ombudsmen Vitomir Popović,” whose comment that the journalist deserved to “get a bullet in his forehead” Kaletović had caught on tape and later aired. Kaletović pled not guilty to the charges, which were widely perceived as being politically motivated.[20] In another notable example, police raided the offices of RS-based BN TV, saying they had a warrant from the Bijeljina regional prosecutor’s office to investigate alleged tax evasion by BN TV. NGO watchdogs accused the police of harassing the station’s employees and trying to disrupt their work.[21]

While nascent, internet penetration is growing in BiH. According to the CRA, 1.42 million people had access to the internet in 2009, or nearly 40 percent of the population.[22] The government did not make any attempts to control the internet in 2010.

Local Democratic Governance: 

The status and rights of local self-government (LSG) as guaranteed by the European Charter on Local Self-Government were secured by the High Representative’s Decision on the 2004 reorganization of the City of Mostar and its incorporation in the FBiH constitution. These statutes protect the right to local self-government and are a powerful tool for many local government units in BiH to challenge FBiH or cantonal legislation before the FBiH Constitutional Court.

However, the financial autonomy of local governments is dubious in both entities. The 10 cantons in FBiH control the majority of public financing sources for the Federation’s 79 municipalities; the RS entity controls finances in the Serbdominated area of BiH. Moreover, the allocation of indirect taxes does not meet the needs of the local governing units. To address their funding problems, LSG structures increasingly tried to apply for EU pre-accession funds that are designed to support local development projects.

Implementation of LSG legislation is also weak. The law on local self-governance in FBiH contains sound principles, but they are not respected in other laws that would allow their implementation. For instance, the FBiH Constitutional Court issued a ruling in October proclaiming that the Sarajevo Canton had violated the right to local self-governance in the Sarajevo Center Municipality. Apparently, it had failed to harmonize provisions in the relevant cantonal legislation with those of the FBiH Law on Principles of Local Self-Government, which required the canton to transfer certain duties and the related finances to the municipalities. The court also found that the Sarajevo Canton had not defined the affairs, competences, financing, and territorial organization of the City of Sarajevo and the municipalities in the canton in accordance with the FBiH Constitution. The ruling will affect several cantonal laws regulating the use of public areas, housing, education, communal services, urban and spatial planning, and financing. It is also expected to affect the cantonal budget and weaken the canton at the expense of the municipalities.

BiH’s political system and the resulting dominance of national political parties do not leave local authorities much room to design governing institutions and processes that fully reflect local needs. In 2008, citizens were able to vote for local leaders in free and fair elections, but the major ethno-national parties dominated these contests. Elected local officials remain under the strong influence of political party presidents and dependent on funding from higher levels of government. However, there is evidence that local authorities are more accountable to citizens, if for no other reason than their proximity to the public. Political parties and business groups can and do influence local authorities.

As regards representation, participation of women in LSG institutions matches the higher levels of government. Ethnic minorities are less represented in local government because the principle of equal proportionality in representation of constituent people in governing structures is better implemented at the higher levels of government.

The Brčko District remained under international supervision throughout 2010, ensuring that its institutions continued to function effectively. The High Representative (HR) issued decisions in September 2009 concerning the technical steps needed to complete the Brčko Final Award and resolve its status, but the RS government and National Assembly adopted measures that nullified those decisions.

The new Brčko supervisor, American diplomat Roderick Moore, announced some progress in negotiations with the RS government regarding Brčko’s electricity supply, but the negotiations have been difficult. RS authorities adopted legislation pertaining to entity citizenship for Brčko residents that complied with the HR decision, but failed to adopt amendments necessary to incorporate Brčko District into the electricity regulatory framework in 2010. In addition, RS authorities refused to publish the HR decisions in the entity’s Official Gazette, which the OHR found in violation of the High Representative’s authority under Annex 10 of the DPA and various Security Council resolutions, as well as the Republika Srpska Law on Governing the Official Gazette. Nor have RS authorities complied with the High Representative’s September 2009 decision on incorporating Brčko into the BiH legal and regulatory framework for electricity. The measures are in force in FBiH and in Brčko District but not in the RS, thus Moore could not certify completion of the Brčko Final Award.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

BiH has four separate judicial systems (state-level, RS, FBiH, and Brčko District), with no “single body comparable to a supreme court that can guarantee uniform application of the law.”[23] As a result, the judicial system is overly complex and inefficient. Legislation and judicial practice differ between the two entities. Moreover, political rights related to Protocol 12 of the ECHR remain unprotected, and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BiH (HJPC), the independent body responsible for securing an impartial and professional judiciary, has yet to meet European standards of independence, efficiency, and quality.

Authorities made little effort to implement the Justice Sector Reform Strategy for 2009-2013, designed to strengthen judicial independence and rule of law to promote BiH economic development and other goals. The EC annual report noted that authorities in the entities and cantons effectively ignored the strategy, while the five working groups charged with its implementation have been hampered by the lack of a quorum.[24] FBiH authorities have yet to fill three judicial appointments to the Federation Constitutional Court, preventing the court from ruling on cases of vital national interest in 2010. The HJPC, which is entrusted with appointing judges and prosecutors, proposed a list of candidates to then FBiH President Borjana Krišto in 2008, but Krišto—who had different candidates in mind—challenged the council’s authority to propose names, and the appointment procedure remained in limbo through the end of 2010. The criteria for judicial appointments remain unclear and experts say the lack of transparency results in unqualified candidates.

The judiciary has a backlog of more than 2.1 million cases, and implementation of the National War Crimes Prosecution Strategy has moved slowly. In 2010, data collection on outstanding war crimes cases from the lower courts continued, but with considerable delays due to a lack of data from the entities. This has slowed the prioritization of cases and their distribution between the jurisdictions of the state and entities. Thus the perception remained that BiH prosecutors were submitting the “easier cases” rather than those related to high-ranking individuals.

In BiH, judges are free to make independent decisions, but politicians wield indirect influence through the judicial budget. The Court of BiH does not have an independent judiciary budget and remains subject to the budgetary whims of the ruling coalition. According to the EC annual report, posts in state-level judicial institutions have been blocked for two years on budgetary restrictions.[25] A sufficient budget for the State Court was secured in 2010, but it has not been approved by the BiH Parliamentary Assembly.

Several high-profile cases in 2010 eroded the public’s confidence in the BiH judiciary. Edhem Bičakčić and Nedžad Branković, both former prime ministers of FBiH and SDA officials, were acquitted on charges of abuse of office and authority in the Sarajevo Cantonal Court. Bičakčić had been charged with using public funds to buy a luxury Sarajevo apartment for the use of the general manager of Energoinvest, a Bosnian engineering company. Branković, who at that time held the general manager position, then purchased the apartment for himself for a fraction of the cost.[26] The Sarajevo Cantonal Court found that the prosecution had relied on “illegal proof”—an uncertified copy of a decision signed by then Prime Minister Bičakčić, approving the purchase of the apartment. The prosecution’s case failed because it did not submit as evidence the original, signed document. Increasingly, these types of errors, resulting from poor legal training and knowledge, are viewed as a core weakness of the BiH judicial system. Though the High Representative established a two-entity legal education center in 2002, many experts say judges and prosecutors receive poor training in terms of curriculum and other areas.

BiH has no state prison, making it difficult to enforce judicial decisions. Construction began on a state penitentiary in 2006, slated for completion in 2008, but that date has now been pushed back to 2013. As a result, some 800 people are in detention, waiting to serve time. This has caused a substantial backlog, especially in the FBiH, where years can elapse between a conviction and imprisonment, even in cases with sentences under five years. To help build the new state prison, the Council of Europe Development Bank has approved a loan to BiH of €19.3 million (US $26.1 million).

Prisons in FBiH are overcrowded, and current legislation prevents convicts from one entity from serving a sentence in the other. Additionally, convicts must serve their sentences in prisons closest to their place of residence, which creates a situation where war criminals receive privileged status and aid from a network of supporters. Many say this is how Radovan Stanković escaped from the Foca prison under RS jurisdiction in 2007. He remains at large.

Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, has deemed BiH’s cooperation with the Tribunal to be satisfactory.[27] However, Brammertz expressed concern at the trend among RS leadership to deny the legitimacy of genocide verdicts and threaten state judicial institutions. The wartime commander of the RS army, General Ratko Mladić, one of the most wanted war crime suspects from the Bosnian war, remained free in 2010.

Corruption: 

BiH authorities did nothing of substance to fight corruption in 2010, and the existing anticorruption strategy has not been implemented. Transparency International BiH (TI BiH) noted that two-thirds of rulings in corruption cases in BiH end with suspended sentences.[28] Drago Kos, anticorruption expert and chair of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), notes that BiH authorities have not processed a single major corruption case in several years.[29]

NGOs specializing in anticorruption issues have criticized authorities for proposing new anticorruption strategies based on EU templates, rather than making constructive changes to existing laws. Apart from compromising existing legislation, critics say, this also excludes the public from policymaking procedures, as new legislation is frequently designed without public hearings or NGO participation.

Both TI BiH and the Open Society Fund (OSF) strongly opposed initiatives to amend laws on conflict of interest, financing of political parties, and civil service in BiH institutions. In each case, they said the current legislation and its implementation would be weakened. Critics also argued that implementation of the Law on Conflict of Interests hinged to a large extent on the relative influence and power of a suspected public official. NGOs opposed the attempt to introduce largely symbolic fines in conflict of interest cases. Additionally, civic groups argued that these amendments would change the rules of the game in the election year instead of focusing on the proper implementation of existing legislation.[30] Through their advocacy, the civic groups blocked the new legal provisions.

BiH’s lack of progress in public administration reform, which would reduce bureaucracy, enabled corruption to thrive at all levels of government. Laws requiring financial disclosure for public officials are inadequate. For example, campaign finance reports for the 2010 election were submitted after the elections and may not be publicly audited for several years, which compromises the transparency of campaign financing.

The regulations regarding donation limits are also very restrictive, putting those parties not already represented in BiH legislative bodies at a chronic disadvantage. Incumbent parties are able to use the government budget and assets from publicly-owned companies to fund their activities and campaigns. Parties outside of government lack these resources, and depend largely upon donations.

The government advertises job openings, but patronage hiring is standard practice. Most people who join political parties do so in the hope that membership will get them a better job or other benefit.[31] Reportedly, one in four registered voters in the RS is a political party member. Nevertheless, as RS-based media commented last year, political awareness and democratic culture remain low.

Whistleblowers, anticorruption activists, investigators, and journalists do not feel free or safe reporting instances of bribery and corruption, but a few NGOs and media outlets persevere. In May, TI BiH reported that Milorad Dodik “brought to the public a series of false and offensive charges against TI BiH on the show Prnjavor on TV Kanal 3, calling the employees of TI BiH ‘criminals,’ ‘thieves’ and even ‘devils’” with the aim of discrediting an organization that for years has fought corruption.[32] Media cover allegations of corruption extensively in FBiH, especially on the public broadcaster FTV. In the RS, Željko Kopanja, owner of Nezavisne Novine and Glas Srpske, published an open letter to RS President-elect Milorad Dodik in October, urging him to take a tougher stance on corruption and distance himself from various unnamed tycoons.[33] Despite broad reporting on corruption, the public still seems to perceive it as a fact of life in BiH. The 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International ranked BiH 91 among 178 countries; in the Balkans, only Kosovo has a worse rating.[34]

Notes: 

[1] Sven Gunnar Simonsen, “Divided loyalty: Elections test Bosnia-Herzegovina’s unity,” Jane’s Intelligence Review 22 (September 2010): 30.

[2] Simonsen, “Divided loyalty,” 33.

[3] European Commission, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2010 Progress Report, accompanying the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2010–2011 (Brussels: European Commission, 9 November 2010), http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/key_documents/2010/package/ba_rappor....

[4] In practice, the responsibility for oversight of the DPA implementation is with the Peace Implementation Council (PIC). For details related to the composition of the PIC and its Steering Board, see http://www.ohr.int/pic/default.asp?content_id=38563 . Also see Annex 10 of the DPA, which defines the OHR mandate: http://www.ohr.int/ohr-info/gen-info/default.asp?content_id=38612. The international presence will transition to a reinforced EU mission, and the OHR was reduced to 168 staff members in July 2010.

[5] European Commission, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2010 Progress Report, 9.

[6] Ibid., 12.

[7] Ibid., 12.

[8] David Charter, “Clinton flies in as fighting talks start over threat to split,” The Times (London), 12 October 2010.

[9] European Commission, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2010 Progress Report, 5.

[10] Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Bosnia and Herzegovina, General Elections, 3 October 2010, OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report (Warsaw: OSCE/ ODIHR, 17 December 2010): 17, http://www.osce.org/odihr/74612. All following election data comes from this OSCE report.

[11] Ibid., 17.

[12] Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Bosnia and Herzegovina, General Elections, 3 October 2010: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions (Sarajevo: OSCE/ODIHR, 4 October 2010): 3, http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/71633.

[13] European Commission, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2010 Progress Report, 18.

[14] OSCE/ODIHR, Bosnia and Herzegovina…Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, 2.

[15] OSCE/ODIHR, Bosnia and Herzegovina… Election Observation Mission Final Report, 17.

[16] Ibid., 17.

[17] European Commission, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2010 Progress Report, 51.

[18] European Union Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina/Office of the High Representative, “Inzko and Kelly deplore pressures on media freedom,” press release, 2 April 2010, http://www.eusrbih.org/media/pr/1/?cid=5990,1,1.

[19] “Dunja Mijatović declares to Novi Pogledi: ‘The media situation in BiH is deteriorating, the pressure on journalists is increasing during the pre-election period,’” Novi Pogledi, 6 July 2010, http://www.acips.ba/eng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=167....

[20] “Damir Kaletović—On the absurdity charge: ‘Not guilty,’” TV USK, 26 August 2010.

[21] “Transparency International BiH osudio upad policije u prostorije BN televizije” [Transparency International BiH condemned the police raid into the premises of the BN Bosnia-Herzegovina 143 television], Neovisni online Business magazin, 13 January 2010, http://www.biznis.ba/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=97158&Ite....

[i22] “Internet usage in Bosnia and Herzegovina records on the rise,” Balkans.com, 29 October 2010, http://www.balkans.com/open-news.php?uniquenumber=77197.

[23] European Commission, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2010 Progress Report, 12.

[24] Ibid., 13.

[25] Ibid., 13.

[26] Centar za istraživačko novinarstvo (Centre for Investigative Journalism), “Branković, Bičakčić Indicted,” 16 June 2009, http://198.171.237.35/cin/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=83&I....

[27] International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), “Address of Mr. Serge Brammertz, Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, to the United Nations Security Council,” ICTY Statement (The Hague: ICTY, 6 December 2010): 3, http://www.icty.org/x/file/Press/Statements%20and%20Speeches/Prosecutor/101206_proc_brammertz_un_sc_en.pdf.

[28] See “Korupcija u BiH ostaje nekažnjena: Samo jedna zatvorska kazna u 2009” [Corruption in BIH remains unpunished: Only one prison sentence in 2009], Dnevnik, 25 April 2010, http://www.dnevnik.ba/novosti/bih/korupcija-u-bih-ostaje-nekažnjena-samo-jednazatvorska-kazna-u-2009 .

[29] Tarik Lazović, “Kos: BiH ništa nije uradila u borbi protiv korupcije” [Kos: BiH has done nothing in fight against corruption], Dnevni Avaz (Sarajevo), 28 October 2010, http://www.dnevniavaz.ba/vijesti/intervju/17566-drago_kos_korupcija_bih_....

[30] Transparency International BiH, “TI BiH and Open Society Fund appeal for the prevention of attempts aimed at undermining the rule of law in BiH,”press release, 15 June 2010, http://ti-bih.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/06.15_eng.pdf.

[31] Tijana Veselinović, “Clanstvom u stranci do zaposlenja” [Party membership card is shortcut to employment], EuroBlic (Banja Luka), 25 October 2010.

[32] Transparency International BiH, “TI BiH again under the attack of the regime,” press release, 14 May 2010, http://www.ti-bih.org/documents/Press_release/2010/05.14_eng.pdf.

[33] The text of the letter is available at the DEPO Portal website: http://depo.ba/front/miloradevrijeme-je-da-se-podvuce-crta.

[34] Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2010 (Berlin: Transparency International, October 2010), http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2010/results.