Deputy Ambassador Deirdre Brown responds to the report presentation by Ambassador Brian Aggeler, Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Deirdre Brown MBE

Thank you, Mr Chair.

Firstly, I would like to welcome Ambassador Aggeler to the Permanent Council – thank you to you and your team for your work over the past 12 months, and for this comprehensive report.

The United Kingdom highly appreciates the work and added value of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was delighted to be able to visit Sarajevo earlier in March and witness first-hand some of the excellent work the Mission is supporting on the ground.

Mr Chair, the UK remains committed to supporting a stable, secure, and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina. We will continue to work with the authorities to tackle threats to its democracy, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We condemn the continued polarisation and inter-party confrontation, which heightens the risks of destabilisation. Dangerous and divisive nationalistic rhetoric and hate speech only serves to hurt the country and its citizens.

We urge the authorities to pass key legislation on rule of law as part of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU path, including laws on the Prevention of Conflict of Interest and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council.

The UK welcomed the peaceful conduct of the October 2022 general elections, and was pleased to note the International Election Observation Mission’s (EOM) findings that elections were well-organised and competitive, and that fundamental freedoms were respected. However, we share the concerns expressed by the EOM around segmentation of the vote along ethnic lines, and divisive rhetoric during the election campaign. We are concerned about apparent impunity for electoral fraud, an issue which undermines trust in the democratic process. The UK also regrets that it was necessary for the High Representative to use his Executive ‘Bonn’ Powers in support of political functionality. The UK is committed to supporting the OSCE and Bosnia and Herzegovina in continuing the necessary reforms ahead of local elections in 2024.

The UK supports the OSCE Mission’s continuous efforts on reconciliation, and its assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina in building a stable, democratic and peaceful state. In particular, the UK welcomes the OSCE Mission’s commitment to tackling corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As highlighted in the Report, there has been progress – particularly in the establishment of three cantonal anti-corruption offices. The UK will continue to act in support of civil society and the general public to hold authorities to account, on issues ranging from corruption to the legacy of conflict.

Reform of law enforcement legislation is another important area in which we welcome the Mission’s efforts. We urge the Mission to continue to speak out against proposed laws which limit citizens’ human rights and free speech. The series of retrograde legislative moves in the Republika Srpska entity – which, if enacted, would restrict fundamental freedoms for media, civil society, and LGBT+ individuals – are a backwards step. These actions are a shift away from European values and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU path.

The UK warmly welcomes the Mission’s strong engagement in peace- and trust-building initiatives, connecting neighbouring communities and strengthening inter-ethnic relations. We highly value the insight and information provided by the nine Field Offices across the country. I was particularly pleased to visit earlier this month the OSCE Mission-supported programme in the Majevica region, engaging with five municipal administrations working together towards common interests in ecology and tourism.

Finally, I want to focus on gender, which is essential in all areas of the Mission’s work. We highly appreciate the Mission’s engagement in gender equality through education, gender equality in political life, and your strengthening of gender mainstreaming across all aspects of the Mission’s work. Achieving gender equality is essential to more informed thinking and policies that benefit all of our populations.

Mr Chair, at this critical and dangerous time for European security, it is more important than ever to focus our efforts on building a peaceful, prosperous and thriving Bosnia and Herzegovina, working in the interests of its people. Further economic, social and political progress must build on the many years of reforms. It is vital at this time that all institutions and entities work together with the international community to improve the lives of the country’s citizens. There is no time to waste on threats and barriers to engagement – the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve far more. The UK will remain a friend to all citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and will continue to work across the entire country for the good for all.

Thank you, Mr Chair.

Published 30 March 2023