John McDougall

When the Dayton Agreement was officially signed in December 1995, it brought an end to over three and half years of violent war. As a result of this war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established to deal with the “Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia”. In total, there were 161 indictments for various war crimes, such as the systematic rape of Bosniak women and the deliberate cutting off of aid and medical supplies to civilians during the Siege of Sarajevo. The occupation of almost two thirds of Bosnia & Herzegovina, including the siege itself, were punished as Crimes Against Humanity, and some individuals were convicted of genocide.

The complicated Dayton Agreement, officially titled ‘The General Framework for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina’, was met with celebration by the international community. What had been a major predicament for Western governments was now solved. United States President Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State Warren Christopher were being applauded for their efforts in bringing stability to the region, yet there were warning signs that the agreement may not hold.

The convoluted framework has been accused of entrenching sectarian divisions in schools, colleges, and whole towns. The country’s three-party presidency, designed to create a multi-religious approach to politics, is a factor in these accusations. Its detractors suggest that it creates division by encouraging a system of clientelism in which each representative looks after only their own segment of Bosnian society.

By the time of Chris’ arrival in 1996, Human Rights Watch had already reported their fears that the agreement would not hold “unless immediate and decisive steps are taken to enforce respect for human rights, ensure the right to return for refugees and displaced persons, establish the conditions necessary for free and fair elections, and bring to justice those responsible for war crimes”. These would be long processes. Community tensions, a sectarian political system, and the rights of displaced persons continue to be amongst the factors that threaten stability, and the ICTY would continue until 2017, with Radovan Karadžić being one of the final accused to go on trial. He was finally sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment in 2019.

Serbia and Kosovo continue to maintain peace for now. However, tensions in relations are rising. The question of Kosovan independence is a major focal point in international relationships around the globe, with Serbia more than strongly opposed to the idea. Initially, Serbia had Russia’s support in this, but their annexation of Crimea caused this position to soften, leaving Serbia somewhat aggrieved and isolated by
the situation.

In Croatia, the focus is on a stable future within the EU. Speaking in 2020 at a commemoration of Operation Storm, Former Croatian General Ante Gotovina spoke about a new chapter for the country in which all people could live together no matter what their differences. Operation Storm had effectively ended the war between Croatia and Serbia, but also caused approximately 200,000 Serbs to flee Croatia as refugees. This was a rare public appearance from Gotovina since his acquittal by the ICTY, a trial which was deemed necessary to Croatia’s acceptance into the EU. With a growing number of diplomatic incidents between Croatia and Serbia – currently under nationalist President Aleksandar Vučić – and an ongoing border dispute with Slovenia, there are still hurdles for the country and its goals.

In 2014, protests dubbed the ‘Bosnian Spring’ took hold in cities and towns across Bosnia & Herzegovina. They called for an end to government approaches seen as failing to properly address the legacy of the war, and to the corruption and nepotism leading to poverty and lack of opportunity for so many. The protests, organised and attended by tens of thousands of young workers, students and the unemployed, saw the resignation of various political leaders and served as a warning to those who remained in power that their citizens were ready to stand up to any further corruption.

The people, who are the ones to be truly credited with building a peaceful Bosnia & Herzegovina, had spoken. It was time for the next phase of healing.