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Corruption, political blockages, threaten international efforts to help Bosnia and Herzegovina weather coronavirus

Valentin Inzko said that, 25 years after the Dayton peace accords which ended the brutal conflict across former Yugoslavia, the international community must not lose sight of what is at stake and to work together to preserve the time and investment it has put into the former Yugoslav republic, scene of Europe’s bloodiest warfare since World War II.

Presenting his semi-annual report to the Council via video-teleconference, Mr. Inzko said that it is still too early to fully assess the impact of the novel coronavirus crisis on Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday reported 42 deaths out of 1968 confirmed cases.

Swift action taken

However, “the country has apparently managed to avoid the widespread outbreaks and significant loss of life that has befallen some other countries,” he said, noting that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s two entities – the Federation and Republika Srpska – swiftly put appropriate measures into place.

The international community has done an “excellent job” by extending help to all levels of government, but a bigger challenge looms; “how to minimize corruption risks related to the management of international financial and material assistance.”

“Above all, Bosnia and Herzegovina must improve the rule of law and the fight against the big pandemic called corruption”, he said, recommending the creation of mechanisms, run by the international community, to track international assistance to avoid profiteering.

Discussing political developments, the High Representative – whose briefing coincided with a European Union summit on the Western Balkans – said that 18 months after general elections, a Government has yet to be appointed in the Federation, as one party keeps pressing for changes to the electoral law.

Mostar still denied local vote

Moreover, citizens of Mostar, the fifth biggest city, where the destruction of its landmark Ottoman era bridge was a symbol of the war’s ferocity, remain – after 10 years – deprived of the right to vote in local elections.  Several human rights judgements also remain unimplemented, including one giving equal status to Serbs in southern Herzegovina-Neretva canton, which includes Mostar.

A question mark also hangs over municipal elections scheduled for October, after the Central Election Commission said it may be unable to prepare for the pools because a State budget for 2020 has yet to be adopted, he said.  Some political parties are also refusing to cooperation with the Commission over the election of new members to that body.

With the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre coming up in July, he said that measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic could prompt commemorative events to be scaled back.  He added, though, that some individuals still deny the genocide, reject war crimes verdicts and glorify convicted war criminals.

“This must stop,” he said, urging everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina to recognize each other’s suffering and to come together to mourn.

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