bosnia report
No. 14 February - March 1996
The Dayton Pact endorses outlawed ethnic abuse in Bosnia
by Aaron Rhodes

The Dayton agreement, in halting open hostilities, provides the people with a chance to shape their own future, protected at least for a year by NATO soldiers and monitored by fair-minded observers from abroad. The world has welcomed even a tentative form of peace, despite the limitation on the guarantee of ceasefire to 12 months, two of which have passed.

But an in sufficiently recognized aspect of the agreement - the ethnic mandates within it - bids fair to plague not only Bosnia but also the rest of Europe for decades to come.

According to the agreement, as negotiated by US diplomats: 'The presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall consist of three members: one Bosniak (Muslim) and one Croat, each directly elected from the territory of the (Bosniak-Croat) Federation, and one Serb directly elected from the territory of the Republika Srpska'.

One would be hard pressed to find another country in the world bound by an internationally brokered agreement that enforces ethnic discrimination in the election of public officials.

For example, a Bosnian Serb living in Sarajevo is legally prohibited from election to the presidency of the country. A Bosniak or Croat in Banja Luka suffers the same discrimination.

The rules reflect the assumption that one must be of the same ethnicity as the majority to lead the community. They legitimate ethnic majoritarianism and constitute a form of electoral apartheid.

The arrangement was settled upon as the result of a good-faith effort to stop the slaughter. It satisfied three nationalist leaders two of them the presidents of neighbouring states that have, for all practical purposes, occupied parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina. As far as getting a truce signed goes, it seems to have worked.

But it embodies a dilemma that is a problem not only for Bosnia but for all countries sharing the human-rights values articulated in the Helsinki agreements.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is a participating state in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌà OCSE signatories have agreed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity and religion, in a number of politically binding commitments - for example, the Helsinki decisions of 1992.

In 1990, the participating states agreed to respect the right of citizens to seek public office 'without discrimination'. That document is attached to the Dayton agreement.

The constitution of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, established in 1994, protects the people of the country against discrimination, providing for enjoyment of the rights protected by a number of international agreements. These agreements include the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which specifically prohibits any racial discrimination preventing a person from 'standing for election' or 'taking part in government'.

The constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is part of the Dayton agreement, also provides for protection against discrimination, contrary to the roles in the agreement governing the elections. Human -rights defenders in Bosnia-Herzegovina are appalled that the price paid for peace is acquiescence to the concept of 'ethnic states' and, even worse, ethnic societies. According to Srdjan Dizdarevic, chairman of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the dominant role of nationality in the Dayton agreement is leading to policies under which the human-rights situation in Bosnia today is in many respects worse than during the open hostilities.

Leaders of the Croat and Serb national councils of Bosnia, both of which oppose the nationalistic, authoritarian policies of the regimes in Croatia and Serbia, agree: The Dayton agreement is now the basis for moving further toward the creation of ethnically pure states, with the assistance of international sponsors.


In brief, the ethnic mandates in the Dayton agreement contradict basic human-rights principles embraced in international documents that the 'entities' claim to accept. The coming elections are likely to reinforce the positions of those seeking security in ethnic purity. It is hard to imagine how individual and minority rights can be protected under such conditions. But we must try.

A longer version of this article, containing specific illustrations of the negative effects of ethnic homogenization in areas controlled by the Bosnian government, was published in the International Herald-Tribune on 14 February 1996. The author is executive director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.


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