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Statement by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen in the Security Council meeting on Bosnia and Herzegovina, November 5

05.11.2020 - Speech

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First, I align with the statement by Olof Skoog, the Head of the EU Delegation to the United Nations. 

Thank you High-Representative Valentin Inzko for your presentation and dedication to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Throughout your presentation, you showed the sympathy that you have for that country. It was wonderful that you ended on a positive note, citing the example of students that demonstrate and fight against the division. Unfortunately, in many schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the children are divided according to their religious adherence and go to school in the morning or in the afternoon accordingly. Overcoming this is something very positive. This also sends a message of hope.

At the same time, I echo the regret that High-Representative Valentin Inzko also expressed about the fact that many well-educated young people leave the country frustrated. They look for better opportunities. I'm very happy that there is a good Minister in Austria from Bosnia and Herzegovina, but wouldn't it be wonderful to have had this young person stay or return to Bosnia and Herzegovina and be in the services of his home country? What are the reasons? Frustration, corruption, lack of economic perspectives, deficits in the judicial reform. It's very sad to hear about the incapacity to investigate the murders that you quoted.

Coming back to the positive side, it's very good that we have the local elections on 15 November and those of us who have been in Mostar can assess the symbolic importance of elections in this central, historic city of Mostar. It's good that leaders agree on this, but we need to continue to build on that. In particular, we have to see that irregularities with regard to the voter registration are corrected.

Cooperation among politicians needs to go beyond these elections. They need to actually implement the reforms that were laid out in the EU Commission's opinion. The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina has committed itself to this opinion. We have to see that these commitments are implemented.

We welcome the work of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It's a very important instrument. It was created in Dayton by international judges.  Germany was very happy to contribute a highly-respected judge to this Constitutional Court. We regret, on the other hand, the verbal attacks and the defamation against the court and the judges. We are of the opinion that the authority of this Court cannot be questioned.

Talking about defamation, I was really depressed by what the High Representative and other speakers have said about the incendiary speeches. There continues to be a divisive, negative rhetoric. The existing divisions are even sometimes deepened and make reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina increasingly difficult. The glorification of war criminals is something terrible. As High-Representative Valentin Inzko has said, to name a dormitory after a convicted war criminal and to organize a mass for a war criminal is simply abominable. I support what High-Representative Valentin Inzko suggested and have Bosnia and Herzegovina adopt a genocide denial law. In this context, clear indications of a value-based foreign policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina are a positive development, as we have witnessed in the 3rd committee.

I echo what High-Representative Valentin Inzko said on 1325. It's very good that there is a national action plan in preparation. Again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It cannot be that women are marginalized in political decision-making. We are not anywhere close to the 40 percent. So in this respect, really more has to be done. The question of whether it is better to have a robust or a hands-off approach is not to be resolved today. But I think the answer also has to be given in light of the glorification of war criminals.

Let me end with one aspect that just came across my table this morning. On the situation of human rights defenders, the UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor called on the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to investigate a smear campaign and death threats against women human rights defenders working for the rights of refugees and migrants. She said, “Instead of criminalizing migration and human rights defenders who help migrants, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina must guarantee the human rights of all individuals without regard for their nationality or immigration status.” She spoke out after an online hate campaign intensified against Ms. Zehida Bihorac, an elementary school teacher and woman human rights defender. She works in the northwest of the country in Una-Sana Canton bordering EU member state Croatia. Since 2018, she has been giving humanitarian help to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. I would like to end by echoing the appeal of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

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