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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina is still struggling with the legacy of the 1990s war in which almost 100,000 people died and half the population was displaced. Society is deeply divided along ethnic lines and there is an on-going political and economic crisis.

Saferworld has been working in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2002. Our work has been focused on community security and community-based policing; in recent years, we have had a more regional focus on conflict prevention and peaceful political integration within the Western Balkans. It includes promotion of dialogue and joint action by civil society organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia on unresolved ethno-national, regional, and local disputes, and on working together across sensitive political boundaries, as well as looking at political processes for peaceful change in the Western Balkans region.

Youth perceptions of peace and security

In 2011 we researched young women and men’s perspectives of peace and security in co-operation with the Nansen Dialogue Center (NDC) Sarajevo. Our report, Leaving the past behind: the perceptions of youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina, showed that the younger generation are willing to question prejudices prevalent in wider society and are eager to break with the past. However, while young people can potentially play a constructive role in building a peaceful future for their country, they face huge challenges. Understanding these obstacles, as well as young people’s concerns and aspirations, is vital to build Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future resilience to conflict. The research formed part of the EU-funded ‘People’s Peacemaking Perspectives’ project.

Deeper drivers of conflict

In 2010, together with NDC Sarajevo, we assessed the impact of the political and economic stalemate on local communities and mapped out the deeper drivers of conflict that remain unaddressed. The report, The missing peace: the need for a long term strategy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, encourages the international community to look beyond the immediate deadlock and ensure that their engagement helps to minimise longer-term threats to stability in the country.

Handbook on community policing

In 2009, together with the Centre for Security Studies, we provided technical support to the Bosnian Government to develop an Operational handbook on police-community cooperation. Based on the principle of local ownership, community-based policing works on the principle that the police and the public have a shared responsibility to ensure a safe and secure environment. The handbook is designed to help police officers work with communities to identify and solve safety problems.

Twenty years after the conflict ended, the security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is much improved. But the country is still struggling to overcome deeply institutionalised ethnic divisions. The nationalist rhetoric and 'language of fear’ often used by politicians both reflects and reinforces these divisions.

Negotiations to reform the constitution (established under the 1995 Dayton Agreement) have failed to make much progress. The proposed reforms would strengthen state institutions and transform the country into a non-ethnic parliamentary democracy. Without reform a complex political system and continuing political crisis hinders a functional state, and stands in the way of Bosnia’s progress towards EU accession.

Recent years have witnessed increasing political deadlock, with observers expressing concern over the hostile exchanges between local leaders and continued overall deterioration. Lady Ashton, the EU's former foreign policy chief, called Bosnia and Herzegovina the most unstable corner of Europe.

The situation has so far frustrated any attempt by the international community to close down the Office of the High Representative – the chief civilian peace implementation agency in the country – and transition to a less powerful EU Special Representative.

The anti-government protests in February 2014 over high unemployment and the perceived inability of politicians to improve the situation mark the largest outbreak of public anger since the end of the Bosnian War, with violent clashes and hundreds injured across the country.

In March 2015, the EU agreed to go ahead with the Stabilisation Association Agreement (SAA), which entered into force on 1 June 2015, noting that Bosnia and Herzegovina has made significant progress, but that it needs to show tangible results in the reform agenda before there can be any serious prospect of EU membership. In February 2016, Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted its application for membership in the EU. A month later, the UN tribunal in The Hague sentenced former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to 40 years in jail for genocide and war crimes, including over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

This map is intended for illustrative purposes only. Saferworld takes no position on whether this representation is legally or politically valid.

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Mostar Old BridgeBuilding safer communities

On the frontline during the Bosnian war in the 1990s, the southern city of Mostar stood as a vivid symbol of ethnic division. Saferworld devised a community-based policing project in the city to tackle localised security concerns and give residents a greater say in their security provision.