Back Issues: The Bosnian protectorate - Next 
OHR and the Bosnian  protectorate
The Bosnian protectorate

"OHR" is one of the most frequently used acronyms in Bosnia: the Office of the High Representative. It is the international institution responsible for overseeing implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The High Representative is the "final authority in theatre". with the power to “compel the entity governments to comply with the terms of the peace agreement and the state constitution”.

The High Representative is now also the EU’s Special Representative.

When the first High Representative, Carl Bildt, now the Swedish Foreign Minister, arrived in Sarajevo in January 1996, he carried with him the budget of the OHR in dollar bills in a suitcase. The OHR had to set up its own infrastructure amid the chaos of post war Sarajevo.

Since then, six High Reps (as they are usually called) have come to Bosnia. The powers of the "High Rep" are agreed by the body set up to oversee the OHR's work, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC). These powers were significantly increased at a meeting of the PIC in Bonn in December 1997. The "Bonn powers", agreed by governments frustrated at the obstructionism of the Bosnian parties still in power, allowed the High Rep to issue laws by decree and to remove officials and elected politicians from their jobs. No judicial institutions in Bosnia, not even the Constitutional Court, have the jurisdiction even to review the actions of the OHR.

EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana (R) US General, Wesley Clark, (C) and Carlos Westendorp (R)

Wolfgang Petritsch (L) Javier Solana (R)

The "Bonn powers" fundamentally changed the way the OHR approached its work. Over the following years, successive High Reps have used the Bonn powers more and more frequently. The second High Rep, Carlos Westendorp (1997-99), handed down an average of four impositions a month, a figure that his successor Wolfgang Petritsch (1999-2002) tripled. In 2001 there were 54 OHR decisions, while in 2002 there were 153 such actions.

On 4 April 2002, the OHR summarily suspended every single judge and public prosecutor in the country, "pending the restructuring of the judicial system.” The head of the BiH's intelligence agency was fired without the public presentation of any evidence.

The energetic British life-peer, Lord Paddy Ashdown, the fourth and longest serving High Rep, made intensive use of the Bonn powers. In 2002, he openly challenged Bosnia's parliamentarians:

Lord Jeremy "Paddy" Ashdown of Norton-Sub-Hamdon

"And what I see at the moment is a country that is running out of time, and a political system that is running out of options. So the choice is not whether to reform. But how fast, how soon and, above all, who will drive the process of reform – you or me?"

In 2003, the PIC granted the OHR further powers. It could now veto nominees for jobs across a wide range of ministries and agencies. Soon it was announced that the newly formed European Union Police Mission would have the power to recommend dismissals to the OHR.

The OHR's use of its autocratic powers has grown in scope and severity. As The New York Times reported on 1 July 2004, "Sixty Bosnian Serb politicians and officials, including the interior minister and speaker of Parliament, were dismissed Wednesday for their failure to arrest the region's leading war crimes suspect, Dr. Radovan Karadzic."

The powers of the OHR were challenged in 2004 in an article – the "Travails of the European Raj" – by Gerald Knaus and Felix Martin.

"When the High Representative today speaks of an "emergency", he refers not to hate-filled radio broadcasts inciting violence against peacekeeping troops but rather to inefficient tax collection, the excessive regulation of private business, corruption in the public utilities, or technical drawbacks that make the court system less efficient than it otherwise might be. When he speaks of enemies of the Bosnian state, he means not armed paramilitaries committing premeditated arson but businesspeople evading sales taxes or politicians implicated in procurement scandals."

(Gerald Knaus and Felix Martin, Journal of Democracy Journal of Democracy, Volume 14, Number 3, July 2003, pp. 60-74)

Paddy Ashdown defended himself, retorting that "to scale back our involvement too quickly, before peace has been fully secured, would, frankly, be to gamble with [Bosnia's] and this region's future.” As he told the British journalist, Ed Vulliamy, in a later interview:

"This is in a sense an anachronism, powers that should make a liberal blush. And looked at from the outside, I suppose it is legitimate to see it that way; it is frightening to have so much power. But actually that is not what my job has been like, and it would be a foolish High Representative who worked that way. I am formally accountable to the steering board of the PIC." (The PIC board includes the governments of the USA, UK, France, Germany and Russia.)

Paddy Ashdown pardoned several people who had been removed from office before he left Bosnia in January 2006.

A different kind of role was promised by his successor, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who pledged not to use his powers, especially not for removals. Schwarz-Schilling continued the pardon process, and kept his word not to use the Bonn powers to sack officials. At the same time, he announced that he intended to be the last High Rep, and that the office of OHR would close in 2007. Though Schwarz-Schilling did leave office in mid-2007, the mandate of the OHR was extended once again – into 2008.

Christian Schwarz-Schilling - Miroslav Lajčák

Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajčák, the new High Rep, did not waste time before making use of the Bonn powers following his arrival in July 2007. On 15 July, he sacked the Chief of Police of Republika Srpska. The removals were to continue. Predrag Čeranić was sacked as Head of the Intelligence and Security Agency on similar grounds in May 2008.

The days of the OHR do seem to be coming to an end, however. On 22 May 2008, Miroslav Lajčák said that the closure of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) would happen "in months not years".

June 2008

 Back Issues: The Bosnian protectorate - Next