The Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) will discuss the situation in the country in Sarajevo on Tuesday in light of preparations for a referendum which the authorities of Republika Srpska (RS), the Serb entity, plan to hold on September 25, while on Monday, Bosniak and Serb officials warned about the referendum's possibly serious consequences.
BiH Presidency Chairman Bakir Izetbegovic forwarded an open letter to the ambassadors on the PIC Steering Board, comprising the most influential Western countries, Russia and Turkey. He said the referendum, whose goal is to dispute the authority of the BiH Constitutional Court, would be the most serious challenge to peace so far and an open breach of the Dayton peace agreement.
Izetbegovic urged the international community to resolutely intervene and ban the referendum. "The political forces in the RS entity, led by Milorad Dodik, have been jeopardising for years, very aggressively and actively, the rule of law and the constitutional and legal order in BiH, bringing into question the authority of state judicial institutions such as the Constitutional Court, the State Court and the State Prosecutor's Office. Their actions lead to lawlessness, chaos and legal and political uncertainty," he wrote.
Izetbegovic recalled that Dodik's SNSD party adopted a declaration on 25 April 2015 which said that if the political situation did not unfold in line with their expectations, the RS parliament should call a referendum in 2018 on the independence of the Serb entity.
"The referendum called for September 25 is evidently a trial balloon for that, several times announced, referendum on RS's secession from BiH and the beginning of the undermining of the Dayton peace agreement and, consequently, peace in BiH," Izetbegovic wrote.
The RS government too sent a letter to the PIC Steering Board ambassadors in which it rejected any international community intervention against the referendum. "The referendum is fully in compliance with positive regulations and concerns a matter of the utmost significance for Republika Srpska citizens," it said, citing the entity's sovereign right to decide on matters it considers essential for its survival and functioning.
The RS government said the issue of January 9 as the entity's day, which the BiH Constitutional Court has ruled is unconstitutional, was one of those matters. The referendum question is expected to ask whether the entity will continue to observe that day despite the ruling which, under the Dayton agreement, is final and binding.
The RS government objects to the fact that January 9 is being "stigmatised" as the date which should denote the establishment of the entity. "Stigmatising the creation of RS, while the Bosniak-Croat unilateral declaration of independence from Yugoslavia is not equally stigmatised, would represent an unlawful discrimination against Serbs," the letter said.
The BiH Constitutional Court has ruled that observing 9 January 1992 violates the rights of Croats and Bosniaks as constituent peoples in RS. On that day, some Serb members of the then Bosnian parliament declared the secession of a part of Bosnian territory and demanded a "territorial demarcation" from the other two peoples.