Bosnian Serb entity referendum described as unlawful, no ban yet

The most influential Western countries and Turkey are against the referendum the Bosnian Serb authorities have set for September 25 in order to challenge the jurisdiction of judicial institutions at the state level, but there is still no decision on a possible ban or sanctions, which are resolutely opposed by Russia, according to conclusions adopted by the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) in Bosnia and Herzegovina at a session in Sarajevo on Tuesday.  

The PIC Steering Board convened at the level of its member-countries' ambassadors to discuss the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and possible measures to be taken to prevent the referendum in the Serb entity that attempts to challenge the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After two and a half hours of discussion, the PIC Steering Board adopted a statement which explicitly warns that holding the referendum would constitute a breach of the Dayton peace agreement just as repeated acts and statements by Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik and the Serb entity parliament challenging the jurisdiction of the state-level judicial institutions have.

"No referendum can change the final and binding nature of decisions of the BiH Constitutional Court. The decision of the BiH Constitutional Court will remain fully in force and must be respected, as required by the GFAP (General Framework Agreement for Peace)," the PIC Steering Board said in the statement.

The PIC Steering Board left the door partially open to an intervention by the international community's High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, underlining that he is  "the final authority on the interpretation of the civilian aspects of the GFAP."

At the current stage, the PIC Steering Board has decided to call on all institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina "to resolve this issue through the established legal processes and the existing constitutional framework, and through constructive dialogue."

It recalls that there are pending proceedings before the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina launched by members of state-level institutions to assess if the Serb entity parliament's decision to hold the referendum is in line with the country's constitution, as well as proceedings launched by the Serb entity parliament to review the ruling by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina declaring the commemoration of January 9 as the entity day unconstitutional.

The Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina is now expected to take a final position by September 25 and put an end to the current crisis.

PIC calls on all sides in Bosnia and Herzegovina to refrain from "reactive measures and divisive rhetoric".

It expresses regret over secessionist rhetoric and reaffirms its unequivocal commitment to the territorial integrity and fundamental structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single, sovereign state comprising two entities, which have no right to secede.

"We will not tolerate any violation of the GFAP, including but not limited to attempts at secession. There will be no redrawing of the map of BiH," the PIC Steering Board says.

Russian Ambassador Petr Ivantsov was the first to leave the PIC Steering Board meeting. He confirmed to reporters that his position differed to that of the other members of the PIC Steering Board, namely Russia did not give its consent for a statement "that only threatens and condemns."

The Russian ambassador shifted the blame for the tension and political crisis in the country, caused by plans for the September 25 referendum, to the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina which last year ruled that the Serb entity's decision to mark January 9 as Republika Srpska Day was unconstitutional.

I believe that the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina should have been more prudent given the laws and current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ivantsov said, thus indirectly confirming that Russia continued to support the Serb entity in its attempt to hold the referendum challenging binding court rulings.

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