The arrest on May 26 of Ratko Mladic, the fugitive former Bosnian-Serb Army Commander, brings at last the prospect of justice for the victims of the genocide at Srebrenica 16 years ago. It offers the chance of closure to the families of the victims. And it offers a vital opportunity to draw a line under the past, and to move the entire Western Balkan region decisively towards a better future.
Already there has been considerable progress. The situation in Serbia and Croatia is dramatically different to that of two decades ago. Those countries are now moving steadily forward to membership of the European Union. Croatia is already a member of NATO and seeking conclusion of its accession negotiations with the EU. Serbia is working in pursuit of EU Candidate status. But while its neighbors are looking to the future, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina itself gives rise to mounting concern.
For half a decade now, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been sliding backwards. That slide
has accelerated in recent months, and now demands a firm response from the international community, above all from the European Union. The country’s institutions are gridlocked. In the Republika Srpska entity, harsh nationalist rhetoric and actions challenging the Dayton framework risk dragging BiH back towards the past – just at the moment its neighbors start moving towards a European future.
The real victims of this paralysis are not Bosnia and Herzegovina’s politicians, but its citizens – the very people these political leaders were elected to serve. Instead of living in a free, fair and prosperous society, many still live under the shadow of division and fear, suffering from poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunity.
It need not be like this. Bosnia and Herzegovina has every prospect of a bright and hopeful future. It is a beautiful European country, with talented and resourceful people. It has a rich heritage and an abundance of natural resources. It has always been, and remains, a bridge between East and West. The Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina have a long tradition of moderation, and are a continuing rebuke to the notion that Islam has no place in Europe. We want to see BiH thriving as a peaceful member of the European Union and NATO, with the conflict and suffering of the 1990s left behind never to return. We know that the citizens of this unique country want this too, from Prijedor to Travnik, from Foca to Livno and from Mostar to Brcko.
So how can we make this a reality?
First, the international community needs to stay focused on Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Western Balkans as a whole. Yes, there are plenty of other challenges – from Afghanistan to Libya, from the Arab Spring to the Middle East Peace Process. But we know all too well that what happens in one Balkan country has inevitable knock-on effects across the region. Nowhere is that more true than Bosnia and Herzegovina. What happens there will affect what happens to its neighbors, and vice versa.
Second, there must be no doubt about the resolve of the international community to stand by the settlement agreed at Dayton which ended the conflict. Our message is crystal clear: we are committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single state, with two vibrant entities and three constituent people. We will not tolerate any challenges to the country’s unity and sovereignty. Our support for the Office of the High Representative in upholding the Dayton Agreement will be firm and unwavering.