Bosnia has found itself at the centre of a dispute between the European Union and the United States over support for the new International Criminal Court, ICC.
The US strongly opposes the creation of a court that could try American soldiers and has campaigned for individual countries to sign bilateral agreements with Washington on immunity for its servicemen.
Article 98 of the ICC’s Rome Statute, which came into force on July 1, 2002, allows signatory countries to refuse to extradite wanted persons to the court if doing so would contravene obligations relating to a previously signed agreement. It is this provision that the US is keen to exploit.
Sarajevo is now in a serious quandary after Washington sent an official note on August 19 asking for such an accord to be signed. While the EU – which the Balkan country is keen to join – favours the ICC and takes a critical view of America’s requests, the US is Bosnia’s biggest benefactor by far.
Bosnian leaders are yet to reply to the US request, saying it needs lengthy study. Zivko Radisic, the Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite presidency, told IWPR, “This does not mean we are for or against a bilateral agreement with the US government. At this point, we are just considering all the possibilities.”
Some American officials have already hinted at possible withdrawal of US military and other support from states that fail to heed its request for individual agreements.
However, many Bosnians resent the US request. “This is clear blackmail by President Bush,” said Sarajevo economist Edin Catic. “If something applies to the entire world, it should apply to America as well.”
Despite some significant improvements over the past five years, Bosnia is still beset with ethnic tensions, corruption and is heavily dependant on support from the West.
America played a major role in mediating the Dayton peace agreement that stopped the war, was the largest contributor to the NATO-led stabilisation force, and the leading source of donations and programmes for reconstruction and development.
However, Bosnia also values its links with the EU and believes that joining it may be the only path to future prosperity.
Some Bosnian officials hope that a 1901 treaty signed by the US government and the then Kingdom of Serbia might help resolve the issue. Bosnia inherited this agreement, which relates to extradition between the two countries, after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia.
“That accord is not outdated and is still in force,” said Dragan Ivanovic, foreign policy advisor to the Bosnian presidency. “The newly-offered agreement relates to the same issue. It is about the ways in which the two countries could extradite their citizens to each other in criminal cases.”
Ivanovic said legal experts tended to believe that 1901 agreement could resolve the extradition issue but only if America and Bosnia reached consensus over its interpretation.
The Bosnian presidency indicated that deliberations on the matter would take some time, at least until the EU issues its final opinion on the issue.
Presidency chairman Beriz Belkic said that the Americans had given no time limits or deadlines, and Bosnia’s legislation requires any international agreement to be given lengthy consideration before being signed.
In an interview with IWPR, Bosnian foreign minister Zlatko Lagumdzija stressed that, the US request aside, Bosnia would like the ICC to start functioning as soon as possible. “Because of that, we have initiated intensive diplomatic activities with the EU, US and UN. We will not allow Bosnia-Herzegovina to become collateral damage,” he said.
Antonio Prlenda is a reporter and military analyst based in Sarajevo. This article originally appeared in Reporting Central Asia, produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, http://www.iwpr.net/.