Experience in Conflict Resolution
24 May 2003
The present impasse in the peace process affords an
opportunity to take a step back and to consider the deeper
implications of our experience during the last 15 months.
Were it not for the Norwegian participation in the Ceasefire
Agreement its existence could, perhaps, be measured in days rather
than weeks. The international presence, even though it lacks teeth,
is what keeps the Ceasefire Agreement in force despite all the
In the near future, however, we shall have to come to grips with far
more onerous questions than the maintenance of the ceasefire.
There is the very large problem of peace-making i.e. finding a
mutually acceptable form of state and , thereafter, the even more
fraught question of peace-keeping. These are major issues on which
recent international experience should be studied for its relevance
to Sri Lanka.
The case of Bosnia Herzegovina is particularly relevant because
there the settlement has been of a federal nature and the parties to
the federation continue in possession of their arms and their
disarmament is not even contemplated as it is accepted to be beyond
the bounds of rational possibility.
Also its importance is now heightened by the fact that it was
devised by the US State Department during the Clinton Administration
and is now being pursued vigorously by the present Bush
Its key feature is the presence on the ground of a powerful heavily
armed international stabilisation force and compliance by all
parties is secured by supervening powers in the hands of the High
Representative of the International Community ( presently Lord
Ashdown) and a US Deputy ( presently Donald Hayes) who are resident
in Bosnia Herzegovina and who report to an International Council in
Brussels. It is an important model of what peacemaking and
peacekeeping could be like in the future and is set forth in greater
detail in my article attached below.
The Bosnian experiment and its lessons:
1. A concerted effort is being made by all three parties to the
Ceasefire Agreement to find a federal solution to the Sri Lankan
conflict. None of them has any first hand experience of federal
government and the GOSL has to contend with a visceral antipathy to
the federal form as a possible precursor to separation.
The federal states under study now are long established federations
such as Switzerland, Belgium, Canada etc in which federation was not
between parties which had been recently at war with each other. It
is in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a former unitary state, that an attempt
has been made to secure peace between three warring parties - Serbs,
Muslims and Croats - by recourse to a federal form.
2. There are very few commonalities between the Bosnian conflict and
that in Sri Lanka. In Bosnia there is no ethnic difference; all
three parties are Southern Slavs. They all speak the same language,
Serbo-Croat. It is written in different scripts - Roman letters
among the Croats and Muslims and Cyrillic letters by the Serbs.
However, this difference too is mitigated by the teaching of both
scripts in all schools, the publication of newspapers in both
scripts and the familiarity of all persons with both scripts. In
these respects the Bosnian situation is fundamentally different to
that in Sri Lanka.
3. In Bosnia the nationalism of the three parties is founded on
religious differences - the Roman Catholicism of the Croats, the
Orthodox Christianity of the Serbs and Islam among the Muslims. In
Sri Lanka religion is only the handmaiden of ethnic nationalism. The
two situations are fundamentally different.
4. Territorially too there is a big difference. All three Bosnian
nations have scattered enclaves in each others areas of majority
domicile. There is no compact block of any one nation. Even the
mainly Muslim capital city of Sarajevo has a Serb enclave in the
north-east. In Sri Lanka the Tamil people claim the North-East
Province as their area of traditional habitation while acknowledging
the presence of other ethnic groups within it. The three Bosnian
nations do not have an ethno-territorial foundation in a compact
land mass as claimed by the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
5. The war among the Bosnian nations lasted for a much shorter
duration than that in Sri Lanka - three and a half years from April
1992 to November 1995 in Bosnia as against eighteen and a half years
in Sri Lanka from July 1983 to December 2001. Despite the short
duration the Bosnian war gave rise to a very big efflux of refugees
- one and a half million persons as against half that number from
Sri Lanka during a much longer period. The refugee crisis projected
by the Bosnian war had, therefore,. a much sharper international
focus than the war in Sri Lanka even though the refugee flows were
in the same direction i.e. westwards into the liberal democracies
which opened their doors to them.
6. The war in Bosnia was ended in 1995 by United States mediation,
first by the Washington agreement which ended the Croat- Muslim
conflict by the creation of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation and
finally by the Dayton Accords which recognized the Republika Srepska
of the Bosnian Serbs and set up the federal state of
Bosnia-Herzegovina. replacing the former unitary state. The new
state does not have the formal designation of "Federation" but it is
one in fact with two constituent "entities" , namely , the
Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation of the Croats and Muslims on the one
hand and the Republika Srepska of the Bosnian Serbs on the other.
7. The constitutional order is complex with each body having a
bicameral legislature. The overarching body, Bosnia-Herzegovina has
a bi-cameral Parliamentary Assembly with a House of Representatives
elected by popular franchise and a House of People elected by ethnic
constituencies. The two "entities" which constitute
Bosnia-Herzegovina each has bi-cameral legislatures and it is with
these legislatures that effective power lies. The centre has a
rotating Presidency with Vice-Presidents from the nations other than
that of the President at any time. There is an agreement to have
each of the nations equally represented in government employment
from the lowest to the highest echelons.
8. The Dayton Accords of November 1995 recognized that their
implementation could not be left to voluntary compliance by the
three nations due to their recent history of war and mutual
animosity. So they provided for international supervision of
compliance backed by a Stabilisation Force of international
There was to be an High Representative of the international
community drawn from an European country and a Deputy drawn from the
USA, both to be resident in Bosnia Herzegovina. At present the High
Representative is Lord Ashdown from the U.K. and the Deputy is
Donald Hayes from the USA. Lord Ashdown reports to Peace
Implementation Council in Brussels composed of representatives of
six major nations - USA, UK, France, Italy, Germany and Russia.
9. The High Representative has responsibility for implementation of
the Dayton Accords in the civilian spheres of Refugee Return and
Rehabilitation, Human Rights and the Protection of Minorities and in
these areas his decisions override those of the "entities" or the
centre which run counter to his decisions.
10. Also in the civilian area there is a Constitutional Court
composed of nine judges - two from each of the three nations and
three from the Peace Implementation Council.
11. The High Representative is backed in enforcing compliance with
the Dayton Accords by the Stabilisation Force -SFOR- composed of
troops from the USA, NATO and several other European countries such
as Russia, Bulgaria, Albania etc. Its forces are stationed in three
sectors into which the country has been divided - the north-east in
which the forces are under US command; the south-east commanded by
France and the rest under UK command. SFOR is under the overrall
command of the High Representative and currently numbers around
15,000 troops. ( At the beginning in 1995 there were 60,000 troops.)
12. SFOR has several military responsibilities, among them the
disarming of armed cadres in the border areas within the several
enclaves of the different "entities", the storing of surrendered
weapons, the regulating of military manoeouvres by the armed forces
of the ""entities" and the fostering of cooperation between them by
joint exercises etc.
13. The Dayton Accords do not prescribe any time limit for the
presence of the High Representative or SFOR thus implying that their
duration will depend on the degree and quality of compliance with
the principles of the Accords as well as scrupulous observance of
14. Each of the "entities", namely the Croat-Muslim Federation and
the Republika Srepska, has armed forces of its own while the centre,
namely, Bosnia-Herzegovina, has none. The armed forces of the
Croat-Muslim Federation are under separate Croat and Muslim
commands, so in actual fact there are three sets of armed forces
none of which has any significant aerial capability. Since the
country is landlocked there are no naval forces, so the armed forces
are exclusively ground troops. The forces of SFOR are more than
capable of enforcing and maintaining peace between them and have
done so over the last eight years from 1995 to the present.
15. From all this it is abundantly clear that present day
Bosnia-Herzegovina is not an independent sovereign state. Just three
and half years of war has ended that state and replaced it with a
state on international probation.