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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Another European war ‘not an impossibility’

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Image source: srebrenica.org.uk

Amidst rising tensions, a months-long political stalemate and increasing speculation about yet another conflict in Europe, the international community must stand firm behind a peaceful, unified Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country’s UN envoy told the Security Council on Wednesday.

High Representative Christian Schmidt said that more than 26 years after the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace – known as the Dayton Accords – citizens are once again talking about the possibility of another conflict, posing the risk of inflammatory incidents. 

“The conflict in Ukraine, not so far away, is a sobering reminder that even in the 21st century, another war on European soil is not an impossibility,” he stressed.

Undermining national laws

Outlining the main challenges, Mr. Schmidt said that authorities in the ethnic Serb-dominated Republika Srpska – one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s two entities, alongside the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – have increasingly embraced rhetoric and actions that could undermine the constitutional framework.

They include attempts to render national laws inapplicable, which would likely mean the Republika’s withdrawal from the country’s unified forces. 

Emphasizing that such constitutional changes cannot be made unilaterally, they would threaten the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he stressed the international community has a responsibility to defend the Dayton Accord and the rights of the country’s three constituent peoples. 

European integration

The High Representative praised international support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s unity, including through targeted sanctions by many Governments.

“We will not sit still while other seek to dismantle 26 years of peace, stability and progress,” he said.

Turning to the country’s potential membership in the European Union (EU) – a path that would help resolve grievances and foster peace and stability – he urged the bloc to keep its doors open to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the rest of the Western Balkan nations. 

Meanwhile, fulfilling Agenda 5+2 and the European Council’s recommendations before membership can be considered, would help resolve grievances and foster lasting peace and stability, thereby improving the lives of every citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

It would also help stem the ever-increasing flow of young people out of the country and provide hope for a brighter future, he said.

‘Secessionist threats’

Šefik Džaferović, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, joined the Council meeting on behalf of his country.

Describing the High Representative’s report on the situation as an objective account, he agreed that for over 10 months, his country has been in a deep political crisis caused by the secessionist threats, blockade of institutions and other actions by Republika Srpska.

Noting that Bosnia and Herzegovina lacks a fully developed mechanism to prevent such secessionist activities, he called for the international community’s full support.

Considering the current geopolitical situation – “we feel the strong consequences of the aggression on Ukraine” – he echoed calls on the EU to respond positively to the nation’s request for candidate status. 

Challenges to High Representative

At the meeting’s outset, several delegates expressed their reservations on hearing Mr. Schmidt brief in his capacity as High Representative.

Anna M. Evstigneeva, the Russian delegate, said Mr. Schmidt is a German citizen whose appointment was never authorized by the Council. 

Echoing similar misgivings, China’s representative, Dai Bing said that while the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina features a profound deadlock, all members of society – including Republika Srpska – have pledged to uphold the country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

Describing the High Representative system as a relic from another time, he declared: “Picking sides by external forces will not help resolve differences between ethnic groups.” 

He also warned against the imposition of unilateral sanctions, emphasizing the serious humanitarian impacts that the conflict in Ukraine is having on food security as well as lingering challenges caused by the COVID pandemic.

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UNICEF urges leaders to keep schools safe following deadly Texas shooting

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Governments must take greater action to ensure school remains a safe place for boys and girls, the head of the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Wednesday, following the latest deadly school shooting in the United States. 

At least 19 children and two teachers were killed on Tuesday when 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos opened fire at Robb Elementary School in the small city of Uvalde, Texas, located near the border with Mexico. 

How many more? 

Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s Executive Director, said there have already been “horrific attacks” this year on schools in Afghanistan, Ukraine, the US, West Africa and beyond. 

“Tragedy after tragedy, shooting after shooting, young life after young life: how many more children will die before government leaders act to keep children and their schools safe? Because until they do, these horrors will continue,” she said in a statement. 

Ms. Russell emphasized that outside of their homes, school is the one place where children should feel safest. 

She noted that in addition to the lives lost, “many more children, teachers and school staff who witnessed the carnage will bear the emotional and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.” 

Shock and sadness 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres was deeply shocked and saddened by “the heinous mass shooting”, saying it was particularly heart-wrenching that most of the victims are children.  

Mr. Guterres has extended his heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the entire community, his Spokesperson said in a statement issued on Tuesday. 

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed expressed her outrage in a post on Twitter. 

“When children go to school, they should only be concerned about learning,” she wrote.  “Children should not go to school fearing for their lives!” 

Ms. Mohammed said her heartfelt prayers are with the families, classmates and teachers who are mourning this “devastating loss”. 

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Zimbabwean peacekeeper selected as UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year 2021 Award

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Following reports of sexual and gender-based violence against women collecting firewood in Rubkona, South Sudan, Captain Irene Wilson Muro and and Major Winnet Zharare (2nd from the right) reached out to local women to discuss ways to stem the abuse. Photo: UNMISS

A Zimbabwean peacekeeper who recently completed her assignment with the UN Mission in South Sudan, will receive the 2021 United Nations Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award. 

Military Observer Major Winnet Zharare, 39, served in Bentiu, South Sudan in 2021-2022, and will receive the award from the Secretary-General António Guterres during a ceremony marking the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on Thursday, 26 May 2022.

Created in 2016, the United Nations “Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award” recognizes the dedication and efforts of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, as nominated by Heads and Force Commanders of UN peace operations.

Secretary-General António Guterres commended Major Winnet for her award. “Major Zharare is a role model and a trailblazer. Through her service, she has demonstrated the invaluable role that women play in building trust, advocating for change and forging peace,” he said. “Her example shows how we will all gain with more women at the decision-making table and gender parity in peace operations,” Mr. Guterres added. 

Major Zharare expressed her gratitude and pride in receiving  the award which, she said, “motivated [her] to maintain [her] course towards gender equality.”

“My parents gave us equal opportunities with my brothers, so I believe that equal opportunities should be given to both men and women in all aspects of life,” she added.

Major Winnet Zharare deployed to UNMISS in November 2020. Throughout her 17-month-long service, she advocated for gender parity and women’s participation, within her own ranks, among local military counterparts, and in host communities.

As the Chief Military Information Officer in UNMISS’  Bentiu field office, she helped ensure that patrols included both women and men to improve protection efforts as well as build trust between host communities and the Mission. Her efforts also contributed to an increase in  gender-aggregated data so that issues raised by local women and girls would gain appropriate attention.

Advocating for gender parity and womens’ participation in an environment where they are traditionally excluded from decision-making, she encouraged local civilian and military authorities and community representatives to involve both men and women in meetings with the UN. Her diligence and diplomatic skills quickly gained her the trust of local military commanders who would systematically reach out to her on issues pertaining to women’s protection and rights. During her patrols and numerous community engagement initiatives, Major Zharare also successfully encouraged men and women to work together in farming and in the construction of dikes around Bentiu town to alleviate food shortages and prevent further displacement.

Major Zharare is the first Zimbabwean peacekeeper to receive this prestigious award.

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‘New dawn’ for Europe as War in Ukraine Strengthens EU and Support for Enlargement

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The European Union surprised the world, and even itself, with the speed, scale and unity of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This “new” Europe is ready to project both soft and hard power on the world stage, European leaders told participants at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022.

Christine Lagarde, President, European Central Bank, on the panel at the session, European Unity in a Disordered World?, said the Ukraine war has revealed how powerful Europe is collectively: “This is a new dawn for Europe.”

The war on Ukraine has also revealed weaknesses – including global supply chain vulnerabilities and over-reliance on Russian energy, she said, but Europe is addressing this and can begin to flex its muscles on the global stage. “Europe has untapped purchasing power, trading power, technology power, pension power and moral power.”

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, reinforced the point. “This is Europe’s moment,” she said. “Europe can become the global project for peace.”

Mistakes of the past will be rectified, she said. “For way too long we did not seriously consider an energy union where we can rely on each other rather than on a country that can switch us off at any time.”

Referring to the EU’s support and defence of Ukraine, she was emphatic: “This is not the time to talk about face-saving for Russia or appeasement.”

Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia, also on the panel, said: “If Ukraine falls to Russian aggression, Slovakia is next.” He added that we must continue to provide military support as well as step up humanitarian aid. “Above all we need to give Ukrainians hope.”

“Let’s not compromise – we must remain faithful to the values of the EU – freedom, rule of law, human dignity and equal rights.”

Micheál Martin, Taoiseach of Ireland, said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “The people of Europe have spoken. Enough is enough.” In response there is much stronger unanimity between member states and more support than ever to accept the accession of new members.

He continued: “We see the EU’s future in terms of the green economy and in terms of the digitalization but also in terms of enlargement.”

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, called on European member states to continue to raise their defence spending. “The NATO alliance members are inseparable, but Europe must play its part,” he said. “This will help transform Europe from a soft power to a hard power.”

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