Situated in the politically volatile Balkan Peninsula region, the territorial sovereignty of Bosnia has been historically contested for centuries. Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of six republics that initially comprised the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia created in 1945 after the end of the Second World War. This collection of states came to be known as the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia after Josip Broz Tito was named President for life in 1963. As Yugoslavia began to break up in the early 1990s, the declaration of independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina sparked a brutal civil war between ethnic Bosnians, Serbs, and Croatians. Ongoing conflict and international intervention led to the Dayton Accords, the signing of which made Bosnia and Herzegovina an international protectorate and established a Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1994.
In 1995, Serb, Croat, and (ethnic) Bosnian leaders signed the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFPAP), which became the basis for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The agreement outlined a new national constitution for the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, establishing the county as a democracy consisting of two constituent entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (also known as the Bosniak-Croat Federation) – a federation within a federation – and the highly centralized Republika Srpska (Serb Republic).
Bosnia and Herzegovina is small federal country consisting of two constituent units known as ‘entities’: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, populated primarily by the Bosnian Muslim and Croatian ethnic groups; and the Republika Srpska, populated primarily by Serbian ethnic groups. Bosnia and Herzegovina faces the ongoing challenge of reconciling the demands of its Serbian entity and its Bosnian-Croatian counterpart. The complexity of the government structure established in the GFAP, as well as attempts by nationalist parties to entrench themselves at the entity level, have prompted repeated intervention of the supervisory bodies established by the international agreements.
The Dayton Accords established a complex government structure. Bosnia and Herzegovina is an international protectorate, with the highest political authority in the country the High Representative – the chief executive officer for the international civilian presence in the country. The authority of the High Representative is derived from international law, and he/she is able to bypass the elected Parliamentary Assembly when necessary.
The Chair of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina rotates between three members (a Bosniak, a Croat, and a Serb) every 8 months within their four-year term. The representatives are elected directly by the people, with voters in the federation electing the Bosniak and Croat representative, and voters in the Republika Srpska the Serb. Additionally, the Council of Ministers, members of which are selected by the majority parties on the basis of strictly defined ethnic representation rules, has executive responsibility for foreign and economic policy amongst other areas. Each entity has its own government which deals with internal matters not overseen by the Council of Ministers, and their own Supreme Courts and lower courts. The supreme final court within the country, however, is the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has jurisdiction over decisions made in constitutional disputes between the entities.
The legislative branch of the Bosnian Parliamentary Assembly consists of two chambers: The House of Representatives (the upper house): and the House of Peoples (lower house). Equal representation between ethnic groups is a fundamental principle of the legislature. The 42 members of the House of Representatives are elected via a system of proportional representation to four year terms. Two thirds of the members are elected from the Federation (14 Bosniaks and 14 Croats respectively), and one third from the Republika Srpska (14 Serbs). The House of Peoples consists of 15 delegates who serve two year terms, with two thirds elected from the Federation (5 Bosniaks and 5 Croats) and one third from the Republika Srpska (5 Serbs).