Wolfgang Petritsch will hand over his position as the High Representative for BiH to Lord Paddy Ashdown on 27 May 2002. (Ayhan Evrensel/OSCE)
VIENNA, 9 May 2002 - In his last address as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Wolfgang Petritsch urged the OSCE Delegations today to lobby their governments for support for the process of return of refugees and displaced persons in the Balkan country. "We cannot allow the return process to fail due to a lack of assistance, at a time when return is politically possible and really happening", he said.
Speaking at a meeting of the 55-nation OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, Mr. Petritsch said that the tremendous progress made by Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) during his three-year tenure "heralds the start - not the end - of positive change". Major breakthroughs had been achieved and important processes had been brought on track, among other issues, in the fields of refugee return, the building of state institutions, economic reform, and human rights.
Ambassador Petritsch stressed the OSCE's contribution to the achievements, describing it as "one of the first organizations to see the importance of a co-ordinated approach". "I cannot overstate how lucky I have been to have had such an able, energetic and wise partner in implementing the Dayton Peace Accords", he added.
The latest and most compelling example of systematic progress, the High Representative said, was the reform of the constitutions of the two BiH entities - the Federation and Republika Srpska. The Mrakovica-Sarajevo Agreement signed by the ruling political parties represents the ultimate proof that the country has entered a new era, he said. The changes in the constitutions, adopted by BiH's leaders themselves, will ensure the rights of Bosniacs, Croats, Serbs and others throughout the country.
Recent years have also produced a breakthrough in refugee return, Mr. Petritsch said. The number of so-called minority returns had leapt to 67,000 in 2000, increasing by another 36 percent to 92,000 in 2001. If the current rate of refugee return continues, he, said, Annex 7 of the Dayton Accords could be implemented in its entirety within four years. However, the High Representative expressed concern about the lack of financial and material assistance provided to returnees to rebuild their homes.
Mr. Petritsch recalled that six and a half years after the signing of the Dayton Accords, BiH now had the attributes of a proper state. The State Government - called the Council of Ministers - has grown from three to six ministries. The State Border Service, the Court of BiH, and regulatory agencies in strategic sectors of the economy had all been established. Moreover, the new government led by the "Alliance for Change" had forged a new relationship with the international community based on partnership and mutual respect as an interim stage on the way to full ownership.
"In 2002, after six rounds of elections arranged and supervised by the OSCE, Bosnia and Herzegovina will for the first time organize its own elections", Mr. Petritsch said. "This is a milestone demonstrating BiH's growing statehood and level of democratization".
"However, in order for democracy and the rule of law to function, determined and robust steps must be taken to complete the judicial reform process, in which the OSCE will play a crucial role", the High Representative told the OSCE participating States.
Mr. Petritsch said that he believed Bosnia and Herzegovina's journey offered profound lessons at a time when the danger of "failed states" had been recognized in international politics. "International engagement works", he said. "Look at Bosnia and Herzegovina and the invaluable part the OSCE has played and you can see that for yourselves."