The Dayton Peace Accords, 1995

Representatives of the three sides in the conflict met in Dayton, Ohio and initialed the Dayton Agreement on November 21, 1995. The agreement was formally signed in Paris on December 14, 1995.

Dayton Peace Accords (public source)

Seated from left to right: Slobodan Milošević, Alija Izetbegović, Franjo Tuđman initialling the Dayton Peace Accords at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on 21 November 1995. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Brian Schlumbohm) 

Under UN war crimes indictment, Bosnian Serb leaders Karadžić and Mladić could not participate, and so Serbian President Milosević represented the Bosnian Serbs, while Tudjman represented the Bosnian Croats, and Izetbegović the Muslim-led Bosnian government. Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Carl Bildt, a former Swedish Prime Minister, representing the EU, were co-chairs.

Bosnian state to be composed of the Federation and Republika Srpska

The Dayton Agreement created a Bosnian state composed of two distinct entities: the Federation and the Republika Srpska. By creating three different electorates along ethnic lines-- Serb, Croat, and Bosniak -- the constitution aimed to protect each group against domination by the others, or by the central government. Yet in so doing it created a system in which political success depended on appealing to one's "own" ethnic group and thus continuation of the power of the ethnically-based parties that began the war.

Republika  in light orange. (public source)

Republika Srpska in light orange.

The agreement included the right of return of refugees and displaced persons, but did not institute mechanisms for their return. Instead, the constitution created separate armed forces, and a two-tier system of government with multiple checks and balances that provided easy ways to block the business of government.

System of transitional administration

Overlaid on this was a system of transitional administration in which the international community is represented by an Office of the High Representative (OHR), who has sweeping powers -- which are now rarely used. The Office issues regular press releases at

NATO forces led a stabilization force, or SFOR. It was originally called IFOR, or Intervention Force. NATO handed over its military role in Bosnia to the EU-led European Force (EUFOR) Althea in 2004.

Fletcher Burton Head of the OSCE BiH Mission (public source)

Fletcher Burton heads the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (OSCE)

The OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently involved in arms control, security sector reform, war crimes processing, the fight against trafficking in human beings, political and education reform, gender equality, programs to support good governance, media reform, and civil society and human rights initiatives. Career U.S. diplomat Fletcher Burton became Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2011.

The UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina focused on reforming the various police forces which had been organized on an ethnic war-time footing, into smaller professional multi-ethnic forces, each with human rights training, working in accountable structures, with modern police equipment. The Mission also coordinated the work of UN organizations in the country. The UN Mission's mandate ended in 2002, and the EU Police Mission took on its police-monitoring role.

Dayton Accords

The Dayton Accords ended the war, but also established a structure of government with significant flaws:

  • The stress given to the ethnic collectivities as electoral and political units weakens central government.
  • Foreign rule and international economic support narrow people's horizons further, reducing incentive and opportunity to build political and business ties with other groups.
  • Local officials and populations often obstruct the return of refugees and displaced persons.

OHR actions to try and "fix" problems, which have included the removal from politics of elected leaders categorized as extremists or as uncooperative, have often increased local feelings of disempowerment. Rather than building a common state, many have preferred to focus on their own ethnic enclave.