Guest blogger for Matt Field

Part of UK in Bosnia and Herzegovina

1st December 2021

The United Kingdom’s enduring commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Baroness Goldie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon with HMA Matt Field and DA LtCol Andrew Tait in Sarajevo

Joint message from Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, FCDO Minister of State and the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Baroness Goldie, MoD Minister of State for Defence

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of the United Kingdom. As we have often heard in our Parliament, the UK has both a legacy here and an enduring responsibility. This week, we saw first-hand how the UK works to strengthen key institutions, including the BiH Armed Forces, independent media and civil society.

As we depart BiH today in the company of High Representative Christian Schmidt, who is on his way to the UK for meetings with the Foreign Secretary, government Ministers and parliamentarians, we leave with a deep appreciation of the commitment of people across the country to fostering peace, prosperity and in living in harmony.

Talk of renewed division and conflict grabs attention and headlines. Have no doubt – the UK sees clearly the current risk to the stability and integrity of BiH. The plans, proposed by some in Republika Srpska, to withdraw from important state institutions, including the BiH Armed Forces, will undermine the future of this country and will damage the prospects of all citizens, wherever they live.

The Dayton Peace Agreement ended the war and laid the foundations for a state for all citizens. It certainly has its imbalances, and leaves some disenfranchised. However it has provided a strong foundation for progress, and we have seen many steps forward. We still have far to go. We cannot allow the progress of the last 26 years to be undone.

Therefore while inflammatory talk demands attention, it is also a deliberate distraction. We see no improvement to the serious and endemic problems which limit the everyday lives of BiH’s citizens. The people we met want jobs, they want futures for their children. They want a stronger rule of law and they want access to quality healthcare, education and other public services to which they are entitled.

While politicians threaten and argue, corruption goes unchallenged, the voices of young people are ignored and the economy stagnates. More and more people are leaving the country of their birth because they are convinced that opportunities and solutions to these problems lie elsewhere.

BiH’s leaders have a responsibility to tackle these issues. We as friends of this country must help to hold them to account. The UK works with local and international partners to promote the stability, security and prosperity of BiH. We support local businesses and entrepreneurs who create jobs and we champion corruption-free e-services. The UK provides scholarships for the best and brightest, at our universities and military academies. We teach coding and critical thinking to every primary school student in the country. The cooperation between our Armed Forces continues to grow as we look to collaborate in areas such as defence education, women peace & security and training and exercising.

We have also been assisting community-led action against sexual violence. The UK is supporting a network of safe houses across BiH to assist survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and encouraging local authorities to finance these essential services. And we welcome BiH’s endorsement of the Call to Action to ensure the rights and wellbeing of children born as a result of sexual violence.

Leadership on these issues, and on the Women Peace and Security Agenda, is helping to safeguard the vulnerable and end marginalisation. We are searching for more people to join the fight against corruption at every level. We support those who promote freedom of speech and religion or belief, and who fight injustice. However we cannot do this without our dedicated BiH partners.

BiH can, and should, have a prosperous and stable future. People have the skills, knowledge and ambition to achieve this goal. The UK is here to help. We want to see a strong, sovereign BiH, working with NATO and other allies, and providing greater opportunities to its population. We will continue to play our role in building and supporting this vision. We will continue to support the BiH Armed Forces on their Euro-Atlantic pathway, ensuring they can become contributors to international security. Alongside our partners, we will continue to bring our full capabilities to bear against adversaries who seek to undermine our collective security. We come away from BiH confident in these ties that bind us together, live to the challenges that face the country and highlighting enduring commitment of the United Kingdom to peace and security in BiH and the Western Balkans.