Long crippled by strong ethnic and religious divisions, Bosnia-Herzegovina is a largely dysfunctional state. Soon the country's only national court will be challenged in a referendum by Bosnian Serbs.
Bosnian Serb lawmakers decided late on Wednesday to clear a referendum challenging the legitimacy of the central court and prosecution, in a move that could undermine the authority of the internationally-imposed Dayton peace accords.
Sixty-six deputies in the parliament of the semi-autonomous Republika Srpska, or Serb Republic, voted to approve the referendum for a public vote, while seven abstained and two voted against.
Bosnia is split into semi-independent regions linked by a weak central government
The Bosnian state court was established in 2002 and is the only domestic court with jurisdiction across the entire country. It was commissioned by the High Representative, who oversees the implementation of the Dayton accords, in part to share the burden in the prosecution of war crimes with the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
The country's national parliament endorsed the court by law and in 2003 approved legislation that established the central public prosecutor's office.
The text of the referendum, initiated by rebellious Serb Republic President Milorad Dodik, reads: "Do you support laws imposed by High Representative in Bosnia, notably the laws on Bosnian state court and prosecution?"
Parliamentary chairman Igor Radojicic said the referendum would be organized 45 days after the decision's publication in the Official Gazette.
The office of Bosnia's international High Representative, Valentin Inzko, immediately released a statement expressing "grave concern" about the referendum.
"Urging the Republika Srpska National Assembly to initiate a process against an essential part of the Dayton peace agreement is irresponsible," the statement read.
Milorad Dodik, rebellious president of the Serb Republic, initiated the referendum
The Dayton peace accords, which ended Bosnia's 1992-1995 war, function as the country's constitution and grant Inzko the authority to interpret them.
They also established the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation as two semi-independent authorities linked by a weak central government.
The Bosnian state has been largely dysfunctional in the more than 15 years since the end of the war, as the population remains heavily divided along ethnic and religious lines. National elections last October have failed to produce a central government.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, Reuters)