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Can Bosnia’s Dayton Peace Agreement be reformed? | Politics News

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In Bosnia and Herzegovina, home to one of the world’s most complicated systems of governance and deeply divided among ethnic lines, Azra Zornic is confident that the country will sooner or later adopt a civic constitution with equal rights for all citizens.

The retired sociology professor defines herself as “a Bosnian citizen – exclusively – because that’s in line with what I am doing”.

For the past 17 years, Zornic has been fighting for constitutional changes so that all Bosnian citizens have equal rights, regardless of ethnicity.

Her battle began in 2005 when she appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg after she was blocked from running for election to the House of Peoples, a chamber of the Bosnian parliament, because she did not identify with any of the accepted ethnicities stipulated in the current constitution: Bosniak, Croat or Serb.

Nine years later, the court ruled that the constitution was indeed discriminatory towards its citizens and ordered a civic constitution to be adopted. But Zornic is still waiting for the verdict to be implemented.

“It’s dealing with ethno-nationalist fascist political barriers,” Zornic told Al Jazeera.

She was the first Bosnian citizen to address the Strasbourg court and other Bosnians with the same problem followed suit including Jakob Finci, a Bosnian Jew and Dervo Sejdic, a Bosnian Roma, after they were unable to run in the elections as their ethnicity belonged to the “Other” category.

Other complications are related to the country’s two entities, formed as part of the Dayton Peace Agreement signed in December 1995.

For instance, a Serb living in the Bosniak-Croat dominated Federation entity cannot run as a candidate in the elections for the tripartite presidency, and neither can a Bosniak or a Croat living in the Serb-run Republika Srpska entity.

Over the years, the Strasbourg court ruled Bosnia’s constitution to be discriminatory in five separate judgments, including in the Sejdic and Finci case in 2009.

Thirty years since the outbreak of the war and as the country faces its biggest post-war political and security crisis amid Bosnian Serb secession moves, Bosnians are addressing how they would like their country to be governed with increasing urgency.

‘A bandage for a bleeding wound’

The constitution, formed as part of the Dayton Accords and signed by then presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia  – Alija Izetbegovic, Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic respectively – formally ended the war in Bosnia, but was a “bandage for a bleeding wound”, Baroness Arminka Helic said in the British parliament in December.

“It stopped the conflict but it has locked Bosnia into a set of Kafkaesque institutional structures. Dayton Bosnia has three Presidents, 13 Prime Ministers, 14 Parliaments, 147 Ministers and 700 parliamentarians, divvied up according to ethnic quotas, all for a population of less than 3.2 million,” Helic said.

Dozens of civic organisations – including Bosnia’s Serb Civic Council, the Croat National Council, the Council of the Congress of Bosniak Intellectuals, and the Forum of Bosnia and Herzegovina Parliamentarians – set up an online petition in October calling for the constitution to be modelled on “civic principles” as it is in democracies worldwide.

The letter, which calls for the elimination of systematic discrimination and was signed by more than 60,000 people, was sent to the Office of the High Representative, which oversees the implementation of Dayton.

Changing the constitution is a legal obligation, it said, as the Dayton agreement was never meant to be a permanent solution.

“The existing ethno-national concept in Bosnia, which is particularly exemplified through the role of the houses of peoples at the level of Bosnia and the entities, is unsustainable,” the petition said.

“It also completely suppresses civil rights guaranteed by Bosnia’s existing constitution, leading to complete ethnic segregation.”

Entrenching ‘ethno-territorial oligarchy’

While some Bosnians hope to adopt a one-person, one-vote system as it is in much of the democratic world, political elites are pressing for other issues.

Negotiations to make changes to the electoral law have been taking place on and off for months between European Union and US officials and Bosnian leaders. The latest round of negotiations are currently under way in Sarajevo.

Dragan Covic, leader of the Croat nationalist party HDZ, and other nationalist Croat leaders have for years been pushing for electoral reforms, claiming they are not legitimately represented in the presidency.

But analysts have said the changes they are seeking would result in a de facto third Croat entity and “further entrench the country’s ethno-territorial oligarchy”.

If changes are not made to the electoral law, Bosnian Croat nationalists said they will launch their own political process to form their own region in Bosnia.

Stipe Prlic, president of the Croat National Council (HNV), one of the signatories of the online petition, told Al Jazeera that the situation “can’t ever depend on Covic or HDZ”.

“Here, one should simply adopt a concept that will be against separatism, unitarianism, and further ethnic changes,” Prlic said.

“A middle path should be taken to satisfy all people who live in Bosnia including minorities and for all to have the same rights – to elect and be elected. If there is a will, [the changes] can be made very quickly.”

Toby Vogel, senior associate at the Democratization Policy Council initiative, told Bosnian daily Dnevni Avaz this week that “it’s mind-boggling that just as the West claims it wants to push back Russian influence in the Balkans, the EU is negotiating changes to the election law that would most benefit the local Kremlin clients,” namely Covic and the Serb member of Bosnia’s presidency, Milorad Dodik.

Many have also criticised the negotiations as lacking transparency for ordinary citizens as details of the talks have not been made public.

In December, former High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling warned that US State Department official Matthew Palmer and his EU counterpart Angelina Eichhorst were trying to carry out electoral reform in a “very non-transparent” way and under pressure with elections coming up in October.

Schwarz-Schilling questioned why the electoral law issue has become a top priority amid Bosnia’s most serious crisis since the end of the war, with Dodik de facto calling for Republika Srpska’s secession.

He said changing the constitution and removing its discriminatory parts identified by the ECHR should be dealt with first.

Zornic agrees that the rulings from the ECHR need to be addressed first, not the electoral law – she called the negotiations a “tavern gathering”. The round of talks with ethno-nationalist parties held in the coastal city of Neum in late January was held “in the most expensive hotel… paid by us, taxpayers of this country”, she added.

“The laws of a country are not debated in taverns and hotels, rather in institutions … [electoral law reforms] can’t be accepted until it’s accepted in parliament,” Zornic said.

Political scientist Jasmin Mujanovic told Al Jazeera that initiatives for a one-person, one-vote system are “very important but they need to be directed at local and international policy makers, and also to take some stock of electoral realities”.

“Until the [Croat nationalist party] HDZ in particular suffers some electoral setbacks – which could happen this year with a decent turnout in the right parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and strong diaspora voting – they’ll be able to obstruct any such processes.

“The key is not merely tp demand changes, but to work to create the conditions for realising them,” Mujanovic said.

Still Zornic says she is optimistic about the future.

“I’m sure we will have a civic constitution sooner or later, most likely after these elections in October,” Zornic said.

“How can people not understand? It’s a simple sentence – we are all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we all have equal rights – not just in the electoral process – but in all spheres of social life,” Zornic said.

“We all have to be equal, regardless of ethnicity, religion – any kind of affiliation.”





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‘Terrifying’: Days of terror under Colombia’s Gulf Clan cartel | Drugs News

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Bogota, Colombia – “It was terrifying.”

That is how a resident of Tierralta, in Colombia’s northern department of Cordoba, described a days-long siege imposed earlier this month by one of the country’s largest paramilitary groups, the Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), also known as the Gulf Clan.

From the morning of May 5 until midnight on May 9, the armed group enforced a self-declared “armed strike” across the country’s northwest in response to the extradition to the United States of its detained former leader Dairo Antonio Usuga, also known as Otoniel.

The Gulf Clan took control of 11 of Colombia’s 32 departments over the four-day span. It imposed strict lockdowns, shuttered local businesses, closed off roads, disrupted transportation links, and warned residents to stay inside or risk being shot or having their vehicles burned.

Several towns ran out of basic supplies such as food and gas, while local hospitals faced staff shortages. Elsewhere, families were stranded at transport terminals, unable to get home due to blocked roads, local media reported.

“You live with the concern that it could happen again tomorrow,” said another resident of Tierralta, Raul, who also asked to use a pseudonym because of security concerns. “Because the Gulf Clan are showing that they have the power to create fear,” he told Al Jazeera.

Otoniel capture in Colombia
Accused drug trafficker and Gulf Clan leader ‘Otoniel’ was captured in October of last year [File: Colombian President’s Office via AP Photo]

Hundreds of rights violations

The Gulf Clan’s armed strike took place three weeks before Colombians will vote for their next president, raising concerns about the possibility of repeated violence as the population heads to the polls on May 29.

“The government response to this event leaves people more dissatisfied with their ability to express their political ideas or to participate in democracy. This event is very, very detrimental to the quality of democracy in Colombia and to the local perceptions of security,” said Sergio Guzman, director of the Colombia Risk Analysis consultancy group.

During the course of the “strike”, the Gulf Clan committed at least 309 acts of violence, according to the Special Jurisdiction of Peace (JEP) tribunal, which also registered the forced closure of 26 roads, the destruction of at least 118 vehicles and the disruption of 54 transport terminals.

A total of 178 different municipalities in the country were under Gulf Clan control, with 138 of them under strict lockdown rules.

“They wanted to demonstrate their military strength to show that in many areas of the country they are the de facto authority and not the state,” said a JEP representative, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.

The JEP was formed in the wake of a 2016 peace deal between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) group and the government, with a mandate to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for the most serious human rights violations.

Twenty-four civilians were killed during the “strike”, the JEP also said, and a further 15 attempted murders were recorded. The Ministry of Defence reported six deaths, while NGO Indepaz recorded 18 over the course of the strike.

The JEP official told Al Jazeera that three social leaders – a term used in Colombia to describe activists, community representatives and rights defenders – were among those killed.

‘Robust failure’

The Colombian government hailed Otoniel’s capture in October of last year and subsequent extradition to the US this month as a success – and a definitive blow to the Gulf Glan’s operations.

However, last week’s armed strike proved the group, which local NGO Pares has said counts as many as 3,260 members, is by no means on shaky ground, analysts said.

Since the 2016 peace agreement under which the FARC demobilised, armed groups such as the Gulf Clan have taken advantage of the power vacuum in much of Colombia’s rural areas. The Gulf Clan operates clandestinely in approximately 109 municipalities across the country, according to rights group Indepaz, but most predominantly in the north. It controls numerous drug trafficking routes and cocaine processing labs, and uses violence to extort and intimidate populations.

“This event underscores how much the government underestimated the nature of the [Gulf Clan’s] threat. This is very complicated for the government to somehow spin this towards anything but a robust failure of their security strategy,” Guzman told Al Jazeera.

Despite the strike being announced early on May 4, no military response from the government was seen until May 7, when troops were deployed to the affected Bolivar, Sucre, Cordoba and Antioquia regions to accompany vehicles and secure the roads. According to Ministry of Defence figures, more than 19,000 troops were deployed across the area.

Colombian President Ivan Duque
Colombia’s President Ivan Duque said the Gulf Clan carried out ‘cowardly attacks’ [File: Nathalia Angarita/Reuters]

“They seek to generate intimidation through isolated events and cowardly attacks, which they seek to maximise online and in the media,” President Ivan Duque told reporters last Saturday. “They are desperately trying to show a strength that they do not have.”

But Guzman said the Gulf Clan will “likely be emboldened by the lack of confrontation with the military”.

“The government doesn’t want to contribute to the ‘we are back to war’ narrative, so escalating the situation could not just have very significant collateral damage concerns, but could also subtract significantly from the government’s narrative that they’re keeping order in the country,” he said.

“The Gulf Clan just ripped a hole through the narrative by making it difficult for the government to assert its authority over one-third of its territory.”

Colombia’s Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Meanwhile, the JEP representative described the government’s response as “not very efficient” while residents subjected to the four days under Gulf Clan control were equally critical, saying they felt abandoned.

“The state demonstrated that it is a weak institution that does not have the capacity to confront an armed group that has proven to have control of national territory and a great strength at the national level,” said Jose David Ortega, a resident and human rights defender in the city of Monteria, which was besieged by the group.

Raul, the Tierralta resident, added, “What hurts the most is that the state never came out to defend the rights of its citizens.”





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Europe faces gas supply disruption after Russia imposes sanctions | Oil and Gas News

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Moscow’s measures and Ukraine’s halting of a major supply route to Europe have sent prices on the continent soaring.

Europe is facing increased pressure to secure alternative gas supplies after Moscow imposed sanctions on European subsidiaries of Russia’s state-owned Gazprom energy giant and Ukraine shuttered a major gas transit route, pushing prices higher.

Dutch gas prices at the TTF hub, the European benchmark, rose by about 20 percent on Thursday morning.

The uptick came after Russia rolled out its sanctions late on Wednesday, mainly on Gazprom’s European subsidiaries including Gazprom Germania, an energy trading, storage and transmission business that Germany placed under trusteeship last month to secure supplies.

Moscow also targeted the owner of the Polish part of the Yamal-Europe pipeline that carries Russian gas to Europe, EuRoPol Gaz. The pipeline is jointly owned by Gazprom.

“A ban on transactions and payments to entities under sanctions has been implemented,” Gazprom said in a statement. “For Gazprom, this means a ban on the use of a gas pipeline owned by EuRoPol GAZ to transport Russian gas through Poland.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said there can be no relations with the companies affected nor can they take part in supplying Russian gas.

The entities on a list of affected firms on a Russian government website were largely based in countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, most of them members of the European Union. Last year, EU countries got about 155 billion cubic metres of gas from Russia.

Germany, Russia’s top client in Europe, said some subsidiaries of Gazprom Germania were receiving no gas because of the sanctions, but are seeking alternatives.

“Gazprom and its subsidiaries are affected,” Habeck told the Bundestag lower house. “This means some of the subsidiaries are getting no more gas from Russia. But the market is offering alternatives.”

INTERACTIVE - Russian gas imports into the EU - Europe's reliance on Russian gas

Ukraine shuts major transit route

Russia’s sanctions came a day after Kyiv shut a major gas transit route to Europe, blaming interference by occupying Russian forces, the first time exports via Ukraine have been disrupted since Moscow launched its invasion in late February.

The transit point Ukraine shut usually handles about 8 percent of Russian gas flows to Europe, and Kyiv proposed that flows could be re-directed to an alternative transit point, Sudzha.

On Thursday morning, flows through Sudzha had fallen to 53 million cubic metres (mcm) per day, from approximately 70 mcm the day before, Ukraine gas transmission operator data showed.

However, the Ukrainian suspension does not present an immediate gas supply issue, the European Commission said.

Meanwhile, there is still confusion among EU gas companies about a payment scheme decreed by Moscow in March that the European Commission has said would breach EU sanctions.

Russia’s demand that future payments for gas be made in roubles has been rejected by most European buyers over the details of the process, which requires opening accounts with Gazprombank.

That has generated fears about potential supply disruptions should buyers refuse to meet the guidelines to avoid breaching sanctions.

The concerns came against the backdrop of a major increase in European wholesale gas prices during the past year, adding to burdens on households and businesses as they seek to rebound from the economic disruption unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic.



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‘Must be credible’: Energy giants challenged over climate action | Climate Crisis News

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Countries have less than three years to reduce the rise of planet-heating carbon emissions and less than a decade to cut them almost in half to ensure a ‘liveable future’.

The climate commitments of global energy giants lack credibility as they rely on costly technologies that have yet to be proven at scale, according to a report published by Carbon Tracker.

The non-profit think tank that researches the effect of climate change on financial markets noted on Thursday that despite a spate of new targets set by the top 15 global energy firms, most are still not pledging an absolute cut in emissions.

It found so far that only four of the firms have made pledges that include a reduction in the emissions generated by the use of their products, such as burning gasoline in cars.

And just four have set 2030 reduction targets, which are important in driving quick progress and evaluating developments.

“Setting appropriate targets is just the first step,” said Carbon Tracker in its 2022 report on the energy industry.

“The approach to achieving emissions reductions must be credible to ensure that both stated reductions occur and that shareholders’ exposure to transition risks are not increased,” it added.

Countries at COP26 that pledged to net zero

The think tank developed a set of criteria based on how energy firms intend to achieve reductions with the group finding that winding down existing assets is the best way to reduce the climate impact as well as risks to investors.

The report criticised using asset divestment as a method as the carbon footprint of the selling firm is reduced, but in reality, the pollution is usually just shifted to the new owner who may even operate them in a less responsible manner.

Countries have less than three years to reduce the rise of planet-heating carbon emissions, and less than a decade to cut them almost in half to ensure a “liveable future”, according to a recently published UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Nearly 200 nations agreed to adopt the Glasgow Climate Pact at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Scotland last November. Countries committed to a climate deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to stop planetary warming from exceeding 1.5C (2.7F).

The agreement received criticism as it failed to set tougher goals to battle the rising temperatures. Increased temperature beyond 1.5C (2.7F) would create climate catastrophes ranging from extreme high sea levels to wildfires that have been on the rise in the past years.

Current emissions set humanity on track to reach some 3.2C (5.8F) increased temperature by the end of the century, scientists say.

Carbon Tracker also noted energy firms reinvest some of the funds from asset sales into new oil and gas production, thus creating more emissions.

The report criticised undue reliance on emissions mitigation technologies (EMTs) to reduce emissions while continuing to invest in new production.

“The level of achievable emissions reductions from such technologies remains uncertain, their deployment should be reserved for the hardest to abate sectors rather than being squandered on ‘creating space’ for oil and gas production that can be readily substituted by renewables,” it said.

All but one of the 15 firms plans to use EMTs.

Meanwhile, third-party offsets do not always result in net reductions as some projects to plant or replant forests might have happened anyway, it added.

Moreover, vast amounts of land would be needed to offset energy emissions, which could displace other land use.

At the top of Carbon Tracker’s ranking is Italian firm Eni, which targets a 35-percent reduction by 2030, taking into account all of its production as well as downstream use of third-party crude.

At the bottom is United States giant ExxonMobil, which has set a 2050 net-zero goal but only for its operations and not the products it sells.



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