The US-brokered agreement reached in Dayton, Ohio, on 21 November 1995 and formally signed on 14 December of the same year ended the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II and re-established peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
(Various sources -- 21/11/95 - 20/11/05)
The document which eventually became known as the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) was formally signed by the three Balkan presidents on 14 December 1995 in Paris. [AFP]
Following Slovenia and Croatia's secession from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in 1990 and 1991, respectively, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) held a referendum on independence on 29 February and 1 March 1992. The Bosnian Muslims and Croats, who mostly participated in the plebiscite, supported the republic's breakaway from the federation, while the majority of Bosnian Serbs boycotted the vote. On 5 April 1992, the national parliament declared BiH's independence from the FRY. The conflict which followed was the bloodiest in European history since the end of World War II, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing millions.
About three and a half years after the outbreak of violence, and following several failed international efforts for a peace deal, the United States launched a new initiative in the autumn of 1995. Proximity negotiations between the warring parties, represented by then Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, and Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, opened at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio on 1 November 1995. The talks were led by Richard Holbrooke, who was serving at the time as US assistant secretary of state. Representatives of the EU and the Contact Group -- Britain, France, Germany and Russia -- also participated in the highly tense negotiations at the US air base.
Three weeks after the launch of the talks, Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic finally reached a deal and initialled a General Framework Agreement for Peace in BiH on 21 November. The document, which eventually became known as the Dayton Peace Agreement or the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA), was formally signed by the three Balkan presidents on 14 December 1995 in Paris.
International leaders attending the signing ceremony included UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, US President Bill Clinton, French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister John Major, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The EU was represented by former Swedish prime minister and co-chairman of the Dayton peace conference, Carl Bildt.
"In this chorus for peace today we also hear the hallowed voices of the victims -- the children whose playgrounds were shelled in the killing fields, the young girls brutalised by rape, the men shot down in mass graves, those who starved in the camps, those who died in battle, the millions taken from their homes and torn from their families," Clinton said in remarks at the ceremony. "Even from beyond the grave, there are victims singing the song of peace today. May their voices be in our minds and hearts forever."
The DPA comprises 11 annexes covering the military, political and civilian aspects of the peace settlement, as well as those of regional stabilisation.
The Agreement created BiH as a sovereign state composed of two largely autonomous entities -- a Muslim-Croat federation, called the Federation of BiH, and a slightly smaller Bosnian Serb-run mini-state, called Republika Srpska. It also delineated the country's international and inter-entity borders. BiH's constitution was included in the DPA, as Annex 4.
The DPA obliged BiH, Croatia and what was left of the FRY to fully respect each other's sovereign equality and to settle disputes by peaceful means. By signing the Accords, the parties also undertook the commitment to respect human rights and the rights of refugees and displaced persons. They further agreed to co-operate fully with all relevant entities and organisations in implementing the peace settlement and investigating and prosecuting war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law.
A day after the formal signing of the DPA in Paris, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 1031, giving NATO the mandate to implement the military aspects of the Agreement. On 20 December 1995, a 60,000-strong NATO-led multinational force, called the Implementation Force (IFOR), was deployed in BiH as part of the Alliance's largest-ever military operation, dubbed Operation Joint Endeavour. IFOR, which was given a one-year mandate, was replaced in December 1996 by a Stabilisation Force (SFOR). Initially numbering around 32,000, SFOR was downsized over time to about 7,000 troops as of early December 2004, when the mission to implement the military aspects passed to a European Union-led force, EUFOR.
The implementation of the civilian aspects of the DPA was assigned to the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in BiH. Operating under a United Nations Security Council mandate, the High Representative serves as the international community's top envoy in the Balkan country and has overarching powers, including the authority to fire officials and enact laws. His tasks include facilitating and co-ordinating the activities of the organisations and agencies involved in the civilian aspects of the peace settlement.
The Dayton Accords succeeded in achieving the immediate aim of halting the bloodshed in BiH and re-establishing peace. In doing so, however, they also established one of the world's most complex governmental structures -- an arrangement which many inside and outside of BiH see as unsustainable over the long term. With weak central institutions, a continuing divide between the two entities, and a dependence on international governance, the country cannot yet be described as a functioning state. On 22 November, during Dayton commemorations in Washington, D.C, representatives of BiH's three constituent groups made a historic pledge to move forward, vowing to undertake comprehensive reforms aimed at laying the groundwork for future peace and prosperity.