Human Rights and the Dayton Agreement

Vol. 8, No. 8 (D), June 1996



The failure of Dayton is in the making, and the U.S. and West European governments must bear responsibility, unless immediate and decisive steps are taken to enforce respect for human rights, ensure the right to return for refugees and displaced persons, establish the conditions necessary for free and fair elections, and bring to justice those responsible for war crimes.

Blindly ignoring the mounting evidence that the Bosnian parties to the Dayton peace accord have failed to create the conditions for free and fair elections, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher stated on June 2 that the elections would go ahead this year. Christopher’s statement was part of a growing campaign by the Clinton administration to ensure that the election in Bosnia take place this September, always arguing that, although the elections will not be perfect, they are still in the best interest of the Bosnian people. But they are wrong. While holding the elections in Bosnia may be in the best interest of Mr. Clinton’s own reelection campaign, it is certainly not in the best interest of those who believe in a Bosnia that is not partitioned along ethnic lines, where the ethnic slaughter of thousands is not simply forgotten in an effort by foreign governments not to upset their own domestic political agendas.

Mr. Christopher seems to believe that elections, regardless of how flawed will “give all the people of Bosnia a chance to shape their future.” It will be difficult indeed for many of the Bosnian people even to participate in the elections given that there is limited movement throughout the territory, the press is severely restricted along ethnic and political lines, refugees and displaced persons have not been able to return to their homes and indicted war criminals in particular Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic maintain predominant political and military control. If the elections go forward under these conditions, the international community will become an accomplice to a lie. The message will be sent that compliance with the Dayton agreement is not necessary or even expected, and it is likely that interference and intimidation by hard-liners will result in a corrupt election, serving to undermine the entire peace process and to increase the likelihood of renewed conflict.

What is more, elections that are conducted under current conditions where persons indicted for war crimes monopolize the media, using it for their own nationalistic goal; and those who would voice an alternative, multi-ethnic view of Bosnia and Hercegovina are silenced will only consolidate the power of the extremists. These same extremists have pursued a policy of nationalism and ethnic hatred over the last four years, and they have not given up their goal of dividing Bosnia and Hercegovina into separate, ethnically pure states. The international community must send a clear message that it will hold war criminals accountable for their atrocities. The international community must also insist that the alternative voices in Bosnia have an opportunity to hear each other and to join in opposition to the current political forces. Without these guarantees, Bosnia and Hercegovina will be doomed to ongoing cycles of conflict and violent revenge based on the false assumptions of collective ethnic guilt.

Six months ago Bill Clinton said, “We have an obligation to carry forward the lessons of Nuremberg. Those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide must be brought to justice. They must be tried, and if found guilty, they must be held accountable...There must be peace for justice to prevail, but there must be justice when peace prevails.” Today the Clinton administration has changed its tune, sending out the message that it is too much to expect indicted war criminals to be arrested before elections take place. Such “pristine, ideal conditions” will not be possible, according to U.S. State Department spokesperson Nicolas Burns, although the United States favors “creating the best possible conditions.” If the Clinton administration and the rest of the international community are truly committed to creating the best possible conditions for free and fair elections, they can start by insisting that Karadzic and Mladic are turned over to the Hague. With 60,000 NATO troops in Bosnia, the means exist. But it is utter hypocrisy for the Clinton administration to speak of creating the conditions for free and fair elections, when it is unwilling to use the means at its disposal to do so.

The Dayton agreement six months ago gave the international community a chance to demonstrate its commitment to the principles of peace and justice. Midway into the implementation process, however, that opportunity is being squandered. As Admiral Leighton Smith, NATO commander, has said, “The military side will be okay, but if the civilian side goes belly-up, the possibility of peace in here diminishes dramatically.” Yet the resources and resolve applied to the civilian aspects of Dayton lag far behind those committed to the military (IFOR) component. And IFOR’s scope of action has been tightly circumscribed to exclude pro-active protection of vulnerable civilians or arrests that would cause controversy.

The parties to the agreement have refused to comply with critical components of the accord. They have refused to allow people to return to their homes, have prevented free movement throughout Bosnia, and have convinced their own people to abandon their life-long homes, telling them it is not possible to coexist with people of different ethnicity. Most recently, in late May Bosniaks around the town of Teslic, in central Bosnia, were forced to flee their homes following a campaign of bombings, beatings, stone-throwing and threats by Bosnian Serb displaced persons. Local Republika Srpska police refused to offer protection or to stop the violence and expulsions. Political leaders have refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (hereinafter “tribunal” or “ICTY”), defying their obligation under the Dayton accord to arrest and turn over persons indicted for war crimes. The most important figures indicted, Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, who masterminded the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians, remain in control of both political and military forces. Freedoms that are necessary to exercise political choice such as freedom of assembly, association and the press are systematically restricted.

The international community, for its part, has failed to use the means at its disposal to force compliance. On the most important issue that of arresting persons suspected of war crimes the international community has lacked the political will to carry out its mandate, and it appears increasingly willing to tolerate the status quo. Thus, rather than offer real protection to survivors and create the possibility of co-existence and fair political participation, the international community seems focused instead on creating an illusion.

This report is based on two, month-long fact-finding missions to Bosnia by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki researchers, during which interviews were conducted with victims of ongoing abuses, with local government officials in the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation, and with representatives of numerous international organizations, including with field staff and political representatives of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Office of the High Representative, the International Police Task Force (IPTF), and commanders and soldiers of the Implementation Forces (IFOR).

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki concludes that the parties to the Dayton accord have failed to comply with significant aspects of the Dayton civilian provisions. The parties have refused to allow civilians to move freely within the territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina and have obstructed the free movement of representatives of international organizations as well. Refugees and displaced persons have been threatened and mistreated when trying to exercise their right to return to their homes. Few if any refugees and displaced persons have been allowed to repossess their property in areas where they are now an ethnic minority.

Minority populations are still at risk of abuse. This report documents ethnically and politically motivated killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, physical mistreatment and harassment of minorities. There is little prospect for victims to obtain protection from local police and government authorities, who are themselves often complicit in such abuses. As mentioned above, during the violence and harassment of Bosniaks in villages around Teslic in late May, police refused to intervene to assist those ultimately forced to leave the area for Federation territory. In late April, police in Dugi Dio, in the Sapna thumb area where some 4,200 Bosniaks still live territory returned to the Republika Srpska under the Dayton agreement, severely beat five Bosniak men who were repairing the road to the village. Since the beatings, there have been other acts of violence and intimidation targeting Bosniaks in the areas, including a grenade thrown into the village and sniper fire. In May, several houses in Dugi Dio were blown up.

While international observers acknowledge that Dayton is likely to fail unless persons indicted for war crimes especially Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic are removed from power, six months into the implementation process, 60,000 IFOR troops and the military and political leaders of the international community who determine their mandate stand by, unwilling to risk a confrontation with these two men. The international community appears increasingly willing to tolerate the status quo, ignoring the legally binding obligations created by the Dayton accord and a host of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The international community appears willing to accept the pretense of compliance, instead of demanding the real thing. This is clearly reflected in the impending decision by the OSCE to certify that the conditions exist in Bosnia for free and fair elections to be held in September. Yet, as this report documents and OSCE’s own field staff admit, such conditions do not exist. The certification of elections at this time can only be a farce a decision by the OSCE under intense pressure from the U.S. government to go forward with elections, regardless of the true conditions on the ground.



A demonstrated respect for human rights and the rule of law by the political leaders from all three sides is a prerequisite to the successful implementation of Dayton. The international community must insist that the highest standards of human rights be upheld by the parties as a precondition to any economic aid or assistance. In particular, the Security Council has noted in resolution 1022 that “compliance with the requests and orders of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia constitutes an essential aspect of implementing the Peace Agreement.” The foundations of a functioning and lasting peace will only take place when all those who committed war crimes are turned over to the Tribunal and all of its citizens irrespective of their nationality and ethnicity are guaranteed their civil and political rights in Serb-majority, Croat-majority and Bosniak-majority areas. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki calls on the international community to take the following steps with regard to their role in the Dayton peace process:

The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, who is charged with certifying conditions for fair and free elections should present a public report on the parties’ compliance with the criteria set out by the Dayton Accord and by the OSCE for holding fair and free elections, in particular:

establishment of a politically neutral environment
ensuring freedom of movement
allowing and encouraging freedom of association
ensuring freedom of expression and access to the media for all wishing to participate in the electoral process
(no indicted persons are allowed to hold political office - de jure or de facto)

The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, should make it clear that he will not certify the elections until conditions exist for them to be free and fair;

The OSCE Chairman-in-Office and the High Representative should as a matter of urgency reconvene the parties in order to make clear that full and immediate compliance with the Dayton Accord is expected, pointing to the specific obstacles for holding free and fair elections in terms of non-compliance, outlining the specific steps the parties must take, creating a specific timetable for compliance, making it clear that non-compliance will be met with immediate punitive measures in the form of withholding economic aid and/or reactivating sanctions;

Respect for Human Rights, Minority Rights and the Right to Return Home of all Refugees and Displaced Persons
Both the international military and civilian representatives must have a clearly articulated duty to expose human rights abuses. Any international representative who witnesses human rights abuses should be required to inform IFOR and IPTF field personnel so that they can intervene to prevent and/or stop such abuses. There should be a clear duty to report abuses in the field. Precise guidelines should be created and made known to all representatives of intergovernmental organization, as well as IFOR personnel, about how and to whom to report;

Human rights operations by intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) must, contrary to the current situation, be transparent. While sources and other information must obviously be protected, reports of human rights abuses should not be withheld from the public for political reasons, and disclosure should be timely. Public reports should, for the remainder of 1996, be issued monthly by each of the IGOs for NGO and media use, or one IGO should be charged with the specific task of issuing a monthly report on the general human rights situation, including information about specific incidents, the reaction of local and government authorities and the international community “sur place”. Issues of particular importance might include disappearances, attacks upon returnees or minorities (especially by police or soldiers, including reports of rape), any forcible displacement or relocation, bureaucratic/administrative and/or legal persecution, arbitrary arrest or detention, interference with freedom of movement, association, assembly, expression and interference with election procedures;

IFOR should become increasingly engaged in guaranteeing and protecting the security, safety and human rights of displaced persons and refugees wishing to return to their place of origin;

IFOR and IPTF should increase patrols in cities, towns, villages and hamlets with vulnerable minority populations in an effort to prevent attacks against minorities. The absence of such “robust” patrols at this time provides opportunities for local hard-line authorities, police and unruly extremists to carry out human rights violations with impunity, generating an environment of abuse and fear;

IFOR should increase its effort to ensure complete freedom of movement throughout Bosnia-Hercegovina. Despite the fact that all checkpoints were to be dismantled and are forbidden under the terms of the Dayton Accord, freedom of movement still remains a serious problem and obstacle to carry out free and fair elections. Ad hoc checkpoints continue to spring up in territories controlled by all three sides where local police officers continue to harass members of other ethnic groups traveling through the respective area;

IPTF’s presence at such temporary checkpoints, until they are dismantled, should be increased. Local police should be discouraged from stopping vehicles for identity checks;

The United States and the European Union should demand that the Bosnian government immediately cease its interference with the rights of Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats to return to their places of origin, hold police accountable for abuses in Federation territory and stop pressuring persons to join the ruling SDA party. The European Union should remind the Bosnian government that, in accordance with the conclusions of the General Affairs Council decision of October 30-31, 1995, long term economic assistance to Bosnia-Hercegovina is among others conditioned on the government’s respect for “human rights, minority rights and the right to return of all the refugees and displaced persons”.

The European Union should also remind the government of Croatia that a continued failure to exert sufficient pressure on the Bosnian Croat authorities to respect the rule of law in Mostar and other towns in the Federation and to reintegrate the so-called entity of Herceg-Bosna into the Federation and into the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina constitutes a serious violation of the Dayton Accord and thus affects long term economic assistance from the European Union to Croatia;

The European Union should maintain its decision not to admit Croatia as a member of the Council of Europe until Croatia shows its willingness to comply with the human rights provisions set forth in the Dayton Accord;

The United States, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE should be engaged in a coordinated effort to ensure true freedom of the press and information in Bosnia-Hercegovina by:

supplying the already existing independent media with proper material and equipment so as to facilitate information exchange that is not controlled by the three ethnically-based political parties;
facilitating the establishment of joint television, radio and newspaper projects to be run by non-nationalist Bosnians so as to counter the ongoing propaganda and hate speech from all sides that promotes the idea that co-existence is not possible;

International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
The U.N. Security Council, the High Representative and the OSCE should reaffirm that compliance with the request and orders of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia constitutes an essential aspect of implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement (as noted in U.N. Security Council resolution 1022 of November 22, 1995);

The High Representative should without further delay, in accordance with his mandate set forth in Security Council resolution 1022, inform the Security Council via the Secretary General that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian Serb authorities are failing significantly to meet their obligations under the Dayton Accord, recommending that the suspension of sanctions be terminated;

The United States and the European Union should take due note of the government of Croatia’s failure to act upon the provisions of the Dayton Accord to exert sufficient pressure on the Bosnian Croat authorities to apprehend and turn over to the tribunal persons indicted for war crimes;

The European Union should, in accordance with the conclusions of the EU General Affairs Council of October 30-31, 1995 withhold economic assistance to the governments of Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian Serb authorities, due to their failure to fully cooperate with the tribunal;

The International Community should recognize the obligation of IFOR to facilitate the arrests and turn over to the tribunal of persons indicted for war crimes. Pursuant to Security Council resolution 1022, IFOR must cooperate with the tribunal by:

issuing clear orders to all IFOR troops that they are to arrest any indicted war criminals whom they encounter
ensuring that all IFOR troops are adequately educated so they will recognize those under indictment and know the procedure for their arrest when encountered
undertake an active intelligence effort to identify the location of persons indicted for war crimes, then deploy adequately armed troops in the vicinity, not to conduct search and seizure operations but to increase the likelihood that indicted war criminals be encountered

Reconstruction Aid, Other than Humanitarian Aid
The international community should reaffirm the principle of conditioning international economic assistance in compliance with commitments made in the Dayton Accord, including full cooperation with the tribunal, as reaffirmed previously by the parties in London and Brussels and its readiness to respond firmly to non-compliance;

The High Representative should act upon the call made to him on March 4-5, 1996 (Bosnia Round Table organized by the Austrian Foreign Ministry) and present a report on economic assistance, identifying areas or projects to which conditionality should appropriately apply, as well as outlining the specific steps the parties must undertake to receive assistance and the conducts that would trigger reduction or termination of assistance.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki continues to call on all three parties in Bosnia-Hercegovina to:

Apprehend and turn over all persons indicted for war crimes to the Tribunal;

Identify the fate of all Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs and Bosniaks—both civilians and combatants—killed or disappeared during the war. The authorities of all three sides are obligated to count and identify each corpse, provide information to the families through the ICRC or other means, and facilitate a dignified burial in graves properly marked so that they can be found;

Investigate and prosecute those responsible for previous and most importantly—continued— abuses against and harassment of Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serb returnees and/or minorities. Take immediate steps to prevent future abuse;

Allow independent observers from both governmental and nongovernmental human rights entities, complete and unrestricted access to all areas of, and persons, residing in the territories of Bosnia-Hercegovina (i.e. the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska).





Failure to Cooperate with the International Tribunal
Restrictions on Freedom of Movement
Restrictions on the Right to Return
The Right to Remain and Politically Motivated Resettlement
Failure to Ensure the Security and Liberty of Persons
Absence of the Conditions for Free and Fair Elections

The International Implementation Force
The International Police Task Force
The Office of the High Representative
The Organization on Security And Cooperation in Europe


Human Rights Watch      June 1996      Vol. 8, No. 8 (D)

To order the full text of this report click HERE.

For more Human Rights Watch reports on Bosnia-Hercegovina click HERE.

To return to the list of 1996 publications click HERE.

Or, to return to the index of Human Rights Watch reports click HERE.

Back Button