Ongoing Ethnically-Motivated Expulsions and Harassment in Bosnia

Vol. 8. No. 12 (D), August 1996



The ethnically-motivated intimidation, mistreatment and expulsions of civilians that were the hallmark of the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina have continued since the signing of the Dayton agreement. Those ethnic minorities who have remained in their homes have come under increasing pressure in recent months to leave. Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat political leaders have not given up on their war goal of ethnically pure states—a goal that fueled much of the violence of the last four years. The Bosnian government of Alija Izetbegovic appears to have given up on the idea of a multi-ethnic Bosnia, opting instead to embrace both the goals and some of the means of its adversaries. Ethnically-motivated harassment of civilians continues to be motivated by local and national politician who maintain the political goal of “ethnically pure” states.

The Dayton peace agreement, which brought an end to the fighting in Bosnia, emphasized the right of displaced persons and refugees to return to their homes and the right of minorities to security and freedom from discrimination. Regrettably, however, the signing of the Dayton agreement did not bring an end to the forced displacement or harassment based on ethnic criteria of the civilian population. Non-Serbs recently forced to flee Republika Srpska territory report a campaign of intimidation and harassment. They report being beaten, having their homes bombed or set on fire and their property destroyed or stolen, and having endured a constant barrage of verbal insults and threats. Ethnic Serbs who remained in the Sarajevo suburbs after they were turned over to the authority of the Bosniak-Croat Federation report that they are under constant pressure to leave their homes. They too report beatings, thefts, destruction of their property, discrimination in access to medical treatment and other services, and a generally hostile and threatening atmosphere. On July 17, the International Police Task Force (IPTF) reported: “Families are told they will be killed if they don’t leave,” and reported that a thirty-seven-year-old woman was recently found dead in a pool of blood in her home in the suburb of Ilidza.

The local police have refused to protect civilians who are of a different ethnicity, typically failing to respond to calls for assistance and refusing to investigate complaints of violence or theft. Most of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki had little or no confidence that they could count on the local authorities for protection.

The international community in Bosnia is slow to respond to ethnically-motivated attacks on civilians, and its response has been weak. In the Teslic area, for example, the International Police Task Force maintained no presence in the villages where the worst abuses were occurring, but instead remained in the nearby town. Patrols at night, when most of the violence occurred, only began after over a hundred Bosniaks had already fled to Federation territory. Both IPTF and IFOR have often downplayed the authority they have to intervene to protect minority populations, opting instead to leave this to the local authorities who are often the very ones complicit in the harassment and violence. However, as this report notes, when there is an increased international presence in certain areas, abuses decrease. Recent efforts by the IPTF to increase its presence in the Teslic area are to be commended and should be encouraged in other areas of serious ethnic tension.

Although a fundamental right guaranteed by the Dayton agreement, return to their homes in Bosnia and Hercegovina has been nearly impossible for those wishing to return to an area where the majority of current residents are from another ethnic group. Those who have tried to return have often been turned away by violent mobs or obstructionist local authorities. Many others have been too intimidated to attempt going home. The harassment and expulsion reported below and the repeated failure of local officials to protect minorities make it increasingly unlikely that potential returnees will be willing to return, especially when there is no seed community to return to, and when they fear they will not be protected.

In this report, based on interviews in Bosnia primarily between May and June, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki documents the recent expulsions of Bosniaks in and around Teslic, a town in Republika Srpska (RS), as well as the intimidation and harassment of Serbs in the Sarajevo suburbs and of Bosniaks in the Sapna Thumb region near Zvornik. It should be noted that ethnically-motivated pressure on civilians is not limited to these areas: ethnic minorities in many other towns in Bosnia and Hercegovina continue to live in fear of persecution. Indeed, fifty Bosniaks living in the Banja Luka suburb of Vrbanja were recently evicted, and new cases of evictions have been reported in Kostanica as well. There are allegations that there have also been recent expulsions from Kotor Varos. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki will continue to monitor and report on these cases. For this report, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki field representatives conducted dozens of interviews in the Teslic area, in the Sapna Thumb region, and in the suburbs of Sarajevo.



Human Rights Watch/Helsinki calls on the international community to take immediate action to protect minority communities under threat. NATO troops in Bosnia (IFOR) and the International Police Task Force (IPTF), should increase their presence in areas where populations are at risk, as detailed below. In anticipation of elections planned for September, IFOR recently promised to ensure freedom of movement and other rights set out in the Dayton agreement. IFOR troops should be instructed to take direct action to prevent the ethnically-motivated expulsion and harassment of civilians. The Military Annex of the Dayton agreement permits IFOR to “ prevent interference with the movement of civilian populations, refugees and displaced persons, and to respond appropriately to deliberate violence to life and person.”
IFOR and IPTF must increase their presence in all the villages around Teslic where minorities remain, and should make it clear to local authorities that they must not tolerate further incidents. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki is especially concerned about the villagers in Osivica and Dzulic, which are more remote, and where there are specific abuses such as forced labor. Patrolling has not served to deter attacks; IFOR should establish a twenty-four-hour watch on the villages for the time being. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki commends IPTF on its reported decision to begin patrolling the villages three times per week with the RS police, but believes this will not be sufficient to stop abuses, especially if the patrols are conducted in a predictable pattern. Night patrols are particularly important; IFOR seems better equipped for night patrols, which are by their nature dangerous.

The Office of the High Representative and the IFOR commander should insist that the RS government in Pale order the Teslic authorities to take all necessary steps to stop the harassment and abuse of vulnerable populations.

IFOR, IPTF, and the High Representative should continue to publicly condemn human rights abuses in the Teslic area.

IPTF should insist on a full investigation by the RS police of the incidents described in this report and the arrest of those responsible. The investigation should be closely supervised by IPTF. Non-compliance should be reported publicly and to the Office of the High Representative.

IPTF should be present at all RS police checkpoints. IPTF and IFOR should stop the local practice of charging people to leave or return to Teslic or otherwise impeding their freedom of movement. Any new procedures for passage should be closely scrutinized by IPTF. IFOR and IPTF should insist on removal of all checkpoints, temporary or otherwise, on the road to Tesanj, should violations of checkpoint rules on that road continue.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki strongly urges IPTF and IFOR to continue twice-daily patrols in the villages and to issue stern warnings to the Bosnian Serbs to stop actions against the villagers, to cease provocations in the media, and to issue public warnings to those inciting ethnic hatred (as required under the Dayton agreement).

IPTF should establish a communications system with the villagers so they can be notified immediately in case of emergency, as there are no telephone lines to the villages.

International and nongovernmental organizations are encouraged to conduct needs assessments in the villages and to increase their presence. The villages have received little humanitarian/reconstruction aid, probably due to their isolated location and poor roads.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki calls upon the Bosnian government immediately to stop attacks upon minorities, to condemn them on Bosnian radio and television, and to make arrests of those responsible. The Bosnian government should also cease the politically motivated resettlement of displaced persons in the suburbs. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki believes the resettlement is being carried out in order to prevent the return of Serbs and other non-Bosniaks to the city.

In the interim, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki calls on IFOR and IPTF to increase their presence in the suburbs, especially at night. The international community’s failure to protect the Serbs of Sarajevo and thereby prevent mass exodus during February and March was widely condemned; the mistakes made then should not be repeated. IPTF should not decrease its forces substantially while serious abuses are taking place; certainly the closure of the IPTF office in Ilijas seems contraindicated given the current situation.

International human rights monitors and IPTF should create a mechanism by which Serb residents in the Sarajevo suburbs can report incidents of harassment or violence and obtain protection. Human rights groups should work with remaining Serb residents to develop self-protection systems—e.g. a “neighborhood watch” system which would provide notification to international monitors or others of abuses so that immediate intervention can take place.

Finally, a note about the protection of IPTF personnel themselves. In light of recent threats by Bosnian Serb authorities to attack IPTF officers, it is critical that IPTF immediately be provided with sufficient communications equipment for use in the field. IPTF officers have repeatedly expressed concern to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and other organizations about the lack of equipment such as hand-held radios, vehicles, etc. The failure to provide IPTF with this essential equipment places the lives of civilians and IPTF officers at risk.






Abuses by Republika Srpska Police in Dugi Dio

Harassment of Serbs in the Sarajevo Suburb of Ilijas

Human Rights Watch      August 1996      Vol. 8, No. 12 (D)

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