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Human Rights Watch World Report 1998


Human Rights Developments

A fragile peace, established by the U.S.-brokered Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), held Bosnia and Hercegovina throughout 1997. Persons indicted for war crimes continued to exert political and economic control in the region and used their power to obstruct the implementation of the civilian components of the DPA. Their ongoing influence contributed to an overall poor human rights situation throughout the country. During 1997, few displaced persons were able to return to their prewar homes, ethnically-motivated expulsions and evictions remained common, and freedom of movement remained limited. Police on both sides of the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL) served as instruments of the dominant political parties and were responsible for some of the worst abuses. Ethnic minorities, the independent media, and members of political opposition parties were particularly vulnerable to harassment and ill-treatment. The absence of a functioning, independent judiciary meant that such groups were especially unlikely to enjoy equal protection under the law or access to remedies for abuses suffered at the hands of the state. Media was often times another means for hard-line nationalists to incite violence, including against international monitors, and to encourage the obstruction of the DPA. Grave concerns were raised about the integrity of the September 1997 municipal elections which were carried out under the auspices of OSCE. An overall atmosphere of impunity prevailed.

To varying degrees, all three dominant ethnically-based political parties continued to resist integration. The process of establishing common institutions following the September 1996 national elections progressed slowly. The Bosnian Serb authorities, in particular, boycotted meetings of joint institutions. Similarly, despite claims by the Bosnian Croat authorities that they had dissolved the self-proclaimed "Croat Republic of Herceg-Bosna," the political goal of a separate Croat entity was perpetuated by the formation of the "Croat Community of Herceg-Bosna."

War criminals

While the primary responsibility for the arrest and extradition of war criminals lies with the regional governments, few were willing to fulfill their obligation. This was particularly true of the local authorities in the Republika Srpska (RS) who resolutely refused to turn over to the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia any of the thirty-eight indicted persons still believed to be in RS territory. RS President Biljana Plavsic informed U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan by letter in January that the Republika Srpska would not hand over Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic (the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army) to the ICTY, a decision supported by Republika Srspka Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic only a few days later. During most of 1997, the Bosnian Croat authorities refused to cooperate with the ICTY. However, under intense pressure from the international community, on October 6, ten Bosnian Croat indictees were handed over and transferred to the Hague. Nevertheless, as of this writing, the Bosnian Croat authorities continued to harbor four other indicted persons.

There appeared to be a shift in the international community's policy regarding arrests during June and July, when troops of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Eastern Slavonia(UNTAES) detained Slavko Dokmanovic, the former Serb mayor of Vukovar, and handed him over to the Hague. This arrest was followed by an arrest effort by British SFOR (Stabilization Force, successor to IFOR) troops on July 10 of two persons indicted by the ICTY in and near Prijedor, in the northwestern part of the Republika Srpska. Milan Kovacevic, the town's hospital director and formerly a municipal official, was detained by British troops. Simo Drljaca, the town's former chief of police and ongoing de facto leader of the town, was killed during a shoot-out with British soldiers when he resisted arrest. While the arrest of Kovacevic and the attempted arrest of Drljaca seemed to indicate a changed policy concerning the apprehension of persons indicted by the ICTY, no further arrests were made by SFOR.

Although fully authorized by the Dayton agreement and various Security Council resolutions to arrest persons indicted by the ICTY, SFOR chose to interpret its mandate narrowly, insisting that it was not obliged to search for and apprehend persons indicted by the tribunal and that it could only detain indicted persons who were encountered during the course of normal duties-and even then, only if "feasible." U.S. President Clinton reinforced this position in February by stating that U.S. troops in Bosnia and Hercegovina should not be used for police functions such as the apprehension of indictees.

Thus, persons indicted for war crimes continued to exert economic and political control in the country, using their influence to obstruct the DPA. Bosnian Serb indictee Radovan Karadzic remained the de facto political leader of the Srpska Demokratska Stranka party, evidenced by the fact that his picture appeared on SDS posters during the municipal elections in September. Karadzic-in collaboration with Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serb member of the joint Presidency of Bosnia and Hercegovina, RS Prime Minster Gojko Klickovic, and former RS Minister of the Interior Dragan Kijac-obstructed and undermined all efforts toward peace and democracy in the entity of RS.

Further complicating the political landscape, in early summer, a power struggle broke out between two factions in the leading Bosnian Serb party, the Serbian Democratic Party (Srpska Demokratska Stranka, SDS). Despite the international community's support for RS President Biljana Plavsic in her confrontation with Karadzic, he continued to wield considerable power and violate OSCE election rules and regulations and a July 1996 agreement brokered by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke to stay out of public life.

Ethnically motivated

violence and evictions

Although a clear goal of the Dayton agreement was to reestablish a multi-ethnic, united Bosnia and Hercegovina, little progress was made toward that end. Due largely to ob-struction by local authorities (the overwhelming majority of whom are members of the nationalist parties), few were able to return to their prewar homes during 1997. Of the more than two million Bosnians who were displaced by the war, only approximately 250,000 had returned to the country by November; but very few to their pre-war homes in areas that are now controlled by another ethnic group. What is more, during the two years since Dayton, another 80,000 individuals were displaced due to transfers of territory between the two entities.

As in the previous year, during the first months of 1997, evictions of Bosniaks from Bosnian Croat-controlled west Mostar continued. In a particularly violent incident in February, a group of Bosnian Croats, including both uniformed and plain clothes police, attacked Bosniaks from east Mostar who were attempting to visit a graveyard in west Mostar during the Muslim holiday ofBajram. The Bosnian Croats fired as the Bosniaks fled the scene; one person was killed and over twenty persons were seriously injured. In the once Serb majority town of Drvar (now controlled by Croats), in May, twenty-five Bosnian Serb houses were destroyed by arson when Serb displaced persons attempted to return. Displaced Bosniaks were prevented-both by physical and bureaucratic means-from returning to pre-war homes in Stolac, Capljina, and other parts of the Croat-controlled Hercegovina. Houses of would-be returnees were burned and dynamited, despite months of effort by the international community to institute orderly returns to the area.

In one of the most serious cases of ethnically motivated evictions and violence, in early August, more than 400 Bosniaks who had just returned to villages surrounding Bosnian Croat-controlled Jajce were again expelled from their homes by a crowd of Bosnian Croats. International monitors in the region reported that local police used the media to incite protests and violence prior to and during the expulsions and that off-duty local police officers were spotted among the crowds. During the events, a dozen Bosniak houses were set on fire, and a Bosniak returnee was murdered. International observers, including SFOR troops and International Police Task Force (IPTF) monitors, failed to anticipate or respond to the expulsions. During the second half of August, on the basis of an agreement brokered by the international community, 474 families were finally reinstated to their houses. The events in Jajce had repercussions in Bosniak-controlled Bugojno, where Bosnian Croats were expelled and Bosnian Croat houses were severely damaged in late August. In Bosniak-controlled Travnik, a crowd of local Bosniaks prevented a group of Bosnian Croats from visiting their houses. In a separate incident in September, two Bosnian Croat returnees, a father and son, were murdered in Travnik.

Freedom of Movement

While there was limited progress in freedom of movement across inter-entity lines during 1997, widespread obstruction of this right continued on all sides, especially in the Serb and Croat controlled areas. In March, a bus with Bosniaks traveling through the Republika Srpska from Sarajevo to the Bosniak enclave of Gorazde was stopped, the passengers robbed and beaten, and a hand grenade thrown into the bus. Fortunately, it did not explode. On the same road, a Swedish journalist was shot by armed civilians during election weekend in September. Displaced persons attempting to visit their prewar houses were stopped by local crowds in Stolac, Travnik, Gajevi, Brcko, and elsewhere. During the Jajce events described above, Bosnian Croat crowds set up road blocks in preparation for the violent expulsion of recently returned Bosniaks. In Stolac, the Bosnian Croat authorities set up a permanent checkpoint near the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL) and continued to collect money from travellers despite protests to SFOR and IPTF by international monitors regarding the illegality of the checkpoint. Republika Srpska authorities continued to require "visas" for travel of non-residents through the RS, charging fees of various amounts. On the positive side, UNHCR's bus service continued to serve an important role in encouraging inter-entity travel.


The media in Bosnia and Hercegovina continued to be tightly controlled by the three nationalist political parties, and the work of independent media was often obstructed during 1997. On February 2, a group of thugs attempted to evict staff from the offices of the independent monthly Dani ("Days") in Sarajevo, throwing tear gas into the building and physically attacking the deputy editor-in-chief. In June, the police in Sarajevo tried to block the sales of Polikita, an independent Bosnian Serb bimonthly magazine, arguing that the magazine was "vulgar and insensitive." The magazine'seditors, however, claimed that they were attacked because of their criticism of Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosnian president. In September, the offices of the Bosnian Serb alternative newspaper "Alternativa" in Doboj were destroyed by a bomb. "Alternativa" had been the target of similar attacks in the past. Bosnian Serb hardline television transmissions continued to broadcast discriminatory and inflammatory statements against non-Serbs, NATO troops, and the international community, ignoring repeated protests by international monitors.

Politically Backed Violence

Individuals linked to war crimes suspects-often accompanied by local officials or operating with their tacit approval- engaged in attacks against ethnic groups and members of the political opposition, human rights activists, and the independent media. They also used the media to threaten or incite violence against international representatives. In Brcko in August, an angry mob of armed civilians threw stones at SFOR and IPTF, slightly injuring three IPTF monitors. The crowd also heavily damaged and looted one IPTF station, overturned about thirty vehicles, and vandalized sixty-five to seventy other vehicles. As a result, eighty-six IPTF monitors were evacuated from Brcko, and SFOR was forced to pull out at gunpoint. Robert Farrand, supervisor of IPTF in Brcko, stated that the attacks were "part of a deliberate, orchestrated plan to discredit the efforts of the International Community...[and] were clearly orchestrated and planned from the outset."

Members of opposition parties in areas controlled by any one of the three ethnic groups experienced harassment and discrimination. In Bihac, supporters of Fikret Abdic's DNZ party were dismissed from official and professional posts because of their political affiliation. In a number of towns across the RS under the control of the hardline Karadzic supporters, non-SDS members were removed from their positions as directors of commercial enterprises. In west Mostar, the voices of opposition members were largely silenced because of threats and harassment by organized crime and supporters of the HDZ.

There were widespread reports of due process and other procedural violations during arrest and detention in 1997. In August, the IPTF discovered two Bosnian Serbs held in secret detention, when they paid an unannounced visit to the prison in the Bosniak majority town of Zenica. In previous scheduled visits, these prisoners had been hidden from the IPTF by Zenica prison authorities, in blatant violation of the Dayton agreement and international human rights standards.

In the Stranka Demokratske Akcije stronghold of Bihac, twelve persons (both Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs) were arrested in 1996 and detained on charges of war crimes. They continued to be held well into 1997. These arrests were in violation of the Rome Agreement of February 1996 (also known as "Rules of the Road"), which established that evidence for war crimes charges would be submitted to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for review before any arrests on charges of war crimes could be made. The twelve were arrested without prior authorization by the ICTY, and their cases were not submitted to the ICTY until ten months after the signing of the Rome Agreement. IPTF confirmed that a number of the detainees were beaten or tortured while in police custody and were forced to sign confessions.

The judiciary frequently functioned as a tool of political interests, failing to provide an independent and impartial forum for review of complaints. In one case, seven Bosniaks, who became known as the Zvornik Seven, were tried by the court in Zvornik (Republika Srpska) on charges of murder and weapons possession. The Zvornik judicial authorities refused to allow the defendants' chosen lawyers from the Federation to try the case in the RS. After court proceedings, in which the court-appointed defense lawyers were given only five minutes to speak, three of theaccused were sentenced to twenty-one years of imprisonment and the others to one year of imprisonment each. The case drew considerable attention due to confirmed reports of police ill-treatment and violations of due process. In Mostar, three Croat police officers arrested in connection with the murder of one and wounding of several Bosniaks visiting the West Mostar cemetery in February were found guilty, yet all three received suspended sentences of from six months to one year of imprisonment in a trial deemed a "farce" by international observers.


As in the 1996 national elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) ignored the absence of adequate conditions for municipal elections (including freedom of movement and access to the media for opposition parties and candidates). The integrity of the September municipal elections was further severely compromised by the OSCE, which struck deals with Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb officials in order to guarantee a non-violent election. For example, the OSCE agreed to cancel the voting in the central joint-administration district of Mostar after the Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica (Croat Democratic Union, HDZ) threatened to boycott the elections. In Brcko, the OSCE authorized the last-minute admission of some 2,660 individuals whose names, for unexplained reasons, did not appear on the voter registration list. The organization also allowed Brcko's tendered ballots to be counted in Brcko instead of in a central location near Sarajevo, where all other ballots from the rest of the country were to be counted. In another outrageous decision, Ambassador Robert Frowick agreed to the SDS demand that no individuals on the sealed indictment list be arrested over election weekend.

In clear violation of the OSCE's elections regulations, SDS election posters with pictures of war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic appeared in the RS capital of Pale and in villages in the eastern areas of Republika Srpska. The Election Appeals Sub Commission (EASC), an independent organ of the OSCE mission with final judicial authority, ruled that these posters violated the electoral rule prohibiting the participation of political parties in the municipal elections if they maintain indicted persons in a party position or function. On the basis of this ruling, the EASC decertified the SDS from the ballot in Pale. However, Ambassador Frowick, in an unprecedented step, overruled the EASC's decision to decertify the SDS, citing security reasons. In response to Frowick's decision regarding Pale, two EASC judges resigned in protest. Ambassador Frowick also reinstated SDS candidates in Bosanski Brod and Prijedor who had been stricken by the EASC because of their involvement in election fraud. To compound the error, he disparaged the EASC by stating that it was not a legal body. These deals struck by the OSCE and the lack of transparency of Frowick's decision-making process, combined with the fact that the conditions for elections fell far short of international standards, seriously undermined the integrity of the election process. Doubts were raised about the integrity of the results and of the certification process. In towns such as Zepce, Drvar, and Srebrenica, the pre-war ethnic majority, which had been "ethnically cleansed" during the war and unable to return to their homes, won the majority in the municipal governments. As of this writing it remained unclear how the results of the elections would be implemented.

The Right To Monitor

Under the Dayton agreement, nongovernmental human rights organizations must be granted "full and effective access" for investigating and monitoring human rights conditions. The OSCE and other intergovernmental and regional human rights missions must be provided with the opportunity to establish local offices to monitor human rights developments. In general, international humanrights organizations were able to carry out their activities without interference during 1997. However, the authorities in both entities harassed local human rights activists; some even received death threats. The Federation Human Rights Ombudsmen persevered in their courageous work against ongoing human rights abuses in the Federation, but they and a newly active local human rights organization in the RS were in dire need of international support and protection.

The Role of the

International Community

More than 30,000 SFOR troops remain in Bosnia and Hercegovina (down from approximately 60,000 IFOR-soldiers initially stationed in the country after the signing of the DPA). Yet despite the huge international commitment of troops and other personnel, as well as the billions of U.S. dollars invested in the peace process over the past two years, the US and Western Europe waivered in their commitment to the human rights provisions of the DPA. Intent upon defining the peace effort in Bosnia as a success, the Americans and Europeans often appeared unwilling to take the difficult steps-in particular the apprehension of indicted persons such as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic-that would have increased the prospects for long-term peace and respect for human rights in the region. As in previous years, the stated human rights objectives of the international organizations such as the OSCE were severely compromised by the influence of powerful member states such as the United States. Simultaneously, European institutions often remained too willing to take a back seat to the United States. Washington and Paris- two important contributors to SFOR in Bosnia- pointed to each other to justify the decision not to apprehend war criminals.

United Nations and NATO

In December 1996, the Implementation Force (IFOR) was replaced by SFOR; the number of soldiers deployed decreased from more than 60,000 to around 33,000. The current mandate of SFOR is scheduled to expire in June 1998. SFOR played a major role in the municipal elections process, taking control of radio transmitters in order to block the broadcasting of incitement to violence by local authorities. SFOR also conducted crucial de-mining activities, contributed to reconstruction efforts, and gave limited back-up support to the IPTF in the performance of its tasks. In December 1996, the international community finally decided to treat paramilitary forces as military forces, and thus SFOR began confiscating the weapons of Bosnian Serb police since the RS authorities refused to sign a mandatory restructuring agreement with IPTF. However, except in isolated cases, SFOR generally refused to protect returnees or to prevent ethnically motivated expulsions. SFOR continued to interpret its mandate in the narrowest possible terms-especially as it related to protecting victims of abuse and arresting indicted persons-thereby missing valuable opportunities to make a much larger contribution to the peace process in Bosnia and Hercegovina.

The International Police Task Force

Under Annex 11 of the Dayton agreement, the U.N. International Police Task Force (IPTF) has responsibility for monitoring and inspecting the activities of the local police, in addition to advising and training local police forces in the execution of their tasks. IPTF was also assigned the difficult task of restructuring the police, which includes the screening of all police for past involvement in human rights violations. In the territory of the Federation, IPTF started restructuring the local policeforces during 1997 and completed the preliminary screening in several cantons including Gorazde, Neretva, Sarajevo, and Central Bosnia. Although no exact figures are known, as of this writing only approximately twenty police officers had been removed from the police forces because of their suspected involvement in human rights abuses or non-compliance with the DPA (this figure does not include police officers fired by the authorities prior to the screening, or officers still under investigation). In September 1997, a Security Council resolution granted IPTF a wider mandate to investigate human rights violations.

The authorities of the Republika Srpska, however, had resisted the restructuring process throughout 1996 and most of 1997. However, on September 26, the authorities in both Pale and Banja Luka agreed in principle to the restructuring plans. The activities of the IPTF were also hampered by the refusal of the RS authorities to hand over a complete list of persons employed in the police forces.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

In 1997, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia delivered its first verdict. On May 7, Dusan Tadic, a Bosnian Serb from the area around Prijedor, was found guilty on eleven counts of persecution of persons based upon their ethnicity and beatings of Bosniaks interned in concentration camps in 1992. Tadic was acquitted on nine counts of murder. In July, Tadic was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment. The trial of Tihomir Blaskic, a one time commander in the Bosnian Croat Army (later promoted to a general in the Croatian Army), began on June 23. Blaskic was indicted on twenty counts involving atrocities against Bosniaks in the Lasva valley during the Bosniak-Croat war in 1993. The arrests of Slavko Dokmanovic in Eastern Slavonija and of Milan Kovacevic in Prijedor, as well as the attempted arrest of Simo Drljaca in Prijedor, revealed that the official ICTY list of indictees was supplemented by a sealed list of indictments.

The work of the ICTY continued to be seriously hampered by the failure of the Bosnian Serb, and to a lesser extent Bosnian Croat authorities and SFOR to arrest indictees. Most of the persons indicted by the ICTY were still at large during 1997, and local authorities who are primarily responsible for arresting the indictees, showed little interest in cooperating with the tribunal. Croatia had long refused to comply with a subpoena from the ICTY for documents relevant to investigations into war crimes committed by Bosnian Croats in Bosnia and Hercegovina. However, on October 6, ten Bosnian Croat indictees surrendered to the ICTY after being promised speedy trials.

European Union

The European Union used primarily financial incentives to influence the political situation. However, it also gave insufficient care to monitoring the distribution of financial aid, leading to serious concerns that the assistance was ending up financing the separatist nationalist structures. Perhaps out of a lack of willingness to conduct investigations into funding recipients in the RS, on July 10, 1997, the European Union took a radical step in announcing that it would suspend all non-humanitarian aid to the Republika Srpska.

The United Kingdom's decision to order British troops to arrest Milan Kovacevic and Simo Drljaca in Prijedor represented a welcome change in European policy, but was unfortunately not followed by further arrests. In the meantime, Germany and Switzerland began to demand that Bosnian refugees return to Bosnia, although the vast majority could not return to their pre-war homes.

United States

Throughout the year, the United States stressed the importance of accountability for wartime atrocities, yet failed to order U.S. troops to arrest any indicted persons. In fact, following the arrest initiative by British SFOR troops in Prijedor in July, the U.S. government worked behind the scenes to prevent further arrests.

The U.S. attempt politically to isolate or "sideline" Radovan Karadzic was a dramatic failure, yet the U.S. continued to pursue this policy throughout the year. U.S. policy continued to be dictated by the fear of retaliation against American SFOR troops and the anticipated political costs of casualties that might result from an apprehension attempt. Instead of arresting Karadzic, the U.S. opted to provide military and financial support to RS President Plavsic to bolster her in her power struggle with Karadzic; yet Plavsic failed to demonstrate in any concrete way her stated support for implementation of the DPA.

Meanwhile, the United States continued its "Equip and Train" program for the Bosnian Army. On January 2, SFOR troops confiscated a large amount of tank ammunition that was donated to the Bosnian Army by the U.S. because the ammunition had not been registered according to the requirements of Dayton.

The U.S. government also paid lipservice to the need for economic aid to be linked to the parties' compliance with the DPA. However, it failed to set clear conditions for such aid and, most importantly, failed to establish guidelines to avoid enriching and strengthening existing nationalist power structures that continue to obstruct the most crucial provisions of the Dayton agreement.

Relevant Human Rights Watch Reports:

Bosnia and Hercegovina-Politics of Revenge: The Misuse of Authority in Bihac, Cazin, and Velika Kladusa, 8/97

Bosnia and Hercegovina-The Unindicted: Reaping the Rewards of "Ethnic Cleansing," 1/97

Bosnia-Hercegovina: The Continuing Influence of Bosnia's Warlords,12/96

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