Human Rights Developments
1998, the third year of implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), brought significant progress on several key human rights issues. Freedom of movement improved, eleven indictees were transferred to the Hague (the location of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY) during 1998, and the restructuring of the police forces was well under way. These positive developments, however, were often imposed by or the result of intense pressure from the international community. Several serious human rights concerns persisted, including the inability of refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes and the ongoing influence of those indicted, but not apprehended, for war crimes. Other lingering concerns included ethnically motivated violence and the absence of redress for the victims of abuse. Despite the hard-won reform of the property law and the criminal justice codes in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ordinary citizens had experienced little concrete benefit to date.
In December 1997, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) strengthened High Representative Carlos Westendorps authority to dismiss public officials who obstruct implementation of the DPA and to impose decisions when authorities failed to come to agreement on key issues. While not without controversy (relating to the degree of international control being exerted in Bosnia), several decisions by Westendorp resulted in immediate and dramatic improvements, for example, the law on citizenship and the extension of the deadline to reclaim socially owned property. Moreover, Westendorp finally addressed ongoing and active obstruction of the DPA by local officials.
The process of change in the Republika Srpska (RS) began with the election of Milorad Dodik as RS prime minister in January 1998, but despite changes in the RS parliament after the November 1997 elections, and significant international political and financial support, Dodik was unable to deliver on his promise to ensure the return of 70,000 refugees and displaced persons to the Republika Srpksa in 1998 and to reform RS property laws by September 1998. Dodiks ability to effect change was hampered by the weakness of his coalition, making it necessary for him to make compromises with hardliners. Eastern RS remained under the control of hardline nationalists, creating serious problems with police reform and cooperation with the federation.
In January 1998, American SFOR troops arrested Goran Jelisic, nicknamed Serb Adolf, in Bijeljina. Further arrests were made by German, American, and British troops in Prijedor, Banja Luka, Bosanski Samac, and Foca. Moreover, five indictees surrendered themselves to the ICTY. No indictees, however, were arrested and turned over to the ICTY by the Bosnian authorities. As of this writing, more than twenty indictees continued to live freely in the RS and Bosnian Croat territory. Major figures indicted for war crimes, such as Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic, Milan Martic and Ivica Rajic, remained at large, and there seemed little international pressure to arrest them or obtain their arrest.
Return of Refugees and Displaced Persons
1998, dubbed the year of return by the international community, fell fall short of expectations. While 475,000 refugees and displaced persons (out of more than two million) had returned since the signing of the DPA, only about 15,000 were so-called minority returns (returns to an entity where the post-war majority is of a different ethnicity). Between the signing of the DPA and July 1998, only 1,920 non-Serbs had returned to the RS, and the RS had failed to revoke discriminatory housing legislation as requested by the PIC. Federation authorities also continued to obstruct return, despite new property legislation. Despite a 1998 target of 20,000 so-called minority returns,only around 2,500 minorities had returned to Sarajevo by the end of September 1998. During the three years since the signing of the DPA, many more minorities have fled Sarajevo than have returned.
Ethnically Motivated Violence and Evictions
Ethnically motivated violence, often related to minority returns, continued to occur throughout Bosnia. In Drvar, a Bosnian Croat area, a protracted series of violent incidents (including arson, assault, and murder) ultimately forced hundreds of Bosnian Serbreturnees to flee again in April. Local authorities repeatedly failed to take adequate measures to protect Bosnian Serbs from violence and were sometimes themselves complicit in the violent incidents. Ultimately, several public officials were dismissed by the U.N. International Police Task Force (IPTF) and the Office of the High Representative (OHR), but to date, only minor criminal charges had been brought.
In Travnik, at least five Bosnian Croats were slain since the beginning of 1998, but no perpetrators arrested. In Stolac and Capljina, approximately one hundred Bosniak houses were damaged in 1998, a pattern of violence similar to that in 1996 and 1997, and Bosniak returnees were often victims of physical assaults and intimidation. After refusing to address these crimes for more than two years, the Stolac chief of police was removed in February at the request of IPTF, and the mayor of Stolac was dismissed by the High Representative in March. Similarly, the chief of police in Capljina was decertified by IPTF following violence against returnees there in the fall. The situation improved somewhat thereafter, but local police continued to fail to protect citizens and property, or to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Freedom of Movement
Despite the recalcitrance of some authorities, freedom of movement significantly increased in 1998 due to an agreement on uniform license plates. Previously, the ethnicity of drivers could be discerned by the license plate, thereby blocking many displaced persons from visiting their prewar residences to assess the possibilities for return. Freedom of movement was at times obstructed by citizens who organized physically to prevent return or visits by ethnic minorities.
The main political parties continued to control primary media outlets. During elections, for example, the Croatian Television station (HRT) clearly favored the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica, HDZ). In the RS, Dodik replaced sixteen directors of state-owned radio stations due to their allegiance to his opponents, raising concern about his commitment to freedom of expression. In January, the editor-in-chief of the independent Sarajevo-based Dani (Days) magazine was convicted of libel in flawed proceedings. The case was brought by a newspaper closely connected to the leading Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (Stranka Demokratske Akcije, SDA) and was believed to be politically motivated. In May, Danis offices were attacked by armed criminals, allegedly for publishing an article on the Bosnian mafia in which the son of the Bosnian president was implicated. Although a journalist was kidnapped, and weapons used, the court fined the defendants only DM60 (U.S.$37.00) each. On July 29, a grenade exploded only meters from Danis office. As of September, no suspects had been arrested.
Implementation of the 1997 municipal election results proved difficult. Only ten municipalities met the December 31 deadline for final certification. In many municipalities, nationalists blocked implementation by refusing to accept duly elected representatives from other ethnic groups. Ultimately, agreements were reached in most municipalities, but many councils barely functioned, and minority councilors were repeatedly obstructed in their work, harassed, and on several occasions, physically attacked. No agreement could be reached in Srebrenica, resulting in the installation by OHR/OSCE of an interim executive board led by an OSCE representative. In Gornji Vakuf, a village highly contested by Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats, final certification was revoked on July 20 and all aid suspended until the implementation of election results.
In September, elections were held for the presidency, parliament, entity parliaments, and the RS presidency. While conditions for free and fair elections, such as freedom of movement and freedom of the press, had improved since the 1997 election, the elections were marred by technical difficulties and political interference. Bosnian Croats who switched allegience from the HDZ to the newly formed New Croatian Initiative (Novi Hrvatska Inicijativa, NHI) were threatened and in some cases physically attacked. The Election Appeals Sub-Commission reacted by striking several HDZ candidates from the ballot, and removed several other HDZ candidates when the state-controlled television station from Croatia, despite several warnings, continued to favor HDZ in its reporting.
The elections generally continued the strong hold on power of the ruling ethnic, nationalist parties. Moreover, Nikola Poplasen, a close comrade-in-arms of Serbian fascist leader (and paramilitary) Vojislav Seselj during the war, and a known advocate of ethnic cleansing and the partition of Bosnia, was surprisingly elected as the new president of RS, replacing president Plavsic, who was considered more moderate.
Law enforcement authorities continued to serve the interests of the main nationalist parties. Cases of ethnically motivated crimes were rarely properly investigated or prosecuted. Court proceedings were often flawed. In January, Bosnian Serb Veselin Cancar was convicted for war crimes and sentenced to eleven years in prison (later reduced to nine), despite the fact that the arrest and courtproceedings were not in accordance with the Rules of the Road agreed in Rome in 1996. After repeated demands from the international community, the Bijeljina District court agreed to retry the Zvornik 7. These Bosniak former residents of Srebrenica were detained and tried without due process in 1996. Flawed criminal proceedings resulted in convictions for murder and illegal possession of weapons, drawing severe criticism from the international human rights community. The new trial was postponed several times, however, due to the failure of some defendants to appear in court, and is still ongoing.
Detainees were frequently mistreated by local police throughout the country. In January, federation authorities arrested a Bosnian Serb suspected of the 1993 assassination of Bosnian Deputy Prime Minister Turajlic. An IPTF investigation concluded that illegal weapons and unnecessary force were involved during the arrest. In September, the IPTF dismissed Ljubisa Mauser Savic, chief of the RS uniformed police, for involvement in torturing suspects in the murder of a high-ranking police official. Human Rights Watch previously reported allegations of war crimes involving Ljubisa Savic. Savics post-war behavior illustrates the danger of overlooking allegations of wartime abuses by current officials. Allegations relating to Savic were overlooked by the international community in its zeal to support the government of Milorad Dodik. On the positive side, RS authorities finally investigated the pattern of abuse by local police of non-Serbs in Teslic and initiated criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings against thirty-two police officers.
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