The Role of the International Community
Despite hopes that local officials in Bosnia and Hercegovina would gradually take up the tasks of implementing the DPA, in 1998 hardline officials continued to resist all efforts to implement the civilian provisions of the DPA, forcing the international community, in particular the High Representative, to assume a more prominent role in the country. Due to the persistent obstruction by many local authorities, the international community was faced with the difficult task of trying to move the peace process forward while simultaneously fostering sufficient popular support within Bosnia and Hercegovina for its actions. Several positive developments during the year were due to the more aggressive implementation efforts by the international community. However, on occasion, the international community opted to use undemocratic meanssuch as the confiscation of television transmitters to obtain implementation of the DPA, thereby running the risk of undermining the legitimacy of the peace process. In other instances, the international community failed to use the means at its disposal to achieve significant human rights improvements.
The Office of the High Representative
The Office of the High Representative (OHR), established by the DPA to oversee implementation of the civilian provisions of the DPA, used its strengthened mandate to impose a resolution of several key issues: a law on citizenship was passed, a Bosnian flag and new currency adopted, and privatization laws reformed. During the year, High Representative Westendorp dismissed several public officials due to their non-compliance with the DPA, advised international donors to suspend donations to some areas, and called for increased aid for the RS after the election of Milorad Dodik. OHR facilitated cooperation between the main international organizations active in the field of human rights through its Human Rights Coordination Center (HRCC). Unfortunately, the HRCCs findings and activities were not always easily accessible, thereby missing an opportunity to support the work of other NGOs. The HRCC played a major role, however, in the reform of property laws and in pushing for accountability of public officials in several high profile cases such as Teslic, Stolac and Drvar.
In May 1998, NATO extended the Stabilization Force (SFOR) mandate to provide a secure environment in which the civilian provisions of the DPA can be implemented. Troop strength remained at approximately 32,000 soldiers. The Multi-national Specialized Unit (MSU), consisting of military police with expertise in crowd control, was created to assist the local authorities, SFOR, and IPTF when confronted with violent demonstrations and other security concerns. In a positive display of the potential of the MSU in assisting returnees, it removed a Bosnian Croat roadblock in the Capljina area in early October.
In a dramatic departure from previous practice, British, American, German, and Dutch SFOR troops detained eight indictees since December 1997. However, SFOR failed to arrest Karadzic, whose presence and influence continued to undermine the DPA and create an atmosphere of impunity, and Mladic, who was reportedly living in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) underthe protection of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
In March 1998, the Commission on Human Rights appointed Jiri Dienstbier as Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the former Yugoslavia. In April 1998, the Commission adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights in, among others, Bosnia and Herzegovina, stressing the crucial role of human rights issues in the peace process, and calling upon the Bosnian authorities to undertake measures to improve the human rights situation. The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, as part of its prevention procedure, considered Bosnia and Hercegovina both in March and August 1998, among others calling attention to the plight of Roma population in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
The United Nations International Police Task Force (IPTF) has responsibility under the DPA for, among other things, monitoring the conduct of the local police, as well as restructuring the police and removing human rights abusers from the force. Unfortunately, to date, the screening and vetting of police officers by IPTF has been largely ineffective; many abusive police officers continue to hold positions of responsibility on the force. IPTF continued to be reluctant to carry out its own independent investigations, insisting that allegations of abuses by the police should be investigated by the IPTF only as a last resort. Although it is true that disciplinary measures, including prosecution, should ultimately be taken by local authorities, it is also clear that in some cases, such as in Drvar and Stolac, the local authorities are not willing to undertake serious action. In such cases, it is incumbent upon the IPTF to find another way to address these abuses and to hold those responsible acountable.During the last months of 1998, IPTF seemed to interpret its mandate more broadly, and did engage in several independent investigations.
The U.N. Human Rights Office (HRO) continued to raise the profile of human rights by investigating and publicizing allegations of human rights abuses in Drvar, Stolac, Teslic, Sarajevo, and other cities. However, the HRO sometimes neglected to include legal standards and recommendations in its reports, thereby missing important opportunities to raise awareness about human rights and the obligations of the government (local and national). Importantly, the HRO has not been provided with the resources necessary for effective engagement, and was therefore not always able to adequately follow up cases involving serious allegations of human rights abuses.
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
As of this writing, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) had twenty-eight indictees in custody. Two additional courtrooms, the funds for which were donated by the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and the U.S., bolstered the ability of the Tribunal to initiate new trials. In May, the ICTY decided to withdraw the indictments against fourteen Bosnian Serbs in an attempt to balance available resources within the Tribunal and in recognition of the need to prosecute cases fairly and expeditiously. The Tribunal made it clear that the cases were not withdrawn due to lack of evidence. On June 29, 1998, Slavko Dokmanovic, former Serb mayor of Vukovar, committed suicide eight days before the verdict in his case was to have been announced. On August 1, Milan Kovacevic, a Bosnian Serb from Prijedor, died in his cell of a heart attack. Despite the arrival of a large number of indictees at the Hague this year, however, at least thirty indictees remain at large, the vast majority in Republika Srpska and in the FRY.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The September 1998 elections, which were organized and monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), were marked by serious organizational flaws. More than a hundred polling stations did not open as scheduled because they hadnt received the voters register or sufficient ballots. The names of many voters did not appear on the register, or were spelled incorrectly. These voters were permitted to submit tendered ballots, but many declined to do so because their names would have appeared on the outside of ballot envelopes, creating concerns about secrecy. These and other technical difficulties should have been anticipated as they had occurred in previous elections.
The European Union (E.U.) and its member states continued to condition assistance on compliance with the DPA. In July, the E.U. suspended an aid program amounting to DM 29 million ($18 million) to Sarajevo due to the failure of the authorities to accept minority returns. In the RS, the election of Milorad Dodik was followed by an influx of economic and financial aid to the RS (primarily at the urging of the U.S.). Although the E.U. applied general conditionality to its assistance, particular recipients were not adequately vetted. For example, the E.U. provided assistance to the RS police, notwithstanding the fact that the IPTF had not yet completed the vetting process, and numerous police officers with a record of serious human rights abuses and obstruction of the DPA remained on the force.
E.U. member states provided 18,000 SFOR troops and contributed significantly to the peace process by detaining personsindicted for war crimes.
Throughout the year, Bosnian refugees, mostly Bosniaks, continued to return from Germany. Most returned voluntarily, but several Länder continued forcibly to deport refugees to Bosnia although it remained impossibile for them to return to their pre-war homes (as was promised by the DPA), creating an additional burden on the authorities and exacerbating internal displacement that tended to consolidate ethnic cleansing.
Council of Europe
In October 1997, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe set conditions for commencing consideration of Bosnia and Hercegovinas application to join the Council. Although they remained substantially unfulfilled, parliamentarians, eager to reward the new Dodik government, decided to start the accession procedure in February. The Council of Europe designated eminent lawyers to assess Bosnias compliance with the councils standards. They visited the country in September, but had not issued their findings as of this writing.
The U.S. SFOR contingent in Bosnia was reduced to approximately 6,900 troops in 1998. American troops arrested two indictees during the year.
The U.S. continued to try to influence the peace process through economic incentives, but failed to pay sufficient attention to vetting the recipients of its aid to ensure that those obstructing the DPA did not benefit. The U.S. government repeatedly waived restrictions in the 1998 Appropriations Act prohibiting assistance to communities that failed to apprehend resident indicted war crimes suspects. U.S. officials claimed that although they waived the general prohibition, they took care to ensure that war crimes indictees and those who have obstructed the DPA did not benefit from aid. In March, however, the U.S. provided assistance to the RS police, notwithstanding the fact that IPTF had not completed the vetting of the RS police, which remained riddled with those responsible for human rights abuses and Dayton obstruction.
The U.S. failed to anticipate the resurgence of hardline nationalists in the September 1998 elections and, as of this writing, did not appear to have a strategy in place to address this challenge.
Relevant Human Rights Watch reports:
Beyond Restraint: Politics and the Policing Agenda of the United Nations International Police Task Force, 6/98;
A Closed, Dark Place: Past and Present Human Rights Abuses in Foca, 7/98
Republic of Belarus
Bosnia and Hercegovina
The Russian Federation
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Asylum Policy in Western Europe