In the open letter, Human Rights Watch asks Prime Minister Dodik to take immediate action on five urgent matters in the RS: the restitution of property in Banja Luka, two cases of murdered ("disappeared") individuals, incidents of police brutality, and the apparent politically-motivated dismissal of directors of companies in the Banja Luka area.
Prime Minister Dodik has made some positive statements on human rights and the need to bring those indicted for war crimes to justice. Human Rights Watch is encouraged by his election to the position of Prime Minister and hopes he will be able to follow through on critical human rights issues, especially given the fact he has been and will be the recipient of significant diplomatic and financial support from the international community. Unfortunately, despite over six months of significant diplomatic and financial support to RS President Biljana Plavsic, there has been little demonstrable progress on certain critical human rights issues.
In its open letter, Human Rights Watch asks Prime Minister Dodik to take immediate action on five urgent matters in the RS: the restitution of property in Banja Luka, two cases of murdered ("disappeared") individuals, incidents of police brutality, and the apparent politically-motivated dismissal of directors of companies in the Banja Luka area.
The open letter also raises four long-term human rights concerns in the Republika Srpska: the need to repeal discriminatory housing/property laws, the need to arrest persons indicted for war crimes, the control of law enforcement agencies, and the composition of the prime minister's cabinet.
To: Mr. Milorad Dodik
New York, 17 February 1998
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
On the occasion of your first visit to the United States as Prime Minister of Republika Srpska, we commend you for the willingness you've expressed to implement all provisions of the Dayton Agreement. We are particularly encouraged by your readiness to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and your statement that your government will do everything it can to ensure the surrender of indicted persons to the Hague for trial. The surrender of Miroslav Tadic and Milan Simic last Saturday is a very positive step.
Human Rights Watch also commends the Dayton signatories for progress on some longstanding issues, such as the distribution of common license plates. Freedom of movement for all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be greatly enhanced through the realization of this long-awaited decision.
Given your stated commitment to resolve other problems which have blocked implementation of the peace agreement, Human Rights Watch would like to take the opportunity of your presence in the United States to raise several questions. Human Rights Watch believes that your new position as Prime Minister for the Republika Srpska, combined with the political and financial support you have received and have been promised from the international community, provides a critical opportunity for you and your government to demonstrate in concrete and immediate ways your desire to bring about improvements in the human rights situation.
We'd like to raise two sets of issues: first, several matters which we believe could be addressed without delay, given your and President Biljana Plavsic's influence in the Banja Luka area; and second, longer-term human rights issues in the Republika Srpska.
The following serious matters need your urgent attention:
Restitution of property. A number of Bosniak and Croat families, who were evicted from their homes in Banja Luka after the signing of the Dayton agreement, have not had their rightful property reinstated to them. In some cases, a local court has even recognized them as the rightful owners and ordered the reinstatement of their property. Some families have made repeated attempts to return to their homes but were prevented from doing so by hostile neighbors -- even as the Banja Luka police stood by and refused to intervene. In one case, a man made ten unsuccessful attempts to regain his property. While Human Rights Watch commends the Banja Luka authorities on the progress made in some of these cases recently, some 10 families with court-ordered reinstatement continue to await justice. Several hundred other families have been frustrated by the slow pace of decision-making in their cases. The court in Banja Luka has been instructed to turn over pending and new cases to the Ministry of Refugees, but few cases have been resolved by the Ministry, and it appears that taking these cases out of the hands of the court has further obstructed the process. What steps will your government undertake to ensure that these families will receive timely and fair decisions, many having waited months and even years for a decision?
The Matanovic case. In the fall of 1995, Bosnian Serb police in Prijedor "disappeared" Father Tomislav Matanovic, a Roman Catholic priest from Banja Luka, and his elderly parents. Later, the Republika Srpska (RS) authorities made an offer to exchange Father Matanovic for Serb prisoners in the Federation. The Human Rights Chamber, established by the Dayton agreement, having heard the facts of the case in a full hearing, determined that Father Matanovic and his parents were victims of forced disappearance and ordered the RS government to immediately reveal his and his parents' whereabouts or fate by October 6, 1997. The RS government failed to comply with this order. We believe that the following individuals have direct knowledge of the case and the whereabouts of the Matanovic family: Srdjo Srdjic (head of the Prijedor Red Cross and previously President of the Prijedor Municipality), Momcilo Radanovic, Gojko Klikovic, Mr. Pecancac and Mr. Krnjajic (of the Public Security department in Banja Luka), Ranko Jakovljevic (commander of the Urije police station), and Prijedor police officer Milan Rodic (who guarded the family while it was under house arrest). We believe General Pero Colic may also have knowledge of the family's fate. Although there have been allegations that the brothers of a Bosnian Serb army Major Radovan Lakic (killed in the war) were involved in holding the Matanovic family, it was clear to the Human Rights Chamber and to Human Rights Watch, which conducted inquiries into the case, that the RS authorities have knowledge of and are responsible for the fate of the family members. Are you willing to arrest and prosecute those members of the Prijedor police, including Ranko Jakovljevic, commander of the Urije police station? What other steps will you take immediately to ensure the release of Father Matanovic and his parents?
The Kovacevic case. Hasan Kovacevic was murdered while in police custody in a Banja Luka police station on 31 July 1996. An autopsy report, obtained by Human Rights Watch, revealed that Kovacevic had 16 broken ribs (some broken twice) and died due to massive internal bleeding. The police claimed he sustained these injuries jumping out a first floor window. A pathologist who examined his body concluded that the police explanation was inconsistent with the injuries, but only mild disciplinary action was taken against the police officers involved. To date, no full public disclosure of the facts of the case has been made and to our knowledge, no one has been prosecuted for homicide. What steps will you take to ensure that the police officers involved are held accountable for this act?
Police brutality in Teslic. There have been two recent cases of beatings of non-Serbs in police custody in the town of Teslic. In both cases, an SFOR doctor examined the individuals and determined that their injuries were consistent with their allegations of abuse at the hands of the police. These beatings are alarming in that they indicate a return to the serious abuses of human rights which dominated the period following the Dayton agreement in Teslic but which had recently improved. What will you do to ensure that such beatings stop and that the perpetrators are held responsible? What is your policy toward police officers who behave in this manner?
Business targets. Human Rights Watch has received information indicating that a number of directors of major, financially solvent business concerns in the Banja Luka area have been recently dismissed due to their political affiliation. Can you assure us that the removals have been carried out in accordance with local law and international human rights standards?
In the second category, there are several other broader issues which also must be addressed in the interest of human rights and implementation of the Dayton agreement.
Over the last couple of weeks, you have expressed your willingness to cooperate in the return of Croat and Bosniak refugees and displaced persons to the Republika Srpska. In October, an international human rights observer in Banja Luka told The New York Times that there had not been any changes in refugee return issues since Mrs. Plavsic took over the government. What steps is your government now prepared to take to ensure the right to return of those who were forcibly expelled and whose property was confiscated during the war? A first step to facilitate the return process would be the immediate repeal of discriminatory housing laws issued during and right after the war, and acceptance and implementation of housing laws proposed to the Republika Srpska by the Office of the High Representative. Do you anticipate your government will make this change, and if so, when might we anticipate it?
Although some persons indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) might be urged into surrendering themselves, it is unlikely that all or even most will. The arrest of indicted persons is long overdue, yet the Republika Srpska has so far not arrested any indictee. What concrete steps is your government planning to take in order to ensure the arrest of persons indicted for war crimes by the ICTY? A first step, and concrete proof of your willingness to cooperate would be the immediate extradition of Zoran Zigic, who, according to the latest information available to us, is serving time in the Banja Luka prison for murder.
In recent interviews, you admitted that your government does not yet have complete control over all law enforcement agencies on the territory of the Republika Srpska. What steps will you take to bring all police units and other law enforcement agencies under government control? Human Rights Watch urges you to immediately share with the International Police Task Force all available information on the size, composition and organizational and control structure of all regular, special, secret and paramilitary police forces in the Republika Srpska.
Finally, Human Rights Watch would like to express its grave concern over the selection of some of the members of your cabinet. In particular, Human Rights Watch regrets the appointment of Petko Cancar, former mayor of Foca/Srbinje, as Minister of Justice. Cancar is allegedly responsible for organizing the ethnic cleansing in the Foca region. Likewise, the appointment of General Momir Talic as head of the RS Army is unacceptable given his military command responsibility in the Bosnanska Krajina region during widespread, serious and protracted violations of international humanitarian law in that area, of which he was fully aware. The presence of persons allegedly responsible for war crimes in positions of power is a major obstacle to peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and greatly hinders the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes of origin.
We look forward to your responses to these questions, and hope for new cooperation from the RS authorities in the interest of human rights issues.
Europe and Central Asia Division