Human Rights Developments
During and immediately after the Croatian Army's offensive in western Slavonia and Krajina, access for international observers was restricted or denied and much forensic and other evidence pointing to the possible commission of human rights abuses during or immediately after the offensives may have been destroyed. Although the Croatian government accounted for some of those reported missing after the western Slavonia offensive, officials refused to disclose the fate of others. Graves reportedly containing the remains of Serbs killed during the offensive and buried by Croatian officials in the western Slavonia region were not exhumed to determine the number and cause of death of those interred. Some Serbian men captured and detained by Croatian authorities after the offensive were beaten while in custody.
Croatian Army soldiers burned entire Serbian villages and summarily executed more than 120 mostly elderly Serbs in the two months following the Croatian government's recapture of Krajina. An August 31 decree "temporarily" revoked the property rights of most Serbs who fled the Krajina region and placed such property under the control of the Croatian government, which then allotted the property to Croats who had been displaced or expelled by rebel Serbian forces in 1991 and thereafter. Croatian authorities also obstructed the delivery of humanitarian aid to rebel Muslims loyal to Fikret Abdic and rebel Serbian forces following the Croatian Army's recapture of the Krajina region in August.
Forcible evictions from state-owned housing, and the violence that often accompanied such evictions, continued in 1995, but the Croatian government took virtually no action to address the human rights abuses associated with the evictions. Although the Croatian Interior Ministry had taken steps since 1992 to purge its ranks of abusive police officers, prosecution of such officers and, more particularly, of abusive members of the Croatian Army remained inadequate in 1995.
From late 1994 to mid-1995, rebel Serbian forces in Croatia aided Bosnian Serb forces and rebel Muslim troops loyal to Fikret Abdic in attacking the U.N.-declared "safe area" of Bihac. Aerial attacks against the enclave were launched from the rebel Serbian-controlled air strip at Udbina, and rebel Croatian Serbs obstructed the delivery of humanitarian aid to the besieged pocket.
Following the Croatian government's offensive in western Slavonia, rebel Serb forces in the Krajina region launched rocket attacks against the capital city of Zagreb, killing six and wounding 177. Rebel Serbian troops and Serbs displaced as a result of the Croatian Army offensive in Krajina expelled Croats and other non-Serbs from their homes in eastern Slavonia, the only area in Croatia that remained under rebel Serbian control by November 1. Bosnian Serb forces also shelled civilian targets in Dubrovnik in April and August.
The Right to Monitor
The Role of the International Community
The United Nations
A U.N. "Humanitarian Crisis Cell" was formed following the Krajina offensive in August, and the U.N. finally undertook a serious, concerted effort to document human rights abuses in the Krajina region_primarily against Serbs by Croatian Army soldiers_and to bring those abuses to the attention of the Croatian government and the international community. Such efforts were rarely undertaken by the U.N. when rebel Serbian forces controlled the areas from 1991 to mid-1995, partly because Serbian forces obstructed such work by U.N. monitors, but also, in part, because U.N. officials accepted "ethnic cleansing" in the UNPAs as a fait accompli, spending more effort evacuating non-Serbs than protecting them.
On January 2, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman announced that he would not renew the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Croatia when it was due to expire on March 31. Tudjman justified his decision by claiming that the U.N. had not fulfilled its mandate and that the U.N. presence in Croatia consolidated rebel Serb control over 30 percent of Croatia. On February 3, the U.N. Security Council approved a new configuration for the U.N. mission in Croatia, which was renamed the United Nations Confidence Restoration Operation (UNCRO) and was cut back from a 14,000 to 8,000 troops. U.N. troops were caught in the cross-fire and did not react to protect the UNPAs when Croatian Army forces attacked rebel Serbs in both western Slavonia and Krajina. With the recapture of three of the four UNPAs by Croatian government forces, the U.N. was thus left with a diminished role and announced that it planned to pull out most of its troops in November.
Following attacks in early and mid-November 1994 against the Bihac safe area from Serb-held areas in Croatia, the U.N. Security Council extended the "no-fly" zone to Croatian air space, thereby permitting NATO to follow and attack warplanes flying from Bosnia into Croatia. On November 21, 1994, NATO bombed the rebel Serbian-controlled Udbina air strip, but it was quickly rebuilt and rebel Serb forces in Croatia continued to attack the Bihac "safe area" until August. During this period, the U.N. did nothing to prevent such attacks, although U.N. forces were mandated to demilitarize the so-called UNPAs in Croatia.
On July 24, the International Criminal Tribunal established to adjudicate violations of international law in the former Yugoslavia indicted Milan Martic, the "president" of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina, for ordering attacks against civilian targets in May. Shortly before he was indicted by the tribunal, in November, the Bosnian Croat commander was promoted by Croatian President Tudjman as an inspector in the army of Croatia proper.
On January 29, Peter Galbraith, the U.S. ambassador to Croatia, put forth an internationally brokered peace plan for Croatia (known as the Z-4 plan) that offered the Krajina Serbs virtually complete self-government within Croatia. Both the Croatian government and rebel Serbian authorities eventually rejected the plan but, when Croatian government troops began amassing along the front lines and war appeared imminent, the Croatian Serbs announced that they would consider the plan. The Croatian government ignored the Croatian Serbs' reported consideration of the proposed plan and launched its offensive in western Slavonia, rendering peace efforts moot. Galbraith believed the proposed plan could have been made to work, but Washington reportedly disagreed and appeared to have sanctioned the Croatian Army offensive.
Members of the U.S. administration denounced human rights abuses committed by Croatian forces in the Krajina region. John Shattuck, U.S. assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, traveled to Croatia on two separate occasions to investigate, and then denounce, abuses by Croatian troops in the Krajina area. Ambassador Galbraith, incensed by Croatian civilians' stoning and harassment of retreating Serbs and police inaction to stop such harassment, rode as part of the refugee convoy to demonstrate his protest against the treatment of the Serbian civilians.
Although most of his efforts were aimed at brokering a peace accord in neighboring Bosnia, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke also worked to address the status of eastern Slavonia, the only part of Croatia that remained under rebel Serbian control by November 1. On October 3, Thorvald Stoltenberg, the U.N. envoy to the former Yugoslavia, and Holbrooke announced that a preliminary agreement on the future of eastern Slavonia had been reached. The agreement called for the administration of the area by a transitional authority that would allow for the eventual return of Croatian government authority over eastern Slavonia, with guaranteed minority rights for Serbs. However, in mid-October, Croatian Army troops began to mass along the confrontation line in eastern Slavonia, and both parties were prepared for war by November 1.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
In May, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki conducted a mission to Croatia to investigate violations of the laws of war and subsequent violations of human rights during and after the Croatian Army offensive in western Slavonia. A subsequent report highlighted abuses that had taken place and pointed to issues that required further investigation. In a letter to Croatian President Tudjman, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki urged that all those responsible for abuses in western Slavonia be held accountable for their crimes.
Similarly, following the Croatian Army offensive in the Krajina region, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki sent a letter to President Tudjman on August 10 expressing concern about abuses against civilians and the destruction of Serbian property in areas recaptured by the Croatian Army. We also called on the Croatian government to protect the rights of Serbs wishing to remain in, or return to, the Krajina area. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and twenty-six other humanitarian, human rights, religious and other organizations sent President Tudjman a similar letter condemning the burning and looting of Serbian homes in Krajina, the failure of the Croatian police to protect Serbs leaving Croatia from Croats who stoned their convoy, and military attacks against civilians fleeing the fighting. From August to November, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki sent missions to Serbia and Croatia to investigate abuses during and after the Krajina offensive and planned to publish the findings of those missions in early 1996.
Throughout the year, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki met with U.N. and governmental officials to press for proper funding for the international tribunal established to adjudicate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Croatia, as well as continued funding for the field operation of the special rapporteur for the former Yugoslavia of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. Two reports and numerous letters sent to U.N. and governmental bodies underscored the need to properly fund the tribunal and to insist that all states cooperate with international efforts to ensure accountability in the region.
In October, in order to draw attention to human rights abuses committed off the battlefield, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki issued a book-length report on the status of civil and political rights in Croatia from 1992 to mid-1995. The report examined abuses associated with the granting of citizenship, forcible evictions from state-owned property, treatment of minorities and refugees, freedom of the press, trials of alleged war criminals and accountability for human rights abuses committed by Croatian government agents. In June, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki released a report critiquing domestic war crimes trials in Croatia, Bosnia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, pointing to their politicization and lack of due process. The report also highlighted the paucity of trials in which members of the parties' own forces were tried for violations of human rights.