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Human Rights Developments

A U.S.-brokered peace agreement, negotiated in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995 and signed in Paris on December 14, 1995, brought long-awaited peace to Bosnia-Hercegovina. The peace agreement ultimately succeeded in stopping the shelling and siege of cities and the mass slaughter of civilians. However, severe human rights abuses, including ethnically-motivated killings, expulsions and evictions, police brutality, and restrictions on freedom of movement, continued throughout 1996. Few of the refugees displaced by the war were able to return to their homes in areas still controlled by other ethnic groups. National elections were held under conditions that fell far short of internationally accepted standards for free and fair balloting, with the predicted result of consolidating the political control of nationalist leaders who supported ethnic partition and continued to deny basic human rights to ethnic minorities.

Under the Dayton agreement, a NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) was authorized to separate the armed forces and to establish and maintain a Azone of separation@ (ZOS) along the Ainter-entity boundary line@ (IEBL) which demarcated the division between the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation (Federation). This mission was accomplished relatively quickly, considering the hostilities that had preceded the peace agreement. The Dayton accords also created mechanisms to oversee the implementation of the civilian aspects of the accords. These included the Office of the High Representative (OHR), an international police monitoring mission (the International Police Task Force, or IPTF) and a Commission for Human Rights. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was invited to establish a human rights and election monitoring mission and to supervise the holding of the first democratic elections in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The human rights provisions of the agreement were largely ignored by the parties. All sides continued to hold prisoners of war well past the deadline set for their release. Only 217 prisoners had been released by the original January 19 deadline, leaving at least 645 in custody; figures could not be confirmed because the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was often denied access to places of detention. In February, the ICRC found eighty-eight unregistered Serb prisoners when it was finally allowed to enter a Bosnian government prison near Tuzla; other unregistered prisoners continued to turn up in the following weeks. A small number of Bosnian Serbs (at least eighteen) captured by Croatian army troops operating in western Bosnia in September 1995 were transferred to prisons in Croatia and had not been released by October 1996, in direct violation of the Dayton agreement.

By late February, the warring factions had withdrawn to the boundaries laid down in the Dayton agreement. Episodic violence continued to plague Bosnian-government-controlled Sarajevo until the city=s complete reunification on March 19. The withdrawal of Bosnian Serbs from the areas of Sarajevo that had been under their control was marked by human rights abuses and massive civilian displacement. Warned by the Bosnian Serb leadership in Pale that it was dangerous to live in Bosniak-controlled territory and unconvinced by President Alija Izetbegovic=s tardy assurances that they would be safe under Bosnian government rule, an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 Serb civilians fled their neighborhoods in Sarajevo for Serb-held areas before Bosnian government forces moved in. Armed bands of Bosnian Serb nationalists sought to terrorize those Bosnian Serb civilians who wished to remain in their homes. Moreover, after the Bosnian Serbs withdrew, Bosniak gangs followed suit by harassing the few remaining Bosnian Serbs. Most of the departing Bosnian Serbs were resettled in areas where there had previously been a Bosniak majority in order to prevent the return of Bosniaks and consolidate Bosnian Serb control over the area.

Ongoing tensions sporadically boiled over into conflict, especially between the nominal partners of the Bosniak-Croat Federation. Little progress was made on reuniting Mostar, creating a single army from the two sides, and otherwise strengthening the Federation established by the Washington Agreement in 1994, and the alliance continued to exist mainly on paper. Leaders on both sides, as well as NATO officials, periodically warned that the Bosniaks and the Bosnian Croats could easily slide back into war. The divided city of Mostar, scene of some of the worst Bosniak-Croat fighting, which was placed under European Union administration in 1994, continued to be the major flashpoint in the Federation, with numerous violent incidents against resident and transiting non-Croat civilians in west Mostar. Croat-Bosniak hostility occasionally flared up elsewhere: In central Bosnia, there were intermittent reports of beatings, expulsions, and house burnings by the rival groups. Local police were often complicit in such abuses, either by failing to provide protection to the targeted group or by actively participating in the violence.

Throughout the year, civilians were more often than not denied freedom of movement, and all sides continued to maintain illegal checkpoints on major roads in their respective territories. Refugees and displaced persons were generally unable to return to their homes, a guaranteed right under the peace agreement. Some displaced persons who tried to return to their homes, even for a short visit, were met by violent mobs, often organized by local authorities. In March, 800 Bosniaks had to be escorted by IFOR to visit grave sites in the Mostar area after Bosnian Croat soldiers refused to let them pass; Bosnian Croat police did likewise in the Kulen Vakuf area and other areas of Hercegovina under their control. In the same month, Bosnian Serb police prevented Bosniak refugees from visiting relatives or reclaiming homes in the Doboj area. Meanwhile, Bosniaks prevented Bosnian Croat refugees from returning to their homes in Bugojno and Vares. In late April, some 800 Bosniak and Bosnian Croat refugees scuffled with 1,500 local Serbs trying to prevent their return to their homes near Doboj. On April 29, a group of Bosniaks trying to circumvent an IFOR roadblock near Doboj ran through a mine field and were attacked by Bosnian Serbs at the other end; two Bosniaks were killed and five wounded. On the same day, Bosnian Serb mobs smashed the windows of buses taking Bosniaks to visit graves near their former homes in Trnovo.

In Prijedor, the local police chief, responsible for helping to organize concentration camps in 1992, handed out guns and incited the local population to prevent Bosniaks from crossing the IEBL to visit their homes. This went on for months, until finally, after a near shoot-out with IFOR, he was removed from office in September.

Throughout the year, minority populations continued to suffer ethnically motivated killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, physical mistreatment and harassment. There was little prospect for victims to obtain protection from local police and government authorities, who were often complicit in such abuses.

Government authorities on all sides continued the practice of politically-motivated resettlement in order to affect the ethnic composition of the resettled areas and to prevent the return of refugees and displaced persons. Meanwhile, several foreign host countries to refugees from Bosnia-Hercegovina including Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia, announced plans to begin early repatriation of refugees, despite ongoing persecution of those groups remaining in areas where they did not comprise the ethnic majority and a host of other serious security concerns.

By June, it was already clear that it would be difficult to conduct free and fair elections by September 14, the deadline established in the Dayton agreement. Limited movement throughout the territory, severe restrictions on the press along ethnic and political lines, and the increasing number of attacks and reports of intimidation of the political opposition made it impossible to create the Apolitically neutral environment@ required by the peace agreement.

Despite the abysmal failure of the parties to the agreement to create free and fair conditions for elections, federal elections were held on September 14. Although the United States and it=s ambassador to the OSCE, Robert Frowick, were strongly opposed to such a decision, municipal elections were postponed due to serious manipulation of the voter registration process, mostly by Bosnian Serb authorities, as well as concerns about security and freedom of movement for voters. The federal elections, which were held without violence, mostly due to low voter turnout and restriction of movement, were certified by the OSCE shortly thereafter, disregarding a call by the organization=s own Election Appeals Sub-Commission for a recount based on allegations of vote fraud. On October 4, municipal elections were scheduled for late November by Ambassador Frowick, in direct contradiction to the recommendation of OSCE=s head of the Independent Monitoring Mission and all twenty-five of his monitors, who believed that appropriate conditions for elections did not exist. Shortly thereafter, unable to ignore the OSCE=s own logistical problems as well as deteriorating political conditions on the ground, Ambassador Frowick announced that municipal elections would be postponed until between April and June, 1997.

As of this writing, the newly elected Bosnian Serb representatives to the new parliament had not set foot in Sarajevo. Momcilo Krajisnik, president of the Republika Srpska, refused to participate in the inauguration ceremonies held in Sarajevo on October 5. Instead, according to The Washington Post, he met with indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic three times on October 5, who ordered him not to go.

The end of large-scale fighting opened the way for journalists and investigators from the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to begin serious investigations into alleged war crimes. ICTY investigators turned their attention to the mass graves around the Srebrenica area in Republika Srpska - an area from which up to 8,000 Bosniak males were still missing. However, the work of the ICTY was hampered by local authorities; grave sites were tampered with, and investigators were barred from some sites on many occasions during the year.

Under intense international pressure, some alleged war criminals were arrested, but the vast majority remained at large, and the parties, with the exception of the Bosnian government authorities, failed to meet their obligations under the Dayton agreement and U.N. Security Council resolutions to turn over persons indicted by the ICTY.

Indicted war criminals Gen. Ratko Mladic and Republika Srpska political leader Radovan Karadzic continued openly to defy the international community, repeatedly speaking to the press and, in the case of Karadzic, traveling right under the noses of American IFOR troops and IPTF monitors. Both men remained in office until U.S. pressure on Karadzic to disappear from the political scene resulted in his stepping down as Apresident@ of Republika Srpska in mid-July. Most observers, however, believed that both Karadzic and Mladic continued to wield a great deal of influence.

The Right To Monitor

The Dayton agreement requires the parties to permit nongovernmental human rights organizations Afull and effective access@ for investigating and monitoring human rights conditions. Further, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the OSCE, and other intergovernmental or regional human rights missions were invited to monitor the human rights situation and to establish local offices.

Generally speaking, the parties in both entities permitted access by international human rights organizations, both nongovernmental and intergovernmental, although access for journalists and war crimes investigators was often impeded. Also, local human rights organizations did not travel outside their own immediate areas without international escorts for fear of possible threats and attacks from the other entity=s authorities and/or civilians. The International Police Task Force (IPTF) was often prevented from investigating allegations of human rights abuses involving the police. In Banja Luka, for example, following the murder of two Bosniaks in police custody in late August/early September, the local chief of police refused to take action against the police officers responsible and failed to provide the IPTF with information about the investigation. Although eventually guaranteed access to all detention sites, the IPTF was also frequently obstructed in its efforts to investigate reports of illegal detentions or mistreatment in detention.

The Role of the International Community

American and European support for the U.N. Security Council=s decision on October 1 to lift sanctions against the FRY and the Bosnian Serbs was a low point in U.S. and European policy. The elections in Bosnia were not Afree and fair,@ as required by the U.N. Security Council=s Resolution 1022, nor were the parties cooperating with the war crimes tribunal, also stipulated in the resolution.

The United States

The United States, after years of vacillation and taking a back seat to Europe, finally took the initiative in the peace negotiations in mid-1995. U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, using extensive shuttle diplomacy, managed to bring the parties to the table in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995, and the United States exerted significant diplomatic pressure throughout the year to keep the peace process on track. The United States also provided 20,000 American troops to IFOR, fully a third of the NATO forces sent to Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The Clinton administration also pushed hard to lay the groundwork for the fall elections, as stipulated in the peace agreement. However, it soon became obvious that the administration was determined to see elections held in Bosnia-Hercegovina whether conditions for free and fair elections existed or not. The Clinton administration feared that the failure to hold elections on time might be interpreted as a policy failure and could call into question the on-time departure of American troops from Bosnia in December 1996 - neither event would be welcome in an election year. Reports emerged that OSCE human rights staff were strongly encouraged by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Robert Frowick to report positive developments and to downplay the bleak human rights situation. As the elections neared, the U.S. administration replaced staff members and pressured Europeans associated with the mission to quiet criticisms of the process, even as reports about serious human rights abuses and manipulation of the voter registration process emerged, attacks on opposition members increased, and restrictions of access to the media continued.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the Clinton administration=s policy was its refusal to involve U.S. troops within IFOR in apprehending indicted war criminals. The most glaring example of this policy occurred in mid-August, when American troops arrived at indicted war criminal General Mladic=s headquarters as part of a weapons inspection team to confiscate more than 300 tons of illegal Bosnian Serb military hardware discovered by accident. Learning that Mladic was inside, the Americans quickly left the premises so as not to confront him (and thus the obligation to apprehend him) and returned at a later time after his departure. The Clinton administration also appeared to have signaled that it was satisfactory for indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic to step down from political office, and that it would not press for his apprehension. Special envoy Richard Holbrooke was reported to have pressured Karadzic to Aretire in Montenegro@ and stated publicly that A... we have to get Karadzic either out of Pale or better yet move the capital of the Serb part of Bosnia from Pale to Banja Luka.@


European leaders paid lip service to the need for arresting indicted persons, but remained indecisive when it came to action. Indeed France and United Kingdom, both countries with significant numbers of IFOR soldiers in Bosnia-Hercegovina, were not in favor of a clear Aduty to arrest@ clause when IFOR=s mandate was being formulated. Throughout the year, they never provided the leadership so badly needed to secure IFOR arrests of those indicted for war crimes.

NATO and the United Nations

IFOR troops were able quickly to enforce the military requirements of the Dayton agreement and, with the exception of sporadic confrontations especially with the Bosnian Serbs, IFOR=s primary tasks of separating the armies of the parties to the conflict and creating a Azone of separation@ was largely completed by February. Unfortunately, however, IFOR continued to define its mandate in the narrowest possible terms, thereby contributing much less than it could have to the peace process in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

IFOR and the IPTF did make significant efforts to remove fixed checkpoints throughout Bosnia-Hercegovina, but the parties continued to set up illegal checkpoints and to violate checkpoint rules by asking the ethnic identity of passengers. IFOR was also reluctant to play a leading role in preventing restrictions on freedom of movement and in protecting civilians. IFOR leaders emphasized that this was the responsibility of the parties, disregarding the fact that many of the abuses were being conducted by local authorities or tolerated by them.

Despite its clear authority to arrest persons indicted for war crimes, IFOR failed to apprehend a single person indicted by the ICTY. The U.N. Security Council Resolution 1031 called on all states to cooperate and comply with orders of the ICTY, and the Dayton agreement=s Annex 1-A, Article 10 specifically refers to the obligation of all the parties to cooperate fully with ICTY. IFOR was therefore empowered to use force, which included the arrest of persons indicted by the tribunal, if any of the parties refused to hand over the indicted war criminals to the ICTY. After initially stating that it did not have the mandate to arrest indicted persons, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana later announced that IFOR indeed had the mandate and would arrest such persons if encountered in the course of normal business. However, IFOR failed to make arrests on several occasions when indicted persons, including both Karadzic and Mladic, were encountered, and it became increasingly clear that IFOR would go out of its way not to arrest indicted persons.

The IPTF, under the auspices of the United Nations, was slow to deploy and was not given adequate resources, such as communications equipment and vehicles, to enable effective action in the field. It=s mandate, formulated by the Security Council, excluded a possibility of arrest. The Bosnian Serb exodus from Sarajevo was the first real test of the IPTF, and it did not provide meaningful aid to victims of abuse. Many more Bosnian Serbs might have opted to stay in Sarajevo had they trusted the willingness or ability of the international community to protect them. However, IPTF and IFOR did little or nothing to provide protection for those who wished to stay. Statements to the press by IFOR and IPTF, such as AWe can=t guarantee anyone=s security@ did not help to reassure the population.

IPTF faced perhaps its greatest challenge in its efforts to restructure police forces throughout Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Avetting@ process required police to reapply for their positions, during which those responsible for human rights abuses during the war or since the signing of peace agreement, as well as those who refused to cooperate with IPTF or were otherwise found in non-compliance with the Dayton accords, were supposed to be denied reemployment in the police force. Unfortunately, as of this writing, this process was still in its early stages in the Federation and had not even started in Republika Srpska, where local authorities failed to reach agreement with the IPTF on how to proceed. Meanwhile, in late October, a Boston Globe reporter discovered that four persons indicted for war crimes by ICTY were working as police officers in the Bosnian Serb towns of Prijedor and Omarska.

Pursuant to the Dayton agreement, High Representative Carl Bildt has authority for supervising all aspects of the civilian component. He has ultimate authority for conditioning reconstruction aid and can trigger reimposition of sanctions against the FRY and the Republika Srpska for failing significantly to comply with the peace agreement. Despite the substantial political and economic leverage at Bildt=s disposal, he downplayed his authority throughout the year and generally refused to use his power to force substantive improvements in the parties= compliance with the peace agreement.

Instead, Bildt placed his trust in diplomatic negotiation and sent a clear signal to the non-complying parties that they would suffer no serious repercussions for failing to comply with the civilian provisions of the Dayton agreement. Bildt did make a very positive effort to deny aid to several towns in the Federation that had made little progress in the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.

Despite its own resolutions demanding compliance by the parties with the peace agreement and cooperation with the ICTY, the U. N. Security Council failed to take a strong stand regarding serious violations, most particularly the failure of the parties to cooperate with the tribunal and to permit refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes. It failed to use the leverage of Resolution 1022 when it suspended and later lifted the sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs. The Security Council failed to mandate IFOR to arrest those indicted by the tribunal, opting instead for the weaker language of Aauthority to arrest.@ The Security Council also undermined the IPTF by not giving it executive police powers.

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