After the war ended in 1995, minorities in Bijeljina continued to be exposed to all kinds of abuses. Many of them were obstructed in their efforts to return to their homes; the police in many cases failed to intervene on their behalf, and in several cases themselves physically abused them; they were often unable to obtain an I.D. card, or have their phone lines reconnected; the authorities refused to let the Islamic community rebuild a mosque, and for a long time even refused to give the Islamic religious community a place to gather; and the representatives of the Bosniaks were prevented from playing a meaningful role in municipal politics and administration.
Abuses related to housing issues and return
Fewer than 2,700 of the original population of over 30,000 Bosniaks remain in the Bijeljina municipality, less than 9 percent. The situation in the village of Janja is even worse: it is estimated that fewer than 200 out of an original population of 10,500 Bosniaks, or less than 2 percent, still live in the village. And of those who remained throughout the war, only a small number have been able to hold on to their homes or apartments: the vast majority live either with friends or relatives, or in outbuildings next to their houses.
Nevertheless, Bijeljina is different from most other cities in the Republika Srpska. Whereas in cities like Doboj, Prijedor, and Zvornik there were hardly any minorities left after the war, in Bijeljina there still is a substantial Bosniak community. One would expect that this "seed community" would be conducive both to the return of Bosniak displaced persons and refugees and to solving the problems of those who remain. However, those who stayed throughout the war have hardly ever managed to reoccupy their homes, and there have been hardly any returns by Bosniak displaced persons or refugees to Bijeljina.
Admittedly, Bijeljina has had to deal with an enormous influx of Bosnian Serb displaced persons from areas in the Federation, in particular from the Tuzla, Zenica, and Sarajevo cantons. Most international and local sourcesestimate the number of Bosnian Serb displaced persons and refugees in the Bijeljina area at around 50,000, although UNHCR100 and the International Management Group (IMG)101 both estimate the number of Bosnian Serb displaced persons and refugees at around 37,000. Given their direct involvement in the return issue, it is likely that these latter figures are the most accurate.
On the other hand, Bijeljina, as opposed to many other areas in the Republika Srpska, sustained hardly any physical damage to its housing stock as a result of war activities. IMG estimates that in the Republika Srpska in general, 4.9 percent of the dwellings were destroyed, and 23.3 percent sustained damage as a result of the war, whereas in Bijeljina these figures are 0.5 percent and 5.2 percent. As a result, the absorption capacity of the Bijeljina municipality is far higher than the average in the Republika Srpska: whereas in Bijeljina there are 3.5 persons per undamaged dwelling, the average for the Republika Srpska is 4.5 persons per dwelling.102 Therefore, the influx of Serb displaced persons and refugees alone cannot explain the lack of progress in reinstating the "floating" population in their houses or the lack of minority returns to the Bijeljina municipality.
Reinstatement of the "floaters"
The word "floaters" is used to describe those who have been evicted from their homes, but have nevertheless remained in the municipality, either "floating" between the homes of friends and relatives, or living in outbuildings near their houses. Although it is unclear exactly how many "floaters" there are in Bijeljina, both local and international sources have stated that the vast majority of the Bosniaks who have remained in Bijeljina are currently not living in their own houses or apartments: international organizations estimate that there are 2,000 to 3,000 "floaters" in Bijeljina.103 Many "floaters" are Bosniaks who were violently evicted by displaced Bosnian Serbs that were accommodated in their homes, or who fled from the violent behavior of their Bosnian Serb "guests." In other cases, the Bosnian Serb authorities declared a home "abandoned"104 on the basis of abandoned property legislation.105 It was not uncommon for a home to be declared abandoned even though the inhabitant had not abandoned it, for instance the houses of Bosniaks who temporarily were not in their houses only because they were performing forced labor at the front line. So far, most "floaters" have been unsuccessful in reclaiming their houses or apartments, even though mostof the "floaters" were "loyal citizens" of the Republika Srpska throughout the war, and some even fought in the Bosnian Serb army.
Although the number of "floaters" in Bijeljina runs in the thousands, it is estimated that not even ten cases involving their housing claims were resolved by September 1999. Of these, only a few were resolved through eviction of the temporary occupant. Apart from the cases cited below, only one other case of reinstatement through eviction has come to the attention of Human Rights Watch.
Initially, the Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons106 denied that "floater" cases even existed. In an interview in July 1998, Sneñana Ruñi_, then acting head of the Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees, stated that "when the war started, only 1,500 Muslims stayed in Bijeljina, the rest of them left, mainly to Tuzla. Those who stayed are all living in their own houses, they were able to remain there."107 However, she was replaced soon afterward by Danilo ,,olakovi_, who seemed to be more aware of "floater"cases, and more willing to address them. In an interview in December 1998, he said that:
in those cases where the inhabitants never abandoned their accommodation, and where [displaced persons] are now living without an official decision, we will evict the current inhabitants, so the original inhabitants can go back....It is illegal occupation, so I can solve it very fast. But one part [of them] we cannot just throw on the streets, we have to look at the human side as well. There is a big problem with families of fallen soldiers, with invalids, with people who are needed for the economy, with the refugees that are jeopardized.108
The four reinstatements known to Human Rights Watch took place while Mr. Danilo ,,olakovi_ was the head of the Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons. In June 1999, ,,olakovi_ resigned, and Nenad Ðoki_ took over as head of the department. Ðoki_, who is generally seen to be much more cooperative than any of his predecessors, admitted in an interview in September 1999 that no evictions had taken place during his tenure as the Bijeljina department chief of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons.
Until now, no evictions have taken place....We go to the field, we warn the temporary occupants, we talk to them, and so far, there was no need for assistance [by the police]....We have information that there are 124 floater families, but others say 106. It is hard to make them the priority, to explain this to other claimants.109
Since that time, there has been an increase in the number of evictions. Although no figures were available to Human Rights Watch, it is safe to assume that some members of this floating population have also benefitted from this increase in evictions.
The reinstatement of "floaters" is crucial for the Dayton Peace Agreement to be successful. A substantial return of displaced persons and refugees to their homes is unlikely to take place if even those who remained in their municipality throughout the war are unable to return to their homes. The decision of displaced persons and refugees to return will be based largely on the accounts of those they trust most: their former neighbors, friends, and colleagues who have remained. By failing to reinstate "floaters," the authorities not only violate the rights of the "floaters," they also strongly influence the decisions of displaced persons and refugees on whether or not to return.
The case of Fahrudin Gruhonji_
On August 27, 1994, Fahrudin Gruhonji_ was expelled from his house by members of Mauser's Guards, who said he would be transported to Tuzla.110 However, instead of being transported to the Federation, he was forced to perform labor at the front line, until October 10, 1994, when he was released. Upon his return in Janja, he found that his house had been occupied by a Bosnian Serb displaced person from Bugojno. Fahrudin went to the Commission for the Accommodation of Refugees of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons to request his house back on October 12, 1994. On October 19, 1994, the commission granted his request and denied the displaced person's request to be granted temporary occupancy rights in Gruhonji_'s house. The legal basis for this decision was that the house had never officially been abandoned, and therefore no decision could be made that someone else could live there.
However, despite several requests by Gruhonji_, nobody ever acted upon the decision of the commission, and Gruhonji_ was forced to live with his brother, and later in his weekend house. On January 31, 1996, he filed an official request at the commission to have the decision implemented, but the commission never responded. Several times, Gruhonji_ intervened personally to arrange for the eviction of the displaced person. However, the reaction always was that there were more urgent cases, such as war widows and war invalids.
On November 25, 1996, Gruhonji_ filed a complaint at the basic court (Osnovni Sud) in Bijeljina, again requesting the eviction of the illegal occupant. The court did not react to the request, claiming that there were not enough judges to handle all cases. Therefore, on July 31, 1997, Gruhonji_ filed a complaint at the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, an institution created by the Dayton agreement. After the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson intervened with the court in Bijeljina, the case finally did get the attention of the court. On April 9, 1998, Judge Ljiljana Rajkovi_ decided that the displaced person had to leave Gruhonji_'s house immediately, and the house was to be returned to the owner within fifteen days. However, the displaced person filed an appeal of the decision on May 12, 1998. Although the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property states that an appeal must be filed within three days and that such an appeal does not delay the implementation of the decision, Gruhonji_ was still not able to enter his house.
On August 28, 1998, Judge Miroljub Mitrovi_ of the District Court (Okruñni Sud) in Bijeljina hearing the matter on appeal, annulled the decision of the basic court. Mitrovi_ based his decision on article 17 of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property, claiming that Gruhonji_ had a surplus of living space. However, the Human Rights Ombudsperson, on April 9, 1998, had issued a special report which found that article 17 violated the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its Protocol 1, and recommended that article 17 cease to be applied with immediate effect. The case was sent back to the basic court again, which handed down a decision on November 17, 1998, again in Gruhonji_'s favor, ordering the displaced person to leave within fifteen days. However, the displaced person appealed the decision again. According to Sead Gruhonji_, a relative, Fahrudin was ultimately reinstated in January 1999, four years and three months after the commission granted his first request.
The case of Fahrudin Gruhonji_ clearly showed the unwillingness of the authorities to deal effectively with such cases. The commission that is supposed to address these issues proved unwilling to implement its own decision. The courts were at first unwilling to act upon Gruhonji_'s complaint at all: only after an intervention by theombudsperson did the court take up the case. Then, when a decision was finally taken after almost one-and-a-half years, the decision was not implemented, but delayed by an appeal of the defendant, even though the applicable law explicitly stated that such an appeal should not delay the execution of a decision. In its decision in the appeals procedure, the court based its ruling on an article that had been found in violation of human rights guaranteed under the Bosnian constitution. When the basic court, in a new procedure, ruled again in Gruhonji_'s favor, implementation of the decision was again delayed by an appeal of the defendant.
Fahrudin Gruhonji_'s case is representative of the situation of most of the "floaters," who have tried for years to be reinstated into their homes. However, Fahrudin Gruhonji_'s case is an exception because he was ultimately reinstated: most others are still waiting.
The case of Nurdin Hamdñi_
Nurdin Hamdñi_ was evicted from his house in December 1993 by a lawyer of the municipality and two policemen. In his attempts to regain possession of his private apartment, he also ran into uncooperative authorities. Nurdin told Human Rights Watch his story:
[After I was evicted from my house], I went to the [municipal] Department for Urbanism, but they threw me out right away. They didn't accept my claim, they told me to file suit against the new inhabitant, Svetozar Nikoli_ from Mostar. In April 1994, I filed an official complaint at the basic court. The court decided in my favor, because I could prove that the apartment had not been abandoned, as they had claimed. Nikoli_ had to leave with immediate effect, but he then appealed to the district court. But the court, in November 1995, confirmed the decision of the basic court. Nikoli_ did have a right to appeal, but without postponing the implementation; he had to leave immediately.
The first attempt to execute the decision took place in February 1996, but he didn't want to leave. Then the police came to execute the decision. The Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons sent an official who told the police that they shouldn't enforce the decision. Then, after several failed attempts to execute the decision, in September 1997, the ministry said that I would get a part of the building, they allowed me to live in one room.
But Nikoli_ said he couldn't live with "Balije," he cursed my mother, and threatened to kill me. I was afraid, so I stayed with my nephew, even though I now formally had a room in my house. I only put some of my stuff in there. At some point, Nikoli_ changed the locks, so I couldn't get in anymore. I went to the police, and they called him and told him that he should give me a set of keys.
On September 24, 1997, Nikoli_ left, but he didn't give me the keys, he gave them to Velimir Bijelica, [who] moved into my house. But Velimir has got a place to live, he got a decision on June 11, 1996, to live in another house. And guess who lives in the other house: Svetozar Nikoli_, while [Bijelica] lives in mine. I went to talk to him and told him it was my house, that I had a [court] decision, and even showed him the decision. But he said: "I don't care if you are the owner. Just don't bother me, don't even come to this street anymore, otherwise I'll kill you." So I went to the police, and they came, but when he showed his ID, the police didn't do anything.
Velimir claims that he has a decision for the whole apartment, but the ministry says they don't have anything to do with it, because it's my property. About one to two months ago, the ombudsperson sent a decision to the court, saying that they should let me in my house again, but there has been no reaction. Every time there is an attempt to execute the decision, Velimir is waiting outside with anofficial of the ministry and he doesn't allow me in, and changes the locks. The court said they cannot do anything, they have finished their part of the job.111
The trick reportedly used by Nikoli_ and Bijelica is not unusual in Bosnia and Hercegovina. When they switched homes, the court decision in favor of Hamdñi_ became useless, since the case involved the illegal occupation of Hamdñi_'s house by Nikoli_. Once someone else lives in Hamdñi_'s house, Hamdñi_ will have to start a new court procedure against this person. Had the authorities implemented the decision immediately, Nikoli_ and Bijelica would not have been able to exchange accommodations, and Hamdñi_ might have been able to return to his home. Slow legal procedures and unwillingness to enforce court decisions in favor of Bosniaks, combined with some cunning moves by the illegal occupants, can slow down a reinstatement for a considerable time. As of this writing, almost six years after his eviction, Hamdñi_, a quiet man in his seventies, had still not been reinstated to his home.112
The case of Sead Gruhonji_
"Floaters" face obstruction not only by the courts and the Ministry for Refugees, but also by police who are often unwilling to do their part of the job. In January 1994, Sead Gruhonji_ was forced to accommodate Milan Todi_ and his family in his house, where he lived with his mother, aunt, and grandmother. On February 11, 1994, Todi_ got an official decision that he could live in one room of the house. The relations were far from friendly, and Sead and his family were threatened several times by Todi_'s son. Nevertheless, they continued to live together in the house, until just before the end of the war. Then, Todi_'s son died at the front, at which point Todi_ threw out Sead and his family. Sead then started a procedure to get his property back.
On November 25, 1996, I filed a request at the commission...to get my house back, but I never got any answer from the commission. I also went several times to the local office of the Housing Commission of the Ministry for Refugees, to ðeljka Simi_, where I filed official requests on March 27, 1997 and August 31, 1998.
About four months ago, I tried together with Hans Jürgen [a representative of the IPTF] to get back in the part of the house that is mine. The chief of police, Vlatko Kneñevi_, promised to solve the problem, but when the day came, the deputy chief of police, Mico Ðoki_, came [instead of Kneñevi_]. He said it was better to wait a little longer, until another house had been found for Todi_, [because] there were about thirty people protesting [at my house], who were probably organized by Milan, who was informed by the police of the eviction. But everything remained just promises.
About one and a half months ago, the commission in Bijeljina told me that Todi_ had to leave, they had found alternative accommodation for him. But no one ever tried to actually evict him. ðeljka said: "It's not my job anymore, I found alternative accommodation, now it's up to the police." But the police never got an order to be present at an eviction.113
On or about January 13, 1999, Sead Gruhonji_ and his mother were finally reinstated in their property. The previous occupant, however, "had taken all furniture, destroyed the windows, and broken the tiles. He even took the toilet bowl and the telephone. Moreover, he took the windows and doors from another house in the yard."114
The Case of Husref Osmanovi_
Gruhonji_ is not the only "floater" whose house was destroyed by the previous inhabitant. Husref Osmanovi_, a Bosniak member of the Bijeljina municipal council, in March 1999 recovered the house from which he had been evicted during the war:
When I returned, the house was empty and destroyed: the bathroom, the tiles, the wooden floor. [The previous inhabitant] took out the whole kitchen, all furniture, etc. Moreover, there was graffiti on the wall: Serbia till Tokyo, Gypsies, Bosniaks, This is Serb Land. He took eleven trucks of goods, all was written on a list by the ministry...He even took the sockets, the lamps, and he broke the windows.115
Return of refugees and displaced persons
Given the difficulties faced by the "floaters" in reclaiming their property or homes, even when they have a formal occupancy right, it should not come as a surprise that few have returned from the Federation or abroad. The small number of people who have returned to Bijeljina are mostly refugees who were sent back by their host countries (in particular Germany). However, many of them have not been able to move back into their homes, unless they were willing and able to pay substantial amounts of money to reclaim them. Human Rights Watch has been told about several cases in which the original inhabitants had to pay significant amounts of money, often 2,000 German marks or more, to the current inhabitants to induce them to move out. But most refugees and displaced persons who want to return cannot afford to pay such sums, the equivalent of six months of salary or more in many parts of the country.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in figures published in October 1999, reported that in 1998 only four persons from minority groups had returned to Bijeljina, and none in 1996 and 1997. In general, minority returns to the Republika Srpska, reported at 8,586 persons in 1998, and a total of 1,125 for 1996 and 1997,116 did not meet expectations or promises.117 Bijeljina, however, did not even approach the far from impressive records of other municipalities in the Republika Srpska, even though the situation of physical infrastructure in Bijeljina, as outlined above, is much more conducive to returns. Although several sources claimed that the number of returns was somewhat higher than the four persons mentioned in the UNHCR report, most admitted that return to Bijeljina was very limited until the end of 1998.
The lack of significant return to Bijeljina through 1998 was first and foremost the result of a law that in practice blocked return by minorities to their properties. The Law on the Use of Abandoned Property, which was enacted in February 1996, presented insurmountable obstacles to return. Article 40, which lists the conditions under which a displaced person can return to his accommodation, reads in relevant part as follows:
If in the event referred to in the previous article [the return of the original inhabitant] the abandoned property or abandoned flat has been allocated for utilization to a person whose property or flat hasremained within the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina or within the Republic of Croatia, such property or flat shall be returned to the owner:118
C within thirty days from the day the person who is the [current occupant, i.e. a displaced person from the Federation or a refugee from Croatia] of the property returns to his property or flat [in the Federation orCroatia]; or
C at the latest on the expiration of sixty days from the day the [current occupant] of the abandoned property [has been compensated] for the property he abandoned [in the Federation or Croatia] and for possible expenses (rehabilitation the user performed) or is provided with a suitable apartment or property [i.e. alternative accommodation].
In effect, this article resulted in almost foolproof protection against eviction for the current inhabitant of the accommodation. The first condition applied only if the current inhabitants actually returned to their own homes in the Federation or Croatia; if the inhabitant did not want to return, then the first condition was not fulfilled.
In cases where displaced Bosnian Serbs did not want to or could not return to their pre-war homes in the Federation or Croatia, compensation or alternative accommodations had to be provided to them. With regard to compensation, the Dayton agreement foresaw the creation of a Refugees and Displaced Persons Property Fund, from which, under the supervision of the Commission for Displaced Persons and Refugees, compensation would be paid for those who could not, or did not want to, return to their pre-war homes. However, although the commission was ultimately set up, the fund has never been created, thereby making compensation a purely theoretical option.119
With regard to the provision of suitable alternative accommodations, however, the Republika Srpska authorities have always claimed that, due to the influx of displaced persons and refugees,120 all suitable accommodations were occupied, and therefore no alternative accommodations could be found for those now living in "abandoned" property. Therefore, article 40 of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property in effect almost completely blocked the return of Bosniak displaced persons to their homes in Republika Srpska.
But the law was not the only obstacle to return. The Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons, the municipality, the police, and the local, often displaced, population, all at times acted against return as well. Up until 1998, it was hardly possible for displaced persons and refugees to file a claim to regain their accommodation. The courts claimed that they were not competent to deal with property cases, since these fell under the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons. Therefore, the only recourse for those attempting to return was to go to the ministry of refugees, and more specifically to its Commission for the Accommodation of Refugees, to request their homes back. However, the commission either refused to accept their claims or to act upon those it accepted. Several individuals and interest groups indicated to Human Rights Watch that the ministry did not accept requests for return of property, or if it did, did not act upon the requests.121 The ministry admitted as much when Sneñana Ruñi_ said in July 1998 that
so far, when people came to us to file a request to get their house or apartment back, we sent them to the Helsinki Committee of Branko Todorovi_, who was keeping a list of people who wanted to return. The reason we sent them to Branko was that we didn't have forms [to request return of accommodation], so we couldn't proceed with their requests. We only received these forms last week.
But anyway, we can't do anything for them, because we still cannot accommodate [all the] others. We still have 4,000 pending cases of [displaced] Serbs now living here, who don't have an acceptable solution so far. This pile here122 only concerns cases of soldiers, and people who have lost someone in the war. Honestly, we are not doing anything to help any other group.123
When Human Rights Watch spoke to ministry representatives again in December, they had started accepting claims from those who want to return to their accommodation. However, Danilo ,,olakovi_, then-head of the Bijeljina department of the ministry, didn't have high expectations about what he could do for those who wanted to return. "In cases where Serb displaced persons live in an [abandoned] Bosniak house, the main problem is that [displaced Bosnian] Serbs just don't want to return, maybe 3 percent of them want to go back. We cannot do anything."124
Moreover, those working at the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons often were not genuinely committed to return. Sneñana Ruzi_, a displaced person from Sarajevo, who then headed the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Bijeljina, said in an interview in July 1998 that she would prefer Bosniaks not to come back to Bijeljina:
Not many [Bosniaks] have come [to reclaim their homes], which is a good thing. Muslims have a bad attitude when they come here, they think they have a chance to get accommodation. They don't want to wait in line, they create a fuss....We Serbs are somewhat different from Muslims. Muslims are more persistent. We Serbs would give up all our property, just to be left alone. If that's the price for not having to live with [Bosniaks] anymore, I would give up everything I have.125
Many people interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed that ðeljka Simi_, head of the field office of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Janja, was actively obstructing return as well. Sead Gruhonji_, a Bosniak who remained in Janja throughout the war, said that Simi_ once asked him: "Why don't you go to the Federation? You don't belong here!"126 Other Bosniaks claimed that Simi_ had asked them about their wartime activities. The IPTF also had several run-ins with Simi_. According to Hans-Jürgen Münzel, a human rights officer of the Janja IPTF station,
ðeljka Simi_ doesn't cooperate... She has said there can be no return. We asked her to send us bi-weekly reports, but we never get them. Finally we got a list of twenty-five free houses, which we presented to her to have displaced persons reinstated, [but she] immediately filled up these houses with other [displaced Bosnian Serbs]. Therefore, a noncompliance report has been written against her.127
Despite the noncompliance report against her, as of this writing ðeljka Simi_ continues to work for the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Janja. A staff member of an international organization who has worked in Bijeljina for a considerable period told Human Rights Watch that the authorities "put people like Sneñana Ruñi_ in positions like hers because they are hard-liners. They often put hard-liners in key positions, so they can pretend they are cooperating with Dayton, but in practice nothing much happens."128 In October 1999, François Perez, the Office of the High Representative Special Envoy in Bijeljina, asked the RS Minister for Refugees Dragi...evi_ to remove Sneñana Ruzi_, who is now working on the implementation of decisions, from her position because she was obstructing return.129 However, as of March 2000, she had not yet been removed.
The municipality, though not directly responsible for return issues, could nevertheless provide an important impetus for return. However, the municipality too has failed to live up to its obligations regarding return. The Chairman's Concluding Statement at the Banja Luka Regional Returns Conference "urgently call[s] upon the Republika Srpska Government to ensure that Eastern Republika Srpska municipalities develop opportunities for return and demonstrate their commitment to uphold and respect the principles of Annex 7 of the GFAP [General Framework Agreement for Peace -the Dayton agreement]. Immediate steps must be taken by the Republika Srpska Government to develop return plans in line with the relevant Bonn PIC Conclusions, at the latest by the end of May 1998." According to Soufiane Adjali, then protection officer of the UNHCR office in Br...ko, "the mayor of Bijeljina claims that he has given UNHCR a municipal return plan, but I haven't seen it."130 Both international and local sources have confirmed that such a plan has never been presented.
Several international sources have confirmed that the municipal structures in Bijeljina try to avoid the issue of return if at all possible. For instance, a staff member of an international organization who has worked in Bijeljina for a considerable period told Human Rights Watch that "all political parties are afraid of return, even to touch upon the issue. All parties `chicken out' of addressing this issue. Also the `democratic' parties are intimidated by return issues, they say they don't want to raise issues that could cost them votes."131
In addition to the unwillingness of the authorities to facilitate return, those who want to return had to deal with Serb displaced persons living in Bijeljina who openly opposed the return of non-Serbs. Paul Hawkins, then commander of the IPTF sub-station in Janja, said in May 1998 that "the Serb displaced persons are hostile to any returnees. [They] tell [them] in no uncertain terms that there will be no trespassing here."132 At the same time, some displaced Serbs have blocked efforts by others to return to their homes in the Federation and Croatia.
This became abundantly clear on March 21, 1998, when the Serb Civic Council of Zenica organized a meeting about the possibility of return to Zenica of Bosnian Serb displaced persons living in Janja. A group of displaced persons who had expressed an interest in returning to Zenica asked Mara Radovanovi_ of the Helsinki Committee in Bijeljina to set up a meeting with the Serb Civic Council to discuss return. Between sixty and one hundred persons interested in return came to the meeting, which was to take place in the community hall of the mjesna zajednica (local community). However, before the meeting could get started, a group of 150 to 200 displaced Bosnian Serbs opposingreturn had gathered as well. Several sources claimed it was an organized protest, that there were too many protesters for it to be a spontaneous demonstration.
According to several sources, the atmosphere was very hostile. Bruno Pennaneach, the United Nations Civil Affairs Officer in Bijeljina, described the meeting, at which he was present:
Before the meeting even started, [those opposing return] started to make problems. "Do you think we can go back there? We can never live with Muslims anymore! You are speaking with the Serb Civic Council, but they are not serious, they [stayed] with Muslims. How can you organize a meeting like that!" .... [T]he atmosphere was so threatening that we couldn't start the meeting.133
Several of the protesters were carrying weapons such as stones and sticks, and according to one source, the meeting ended with fighting in the streets and stones being thrown.134
Interestingly enough, two organizations were not present at the meeting: the IPTF and the local police. Paul Hawkins, at that time commander of the IPTF sub-station in Janja, claims that the IPTF had not been informed of the meeting. However, both the local organizer, Mara Radovanovi_,135 and Soufiane Adjali,136 a UNHCR protection officer who was also present at the meeting, claim that the IPTF commander had been told of the meeting. Moreover, the IPTF refused to intervene even when the meeting started to get out of hand. Bruno Pennaneach continued that when things started to get out of hand, "I went to the IPTF to tell them what was going on, but they were not interested. They said: `Let the local police solve this, it is not our job.'....IPTF only arrived when everybody was leaving, they didn't see the crowd."137 It seems very improbable that the IPTF was unaware of what was going on: the IPTF office was located in the same local community building, on the other side of the corridor from the room where the meeting was to be held.
The local police were also not present at the meeting, even though the local organizers claim that they had informed the police beforehand. If the IPTF had indeed been informed about the meeting, it would have been its task to make sure that the local police were informed, so that they could plan to be present. But even though several international sources have said that they were not sure whether the local police had been officially informed of the meeting, all seem to agree that the police probably knew anyway, and had nevertheless decided not to be present. As Paul Hawkins said: "[T]he local police had not been informed, at least not by us. But most probably they knew about it anyway. The total absence of local police seems orchestrated. I am sure there was an intention on their part not to be there."138 Soufiane Adjali shared Hawkins' opinion: "I am sure that it was an intentional absence on [the part of] the local police."139
The absence of the local police was hardly surprising. Local authorities did not support the efforts of some Bosnian Serbs to return to the Federation because this would have set in motion a return process that would ultimately have led to the return of Bosniaks to RS. Rather then protecting the rights of those who want to return to Bijeljina, thepolice actively obstructed return. Many members of the police140 or special police are themselves living in homes belonging to Bosniaks that left or were expelled. In such cases, the police are hardly ever willing to act on behalf of the Bosniaks, in particular if the occupants are members of the special police. Human Rights Watch received several reports of such cases. One of the most serious is that of Nedñad Husrefbegovi_, who was thrown out of his house in December 1995 by Jovan A...imovi_, then a member of the special police. Nedñad Husrefbegovi_ told Human Rights Watch:
Two or three days after we were kicked out [of our house], I went to the police. They wrote everything down, but nothing ever happened with our case. After about two months, General Goran Sari_, the commander of the special police, brought his mother and father to live in my house, as well as a guard, Zvezda Tribuni_. When A...im had to leave the house, he took two tv's, the video, the furniture, and the cars.
At some point, after about five months, Zvezda said I was lucky, because Sari_'s parents were leaving, so I could come back to the house. But the commander [Sari_] left two soldiers in the house, who called me to come in. I went there, and screamed at them: "Shame on you, I've got a sick child, let me use the bathroom." But they told me they couldn't, the commander had told them to stay there. They also told me to come in and register exactly how much of my belongings were left, so they wouldn't blame them later for taking it.
So I went to the police again. The commander said: `What is going on, this cannot be [happening] again," and he promised to send over a patrol to check it out. But then another local police officer came up and said: "What do you want? You think that you can go back to your house? No way, Bosnia is divided now, you don't have anything here anymore!"141
Ultimately, Nedñad Husrefbegovi_ and his family were allowed to move back to their house, in December 1996.
Several others suffered the same experience as Nedñad: a (special) police officer moved into a Bosniak's house, and the local police refused to take action. Jusuf Mustafi_, a Bosniak from Janja, had accommodated several Bosnian Serbs in his house since September 1994. In July 1996, a Bosnian Serb displaced person settled himself in Mustafi_'s house. But Mustafi_ and the displaced person had relatively good relations, and Mustafi_ continued to live in his house together with the Bosnian Serb displaced person and his family. However:
around August 1997...I was kicked out of my house. When I was [away from my] house, some guys broke into my floor of the house, with the help of a guy named A...imovi_. When I came back home, they didn't let me back into my house. When I said I would go to the police, A...im (which is the nickname of A...imovi_) took me in his own car to the local police station. We came into the hall there, and Pero ðeraji_, the commander, came out and asked what was happening. A...im said to him: "This is the case I was telling you about," and the commander said: "Just go on, do whatever you want to do." Then I said [to A...im]: "I'll walk home, you just go on with your job," but A...im forced me to go with him. In the car, he hit me a few times and said: "You tried to complain about me at the police."He then drove me to the center [of Janja], and I got out of the car, and that's how the situation is up until today.142
Since that time, Jusuf Mustafi_, together with his mother and wife, has been living in the basement of his father's house, most of which is also inhabited by Bosnian Serb displaced persons. The Bosnian Serb displaced person still lives in Mustafi_' house. In August or September 1998, Jusuf Mustafi_ went to ðeljka Simi_, then the head of the Janja Department of the Commission for Accommodation of Refugees, to ask about his house. However, Simi_ told him that the Bosnian Serb displaced person living in his house had the right papers for the house, and that Mustafi_ had lost all his rights to the building.
The police also actively tried to discourage Bosniaks from returning. In the first months of 1998, the IPTF received several complaints from Bosniaks considering return who were given "friendly advice" by local police officers:
All of them were "warned" by the police that their security could not be guaranteed, and "advised" not to come back to Janja. We discussed these cases with the police, explaining that it was harassment in our eyes, and that the police's role is not to warn citizens, but to protect them. After that, we didn't receive any complaints anymore. However, whenever we send returnees to the ministry of displaced persons and refugees...then half an hour later the police visit their house to check their I.D.s, and tell all of them that they cannot guarantee their safety, and that they have to leave....143
Despite the intervention by the IPTF, the police continued to warn off potential returnees, according to the IPTF human rights officer in Janja, and the chief of police failed to take disciplinary measures against the police officers involved in this practice.144
A New Atmosphere
According to representatives of international organizations the climate for return improved significantly in 1999. As Nenad Ðoki_ said: "We have changed the climate in Bijeljina. Until the beginning of this year, most couldn't even imagine that there would be return. Now the atmosphere is much better, an atmosphere where temporary occupants are willing to cooperate with us."145 As far as Human Rights Watch has been able to establish, there were no large-scale protests against the return of displaced persons and refugees in 1999, and the police no longer "warned" potential returnees of the dangers involved in return.
Three reasons are given for the improved climate: the Republika Srpska National Assembly passed the Law on the Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property; the international community increased its presence in Bijeljina and improved its coordination; and a new, much more cooperative head of the Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons was appointed.
The Law on the Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property
The international community on many occasions asked the Republika Srpska authorities to repeal the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property, not only because it inhibited the return of refugees and was therefore not in accordancewith the Dayton Peace Agreement, but also because of the problems related to article 17, which deals with the allocation of "surplus living space," which was discriminatory.146 The Chairman's Concluding Statement of the Regional Returns Conference, which was held in Banja Luka on April 28, 1998, stated that "the Republika Srpska Government must pass, by the end of June 1998, as announced at the conference, new property legislation and accompanying regulations in compliance with Annex 7 of the GFAP." When it turned out that the Republika Srpska authorities had failed to meet this deadline, the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council extended the deadline to August 31, 1998.147
However, despite repeated promises by Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, the law was not repealed until December 2, 1998, when the Republika Srpska National Assembly passed the Law on the Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property. Whereas the old law prevented displaced persons and refugees from returning if the temporary occupant of their property could not or did not want to return to his or her original home, the new law states that the ministry should decide upon a claim within thirty days,148 and that the original inhabitant should be allowed to return ninety days after a decision in his or her favor has been taken.149 Under certain conditions, the temporary occupant is entitled to alternative accommodation, to be provided by the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons. However,
in no event shall failure of the responsible body to meet its obligations [to provide alternative accommodation to the temporary occupant] operate to delay the ability of the owner, possessor or user to enter into possession of his/her property.150
Although the new law still has some weaknesses, in particular regarding the implementation of decisions151 the law is generally considered to be a major step forward in the returns process and has had a significant impact. Since the new law came into force, the Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons has been receiving many claims for the return of property. According to figures of the RS Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons, as of March 13, 2000 the Bijeljina department of the ministry had received 5,605 claims for return of private property and 576 claims for return of socially-owned property for which the claimants had an occupancy right.152
The increased presence and improved coordination of the international community in Bijeljina
Since the beginning of 1999, the Office of the High Representative has had a presence in Bijeljina, in line with OHR's decision to appoint special envoys to municipalities that were considered not to be implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement. François Perez was appointed to be special envoy in Bijeljina to coordinate the efforts of international organizations working in the Bijeljina region. One of Perez's initiatives was to organize a PropertyCommission to deal with the more difficult return cases. This consists of representatives of the OSCE, the UNHCR, the OHR, the municipality, and the Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons.153 On an occasional basis the local police and the IPTF participate in the meetings as well. The international organizations, as well as the representative of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons, all present cases they receive to the Property Commission. The commission at its weekly meetings selects some of these cases, which will then be investigated by a field team before the next meeting. The field team presents its findings and recommendations at the commission's next session. The commission then reviews the cases and make recommendations to the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons.
Although the commission's recommendations have no legal force, it is expected that the ministry will be willing to implement the recommendations, since a representative of the ministry takes part in the work of the commission. The commission, which was set up in May 1999,154 has had limited success. A reliable international source estimated that of the more than one hundred cases the commission has dealt with, only 20 to 25 percent have been implemented. However, the commission's functioning also supported the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in doing its work on other cases.
The new head of the Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons
The Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons has seen several different heads during the last three years. According to Bruno Pennaneach, the United Nations civilian affairs officer in Bijeljina, the department had nine different heads over the last three years, of which three were interviewed by Human Rights Watch. Not all of them seemed to be overly concerned with the return of refugees.
Nenad Ðoki_, appointed June 1, 1999 as head of the Bijeljina department, seems to be genuinely committed to return. Both his international interlocutors155 and his counterpart in the Tuzla municipality, Amir Omer...ehaji_,156 contend that Ðoki_ is far more cooperative and committed to return than his predecessors. Ðoki_ is the first head of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in the RS that has sought to cooperate with his Federation counterparts on return, and Ðoki_ and Omer...ehaji_ now meet on a regular basis. By exchanging information on who regained possession of, sold, or exchanged their housing in Bijeljina and Tuzla, the two offices have increased the possibility of identifying cases of double occupancy and of determining in which cases alternative housing is required.157 The cooperation between Bijeljina and Tuzla is satisfactory for both sides, and Ðoki_ now wants to establish similar cooperation with municipalities in the Sarajevo Canton. During an interview in September 1999,Ðoki_ said: "I don't see any real solution [for return], except for two-way return. If more Serbs would want to return, it would be easier."158
Since Ðoki_ took over as head of the Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in June 1999, return to Bijeljina has improved significantly. No decisions were taken on claims under the new housing legislation by Ðoki_'s predecessor, Danilo ,,olakovi_. However, according to international sources in Bijeljina, around 300 decisions have been implemented, and about 240 families have been reinstated since June 1999.159 According to figures provided by UNHCR, some 500 minorities returned to Bijeljina in 1999, and return appears to have continued throughout the first months of 2000.160
Compared to the four reported minority returns between 1996 and 1998, this is a substantial increase. However, when one takes into account that around 30,000 Bosniaks and other minorities were evicted from their houses in Bijeljina during the war, the number of returns is hardly more than symbolic. At this rate, it will take another twenty-one years before all claims will have been decided upon and implemented.
The number of returns is even less impressive because the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Bijeljina has so far focused on the easiest cases, or, as one international source put it: "Ðoki_ prioritizes decisions that can actually be implemented."161 Almost all cases that have been resolved involved private property, and so far forcible evictions have been necessary in only a few cases in order to reinstate returnees. In most cases, an agreement was reached between the temporary occupant and the prewar occupant, for example because the temporary occupant had regained possession of his/her property in the Federation, or decided to emigrate. The resolution of cases regarding socially-owned apartments is much more difficult, and provides a real test for the ability and willingness of the ministry to implement the new housing legislation. Like elsewhere in Bosnia, many socially-owned apartments that were abandoned during the war were given to local Bosnian Serbs as a reward for their party loyalty or war time activities, or were given to people who wanted to move out of their parents houses to start a family of their own, or to move from an outlying village to the city. These so-called "multiple occupancy" cases, however, have hardly been addressed in Bijeljina: only six cases regarding socially-owned property have been resolved.162 International sources confirmed that there are "still difficulties in dealing with double occupancy cases."
Furthermore, thirty-six of cases that were resolved occurred within the framework of a construction program of the Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (Technical Cooperation Agency, GTZ), a German governmental development agency. GTZ initiated a project in which thirty-six apartments were built for Bosnian Serb displaced persons in Bijeljina who were occupying the houses of Bosniak refugees from Bijeljina who were living in Germany.163 These were easy cases, as the Bosnian Serb displaced persons were offered newly built apartments from which they would not be evicted in due time, as alternatives to temporary occupancy of homes which ultimately would have to bereturned to the rightful owners. The Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons had only to sign decisions regarding the return of the original inhabitant, without having to go through the procedures that other returns require.
This is not to say that the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Bijeljina is to blame for the relatively small number of returns. Since Nenad Ðoki_ took charge, the atmosphere regarding return has changed for the better, the number of returns has increased, and the ministry has started issuing decisions in favor of returnees. However, the office is seriously understaffed and under equipped, and does not receive enough support from the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Banja Luka. By the end of September 1999, it had received almost 5,000 claims for return of accommodation, and expected to receive another 2,000 to 3,000 claims. Ðoki_'s office has only two lawyers to deal with all the cases, as well as two field staff (one of whom may be removed, at the request of the OHR Special Envoy) and two administrative staff. According to Ðoki_, it takes a lawyer at least one day to deal with a single case. In June, Ðoki_ asked the ministry for an extra lawyer for his department. However, in March 2000, the ministry was still working with only two lawyers.164
Nor does the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Bijeljina receive the material support it needs. According to Ðurðica Zori_, responsible for the Bijeljina area on behalf of the UNHCR, the office does not have petty cash to pay for postage, nor does it have a vehicle to do field work.165 Ðoki_ complained as well: "So far, we didn't get much at all from the ministry. We just got paper, pens, stuff like that. But we didn't even get gasoline to do [field work]. But the situation is the same in all departments."166 At the end of September the staff of the Bijeljina department still hadn't received their salaries for August or September, despite the fact that USAID had provided the ministry with money to pay the salaries for June through September.
The biggest problem confronting the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Bijeljina is finding alternative accommodation for those to be evicted from returnees' apartments. According to Ðoki_, the Bijeljina municipality is not very cooperative in finding alternative accommodation: "So far, we can only offer abandoned property which hasn't been claimed yet. The municipality doesn't need to give us anything. The municipality never gave us a list of abandoned property. Now, the only way we have to prove [an accommodation] is empty is through the firms. So what we do is that when the name is Muslim, we just assume it is abandoned."167 UNHCR confirmed that the municipality is not very cooperative, and that it is very difficult to obtain information on double occupancy cases from the municipality.168
Already before return to Janja started, the displaced Bosnian Serbs now living in Janja protested the possible return of Muslims.169 The displaced persons in Janja have a reputation for being strongly opposed to return. Ziad Abu-Amer, the deputy station commander of IPTF in Bijeljina, told Human Rights Watch that the president of the local community board in Janja had said that he would do everything in his power to stop return to Janja.170
After return to Janja and Bijeljina increased, a series of incidents aimed at returnees took place. Between January 1 and March 11, 2000, six explosions, at least two cases of arson, one shooting incident, and numerous cases of harassment of returnees took place. The house of one Bosniak municipal councillor who had recently returned was severely damaged. Stones were thrown through the windows of another Bosniak municipal councillor. Most of the incidents took place after the local tv-station in Bijeljina reported for several days in a row about a case in which two Roma abducted and mistreated a displaced Bosnian Serb residing in Janja.
Both local and international sources strongly suspect that this series of incidents was an organized attempt to disrupt the returns process to Bijeljina and Janja. However, although the local police have started an investigation, no suspects have yet been arrested. The incidents stopped after the local police, in cooperation with the IPTF, increased their presence in Janja. Moreover, SFOR has increased its presence, and is now patrolling Janja twenty-four hours a day. Currently, the situation is "calm, but not peaceful."
Projects to accommodate displaced persons and promote return
According to those representing Bosniaks from Bijeljina, the vast majority of those who were expelled or fled from Bijeljina would like to return.171 Yet according to Bosnian Serb sources, the vast majority of displaced Bosnian Serbs do not want to return to their houses in the Federation or Croatia. Danilo ,,olakovi_, when he was the head of the Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons, was convinced that Bijeljina municipality can not handle the problem by itself: "We cannot do anything; the international community should do this, we are too weak to do it.... The only solution I see is that some humanitarian organizations finance housing units on building sites [provided by] the municipality."172
In 1998, the municipality began several projects to provide accommodation for a part of the displaced Bosnian Serbs in Bijeljina. According to Jezdimir Spasojevi_, the head of the Department for Urban Planning of Bijeljina municipality, the municipality prepared a plan for 1,800 building sites of 400 square meters each, complete with infrastructure.173 These building sites were to be given free of charge to displaced persons from the Federation who do not have a place to return to, i.e., whose homes have been damaged beyond repair by the war. The Bijeljina authorities contacted the authorities in Sarajevo and Tuzla to establish which displaced persons indeed do not have a place to return to because of war-time destruction. Spasojevi_ estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the displaced persons in Bijeljina fall within this category. Only these persons were to be eligible for one of the 1,800 building sites. By providing displaced persons with a lot to build a new house, the municipality hopes to free up the housing of Bosniaks now occupied by displaced Bosnian Serbs.
Even though the project would free up housing, and provide an opportunity for Bosniaks to return to Bijeljina, those representing Bosniaks in the municipal council in Bijeljina, the councillors of the KCDBiH, opposed the plan. Their main objection was that, in their view, the land assigned for distribution among displaced Bosnian Serbs was
land expropriated from Bosniaks or belonging to Poljuprivredna Dobra Semberija (Agricultural Property Semberija, PPD),174 which PPD acquired by means of agricultural reforms and expropriationmainly from Bosniaks after World War Two. Thus, property that on the basis of the restitution should be returned to its original owners ... is divided among one ethnic group only, thereby prejudging the question of restitution and privatization, because there will be nothing left to return or privatize.175
The councillors consider the plan to be part of the "politics of ethnic consolidation in the Republika Srpska, that is the politics of legalizing [the results of] ethnic cleansing [that was] carried out during the war."
The Bijeljina municipality is involved in several other, smaller projects of a similar nature. For instance, the municipality provided land for about one hundred building sites in Velika Obarska, a village some five kilometers northwest of Bijeljina. These lots were given to employees of two firms in Velika Obarska, Zlatibor and Orao, who paid for the infrastructure for this area. And in Pet Jezera, the municipality is preparing fifty-five buildings sites which will be sold for 14,000 German marks each.
All these projects have one thing in common according to Bosniaks in Bijeljina: a substantial part of the land used for these projects originally belonged to Bosniaks and other minorities. The Bijeljina authorities, on the other hand, claim that most of the land involved had been owned by Bosnian Serbs. However, Jezdimir Spasojevi_ admitted that the municipality does not know exactly who owned the land that now will be used for the housing of displaced persons before it was nationalized.176 The councillors of the KCDBiH officially requested clarification of this issue, but never received an answer. In a letter dated December 18, 1998, to Vlatko Sekuli_, the director of the Republi...ka Geodetska Uprava (Republican Geodetic Department), Human Rights Watch requested specific data concerning the ownership of the land that is to be distributed. Jezdimir Spasojevi_ had suggested that the Geodetic Department would have data concerning previous ownership of this land, but at the writing of this report, Human Rights Watch still had not received an answer from Vlatko Sekuli_.
Jezdimir Spasojevi_, however, maintained that it was not relevant who owned the land before it was privatized.
It's not relevant, since all had a lawyer appointed to represent them. When [the original owners] come, they can go to him. Then, there are several possibilities: they can have their land returned to them if nothing has happened to it. However, if the [newly built] buildings on the land are more valuable than the land itself, then they will be compensated for their damages, or they will be offered a piece of land of the same quality.177
There are certainly reasons to be doubtful of the intentions of the Bijeljina authorities. It is unclear why the municipality itself did not ascertain the owners of the land were before it was nationalized, especially if such data, as Spasojevi_ claimed, is readily available at the Geodetic Department. If the land largely belonged to Bosnian Serbs, the authorities could have avoided the appearance that they were attempting to obstruct the return of Bosniaks by using land that was slated to be returned to them. If, on the other hand, the land in large part belonged to Bosniaks and other minorities, the authorities could have tried to contact the original owners of the land, to inform them about the plans to use this land for settling Bosnian Serb displaced persons, and given them a reasonable time to come to an agreement with the Bijeljina authorities to sell the property. By not clarifying who owned these parcels of land, the municipalauthorities have neglected the legitimate concerns of Bosniaks, which, given the current conditions in Bosnia and Hercegovina, can only lead to more skepticism among Bosniaks regarding the willingness of the Bijeljina authorities to allow returns of Bosniaks.
According to Bijeljina authorities, the plans are intended to allow for the return of Bosniaks. However, the land slated for distribution used to be agricultural land, and many inhabitants of Bijeljina depended on agriculture for their livelihood. Using this land to settle displaced Bosnian Serbs makes it even harder for returning Bosniaks to provide for themselves, even if they are reinstated in their homes. The chances for alternative employment are extremely limited given the high unemployment rate in the Republika Srpska and the unwillingness of Bosnian Serb firms to employ Bosniaks.
The plans to provide displaced persons with construction sites were put on hold following a decision by High Representative Carlos Westendorp in May 1999 to suspend the power of authorities to reallocate and dispose of socially-owned land. Westendorp explained his decision as follows:
This decision addresses the widespread misuse, re-allocation, and sale of socially-owned land that was previously used by people who are now refugees and displaced persons and may wish to return. In many return areas, municipalities have re-allocated former agricultural land, or have demolished war-damaged housing in order to use the land differently. They have also re-allocated land that used to accommodate cultural and religious sites and private business premises.
Conducive conditions are necessary for the sustainable return of refugees and displaced persons. In many cases, the current land re-allocation practice amounts to taking away their livelihood and cultural and religious heritage. The re-allocation and, in many instances, unlawful sale of socially-owned land also threatens to undermine the processes of restitution and privatization.
Following the Decision of the High Representative, municipalities are no longer allowed to re-allocate or dispose in any way of socially-owned property, if on 6 April 1992 it was used for residential, religious, or cultural purposes, or for private agricultural and business activities.178
Nevertheless, the Bijeljina municipality is in the process of allocating 300 construction sites to Bosnian Serb displaced persons. The land where the construction sites are planned is owned by Poljuprivredu Zavoda and Poljuprivredna Dobra Semberija, two state-owned agricultural firms. According to Miodrag Stojanovi_, a lawyer and member of the Executive Board of the Bijeljina municipality, this land was never supposed to be returned in the restitution process, as it has always been municipal property.179 Human Rights Watch has been unable to ascertain whether this is indeed the case, but even if socially-owned land, it should not be distributed among displaced Bosnian Serbs before the municipality has clearly proven that this plan will not affect the rights of displaced persons and refugees.
The GTZ Project
The Technical Cooperation Association (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit-GTZ), the development cooperation agency of the German government, is involved in a project to enhance return to Bijeljina by providing Bosnian Serb displaced persons with new housing in Bijeljina. In cooperation with the Bijeljina authorities, GTZ built thirty-six apartments for Bosnian Serb displaced persons currently occupying homes in Bijeljina thatoriginally belonged to Bosniaks. The Bijeljina municipality provided the land on which the apartments were built and prepared documentation for the infrastructure. The German government, through GTZ, paid for the expenses of the project, some 1.5 million German marks. After its completion, GTZ officially handed over the apartments, which are supposedly temporary accommodations, to the Bijeljina authorities.
The beneficiaries were chosen through a selection process in which, according to Joachim Neunfinger, the head of GTZ's office in Tuzla, social indicators were one of the main criteria.180 However, the principal criterion was that the Bosniak beneficiaries-those whose homes would be returned to them when the Serb occupants were moved to the new apartments- should be refugees now living in Germany. In other words, the process was aimed at enabling Bosniak refugees in Germany to return home, thereby relieving Germany's massive caseload of Bosnian refugees.
The GTZ project met with considerable international resistance, which concerned both technical and policy aspects of the project. The concerns of the international community were voiced several times to GTZ representatives but, according to an international source in Bijeljina "GTZ and Germany didn't care about the objections."181 International organizations therefore decided not to be present during the official handover ceremony of the apartments. After the completion of the project, the UNHCR conducted an analysis of the project, and the Tuzla Reconstruction and Return Task Force (RRTF) Core Group, sent a letter to GTZ outlining the main criticisms of the project. The letter criticized several technical matters:
C The project did not manage to prevent the departing Bosnian Serb displaced persons from stripping the Bosniaks' homes and stealing their furniture. According to GTZ director Neunfinger: "Most of the houses were stripped. The Bosniaks were not reimbursed for these damages. We had money for it, but we decided not to spend it. We just helped four families who didn't have anything at all. We wanted to be careful not to spoil their integration process, they shouldn't have too much."182 According to GTZ, the municipality prepared lists of furniture in the Bosniak's houses, and municipal officials were present when the displaced Bosnian Serbs moved out. Even so, Neunfinger said he doubted that it would be possible to prevent theft from happening.
C The project allegedly did not assure that all the houses involved were freed. The RRTF claims that in three cases, Bosnian Serb displaced persons are still living in (a part of) the Bosniaks' property. However, Neunfinger categorically denied that this was the case. Human Rights Watch has been unable to establish whether the houses were indeed freed completely.
The main points of critique, however, were not of a technical but a policy nature. The letter stated as follows:
First, from a conceptual point of view, provision of new housing in the Republika Srpska to Bosnian Serb DPs from the Federation legitimated re-location, a practice which the International Community does not support (reference is made to the 1998 Madrid Peace Implementation Council's conclusions, recommending the donors not to fund relocation projects in 1999).
Second, from the operational angle, the provision of housing for DPs in one location in Bosnia and Herzegovina was likely to strengthen the tendency among Bosnian Serb displaced persons to resist return home to the Federation, making implementation of Annex 7 accordingly more difficult.183
Indeed, the Madrid Peace Implementation Council (PIC) endorsed the RRTF Action Plan for 1999, which clearly stated the following:
The continuing policy of the RRTF is that ... scarce donor funds should be invested in return rather than relocation. Therefore, international investments in new housing and/or repair of existing dwellings for relocation are not specifically included in this plan as an acceptable means of generating housing space, except in the form of buffer accommodation...184
The Sarajevo Office of the German Federal Government Commissioner for the Return of Refugees, Reintegration and Return-related Construction, in a response to the RRTF-letter, pointed out that the Madrid PIC also welcomed the strategy of the Humanitarian Issues Working Group of the PIC "which outlines four sustainable solutions, namely return to pre-conflict homes as the preferred solution, as well as local integration, resettlement and relocation." However, this does not fully answer the criticism. Although other solutions including relocation are mentioned, return to pre-conflict homes is named as the preferred solution. Furthermore, Germany is a member of the RRTF, whose policy it is not to fund relocation projects. It is unclear why the German government decided to act against a return strategy which it itself helped define.
The Dayton Peace Agreement is clearly based on the assumption that refugees and displaced persons have the right freely to return to their homes of origin: "The early return of refugees and displaced persons is an important objective of the settlement of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina."185 By facilitating the relocation of large groups of displaced persons in the entity governed by their ethnic group, the results of "ethnic cleansing" achieved in the war will be solidified in the post-war period, contrary to the intentions of the Dayton agreement.
Admittedly, the Dayton agreement states that the "choice of destination shall be up to the individual or family,"186 a right which has also been recognized by international refugee conventions. However, the parties to the Dayton agreement undertook to "create in their territories the political, economic, and social conditions conducive to the voluntary return and harmonious integration of refugees and displaced persons"187 and to "facilitate the flow of information necessary for refugees and displaced persons to make informed judgments about local conditions for return."188 However, the parties have never fulfilled these obligations. As the Reconstruction and Return Task Force (RRTF) stated in its 1999 RRTF Action Plan:
Despite the promises enshrined in Dayton, conditions for minority return do not exist in most parts of the country. The primary reason is an appalling lack of political will on the part of the authorities at all levels. This lack of political will manifests itself in a number of ways, from obstructionism in the passage and implementation of new property laws, to a failure to provide security for returnees and properly investigate crimes against minorities, to clear discrimination in the judicial and public administrative systems. Lack of and unequal access to employment, scarcity of resources and politicization in education policy further undermine minority return. Returns to Croatia remain hampered by continued constraints. Key obstacles outlined in the UNHCR Regional Strategy include the use of media to incite opposition to return or intimidate the displaced not to return; denial of access to public services and fundamental human rights; and the deliberate relocation of returnees or the internally displaced in order to consolidate control and further ethnically-motivated political objectives.189
Because the conditions for return have not yet been met, and displaced persons and refugees do not have access to objective information regarding the possibility of returning to their homes of origin, displaced persons and refugees can not freely make an informed decision on whether or not to return. By providing displaced persons with what is in effect permanent housing, the GTZ project discouraged Bosnian Serb displaced persons from returning to their pre-war homes.
The RRTF-letter continued:
Third, though the project was presented as providing "temporary buffer accommodation" with the assumption that the beneficiaries would eventually return home, it was considered likely that the provided accommodation would be considered permanent.190
GTZ labeled the accommodation as "temporary accommodation," and according to Neunfinger, the contract with the municipality states that the apartments are supposed to be temporary accommodation. However, the municipality, in its contracts with the Bosnian Serb displaced persons, did not specify a duration for the contract, or include a clause stipulating the terms under which the displaced persons would move out. The survey and analysis that UNHCR performed showed that all of the fifteen Serb families interviewed had decided to remain in Bijeljina and not to return to the Federation. Most of them asked whether they would, in the end, be able to buy the apartment. In these cases, one cannot speak of buffer accommodation, because those who are using the accommodation have no intention to return to their original property.
The German government argued that "in a modern western marke[t]-oriented society people will not stay permanently at one location." This argument, however, is beside the point. Temporary buffer accommodation is intended to accommodate displaced persons who are evicted from their temporary homes because the original inhabitant returned, until such time as they have resolved their outstanding housing problems. One would assume that in case of buffer accommodation, the contract with the temporary occupants would contain provisions that would ensure that the "buffer" character remains intact. For instance, the contract could specify a time limit for displaced persons to use the accommodation, which could be extended if return is blocked. Alternatively, the contract couldinclude a clause stating that the temporary occupant is obliged to start proceedings to resolve his/her outstanding housing problems, and to vacate the buffer accommodation as soon as these problems have been resolved.
Despite the criticism of the international community, GTZ is now preparing a second phase of the project in Bijeljina. The project foresees the construction of 104 apartments in Bijeljina, which will be inhabited by Bosnian Serb displaced persons. The project, which will cost around 4.5 million German marks, most likely will be funded by Directorate General 1A (External Relations with Europe and the New Independent States) of the European Commission.191 The international community, in particular the RRTF, has reluctantly agreed to cooperate with GTZ in the realization of the project, and will be involved in the selection procedures for determining the beneficiaries. It has been agreed that 50 percent of the Bosniak beneficiaries-those whose homes would be returned to them when the Serb occupants moved into the new apartments-shall be members of the "floating" population, while the other 50 percent will be refugees now living in European Union countries. Moreover, GTZ said that several other changes would be made from the first project. Among others, GTZ would demand that the contracts with the Bosnian Serb displaced persons would include a clause on when and under which conditions they were obliged to vacate the temporary accommodation.
Germany has had to deal with an enormous influx of refugees from Bosnia and Hercegovina, including almost 14,000 refugees from Bijeljina,192 and has spent billions of German marks to accommodate and support the refugees. Given this burden it is understandable that the German authorities want to return Bosnian refugees to Bosnia as soon as possible. However, Germany has signed the Dayton Peace Agreement as a witness, thereby signaling its support for the peace agreement, including Annex 7 on Return of Refugees and Displaced Persons. Supporting the Bijeljina authorities in their plan to provide permanent accommodation for displaced Bosnian Serbs in Bijeljina undercuts the stated aim to allow for the return of displaced persons and refugees, and solidifies the ethnic division of Bosnia and Hercegovina.
The resources used to provide displaced persons with new apartments could also be used to repair the original homes of the displaced persons in the Federation. In that way, using the same resources, displaced persons would have a permanent place to live, and accommodations in Bijeljina would be vacated so Bosniaks could return to their own homes. But, there is an additional advantage: the results of "ethnic cleansing" would not be solidified but reversed. However, according to Neunfinger "reconstructing the houses of Bosnian Serb displaced persons takes too long, there are too many steps [in the process]."
Abuses by the police
During the first years after the war, Bosniaks and other minorities faced regular harassment and ill-treatment. Although theoretically Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats, and Bosnian Serbs were equal before the law, in Bijeljina they could not count on the police to protect their rights, and most didn't dare to report incidents to the police. In 1996 and 1997, abuses against minorities were commonplace. In 1998, the frequency of these abuses appeared to have decreased, but Bosniaks still suffered from abuses by police forces. Especially in the first six months of 1998, there were several incidents in which members of the police or special police physically abused Bosniaks living in Bijeljina or harassed them in other ways. In particular members of the special police in Janja have a long record of abuse, and they have been able to engage in these abuses with almost complete impunity. The problems created by members of the special police in Bijeljina in May 1998 prompted Elodie Cantier Aristide, then human rights coordinator of the United Nations'Human Rights Office in the Br...ko region, to describe "the presence of the special police in Janja [as] the biggest problem when we talk about human rights. There have been several instances of arbitrary violence, and no progress along the lines of Dayton due to their presence.... There are never any normal solutions concerning the special police, their cases never go to court. In cases involving the special police, we try to force the local police to investigate. So far, they have never done this."193
Paul Hawkins, then station commander of the IPTF station in Janja, when asked what the special police in Janja actually do, answered that "they do whatever they want, the local police will never undertake any action against them." Hawkins provided Human Rights Watch with an example of the behavior of the special police, and the position the local police take:
[A member] of the fourth brigade [of the special police, which is based in Janja] was involved in an accident with a coal truck in December . It was clearly the officer's fault, even though the police reports say otherwise. However, [the officer] pulled a gun, and took the truck from the driver. He told him he could get it back after the driver would pay 3,000 German marks to cover the damages. Only after ten days, when the driver managed to scramble together the DM 3,000, he got his truck back.194
Although the IPTF wrote a noncompliance report against the officer, he remained a member of the Fourth Brigade until the summer of 1998, when he was removed from the special police for reasons unrelated to the incident above.195
Unfortunately, there are many more instances of abuses of minorities at the hands of the police. Hans-Jürgen Münzel, a human rights officer for the IPTF in Janja, stated in July 1998 that "more than 80, maybe even 90 percent of our cases concern complaints against the police."196
The Case of Jusuf Alihodñic
One of the most serious cases reported to Human Rights Watch is that of Jusuf Alihodñi_, who was severely beaten by an apparently off-duty member of the local police. Jusuf related his experience:
On June 12, 1998...at 4:15 a.m., Rajko Pjevalj...i_ and another man came to our house. Pjevalj...i_, who was a local police officer...was a little drunk, and he said he came for coffee and rakija. I told him: "Not now, you should come later, my wife and daughters are asleep," and closed the door. But Rajko opened the door again, and hit me with his elbow in my stomach, then with his fist in my face, andI fell down. I got up again, and asked him what's the matter. He then hit me again, and I fell down, losing consciousness after I hit a kitchen cupboard.197
Jusuf's wife was awakened by the noise, and saw what happened after Jusuf fell and lost consciousness:
I saw one of them picking him up, and then the other kicked him down again. They repeated this several times. My youngest daughter tried to stand between them, and asked Rajko not to do that, but Rajko grabbed her and threw her on the floor.
The other guy then went outside to clean his shoes, but Rajko stayed and tried to rape me. I said: "Rajko, please don't do that, my kids will get scared." But Rajko replied that they would only get scared if I screamed. He grabbed me, and tried to take me into the bathroom. I begged Rajko to call an ambulance, because I thought that my husband would die. But Rajko took the head of my husband, twisted it and said: "Do you want me to slaughter him right now?".... I asked Rajko again to allow me to call an ambulance, but Rajko ripped my husband's shirt, beat him in his stomach, and [when my husband moved] said: "See, he's still alive." He then hit my husband's head against the doorstep, asking: "Do you want me to kill him?" Then Rajko approached me again, and harassed me sexually. The other guy then said: "Rajko, don't do that, it's enough." .... They left around 6 a.m., after they had kicked in the windows.
....The police [came, and] asked me where they went, but I didn't know. But my son saw Rajko and the other man, and said : "There they are." The police then went after them, so they should know who the other one is, but they never told us who it was. The day after, Rajko was arrested. He confessed to everything, but he didn't reveal the name of the other. Rajko was fired from the police, and the IPTF took away his gun and his badge. The IPTF says that Rajko is now in Serbia.198
According to Pablo Badie, human rights officer of IPTF in Bijeljina, Pjevalj...i_ was arrested in March 1999 and spent one month in prison in connection with the attack on Jusuf Alihodñi_.
In the Alihodñi_ case, the police ultimately arrested the perpetrator, who was fired from his job, and served a prison term. In other cases, however, the police have protected the identity of police officers who physically abused detainees while on duty. Rather than protecting minorities from abuses, they were themselves involved in abuses and also shielded those who committed the abuses from any repercussions.
The Case of Fadil Gani_
The IPTF told Human Rights Watch about the case of Fadil Gani_, a Bosniak who was a suspect in a murder case.199 In February 1998, Fadil Gani_ was severely beaten with a rubber truncheon during investigation by one of the police officers handling the case who, according to the IPTF, was under pressure to produce quick results. A Human Rights Watch representative saw pictures of Gani_ taken soon after the beating, showing severe bruises on his torso, and a large dark blue bruise on his upper back measuring about fourteen by eight inches. He also had smaller bruises on his lower back and his arm. Soon after, it turned out that Fadil Gani_ had nothing to do with the murder.
Branko Stevi_, then chief of police in Bijeljina, admitted that an officer had beaten Fadil Gani_ and advised Gani_ to take the case to court.200 However, Fadil Gani_ refused to file an official complaint because he was afraid. Although he no longer lived in Bijeljina, he feared repercussions for his parents who continued to live there. He was too afraid even to have a medical examination performed after he was beaten.
Branko Stevi_ said he would start internal disciplinary proceedings against the officer, which would probably lead to the officer's dismissal from the force. Despite repeated requests by the IPTF human rights officer to be informed of the identity of the police officer involved in the beating, the police refused to divulge his name or to inform the IPTF about the internal proceedings he said were initiated against the officer involved. Then deputy chief of criminal police in Bijeljina, Du_an Spasojevi_, told the IPTF that he was under orders not to discuss the case with the IPTF, explaining that "[since] the officer involved has already offered his apologies...there is no point in punishing him."
Since the local police refused to reveal the name of the officer involved, the IPTF could not ascertain whether disciplinary or criminal action had been undertaken in the case. It seems unlikely that the police have undertaken action, given the unwillingness of the police to talk about the case, and the remarks of the deputy chief of criminal police that the officer had offered his apologies and so further steps were unnecessary. Faced with the fact that Fadil also refused to pursue the matter further, the IPTF ultimately closed the case.
Ultimately, however, the police inspector who mistreated Fadil Gani_ was identified by IPTF and served with a noncompliance report by the IPTF. Pablo Badie, an Argentinian IPTF officer who had been stationed in Bijeljina when Fadil Gani_ was mistreated, returned to Bijeljina in 1999 for another mission with the IPTF. When he realized that the case had been closed, he started to investigate the case again, and eventually managed to obtain the name of the officer involved. On September 23, 1999, the officer was served with a noncompliance report.
However, as far as Human Rights Watch has been able to establish, no action was taken against the police commander or his deputies. The IPTF has a clear mandate, and even an obligation, to report instances of noncompliance by law enforcement officials. Former IPTF Commissioner Manfred Seitner, in a bulletin about noncompliance reporting procedures, stated that when an IPTF monitor encounters local law enforcement officers who "are actively involved in blocking or interfering with the application of the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Hercegovina, the IPTF monitor has a duty and obligation to document and report this situation."201 Moreover, the Dayton agreement states that "any obstruction of or interference with IPTF activities, failure or refusal to comply with an IPTF request, or other failure to meet the Parties' responsibilities or other obligations in this Agreement, shall constitute a failure to cooperate with the IPTF."202
Despite this obligation, the IPTF never filed a noncompliance report against the chief of police or his deputies for refusing to release the name, thereby missing the opportunity to hold senior police officers responsible for trying to protect the perpetrator of a severe violation of a detainee's rights. By serving a noncompliance report, the IPTF would have sent a very clear signal that such behavior is unacceptable in a police force that abides by democratic standards and respects human rights. It would also have led to their disqualification for future functions within the law enforcement apparatus. Instead, Spasojevi_ is now commander of the Public Security Station in Bijeljina.
The cases mentioned above are the most serious, but certainly not the only cases of abuse at the hands of local or special police officers. Altogether, Human Rights Watch received at least ten credible accounts of post-war police abuse, most of which took place during the first six months of 1998. The majority, though not all, of these cases involved victims of Bosniak descent.
In other cases, the police were not involved directly in the abuse, but failed to intervene or to prevent violence or harassment by others. For instance, on May 5, 1998, a Bosniak named Refik Husi_ went to a cemetery in Janja to repair the grave of his father, which had been damaged.203 About fifteen minutes later, four policemen who claimed they were from Bijeljina came and asked him to identify himself. After the police had checked his identity over the radio, they warned him that it could be dangerous for him in Janja, after which they left. In the meantime, a group of Bosnian Serb villagers, some of them with pitchforks and sticks, had gathered and proceeded to beat Refik Husi_ and to damage his car. According to a witness, the policemen had seen that Refik Husi_ was being attacked, but didn't intervene. When Refik Husi_ later addressed the same four policemen, they did nothing, but told him: "You were lucky, it could have been much worse. Clear away from this site, we don't want to see you anymore."
Refik Husi_ filed an official complaint with the IPTF, claiming he would recognize the officers if he saw their pictures. The IPTF requested the police stations in Janja and Bijeljina to provide them with pictures of all officers that were on duty that day. Ultimately, the police in Bijeljina did provide the IPTF with photographs, but the police station in Janja refused to do so. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, the IPTF has never been able to obtain the photographs, and the perpetrators have not been found. Nevertheless, the IPTF did not file a noncompliance report against the chief of police in Janja for refusing to hand over pictures of the officers on duty on that date.
H.D., a grandmother in her seventies from Janja, told Human Rights Watch about a similar incident in October 1998:
I went from my neighbor's house to my house. A man with a handcart who walked behind me started yelling: "Balija, Balija," but I didn't react. I just started to walk a little bit faster. Then the man hit me with the cart in my back. When he hit me a second time, I asked him: "Why do you do that, I haven't done anything to you." Then he hit me several times against my head, saying: "You mother of a Balija, your place is not here!" I ran away, but he chased me into a corner, and started to kick me in my back, my head, everywhere. He beat me very badly ... and I had to stay in bed for fifteen days.204
The daughter of H.D. observed part of the incident and told Human Rights Watch what she saw:
I heard my mother screaming, so I went outside and picked up my mother from the ground. I saw three policemen down the street, so I went to them and told them my mother was beaten. They said they didn't hear anything, so I told them to come and see. But in the meantime, the perpetrator had gone into his yard. When I came with the policemen, he came out of the yard and said: "Do you think I am afraid? I'm not, here I am. I didn't kill your mother, but I will kill you." But the police just told me to go home, and that they'd deal with him.... But I don't know if they ever did something to him, they never told me.205
After H.D. complained to the IPTF, the local police went to talk to the perpetrator, and later promised H.D. that he wouldn't bother her again, which so far has indeed been the case.
The number of cases of police abuse decreased significantly in the second half of 1998 and, according to the IPTF, OSCE, and other international organizations, no more cases of abuse at the hands of police were recorded in 1999. Bosniaks still living in Bijeljina or Janja confirmed that physical abuse by the police has stopped: "There are no more beatings by the police, that has passed."206
The issuing of I.D. cards
All citizens of the Republika Srpska need to have a li...na karta, an I.D. card showing the person's name, parents' names, date of birth, and personal identification number. The card is issued by the local police. Under the old housing legislation, those who wanted to reclaim their homes needed an RS I.D. card. However, in order to obtain an I.D. card, a person needed to have a permanent address in the Republika Srpska. This created a classic "Catch 22": in order to reclaim one's house, one needed an I.D. card, but in order to obtain an I.D. card, one needed a permanent address in the RS.207 Most Bosniaks, however, managed to circumvent this dilemma by registering themselves at the address of a relative or friend.
Even if Bosniaks managed to prove that they lived in Bijeljina, it was very difficult to obtain an I.D. card. Especially in the first few months of 1998, the police seemed unwilling to issue I.D. cards to Bosniaks, and the IPTF received many complaints regarding this issue. Gert Buist, then station commander of the IPTF in Bijeljina, said on May 15, 1998:
Normally, it takes four to five days to get an I.D. card, but for Muslims, this period ranges from one month up to three or even four months. It seems like yet another act of discrimination against Muslims, especially since their requests didn't appear in the books of the police. And if I send a monitor with them, it can always be arranged in two days.208
The IPTF compiled a list of around twenty-five complaints and confronted Branko Stevi_, then-chief of police, with this list on May 14, 1998. Stevi_ claimed there were several reasons for the delay: there was a lack of blank cards and there was no person in charge of issuing I.D. cards. The IPTF gave Stevi_ one month to improve the situation.
However, in July 1998, an IPTF monitor stated that I.D. cards were still a big problem.209 Only twelve people on the list had received their I.D. cards. However, the police claimed there were 1,700 requests for I.D. cards pending, of which around 5 percent were Bosniaks. When OSCE checked with the Ministry of the Interior, they confirmed that there was a problem in supplying blank I.D. card forms, but that 30,000 blank I.D. card forms would be supplied soon. Nevertheless, on October 10, 1998, the problems were still not resolved, according to the IPTF:210 it still took three tofour weeks to get an I.D. card, although the period allegedly was the same for every applicant, Bosnian Serb and Bosniak alike.
The IPTF ultimately was satisfied that the delay in issuing I.D. cards to Bosniaks was not a matter of ethnic discrimination, but rather one of logistical and organizational inefficiency. However, it was a fact that the applications of some Bosniaks did not even appear in the books, that cards were issued almost immediately if the IPTF personally intervened on behalf of a Bosniak, and that Bosniaks often had to wait three months or longer while it normally took less than a week for Bosnian Serbs, strongly indicating that Bosniaks were discriminated against.
The problems regarding I.D. cards decreased somewhat in 1999, but did not disappear. In August 1999, Pablo Badie, IPTF's human rights officer in Bijeljina, stated: "The local police refuse to issue I.D. cards. For Serbs it takes around fifteen days, [but] for Bosniaks it takes one-and-a-half to two months. The problem is in checking the address...."211 When a Bosniak requests an I.D. card, police officers come and check whether the person requesting the card indeed lives at the claimed address. For Serbs, I.D. cards are issued without an address check. Sadik Pazarac, a journalist and employee of the Helsinki Committee, said that "the Serbs get [an I.D. card] in seven days. But [for] Bosniaks, Croats, or Roma, the police will come and check the address, which can take one to two months. My mother gave her request [for an I.D. card] on July 12 or 13, and they only came to check her address two days ago [on August 1], and told her to come and get [her I.D. card] in two weeks."212
As the problems with issuing I.D. cards were not specific to Bijeljina but occurred under Federation as well as RS authorities throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina, High Representative Carlos Westendorp, on July 30, 1999, issued a decision ordering all public officials to accept all public documents that were valid on April 6, 1992.
[A]ny person identified in a personal identity card...which was valid on 6 April 1992, shall be entitled to apply...for direct exchange with any new personal identity card....If the receiving official questions the authenticity of the [old] card or its validity on 6 April 1992, the official shall nevertheless issue the new personal identity card [while the authenticity is investigated]....In all cases, the competent administration shall issue the new personal identity card not later than 15 days from submission of the request. The newly issued personal identity card shall be accepted as providing official evidence of identity and residence....
It remains to be seen whether the police will respect this decision. As of late September 1999, "there [was] still no real improvement regarding I.D. cards, they still check the addresses first," according to Pablo Badie. 213
The Zvornik Seven trial
The "Zvornik Seven" are a group of seven Bosniaks who fled from Srebrenica after its fall in July 1995 and remained in hiding for almost one year. In May 1996, the men handed themselves over to a patrol of U.S. soldiers belonging to the Implementation Force (IFOR). Since the men were carrying weapons, the U.S. soldiers handed them over to the Republika Srpska police in Zvornik. During the men's detention, they were tortured by the police in Zvornik and forced to put their signatures on prepared confessions. Moreover, two of the men did not have access to a lawyer during the initial interrogation. When the IPTF visited the men a couple of days after their detention, the IPTF monitors observed bruises and other marks on the men, which were consistent with the allegations of ill-treatment.
In July 1996, four of the men were charged with murdering four Bosnian Serb woodcutters on May 2, 1996, as well as one Bosniak companion. Moreover, they were charged with illegal possession of weapons, as were the other three men. During the trial, the court refused to grant the defendants the legal representation of their choice, as the men's lawyers were from the Federation. Moreover, their Bosnian Serb lawyers were only allowed to speak in court for five minutes during the two-day trial. Their conviction was largely based on self-incriminating statements of the defendants, which were obtained under duress.
As a result of this seriously flawed court proceeding, the court in Zvornik on April 22, 1997 convicted the men and sentenced three men-Nedñad Hasi_, Ahmo Harba_, and Behudin Husi_-to twenty years of imprisonment for the murder of the four Serbs. In addition, all seven men were sentenced to one year of imprisonment for illegal possession of weapons. However, by the time of the court's decision, the men had been in detention for almost one year, and the four convicted solely on weapons charges were released for time served. The charges relating to the murder of a Bosniak companion were not proven, and the defendants were acquitted of this murder.
The trial of the Zvornik Seven created outrage as well as considerable embarrassment among the international community, in particular IFOR, which had handed the defendants over to the Republika Srpska police. After intense pressure by the international community and Bosnian and international nongovernmental human rights groups, the Bijeljina District Court in December 1997 quashed the decision of the Zvornik court, and ordered a retrial by the Bijeljina District Court, which started in May 1998.
Again, the trial did not meet the minimum standards of a fair trial. Nevertheless, the suspects were all convicted of murdering the four Serbs. Mr. Nedzad Hasi_ was also found guilty of murdering a Bosniak companion, an accusation he was acquitted of in the first trial, but by that time he had already been released after having served his sentence for illegal weapons possession. (He was later tried in absentia on the murder charge.) In the written verdict, the court admitted that the convictions were based in large part upon the defendants' self-incriminating statements, which the defendants claim were signed under duress during the initial interrogation in Zvornik.
There was hardly any material evidence to support the charge that the men had murdered the four Bosnian Serbs. The Human Rights Ombudsperson for Bosnia and Hercegovina, who issued a special report about the trial,214 stated:
[T]he four victims' corpses could not be located for sure. The results of the expert opinions on the human remains and other items found on the crime scene were very doubtful: the experts considered that they belonged to only two bodies, and could not establish the age, sex, height, nor the cause of death. The blood found on the other items could not help establish any clear link between the alleged attackers and the victims. Nor could it be established, in these conditions, whether the victims had been killed by the defendants' arms.
Furthermore, the conviction of Hasi_ for killing a Bosniak companion was based almost exclusively on the initial, coerced statement of Avdi_,215 a defendant who was tried in absentia, thereby depriving Hasi_ of the opportunity to challenge the statement through questioning.
Moreover, one of the judges in the case, Miodrag Zelji_, took part in improper discussions with interested outside parties. According to the ombudsperson's report, Judge Zelji_ had attended a meeting of Republika Srpska judges in Banja Luka four days before the announcement of the verdict. At the meeting, the Republika Srpska minister of justice announced that there were ongoing negotiations with Federation officials concerning a possible prisoner exchange involving the Zvornik Seven, and asked Zelji_ about the stage of the proceedings. Zelji_ then informed the minister about the case, suggested that the negotiations on exchange await the outcome of the proceedings, and addressed the impact of the verdict on the "exchange value" of the defendants.
Furthermore, on December 12, the day the verdict was handed down, Slobodan Cvijeti_, an adviser to Republika Srpska President Nikola Popla_en, was present in the Bijeljina district court, where he was seen entering the courtroom where two of the lay judges were. Moreover, Cvijeti_ admitted he had tried to locate judge Zelji_, and that he had spoken to Judge Zelji_ later that day. Although it is not clear whether they discussed the case, it at least casts a doubt over the impartiality of the judges.
The ombudsperson, in her Special Report
conclude[d] that in the present case...Hasi_, Husi_ and Harba_ may entertain legitimate misgivings about the independence and impartiality of the Panel of the Bijeljina District Court which tried their case....The Ombudsperson therefore considers that there has been a breach of Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention in this respect.
Moreover, "the Ombudsperson [found] that the proceedings taken as a whole did not satisfy the requirement of a fair hearing. Accordingly, there has been a violation of Article 6 para. 1 of the Convention in this respect too."216
On December 12, 1998, the court in Bijeljina announced its verdict. Despite the lack of evidence apart from the coerced statements of the defendants, the defendants were convicted and given long sentences. Two of the defendants were found guilty of murder and sentenced to twenty years; one defendant was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to eleven years; the fourth defendant, who was tried in absentia, was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to ten years. Moreover, one of the defendants, Nedñad Hasi_, was convicted of killing a Bosniak companion. On January 11, 1999, the defendants appealed the verdict to the Republika Srpska Supreme Court.
On January 20, 1999, the three defendants who were still in custody were transferred to a prison in Tuzla, in exchange for three Bosnian Serbs who were imprisoned in Zenica prison. This transaction took place on the basis of a protocol signed on January 19, 1999, between the authorities in the Republika Srpska and those in the Federation, which obliged the parties not to release the prisoners unless so ordered by the court dealing with their respective cases. Nevertheless, then-RS President Nikola Popla_en granted amnesty to the three Bosnian Serbs that were transferred from Zenica prison, in contravention of the exchange agreement.217
On April 26, 1999, the RS Supreme Court decided to annul the verdict in the case of the four Bosniaks, and ordered a retrial at the first-instance court in Bijeljina. The explanation of the Supreme Court, however, did not address the human rights abuses, including the mistreatment of the defendants; the court's judgment was based on inconsistencies and irregularities in the reasoning of the first instance court. On June 11, the three remaining prisoners were released awaiting the new trial after the Federation authorities received authorization to do so from the RS.
The first hearing in the new trial was held on June 24, but the defendants did not show up, so the session was postponed until September. However, the session in September was again postponed, as was the session in October, this time because the judge was ill. Rule of law in Bosnia, and mutual trust between the two legal systems in Bosnia, would be enhanced if this case could be resolved by a fair and impartial trial. Moreover, many Bosniaks see it as a test case of the intentions of the Republika Srpska to award equal treatment to all its citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, as required by international human rights documents, the Dayton Peace Agreement, and the Republika Srpska constitution. If the case is not resolved fairly, many Bosniaks and other minorities will take this into consideration when deciding whether to return to the RS.
Implementation of election results
In September 1997, municipal elections were held in the RS and the Federation. Voters were allowed to vote in the municipality they lived in at the time of the 1991 census, so displaced persons and refugees were allowed to vote in their municipality of origin, either in person or by absentee ballot. The OSCE prepared and organized these elections, and was also responsible for implementing the election results. In Bijeljina, the elections had the following results.
Serb Democratic Party (SDS): 19 seats
Serb radical Party (SRS): 14 seats
Coalition for a Whole and Democratic Bosnia (KCDBiH): 12 seats
Socialist Party of the Republika Srpska (SPRS): 8 seats
Democratic Party (DS): 7 seats
Soon after the elections, however, six councillors defected from the Serb Democratic Party and joined the Serb People's Alliance (SNS), even though they are officially independent.218 Then one of the defectors died, and another left and returned his mandate to the SDS, which left the SNS with four seats, while the SDS then had fifteen seats.
It proved very hard to form a municipal government. The SDS and SRS did not have an absolute majority, while the other Bosnian Serb parties needed the support of the Bosniak members of the council, most of whom were still living in the Federation because they were unable to return to Bijeljina, to form a majority. As one staff member of an international organization put it, "the multi-party system here doesn't work....The SDS and SRS are blocking as much as they can, and other parties are intimidated by them."219 In particular, the SRS agitated against the participation of Bosniaks in municipal bodies. Radislav Kanjeri_, a representative of SRS in Bijeljina, stated at a news conference that "the Serb Radicals do not wish to take part in institutions that also include Muslim Representatives."220
Ultimately, a municipal government was formed in April 1998, when Dragomir Savi_ from the Democratic Party was elected mayor. Selim Durakovi_ from the KCDBiH was appointed deputy mayor. However, despite the fact that the municipal statute does not foresee such a position, a second deputy mayor was appointed: Dragomir Ljubojevi_ from the SDS. In March 1999, the coalition was expanded, when the SDS gave up two of its seats in the executive board to the SRS, leading to a "grand coalition" of all parties in the Bijeljina municipal council.
Bijeljina ultimately received final certification from the OSCE on April 27, 1998. This was supposed to take place only after several criteria were met, aimed to ensure the meaningful participation of minority representatives in the municipality. The Rules and Regulations for the 1997 municipal election stated that
the OSCE Head of Mission...retains the discretion to reject the Final Certification for a Municipality if it is in violation of acceptable conditions. This may include, but is not limited to, the following:
3) elected councillors or deputies who have been prevented by local authorities from establishing a place of residence in the municipality, if so desired;221
Out of seventeen KCDBiH representatives (twelve municipal councillors and five members of the executive board), only four or five have been able to return to their homes in Bijeljina so far. Certainly, Bijeljina has had to deal with a large influx of displaced persons, but it is hardly likely that in over two years the authorities could not have found alternative accommodation for seventeen displaced families, in order to have the homes of councillors restored to them. The fact that more than two years after the elections the vast majority of minority representatives still has not been able to return is clearly a violation of "acceptable conditions."
According to Special Envoy François Perez, UNHCR conducted interviews with all municipal councillors, and only a few of them really wanted to return to Bijeljina.222 This is beside the point. If the councillors have officially reclaimed or sought to reclaim their homes, the authorities in Bijeljina should ensure that they can return. If the councillors then prefer not to take up residence in Bijeljina, in cases of a socially-owned apartment the responsible body may then start a procedure to cancel the occupancy right under article 21 of the Law on Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property. In cases of privately owned property (the vast majority of accommodations in Bijeljina), it is up to the owner to decide what he or she will do with the property: sell it, exchange it, rent it out, etc.223
The KCDBiH representatives face other problems as well, for they are not able to play a relevant role within the municipality. Bruno Pennaneach, the U.N. civil affairs officer in Bijeljina, thought that "the election of Durakovi_ is just symbolic.... He doesn't have any real power," an opinion that was shared by most international sources.224 Even Dora Plaveti_, the head of the OSCE office in Bijeljina, shared this opinion: "Probably, Durakovi_ is treated like garbage, he is certainly not involved in the day-to-day business of the municipality."225 Durakovi_ complained: "In the municipal council meetings, we don't have seats at the table, but along the wall."226 François Perez admitted that this is the case: "In the municipal assembly sessions, Durakovi_ should sit at the table with mayor Savi_, secretary Vuji_, and deputy mayor Ljubojevi_, but he is sitting in the back of the room with the others. It would be a symbol for Serbs to have Bosniaks at the table."227 The election rules and regulations were designed to ensure that minority representatives would play an equal role in municipal politics. By accepting the fact that Durakovi_ is not allowed to sit at the table together with the other high municipal representatives, Perez is undermining the whole idea behind the certification.
Durakovi_ still does not have an office in the municipality. Despite prolonged discussions regarding this issue, no resolution has been found. According to François Perez, Mayor Savi_, has agreed in principal that Durakovi_ should have an office. However, according to Savi_, there is simply no space available, although Durakovi_ "can sit wherever he likes."228
The Rules and Regulations provide that final certification may be rejected if "the elected executive officers, council or assembly officers or councillors or deputies have been denied access to municipal funds or municipal material or other municipal assets."229 It is clear that denying a deputy mayor office space falls within this provision, especially since the Rules and Regulations were geared toward effective and meaningful participation of minority representatives.
Special Envoy Perez, however, favors a slow, step-by-step approach: "Nothing has moved in Bijeljina in four years, and now we try to look calmly into the problems, decide on a strategy, then start to work. So far, there has been no dialogue, only demands.... If you are reasonable, the Serbs will understand. We should not impose decisions upon them."230 Given this approach, it is understandable that the KCDBiH representatives are dissatisfied with the actions of the international community in Bijeljina. It is beyond comprehension that OHR and OSCE accept the fact that these issues remain unresolved, more than two years after the elections. Effective representation of minorities and participation of minority representatives is not only crucial to the implementation of the Dayton agreement; it is also at the core of the concept of democracy. Since the elections in 1997, the Bosniak councillors have been obstructed in playing their role in local institutions in Bijeljina, and have been prevented from participating in municipal politics in an effective, meaningful way.
New municipal elections were held on April 8, 2000, in which the municipal councils were elected for the next four years. The final results of these elections are unknown at this writing, but one can safely assume that similar problems with the implementation of election results will occur, not only in Bijeljina, but throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina. One can only hope that the OSCE and OHR will ensure that this time the election results are implemented in a speedy and effective manner. It will only be possible for the Dayton agreement to be implemented and democracy to begin to take root once minority representatives are able to participate effectively in municipal structures.
While the above-mentioned abuses were the ones most widely reported, there are several other issues that deserve attention. As in many other cities in the Republika Srpska, all symbols of minority history or culture were brutally erased in Bijeljina during the war. There used to be five mosques in Bijeljina and two in Janja, but all of them were destroyed in 1993 and all remnants removed. Nowadays, the sites of the mosques are used for other purposes: two of the sites now have flea markets on them, two others have shops and kiosks, one of them is a parking space, and two sites are empty.
For a long time after the war the religious Bosniaks had no place to worship and hold services. All other property was taken away from the Islamic Religious Community as well and is now occupied by others. What used to be the main office of the Islamic Community is now the office of the ,,etnik Association of Veterans Drañen Mihajlovi_, which greatly disturbs the Bosniaks from Bijeljina.231 The Islamic Community has requested all itsproperty back, but without much results. According to a staff member of an international organization, the then-head of the Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons, Sneñana Ruñi_, when asked about this issue, replied as follows: "Do you really expect me to evict a [Bosnian Serb] refugee so the Muslims can come back?"232 Nevertheless, the Bijeljina authorities ultimately returned one office building to the Islamic Community, which is now used for gatherings and serves as the office of the Islamic humanitarian organization Merhamet. On May 14, 1999, the Islamic community held its first religious service (apart from funerals) in Bijeljina since the war. Since then, the Islamic religious community has held regular religious services without problems.
The KCDBiH has requested permission from the municipality to rebuild the Atik mosque in the center of town. However, in a letter dated July 7, 1999, the municipality refused permission to rebuild the mosque. The reason cited was that the urban plan for that part of town had changed and that now a theater is planned for that site. The KCDBiH then addressed the Human Rights Chamber, which on July 10, 1999, issued a provisional measure ordering the municipality to refrain from any building or construction activities at the site of the Atik mosque. It remains to be seen whether the Bosniaks of Bijeljina will ever to be able to rebuild their mosque. In an interview in September 1999, François Perez said that "the KCDBiH is too extreme in its demands. For example, the request to rebuild the mosque is too extreme. Maybe in time, a mosque could be built in the periphery of town."233
During 1998, several incidents took place with overtones of religious intolerance. One incident involved Hasan Okanovi_, a retired hodña who still lives in Bijeljina and occasionally performs funerals for Bosniaks in the absence of another Islamic leader. On April 30, 1998, at around 10:15 p.m., a grenade was hurled at a garage in Okanovi_'s yard from an adjacent lot. Fortunately, Okanovi_'s son, who runs a small car repair shop in the garage, had stopped working just before the grenade was thrown. No one was injured, and although the grenade fell on paper, and there were flammable items in the building, the building did not catch fire, and the damage was limited. However, it did instill further fear in Bosniaks in Bijeljina. As one Bosniak from Bijeljina said: "Maybe it was a warning, someone trying to tell us that there is no place for us here, that we will not have a life here. I cannot sleep at night, I cannot eat, I never know what to expect."234 The police investigation into the incident never identified the perpetrator or established the motivation for the attack.
On November 23, 1998, the tombstones on thirteen graves in an Islamic cemetery were damaged, and some were pushed over. A few days later, another seven tombstones were damaged at another Islamic cemetery. Moreover, garbage was burned there, and goats were left to graze at the cemetery. After this incident, the municipality placed lights at the Bosniak graveyard to ensure that such incidents would not happen again.
Another issue that continues to plague the Bosniaks of Bijeljina concerns the reconnection of phone lines. During the war, the phone lines of everyone with a Bosniak name were disconnected, allegedly for "security reasons." When the war was over, many Bosniaks tried to have their phone lines reconnected, but found that the phone company refused to do so, or demanded high fees.
After he had received several complaints, the OSCE human rights officer arranged a meeting with Ðuro Stanojevi_, the director of the phone company in Bijeljina, who claimed that there were technical difficulties in reconnecting the Bosniaks. After providing more details for each case to Stanojevi_, the phone company reconnected the phone lines of eighteen complainants. However, OSCE has a list of over 200 persons who were disconnected during the war and want their phones to be reconnected. Since OSCE was not satisfied with this response, it took upthe case at the phone company's headquarters in Banja Luka. They also claimed there were technical difficulties in reconnecting the Bosniaks, in particular the limited capacity of the network. While this certainly may be a problem, the phone company also illegally charged Bosniaks who were disconnected during the war considerable fees.
As this problem was not specific to Bijeljina, but occurred both under RS and Federation authorities throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina, the High Representative on July 30, 1999, issued a decision regarding the reconnection of phone lines. According to the decision, those who never left their homes of origin should be reconnected free of charge, while others can only be charged DM 50 for the administrative costs of reconnection. Moreover, it said disconnected prewar subscribers should have priority over new applicants once lines become available. In August 1999, Guiseppe Lococo, then OSCE human rights officer in Bijeljina, said the PTT claimed that the system had no capacity to reconnect all prewar subscribers.235 Moreover, the PTT did not give receipts to those requesting this, making it hard for them to prove that they requested reconnection. However, François Perez, on September 28, claimed that there was "good will to solve the problem. Now it is mainly a technical issue. As per July 7, 1999, seventy-one persons had been reconnected, forty-four reconnections are possible with additional materials, and in 127 cases there is no technical possibility to reconnect people."236 While Human Rights Watch is unable to assess the technical problems involved in reconnecting phone lines, it seems unlikely that in more than half of the cases it is technically impossible to connect a phone line, especially since all these persons used to have a phone line, where phone service was available.
Violence against members of the international community
Although the international community is generally well accepted in Bijeljina, there have been moments when the population turned against representatives of international organizations, especially at times of heightened political tensions.
In August 1997, there was an ongoing power struggle in the Republika Srpska between supporters of Biljana Plav_i_, then president of the Republika Srpska, and hard line supporters of Radovan Karadñi_, mainly from the SDS and SRS, which divided the Republika Srpska in two parts. In the eastern Republika Srpska, hard-liners refused to give up control or to implement orders from the Republika Srpska president. Even within police stations, loyalties were divided. On August 28, police forces loyal to President Plav_i_ attempted to take over the police station in Bijeljina, which was still loyal to the hard-liners.
According to a staff member of an international organization who was present during these events, the SDS and SRS used the local radio stations to call people to the streets to expel the foreigners. Crowds started to gather in Bijeljina, and demonstrations were held in the center of town. In the evening, the IPTF, with the support of SFOR, tried to perform a weapons inspection in the Bijeljina police station. However, the IPTF and SFOR were met by a crowd of at least a thousand angry Bosnian Serbs in front of the police station. The crowd stopped the IPTF vehicles, smashed its windows, and attacked IPTF monitors, after which the IPTF and SFOR were forced to abandon their plan to inspect the police station.
The demonstrations continued on August 29, 1997. According to Bruno Pennaneach, a U.N. civil affairs officer in Bijeljina, the SRS was the driving force behind the demonstrations: "The most active group against the international presence was the SRS people. They were driving around, playing war songs, and provoking the [representatives] of the international community. All leaders of the SRS, including Mirko Blagojevi_...spoke to themasses, and incited them."237 The tense situation continued for a week, during which all roads leading out of Bijeljina were blocked, and the police station remained under the control of hard-liners.
After this incident, the IPTF station was guarded round the clock by a uniformed local police officer. While Human Rights Watch understands the need to ensure the safety of IPTF officers and other international personnel, having a uniformed local police officer on guard twenty-four hours a day defeats one of the purposes of the IPTF. One of the IPTF's main tasks is to monitor the activities of the local police and to act upon complaints regarding the local police. Those who want to complain about the police often go to the IPTF because they are afraid of retaliation if they complain at the police station. However, the police officer guarding the IPTF premises can register exactly who comes to the IPTF and pass on this information to the local police. The police could use this information to retaliate against complainants, although there is no evidence to date they have done so. The police officer's presence can, however, discourage people from filing complaints, as a person is less likely to recur to the IPTF office if a uniformed police officer is standing near the entrance. It would be better either to have SFOR personnel guard the premises in times of heightened tensions or to hire an independent, international security company to guard the premises around the clock.238
The status of the Br...ko area was left undecided in the Dayton Peace Agreement, because the peace negotiations almost broke down over this issue. Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats, and Bosniaks all considered Br...ko crucial for their survival. Therefore, it was agreed that the status of Br...ko would be decided by an arbitration panel. The president of the International Court of Justice appointed Roberts Owen, an American lawyer, as the presiding arbitrator. On March 5, 1999, Roberts Owen announced the panel's decision not to award Br...ko to any entity, but to make Br...ko a special district under the joint control of all three ethnic groups. In the RS, which had controlled Br...ko, this decision was considered a great loss.
On the same day, High Representative Carlos Westendorp removed Nikola Popla_en from the office of president of the Republika Srpska. According to Westendorp's decision, Popla_en, by refusing to nominate Milorad Dodik as a candidate for prime minister, had abused his power and blocked the will of the people. Moreover, Popla_en had obstructed the implementation of the Dayton agreement.
The decisions on Br...ko and Popla_en created public outrage in the Republika Srpska, and politicians across the board rejected them. Demonstrations were held throughout the RS to protest the decisions and to show national unity. In Bijeljina, three demonstrations were held, and again the SRS played a crucial role. During a demonstration on March 6, which was organized by SRS and SDS, two jeeps with personnel from SFOR's Joint Commission of Observers (JCO) were attacked with stones, and a shot was fired. The JCO personnel managed to escape unharmed. The organizers then announced an ultimatum for personnel of international organizations to leave the territory of the RS, saying their security could no longer be guaranteed.
On March 14, 1999 in a special edition of Velika Srbija (Greater Serbia), a newspaper published by the Serb Radical Party, the following statement was published:
For now, attack the occupiers with sticks, rocks and molotov cocktails. But if they don't change their decision about Br...ko and the decision to replace the legally elected President Dr. Nikola Popla_en, be ready to take up guns.
The gun shall correct where the pencil fails!
We demand the immediate replacement of Carlos Westendorp!
Br...ko must stay in the Republika Srpska by all means!
Nikola Popla_en must remain President of the Republika Srpska, because that is the will of the people!
All those who work for the Americans and their vassals should immediately quit their jobs and break their connections with the occupying troops.... So what if they pay well? Your people have been starving for years, but they didn't run to sell their souls to the devils. If you do not listen to the voice of your people, it means you are not Serbs. In that case the same people no longer has any responsibility toward you. You yourselves are guilty if sticks hit your head....239
These threats were repeated on March 15, when another demonstration organized by the SRS was held.
During the night of March 22-23, an anti-tank mine was thrown at the JCO's headquarters in Bijeljina. It exploded and destroyed the windows of two JCO vehicles. An IPTF vehicle was also set on fire.
The threats against the international community and the incidents of violence forced most international organizations to withdraw their international personnel from the RS. Although some organizations started to return to the RS during daytime to resume their work in April, most international organizations did not fully resume their work until June 1999. This forced absence of international organizations was a major setback for the implementation of the Dayton agreement, especially since it was the period when the return process should have finally begun at full speed.
In a demonstration on March 27, Mirko Blagojevi_ announced that "the ,,etnik Martial Court has condemned RS Minister [of Information] Rajko Vasi_ to death" because he had banned the rebroadcasting of programs of Serbian Radio and Television in the RS. Death threats were also issued against Co-chair of the Bosnian Council of Ministers Mihajlovi_ and RS Minister of Transport and Communications Pavi_. The RS public prosecutor has started a criminal case against Blagojevi_ for his statements.
High Representative Carlos Westendorp on April 10 sent a letter to the executive board of the SRS demanding the immediate removal of Blagojevi_ from the office of president of the executive board of the SRS and any other party office. The SRS refused to comply with this demand. When the SRS tried to register as a political party for the April 2000 elections, the SRS listed Blagojevi_, as well as Popla_en and one other banned SRS official, as party officials. The OSCE and OHR ordered the SRS to remove these officials from their positions and submit a new list of candidates. As the SRS refused to do so, OSCE's Provisional Election Commission refused to register the SRS for the April 2000 elections.
This report is based on field research, most of which was conducted between April 1998 and September 1999, by André Lommen, Bosnia researcher for Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch would like to thank the representatives of all international organizations in Bijeljina, Tuzla, and other places for their assistance during the research and writing of this report. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch would like to thank the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in the Republika Srpska for the organizational, logistical, and intellectual support during the preparation of this report. But most importantly, Human Rights Watch would like to thank all the people who have provided us with the testimonies that are the backbone of this report. For safety reasons, many of them will remain anonymous, but their contribution is certainly not forgotten.
This report was written by André Lommen, and edited by Jeri Laber, senior advisor to Human Rights Watch; Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch; Mike McClintock, deputy Program Director of Human Rights Watch; and Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. Valuable comments and suggestions were also given by Rachael Reilly, Joanna Weschler, and Elizabeth Andersen. Invaluable production assistance was provided by Alexandra Perina, Patrick Minges, and Fitzroy Hepkins.
Human Rights Watch
Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.
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The staff includes Kenneth Roth, executive director; Michele Alexander, development director; Reed Brody, advocacy director; Carroll Bogert, communications director; Cynthia Brown, program director; Barbara Guglielmo, finance director; Jeri Laber, special advisor; Lotte Leicht, Brussels office director; Patrick Minges, publications director; Susan Osnos, associate director; Maria Pignataro Nielsen, human resources director; Jemera Rone, counsel; Wilder Tayler, general counsel; and Joanna Weschler, United Nations representative. Jonathan Fanton is the chair of the board. Robert L. Bernstein is the founding chair.
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100 UNHCR, Statistics for Displaced Persons in Northern Bosnia and Herzegovina UNHCR AOR, April 1998.
101 IMG, Republika Srpska Assessment of War-Damaged Residential Buildings in Bosnia and Hercegovina, January 1997, p. 17.
102 IMG, Republika Srpska, pp. 6, 9, 17, 31.
103 Interview with Ðurðica Zori_, UNHCR Br...ko, September 27, 1999; interview with François Perez, Special Envoy, Office of the High Representative Bijeljina, September 28, 1999; interview with Guiseppe Lococo, Human Rights Officer, OSCE Bijeljina, August 6, 1999; interview with Pablo Badie, Human Rights Officer, IPTF Bijeljina, August 3, 1999.
104 Although the abandoned property legislation does not provide criteria for establishing whether or not a property has been abandoned, it is generally accepted that an accommodation cannot be declared abandoned unless the inhabitant, being either the owner or holder of the tenancy right, has left the property for a period of at least thirty days without a legitimate reason, such as absence for medical treatment, military service, or working obligations.
105 The Bosnian Serb authorities have issued several decrees relating to the use of abandoned property and the accommodation of displaced persons and refugees. The first decree issued was the "Decree on the Allocation for Temporary Use of Housing Objects, Business and Other Premises" (Official Gazette of Serbian People in Bosnia and Hercegovina, No. 12/92). This decree was replaced on January 1, 1994, by the "Decree on the Accommodation of Refugees and Other Persons in the Territory of the Republika Srpska" (Republika Srpska Official Messenger, No. 27/93). Some articles of this decree were replaced on October 1, 1995, by the "Decree on the Accommodation of Refugees" (Republika Srpska Official Messenger, no. 19/95). In February 1996, the Republika Srpska authorities issued the "Law on the Use of Abandoned Property" (Republika Srpska Official Messenger, No. 3/96), which replaced the previous laws. Ultimately, on December 2, 1998, the Republika Srpska National Assembly passed the "Law on the Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property" (Republika Srpska Official Gazette, No. 38/98), which repealed all previous, discriminatory legislation relating to housing.
106 In the RS, the return of displaced persons and refugees is the responsibility of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons. The Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons has departments at the local level, but these departments fall directly under the ministry in Banja Luka, and are administratively not related to the municipalities.
107 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, July 9, 1998.
108 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, December 18, 1998.
109 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 30, 1999. It is unclear why the ministry's figures on "floater" cases deviate so much from the figures used by international organizations active in Bijeljina.
110 This account is based on a Human Rights Watch interview, Janja, December 15, 1998.
111 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, May 22, 1998. According to Nurdin Hamdñi_, Velimir Bijelica is a member of the special police in Janja.
112 The Bijeljina department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons now seems to have taken a special interest in Hamdñi_' case. During an interview on September 30, 1999, Nenad Ðoki_, the head of the ministry department in Bijeljina, said: "If I could just solve the case of Nurdin Hamdñi_, my work would be okay....If I could just get him reinstated, I wouldn't care what would happen to me after that."
113 Human Rights Watch interview, Janja, December 15, 1998. ðeljka Simi_ is the head of the Janja department of the Commission for the Accommodation of Refugees, which falls under the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Bijeljina. Hans Jürgen Münzel was an IPTF officer based in Janja.
114 Human Rights Watch interview, Janja, September 21, 1999. Gruhonji_ continued to experience problems in Janja. In February 2000, during a series of incidents aimed at returnees, a hand grenade was thrown into his house. Fortunately, noone sustained any physical injuries, although the house was significantly damaged.
115 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, August 6, 1999.
116 UNHCR Sarajevo Operations Unit, Statistics Package (Sarajevo: UNHCR, October 1, 1999).
117 Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik promised that the Republika Srpska would "allow" 70,000 minorities to return.
118 The term owner in this case refers both to real owners of property, as well as to those who had a tenancy right to the accommodation.
119 General Framework Agreement, Annex 7, art. VII-XIV. The commission is now known as the Commission for Real Property Claims.
120 From formerly Serb-held areas in Croatia, in particular from the Croatian Krajina after Operation Storm in August 1995, and from Eastern Slavonia, after the hand-over to Croatian authorities in January 1998.
121 See also Wubs, The Way Back, p. 50.
122 Sneñana Ruñi_ pointed to a foot-high stack of papers on her desk.
123 Human Rights Watch interview with Sneñana Ruñi_, acting head of the Bijeljina Department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced persons, Bijeljina, July 9, 1998. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in the Republika Srpska (Helsin_ki Odbor za Ljudska Prava u Republici Srpskoj) is a human rights organization functioning under the umbrella of the International Helsinki Federation.
124 Human Rights Watch interview with Danilo ,,olakovi_, head the Ministry for Displaced Persons and Refugees, Bijeljina department, Bijeljina, December 18, 1998.
125 Human Rights Watch interview with Sneñana Ruñi_, acting head of the Bijeljina Department of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced persons, Bijeljina, July 9, 1998.
126 Human Rights Watch interview, Janja, December 15, 1998.
127 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, October 4, 1998.The IPTF has the mandate to issue noncompliance reports for failure of law enforcement officials to comply with the orders of the IPTF or the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. For an explanation about noncompliance reports, please refer to the section on "Abuses by the police."
128 Human Rights Watch interview, July 11, 1998. The interviewee asked to remain anonymous.
129 The position of the High Representative was created in the Dayton agreement that ended the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina: "... the Parties request the designation of a High Representative ... to facilitate the Parties' own efforts and to mobilize and, as appropriate, coordinate the activities of the organizations and agencies involved in the civilian aspects of the peace settlement..." (General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Hercegovina, Annex 10, Art. I, sub. 2).
130 Human Rights Watch interview, Br...ko, May 18, 1998.
131 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, July 11, 1998. The source chose to remain anonymous.
132 Human Rights Watch interview, Janja, May 15, 1998.
133 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, May 13, 1998.
134 Bruno Pennaneach, however, claims that although many people were carrying weapons there was no actual violence.
135 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, May 19, 1998.
136 Human Rights Watch interview, Br...ko, May 18, 1998.
137 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, May 13, 1998.
138 Human Rights Watch interview, Janja, May 15, 1998.
139 Human Rights Watch interview, Br...ko, May 18, 1998.
140 Ziad Abu-Amer, the deputy station commander of IPTF in Bijeljina, reported that the Janja police told him that, as of March, forty-five officers working in the area of the Bijeljina Public Security Center were illegally occupying property in Janja. Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, March 24, 2000.
141 Human Rights Watch interview, Janja, December 17, 1998. A pseudonym is used to protect the witness's identity. Part of Nedñad Husrefbegovi_'s story has already been related above, in the section "Between War and Peace."
142 Human Rights Watch interview, Janja, December 16, 1998. The witness chose not to be identified, and a pseudonym is used to protect his identity. A...imovi_ , who is now a member of the regular police, was at that time a member of the special police.
143 Human Rights Watch interview with Paul Hawkins, IPTF Station Commander in Janja, May 15, 1998.
144 Human Rights Watch interview with Hans Jürgen Münzel, Janja, July 11, 1998.
145 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 30, 1999.
146 See section above on "The rule on `surplus living space' and subsequent evictions."
147 Declaration of the Ministerial Meeting of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, Luxembourg, June 9, 1998. The Peace Implementation Council (PIC) is a body overseeing the peace process in Bosnia and Hercegovina on behalf of the Contact Group, which consists of the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy.
148 Art. 9 and art. 17 of the Law on the Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property.
149 Art. 11 and art. 18 of the Law on the Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property. In exceptional circumstances, this deadline may be extended by a period of up to one year.
150 Art. 6 of the Law on the Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property. Unfortunately, a similar stipulation was not foreseen for those wanting to return to an accommodation to which they have an occupancy right. This omission was rectified by an amendment imposed by High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch on October 27, 1999.
151 Some of the weaknesses and inconsistencies have been addressed by decisions of High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch amending the law, which were announced on October 27, 1999.
152 RS Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons, Report on the Number of Filed Claims for Repossession of Private Property and Occupancy Rights in Ministry Departments, March 13, 2000.
153 The municipality initially refused to participate in the meetings, claiming that the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons was in charge of return, and that a municipal presence therefore was not needed. Only after repeated requests by François Perez and representatives of other international organizations did Mayor Savi_ decide to appoint someone to represent the municipality on the Property Commission.
154 Interview with Guiseppe Lococo, Human Rights Officer, OSCE, Bijeljina, August 6, 1999.
155 Interview with Ðurðica Zori_, UNHCR Br...ko, Br...ko, September 27, 1999; interview with François Perez, Special Envoy, OHR Bijeljina, Bijeljina, September 28, 1999.
156 Human Rights Watch interview, Tuzla, September 23, 1999.
157 The Office of the High Representative recognized the importance of increased cooperation between the agencies tasked with return issues in both entities. On October 27, High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch issued an instruction ordering the offices of the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons to provide statistical information on reinstatements, including names of the reinstated persons and the addresses of the accommodation that has been vacated and the accommodation the reinstated person returned to. Instruction on the application of the Law on Further [sic] Amendments to the Law on Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property and the Law on the Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property in its amended form, October 27, 1999.
158 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 30, 1999.
159 Other decisions concerned business or agricultural property. These figures are largely corroborated by the ministry's own figures, which say that on March 13, 2000, there were 282 realized decisions on private property, and six realized decisions on socially-owned property.
160 Figures based on UNHCR Statistics Package: Minority returns from 01/01/99 to 31/12/99 in Bosnia and Hercegovina. As of this writing, no official figures were available for the first months of 2000.
161 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, March 24, 2000. The source chose to remain anonymous.
162 RS Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons, Report on the Number of Filed Claims for Repossession of Private Property and Occupancy Rights in Ministry Departments, March 13, 2000. These cases are called "double" or "multiple" occupancy cases because the inhabitants still have their previous accommodation available to them (their former house or apartment, their parents' house, or their house in the village).
163 For a detailed discussion of the GTZ project see below.
164 Actually, one of the ministry's lawyers left, after which the ministry was allowed to hire a replacement for him.
165 Human Rights Watch interview, Br...ko, September 27, 1999.
166 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 30, 1999.
167 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 30, 1999. The socially-owned housing stock was controlled by the authorities through state-owned companies, who distributed the apartments among their employees. Therefore, the companies have records of who used to live in which apartments. Through state-owned firms, municipalities often control large stocks of socially-owned property, which could be used for the accommodation of displaced persons and refugees. In Bijeljina, the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) estimates that there are some 1,300 socially-owned apartments, of which some 600 officially have been declared abandoned. It is unknown how may other apartments have been abandoned, but not declared as such.
168 Interview with Ðurðica Zori_, UNHCR Br...ko, Br...ko, September 17, 1999.
169 See the incident described in the paragraph on the return of refugees and displaced persons.
170 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, March 24, 2000.
171 Human Rights Watch interviews with Osman Ðilovi_, President of the Mjesna Zajednica (local community) Janja in Tuzla, Tuzla, April 24, 1998, and December 11, 1998; Human Rights Watch with Mahmud Nurki_, Chairperson of the Mjesna Zajednica's Commission for Return, Tuzla, April 23, 1998; Vehid _ehi_, President of the Forum of Tuzla Citizens, April 3, 1998.
172 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, December 18, 1998.
173 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, December 18, 1998.
174 Poljuprivredna Dobra Semberija is a state-owned agricultural firm. In the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) much of the housing stock and land was owned by the state or state-owned companies. This property was called socially-owned property. Much of the socially-owned property was nationalized by the authorities after World War II. Socially-ownedproperty will now be privatized or returned to (the heirs of) the original owners, who had their property taken away by way of nationalization.
175 Letter from the Club of Councillors of the Coalition for a Whole and Democratic Bosnia and Hercegovina from Bijeljina to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), October 1998. The Coalition for a Whole and Democratic Bosnia and Hercegovina is a coalition of Bosniak political parties, led by the SDA.
176 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, December 18, 1998.
178 "Decision on Socially-Owned Land," OHR Press Release, Sarajevo, May 27, 1999.
179 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 28, 1999.
180 Human Rights Watch interview, Tuzla, September 30, 1999.
181 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, August 6, 1999. The source chose to withhold his name.
182 Human Rights Watch interview with Joachim Neunfinger, Director of GTZ Tuzla, September 30, 1999.
183 Letter by the Tuzla RRTF Core Group, July 12, 1999. The Reconstruction and Return Task Force is an inter-agency body that coordinates international efforts to promote reconstruction and return, which is headed by the OHR. Other agencies and organizations that are members of the RRTF are UNHCR, the Commission on Real Property Claims (CRPC), the European Commission (EC), the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the International Management Group (IMG), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), OSCE, SFOR, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Hercegovina (UNMIBH) and the World Bank, as well as the U.S. and German governments.
Annex 7 of the Dayton Peace Agreement deals with refugees and displaced persons.
184 1999 RRTF Action Plan, para 3.5, p. 9.
185 General Framework Agreement, Annex 7 (Agreement on Refugees and Displaced persons ), art. I, para. 1.
186 Ibid., para. 4.
187 Ibid., para. 1.
188 Ibid., para. 4.
189 1999 RRTF Action Plan, para 2.3, p. 5.
190 Letter by the Tuzla RRTF Core Group, July 12, 1999. Buffer accommodation is housing built to bridge the time period between the moment displaced persons have to leave their temporary accommodation because the original inhabitant returned, and the moment they can return to their own home.
191 The contract with DG1A had not yet been signed at the time of the interview. However, according to Joachim Neunfinger, this was not a result of disagreements on policy issues but rather a technical matter.
192 According to a fax sent by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs to OHR Br...ko, dated March 2, 1998.
193 Human Rights Watch interview, Br...ko, May 15, 1998.
194 Human Rights Watch interview, Janja, May 15, 1998.
195 Noncompliance reports can be issued against law enforcement personnel that refuse to cooperate with the IPTF, have obstructed the implementation of the DPA, have been involved in violations of the Bosnian constitution, or have violated internationally recognized human rights. In theory, officers who have been served with a noncompliance report cannot be part of any law enforcement agency.
196 Human Rights Watch interview, Janja, July 11, 1998. Since it is the IPTF's task, among others, to monitor the activities of the local police, it is not surprising that the IPTF receives many complaints about the police. However, since the IPTF has a larger field presence than any other international office, and many Bosnians are not aware of the division of tasks among international actors, Bosnians approach the IPTF with all kind of complaints and issues, ranging from housing issues and complaints about judicial procedure to issues that should be reported to the local police, such as theft and burglary.
197 Human Rights Watch interview, December 19, 1998.
198 Ibid. According to an IPTF report on the incident, obtained by Human Rights Watch, the police officers talked to the perpetrators after they had been pointed out to them. They let them go again, but reassured the family that the perpetrators would not return. Nevertheless, the police claim they do not know the identity of the second man.
199 The name used is a pseudonym, in order to protect the identity of the victim. The reconstruction of the case is based on six interviews with IPTF officers involved in the case, held between April and October 1998.
200 Stevi_'s official position was Chief of the Public Security Station Bijeljina, which then fell under the Public Security Center in Br...ko.
201 IPTF Commissioner Manfred Seitner, "Operational Bulletin 0007: Non-Compliance Reporting Procedures," September 11, 1997, pp. 1. The IPTF is the biggest component of the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
202 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Hercegovina, Annex 11, Article IV (1).
203 Refik Husi_ is a pseudonym used to protect the victim's identity. The reconstruction of this incident is based on several interviews with IPTF officers who had knowledge of the case, as well as one witness who chose to remain anonymous.
204 Human Rights Watch interview, December 16, 1998.
205 Human Rights Watch interview, December 16, 1998.
206 Human Rights Watch with Sead Gruhonji_, Janja, September 21, 1999.
207 In the Law on the Cessation of Application of the Law on the Use of Abandoned Property, this is no longer required. Republika Srpska authorities dealing with return issues are now required to "accept any identification document issued by the state of Bosnia and Hercegovina or any administrative body in either Entity, and any other document which shows the claimant's identity..." (Article 8).
208 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, May 15, 1998.
209 Human Rights Watch interview with IPTF monitor, July 9, 1998.
210 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, October 10, 1998.
211 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, August 3, 1999.
212 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, August 3, 1999.
213 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 29, 1999.
214 Human Rights Ombudsperson for Bosnia and Hercegovina, Special Report on the Right to a Fair Hearing by an Independent and Impartial Tribunal, and the Prohibition of Discrimination in the Enjoyment of the Above Right with Respect to the Criminal Proceedings against Nedñad Hasi_, Ahmo Harba_ and Behudin Husi_, Sarajevo, January 18, 1999.
215 Avdi_ changed his initial statement during the proceedings before the Zvornik court.
216 Ombudsperson, Special Report.
217 President Popla_en was dismissed by High Representative Carlos Westendorp in March 1999.
218 The Serb People's Alliance was established in 1997 by Biljana Plav_i_ in the wake of a power struggle between hard line and more moderate members of the SDS. However, the SNS did not register in time for the municipal elections in 1997 and was therefore not able to participate.
219 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, July 11, 1998.
220 Beta News Agency, February 9, 1998.
221 Rules and Regulations, Chapter 15, art. 15.30 (b).
222 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 28, 1999.
223 If the councillor prefers not to take up residence in Bijeljina, but conditions for return exist, the councillor would have to give up his seat on the council, as he apparently does not intend to live in Bijeljina.
224 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, April 28, 1998.
225 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, July 11, 1998.
227 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 28, 1999.
228 Human Rights Watch interview with François Perez, Bijeljina, September 28, 1999.
229 Rules and Regulations, Chapter 15, art. 15.30 (b).
230 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 28, 1999.
231 ,,etni...ke Udruñenje Veterane Drañen Mihajlovi_. Drañen Mihajlovi_ was a leader of the ,,etniks in the Second World War and is now a Serb national hero.
232 Human Rights Watch interview with a staff member of an international organization, Bijeljina, July 11, 1998.
233 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 28, 1999.
234 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, May 13, 1998. The interviewee chose to remain anonymous.
235 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, August 6, 1999.
236 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, September 28, 1999.
237 Human Rights Watch interview, Bijeljina, May 13, 1998.
238 Local security companies are often owned and run by former members of the police, special police, or military, which also tends not to instill trust in visitors.
239 Greater Serbia, Special Edition, no. 620, p. 4, Belgrade, March 14, 1999.