U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Bosnia and Herzegovina
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Bosnia and Herzegovina, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1914.html [accessed 1 December 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINAThe 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Dayton Accords), signed after 3 years of war, provided for the continuity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, originally one of the constituent republics of Yugoslavia, as a single state, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Agreement also provided for two constituent entities within the state: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Federation) and the Republika Srpska (RS). The Federation, which incorporates the areas with a Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat majority, occupies 51 per cent of the territory; the RS, populated mostly by Bosnian Serbs, occupies 49 per cent. The Dayton Accords established a constitution for Bosnia and Herzegovina that includes a central government with a bicameral legislature, a three-member presidency comprised of a representative of each major ethnic group, a council of ministers, a constitutional court, and a central bank. The Accord also provided for a High Representative (OHR) to oversee implementation of its civilian provisions. Defense remains under the control of the respective entities. In 1997 the three members of the joint presidency agreed on legislation establishing a number of key common institutions, including laws on the central bank, the budget, and customs. The main political parties continue to exercise significant political power at all levels. These were the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in predominantly Bosniak areas, the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in the RS, and the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ) in Croat areas. Although the judiciary if formally independent in all entities, it remains subject to influence by ruling political parties and by the executive branches of government. Municipal elections, originally slated to take place concurrently with the 1996 national and provincial elections, were postponed until September 1997 because of widespread fraud in registering Serb voters. There were few reports of political harassment or violence during the 1997 campaign period compared with the preelectoral period in 1996. During the voter registration period, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) enforced sanctions against parties that attempted to register voters fraudulently. Despite threats of a boycott by the Croat and Serb nationalist parties, elections took place on September 13 and 14, and well over 70 percent of the population took part. Most of those voting cast their ballots for municipalities where they had lived prior to the war. For this reason, election results proved difficult to implement in some areas, as majority groups attempted to prevent minority representatives from assuming their municipal government seats. One of the two entities that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was established in March 1994 and transformed the internal structure of the Bosnian territories under Bosniak and Croat control. It is a mixed system with a president and a parliament that must approve the president's choice of prime minister. Federation structures have been implemented only gradually. Major steps were the creation of provincial structures in the form of cantons, the unification of Sarajevo under Federation control, and September 1996 elections to a Federation parliament. The obstacles to establishing a new, unified city administration in the ethnically bifurcated city of Mostar illustrate the difficulty of melding Bosniak and Croat institutions. The Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the other entity. Its administrative and political system is split, with Banja Luka as the seat of the RS president, and a powerful group around former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic located in Pale near Sarajevo. A president and two vice presidents are directly elected for 4-year terms. The legislative branch, the National Assembly, is elected on the basis of proportional representation. The dominant political party, the SDS, headquartered in Pale, however, exercised real control. Until the summer, the party ensured conformity among local authorities in many areas of the RS and used its authority to ensure adherence to nationalistic positions. In September 1996, then-acting RS President Biljana Plavsic was elected President for a full term. However, former RS President Radovan Karadzic continued to wield important influence behind the scenes. Starting in June, Plavsic publicly criticized SDS leaders for corruption, and when she attempted to dissolve the RS assembly and call new elections for October, the SDS leadership contested her authority to do so in the RS Constitutional Court. Under heavy political pressure and physical intimidation--including the severe beating of one judge by Bosnian thugs at the instigation of Serb political leaders--the Court ruled against Plavsic, despite her constitutional authority to dissolve the assembly. The decision did not end the political controversy and lacked legitimacy, since the justices were intimidated. In September RS President Plavsic and Serb member of the Bosnian Presidency Krajisnik agreed to hold early elections for the RS Assembly. The elections were held on November 22 and 23. Due to intense OSCE efforts, voting to fill the 83-seat assembly was carried out with few difficulties, and voter turnout was approximately 70 percent. The hard-line nationalist Serb parties lost their parliamentary majority. Subsequently, a Government strongly supportive of the Dayton Accords, led by a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party, was formed with the votes of moderate Serb parties as well as Bosniak and Croat representatives. The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Annex 4 of the Dayton Accords) made the Federation and the RS responsible for maintaining civilian law enforcement agencies that operate in accordance with internationally recognized standards. Under the auspices of the International Police Task Force (IPTF) established by the United Nations (U.N.) pursuant to Annex 11 of the Dayton Accords, police in both entities is undergoing restructuring and training on proper police procedure and human rights. This process is expected to be completed by mid-1998. Law enforcement bodies of both entities have on many occasions violated international standards, giving preferential treatment on the basis of political, ethnic, and religious criteria. Another problem was the existence of special or secret police in all three ethnic areas, a throwback to the Communist heritage. These forces are not in the normal police chain of command but respond directly to the senior political leadership. In addition to locally recruited police forces, each entity also maintains an army. Police throughout the country committed human rights abuses. The Stabilization Force (SFOR) led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization continued its mission to implement the military aspects of the Dayton Accords and create a more secure environment for implementation of the nonmilitary aspects of the settlement, such as civilian reconstruction, the return of refugees and displaced persons, elections, and freedom of movement of the civilian population. Since the Dayton Accords, signs of economic revival are evident, particularly in the Federation. In BiH real gross domestic product (GDP) almost doubled since 1995, and GDP growth in 1997 was expected to be 30 percent. Unemployment dropped from 90 to 50 percent, and wages more than quadrupled in the Federation, up to $145 (260 DM) per month. Bosnia-Herzegovina remains heavily dependent on international reconstruction assistance, and the anticipated return of refugees from abroad is expected to compound the problem of creating sufficient jobs. International assistance, which is conditioned upon compliance with the Dayton Accords, financed the physical construction of infrastructure and provided loans to the manufacturing sector. An August donors conference garnered $1.4 billion in pledges for Bosnian reconstruction. The commitment to respect citizens? human rights and civil liberties remains tenuous in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the degree of respect for these rights continues to vary among areas with Bosniak, Bosnian Croat, and Bosnian Serb majorities. In many areas the reduction in interethnic abuses and discrimination owed less to reconciliation than to the groups' continuing separation. Human rights abuses by the police declined in 1997, but serious problems persist. Police continued to commit abuses throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. Police and mobs that appeared organized by local authorities committed a few extrajudicial killings. For example, West Mostar police shot and killed a retreating Bosniak man; a Bosniak man was killed when mobs in Jajce, with police complicity, burned 4 houses and expelled more than 435 Bosniak returnees; and a group of displaced Bosniak women beat a returning Serb refugee to death in Visoko and held violent demonstrations protesting Serb returns. In two incidents in the Travnik area, ethnic Croat returnees were murdered by unknown assailants, and Croats in the area subsequently complained about insufficient police efforts to find the perpetrators and about the lack of security. Members of the security forces abused and physically mistreated citizens. They also continued to use arbitrary arrest and detention, although to a lesser extent than during the previous year. Criminal procedure legislation held over since the Yugoslav period granted police wide latitude to detain suspects for long periods of time before filing formal charges. Police often exceeded even the broad powers granted them by law--those illegally detained included two Serb men released in August who had been registered by the Red Cross as missing since September 1995 and "war criminals" in Una-Sana Canton whose arrest was not authorized by the ICTY. Prison conditions continued to be poor. IPTF and SFOR supervision of police produced a number of improvements, such as the dismantlement of virtually all fixed police checkpoints, which greatly enhanced freedom of movement. In August the SFOR announced that it would begin inspecting and monitoring special police units in both the Federation and the RS under military provisions of the Dayton Accords. These units are composed of former state security police officers that are outside the regular chain of command and have close ties to hard-line nationalist parties. The judiciary in all entities remained subject to coercive influence by dominant political parties and by the executive. In many areas, close ties exist between courts of law and the ruling parties, and those judges who show independence are subject to intimidation by the authorities. For example, a judge on the RS Constitutional Court was severely beaten by thugs prior to a major politically related case. Even when independent decisions are rendered, local authorities often refuse to carry them out. Authorities in all areas infringed on citizens? right to privacy and home. Although authorities imposed some limits on freedom of assembly and association, there was marked improvement compared with 1996, especially during the election campaigns. Authorities and dominant political parties in their respective areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina exerted influence over the media, and freedom of speech and the press was limited to varying degrees in the different entities. Political influence was particularly egregious in parts of the RS broadcast media, which strongly backed the Pale-based SDS party leaders at the expense of RS President Biljana Plavsic. The RS media also made inflammatory statements against the SFOR and the ICTY actions directed at persons indicted for war crimes. This led the SFOR in October to take control of a number of broadcasting facilities in the RS. In contrast, in the western RS, there was notable development of an independent media. International donors are attempting to expand the broadcasting range of the Open Broadcast Network (OBN) in an effort to promote more objective reporting in the RS. Academic freedom was constrained. Severe ethnic discrimination continues, particularly in the treatment of refugees. Expulsions of minorities who had remained in place throughout the war generally have ended, with the significant exception of the harassed Bosniak community in the RS town of Teslic. More often, local authorities and organized mobs violently resisted the return of minority refugees. RS and Bosnian Croat authorities encouraged their own people to remain or move to areas where their group was in the majority, rather than stay in or return to their homes. Inadequate property and amnesty laws further impeded returns, few of which involved minorities. Some restrictions on freedom of movement and the destruction of houses continued. Religious discrimination and economic discrimination remained problems. Mob violence was also a problem. Most wartime atrocities remained unpunished. The SFOR?s July 10 arrest of one suspected war criminal and killing of another in self-defense, both of whom were on a list of sealed indictments issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), triggered a hail of inflammatory statements in the RS-dominated media and over a dozen attacks against international representatives. Ten Croats indicted for war crimes surrendered to the ICTY In October following massive international pressure on Croatia, and in December SFOR troops seized two more Bosnian war crimes suspects.