Amnesty International Report 1999 - Bosnia-Herzegovina


Scores of war crimes suspects remained at large. Continuing violence and administrative obstacles prevented refugees and displaced people from returning to their homes. The situation was exacerbated by the repatriation policies of some states hosting refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Several people were arbitrarily detained on account of their nationality. Political prisoners were held in illegal detention facilities and given unfair trials. Scores of detainees were ill-treated by police. More than 19,000 people remained unaccounted for; many were believed to have "disappeared". The death penalty was abolished in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Federation).

During the year, some 6,000 refugees fleeing the armed conflict in Kosovo province (see Yugoslavia, Federal Republic of, entry) were given "temporary admission" in accordance with procedures adopted in September by the Bosnia-Herzegovina Council of Ministers. Most had fled to the Federation.

Intergovernmental organizations and their High Representative, Carlos Westendorp, continued to oversee implementation of the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace (the peace agreement). The UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the International Police Task Force (IPTF), and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) continued to maintain significant field missions engaged in human rights monitoring and investigation.

The Human Rights Ombudsperson and Human Rights Chamber, national human rights institutions established under the peace agreement, issued a number of binding decisions. However, the authorities in the Republika Srpska (RS) – the Bosnian Serb entity – and those in the Federation – the Bosniac (Bosnian Muslim) and Bosnian Croat entity – often failed to comply with the recommendations of intergovernmental organizations and national human rights institutions. The High Representative imposed binding decisions in some instances because the parties themselves failed to reach agreement or cooperate.

In 1997 intergovernmental organizations had decided to make 1998 the year of "minority return", referring to extra efforts to facilitate the return of refugees or displaced people to the communities from which they had fled or been expelled during the 1992-1995 armed conflict, and where they would be in a minority. Visits to home communities increased, including to towns which had been the scenes of some of the worst human rights violations during the war, such as Foa (RS), Srebrenica (RS) and Ahmiçi (Federation). However, "minority returns" were hindered by continuing human rights abuses and administrative obstacles.

General elections in September, organized and monitored by the OSCE, were won by nationalist parties. Elections for the three-member presidency were won by Alija Izetbegoviç, the Bosniac member; Ante Jelavic, the Bosnian Croat member; and Zivko Radisic, the Bosnian Serb member, who replaced Alija Izetbegovic as Chairman. Nikola Poplasen was elected President of the RS. Ejup Ganic was re- elected President of the Federation for another year by the newly elected federal parliament in December.

Scores of war crime suspects remained at large, although 11 people charged with crimes against humanity or war crimes were taken into custody. Six people indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Tribunal) were arrested by members of the multinational Stabilization Force (SFOR) and five suspects surrendered voluntarily. By the end of the year, 22 people were in the Tribunal's custody on or awaiting trial and six people were awaiting the outcome of appeals. One detainee, Milan Kovacevic, died in August, apparently of a heart attack. In November, two Bosniacs, Hazim Delic and Esad Landzo, and one Bosnian Croat, Zdravko Mucic, were found guilty of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of the laws or customs of war and sentenced to 20, 15 and seven years' imprisonment, respectively. A fourth Bosniac indicted with them, Zejnil Delalic, was acquitted. In December another Bosnian Croat, Anto Furundzija, was found guilty of violations of the laws or customs of war and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. In March Drazen Erdemovic, who had been sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in 1997 (see Amnesty International Report 1998), had his sentence reduced on appeal to five years' imprisonment.

In May the Tribunal Prosecutor withdrew charges against 14 suspects, to focus her resources on people holding higher levels of responsibility or those personally responsible for exceptionally brutal or otherwise extremely serious offences. The Prosecutor emphasized that the withdrawal was not for lack of evidence and that she expected national courts to pursue the prosecutions. However, by the end of the year, no attempts had been made by either RS or Federation courts to initiate such prosecutions. Twenty-seven people publicly indicted by the Tribunal for crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina remained at large. All but four were indicted for crimes committed by those loyal to the Bosnian Serb leadership.

Members of national minorities were the most frequent targets of human rights abuses. Many violations were committed in the context of "minority returns" (see above). At the end of the year, approximately 1.2 million people remained refugees or internally displaced. Most had been victims of mass expulsions carried out by warring parties trying to create communities of a single nationality. Official failure to take effective action against violent attacks on members of national minorities prevented safe and dignified "minority returns". Administrative obstacles, such as difficulty in gaining access to housing, also hindered the return of refugees and displaced people to their homes. The houses of members of national minorities were deliberately destroyed to prevent the return of their pre-war occupants. In many cases, the houses were destroyed when repairs were nearing completion or when the owners' return was imminent. In the Bosnian-Croat-controlled municipalities of Drvar and Stolac (Federation), which were particularly obstructive to the return of pre-war residents, there were reports of around 80 and possibly as many as 100 such cases, respectively. With very few exceptions, local authorities did little to find those responsible or bring them to justice.

Returnees were also attacked; the authorities failed to ensure their protection. A cycle of retaliatory attacks was sparked by the killing of Vojislav Trniniç and Mileva Trniniç, an elderly Bosnian Serb couple who returned in early April to their pre-war home village near Bosnian-Croat-controlled Drvar (Federation). The following week, protests in Derventa (RS) by an angry crowd of Bosnian Serb displaced people, some of them from Drvar, prevented hundreds of Bosnian Croat refugees from Croatia from attending a religious service at the Roman Catholic church; six Bosnian Croats were injured. The following day, hundreds of Bosnian Croats in Drvar rioted. Fourteen people were injured in the Drvar demonstrations, including the Bosnian Serb mayor of the town, Mile Mareta, who was assaulted by the crowd, hit by stones hurled by the rioters and had a bottle broken over his head. At least one police officer took part in the demonstrations. Other police officers were present, but did not effectively intervene to prevent the violence. Dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed. By the end of the year no one had been brought to account for the killings.

Returning refugees and displaced people also met violence in isolated incidents. In April in Velika Bukovica village near Travnik (Federation), a Bosniac-controlled town, two Bosnian Croats who were preparing to return were seriously injured by an explosion as they entered a house. In May an elderly Bosnian Serb woman was reportedly beaten after a crowd of 150 Bosniacs carrying rocks and sticks had gathered to protest against the visit of more than 50 Bosnian Serbs to Kljuc (Federation). According to reports, Hamdija Vehtiç, a Bosniac who had returned to Bijeljina (RS) from Germany, was ill-treated by police in September. He was unable to file a complaint because, as a result of discrimination by the RS authorities, he did not have identification documents. In October a Bosniac was killed and two others were injured in attacks after approximately 50 Bosniacs returned to the Bosnian Croat town of Tasovici (Federation).

The repatriation policies of some countries hosting refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina contributed to the perpetuation of the effects of mass expulsion by forcing refugees to repatriate even though they were unable to return to their pre-war homes. For example, Germany deported more than 2,000 people to Bosnia-Herzegovina throughout the year. The repatriation of an additional 88,000 people was not wholly voluntary as the refugees did not have a real option to stay in the host country. Most refugees came from areas where their nationality had become a minority and they frequently had no alternative but to settle in other areas in the houses of other displaced people, thus preventing those people from returning to their homes. For example, in May the municipalities of Gradaac (Federation) and Modria (RS) agreed to proceed with the bilateral return of Bosniac and Bosnian Serb displaced people from one town to the other. However, several thousand Bosniacs from Modria repatriated from Germany during the year had settled in Gradaac in the houses of Bosnian Serb displaced people. As a result, the Bosnian Serb displaced people were not able to return to Gradaac, and Bosniacs were not able to return to Modria.

Politicians and others in both entities used slander laws to silence journalists who exposed government corruption, including at least one possible prisoner of conscience. In October Mirjana Miiç was given a five-month suspended sentence for exposing financial gains made by elected officials in Zvornik (RS). In the RS, draft evaders and deserters continued to be excluded from amnesty laws. At least two men were reported to have been given suspended prison sentences for draft evasion.

Several political prisoners were detained without trial or charge in both entities. In February the Human Rights Chamber reported that Federation authorities accepted that the procedure of February 1996 (known as "Rules of the Road"), whereby no one was to be detained on war crimes charges until their case had been reviewed by the Tribunal Prosecutor (see Amnesty International Report 1998), was obligatory. However, several people were arrested in violation of the procedure, including Robert Rebac, a Bosnian Croat arrested by Bosnian Serb police while visiting Ljubinje (RS) in August. He was released after 28 days following international protest. Financial compensation was awarded to a number of individuals who had been arrested in violation of this agreement in 1996 and 1997, including some who may have been prisoners of conscience. In August, 14 prisoners were found in a factory in Pale (RS), an illegal detention centre. They were being investigated in connection with the murder of a Bosnian Serb police officer. After five days seven of them were transferred to Kula prison; the remaining detainees were released four days later. Only in December were six of them charged with the murder of Srdjan Knezevic (see below).

In January the "Zvornik Seven" (see Amnesty International Report 1998) were granted a retrial by the Bijeljina district court. Court sessions opened in May, after having been adjourned for four months. In December, four of the men were convicted of the murder of four Bosnian Serbs and a Bosniac and sentenced to up to 20 years' imprisonment. The retrial was criticized by international observers for repeating the procedural irregularities of the original trial.

The trials continued of at least 18 suspects indicted on nationally defined war crimes charges; most were unfair. For example, in October Ibrahim Djedovic was found guilty on nationally defined war crimes charges and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, despite monitors' reports that there was insufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There were also serious procedural irregularities during the trial. For example, Ibrahim Djedovic was denied access to legal counsel during the first five months of his detention; he was prevented from summoning defence witnesses; and the indictment was substantially altered the day before closing arguments were to be heard.

Scores of people were ill-treated by the police, including the 14 suspects arrested and illegally detained in Pale (see above). In February a Bosnian Serb suspected of the January 1993 murder of Deputy Prime Minister Hakija Turajlic was ill-treated during arrest by Bosnian Federation police and in pre-trial detention. In August Hasan Sabic, an opposition political candidate, was ill-treated after being summoned for a traffic violation in Travnik (Federation). In a number of cases, prosecutions of police officers for ill-treatment were initiated after IPTF intervention.

More than 19,000 people missing since the end of the armed conflict remained unaccounted for; many were believed to have "disappeared". Exhumations of mass graves continued to be the main source of information about their fate. In March an agreement by the parties to allow exhumations to take place in their territory without reciprocal exhumations taking place in areas under the control of the other side, ended a deadlock over the issue. By the end of the year more than 2,000 bodies had been exhumed both by the Tribunal and national authorities, of which more than half had been identified.

Srdjan Knezevic, assistant to the head of the RS State Security Service in Pale (RS), was shot dead in August when returning home. An investigation was launched into possible state complicity in his death, as he was known to have been a follower of rival Bosnian Serb political factions to those dominating Pale. One investigating officer was removed by the IPTF Commissioner after he was found to have ill-treated suspects during the investigation.

In June the Human Rights Chamber ordered that the death sentences on two prisoners in the Federation – Borislav Herak (see Amnesty International Report 1994) and Nail Rizvanovic – be commuted. In November the death penalty was effectively abolished in the Federation when a new Criminal Code came into effect which replaced it with extended prison terms.

Amnesty International addressed the authorities on a number of concerns throughout the year. In February the organization issued Bosnia-Herzegovina: All the way home, safe "minority returns" as a just remedy and for a secure future, updated in April, urging the authorities to protect members of minorities from violent attacks. The organization additionally called on countries hosting refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina not to repatriate, or promote the repatriation of, any refugees who were unable to return in safety to their pre-war homes. The organization also continued to call on states contributing to SFOR to live up to their obligations to seek out and arrest individuals indicted by the Tribunal.

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