Bosnia and Herzegovina

Head of state: three-member rotating presidency – Zivko Radisic, Ante Jelavic and Alija Izetbegovic
President of the Muslim/Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ivo Andric Luzanski
President of the Republika Srpska: vacant since March 1999
Heads of national government: Haris Silajdzic, Svetozar Mihajlovic, Neven Tomic
Capital: Sarajevo
Population: 3.1 million
Official languages: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes

The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace (Framework Agreement) equipped the country with some of the world's most sophisticated human rights protection and monitoring institutions. Despite this, the majority of gross human rights violations committed during the 1991-1995 war remained unaddressed and more than 17,000 people remained unaccounted for. Some 1.2 million people were still internally displaced or living as refugees, and only 60,000 people returned to their pre-war homes during the year. More than 20 of the 53 suspects publicly indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (Tribunal) for violations of international humanitarian law in Bosnia-Herzegovina were still at liberty. They were believed to be in the country still, or in the neighbouring Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Among them were Bosnian Serb suspects Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who had been jointly indicted for genocide in the former UN enclave of Srebrenica in 1995.


The 1995 Framework Agreement divided the sovereign republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina into two largely autonomous entities, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Federation) and the Republika Srpska, and established a multi-ethnic government representing the three constituent national groups of Serbs, Croats and Bosniacs.

The Republika Srpska was seized by a political crisis for most of 1999, caused by the failure to form a new government after general and presidential elections in 1998. The High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Carlos Westendorp, removed President Nikola Poplasen from office in March on the grounds that he had failed to implement the Framework Agreement and had obstructed the formation of a new government. The president's post was still vacant at the end of the year.

The two entities failed to cooperate with one another, in particular with regard to the implementation of the human rights provisions of the Framework Agreement. In November Carlos Westendorp dismissed 22 officials throughout the country for this obstruction. The authorities also continued to withhold information which could shed light on past human rights violations, particularly on "disappearances" and abductions.

In October it was decided to reduce the Stabilization Force (SFOR), tasked to ensure compliance with the Framework Agreement and led by NATO, from 30,000 to 20,000 by April 2000.

'Minority returns'

The return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their pre-war communities, now administered and predominantly inhabited by a different nationality group, continued to be seen as an essential means of reversing the wartime attempt to create "ethnically pure" territories and a crucial test of the implementation of the Framework Agreement. Such "minority returns" have been declared an absolute priority by the international community, but the number of such returns registered by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees dropped from some 44,000 in 1998 to around 32,000 in 1999.

The presence of more than 50,000 Kosovar refugees, who fled the armed conflict in Kosovo and the NATO air campaign against the FRY (see Federal Republic of Yugoslavia entry), caused considerable stagnation in the overall return process. However, the largest obstacle was the lack of political will among the local authorities. Government officials in both entities were reluctant to enforce laws or implement judicial or administrative decisions on the return of property and the police did not adequately protect returnees.

There were virtually no Bosniac returns to Srebrenica municipality in the Republika Srpska in 1999. This compounded the severe human rights violations suffered by thousands of Bosniacs following the fall of the UN "safe haven" to the Bosnian Serb army in July 1995. The inaugural session of the multi-ethnic municipal council was held in July, almost two years after the first post-war municipal elections in the country, but none of the Bosniac councillors was able to live permanently in the municipality. Concerns for their personal safety increased after Munib Hasanovic, the Bosniac deputy secretary of the municipal council, was beaten and stabbed by two masked assailants in October. He had apparently received threats before from a local Serb hard-line politician. Bosnian Serbs who publicly endorsed ethnic reconciliation and the return of Bosniacs to Srebrenica also suffered violence and intimidation. In September Milojko Andric, the local representative of the multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party, was threatened by a local police officer a few days before his car was set on fire.

Bosnian Serbs continued to face serious administrative obstacles and physical violence while returning to Drvar municipality, now situated in the Federation and hosting a large Bosnian Croat internally displaced population. In September the High Representative and the Head of the Mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe suspended the municipal council and dismissed a number of officials because they had been obstructing "minority returns". The Drvar Serb mayor, Mile Marceta, was also dismissed out of concern for his security. He had been violently attacked in April 1998 in the wake of the murder of two elderly Serb returnees, Vojislav and Mileva Trninic, and no one had been brought to justice for either these murders or the ensuing attacks by the end of the year.

Political violence

There were a number of violent attacks on politicians, independent journalists and "minority returnees". In most cases investigations were launched immediately, often with the extensive support and supervision of the International Police Task Force (IPTF).

  • Zeljko Kopanja, editor of the Nezavisne Novine, lost both legs in a car bomb attack in Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska in October which was apparently motivated by a series of articles published in Nezavisne Novine in September and October. The articles alleged that the Republika Srpska authorities had destroyed evidence of paramilitary attacks on Bosniacs and Croats in 1992 and 1993 in the towns of Teslic and Doboj in an attempt to halt criminal proceedings or prevent future legal proceedings against the paramilitaries. Zeljko Kopanja had reportedly received death threats prior to the attack and reported them to the local police, but measures had not been taken to ensure his safety.

Steps to end impunity

Eight men indicted for violations of international humanitarian law came into the custody of the Tribunal. Dragan Kulundzija, Radomir Kovac, Radoslav Brdjanin and Damir Dosen, all Bosnian Serbs, were arrested by SFOR troops. Momir Talic, a Bosnian Serb army general who had been secretly indicted for war crimes in the Prijedor and Sanski Most areas, was arrested by police in Vienna during a visit to Austria for an international conference in August. Bosnian Croat Vinko Martinovic, who had been indicted for war crimes in the Mostar area, was extradited by Croatia in August, following intensive international pressure. In December SFOR arrested two more Bosnian Serb men, Stanislav Galic and Zoran Vukovic, who had been indicted for crimes committed in Sarajevo and Foca respectively.

Bosnian Serb Dragan Gagovic was shot dead by SFOR soldiers during an attempted arrest in January. He had been publicly indicted for war crimes committed in the eastern town of Foca, including the systematic rape of Bosniac women.

The Tribunal heard 11 defendants in five separate trials. Zlatko Aleksovski was convicted in June of violating the laws and customs of war but was acquitted of breaching the 1949 Geneva Conventions. He was sentenced to two and a half years' imprisonment but immediately released for time already spent in custody.

In October Goran Jelisic was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity; he was sentenced in December to 40 years' imprisonment.

Court proceedings against people accused of nationally-defined war crimes continued in local courts in both entities. The majority were affiliated with the wartime adversaries of the prosecuting authorities, and little effort was made to prosecute alleged perpetrators among the authorities' own supporters.

Unfair trials of political prisoners

In the Republika Srpska criminal proceedings continued against three Bosniac men from Srebrenica who had been sentenced in 1997 to lengthy prison terms for the murder of four Bosnian Serbs and retried in 1998, after a successful appeal to the Supreme Court. In January 1999 the Human Rights Ombudsperson reported that the Bijeljina District Court panel of judges presiding over the 1998 retrial could not be considered an independent and impartial tribunal. She also stated that the defendants' right to be presumed innocent and their right to be represented by a lawyer of choice had been violated and that incriminating statements extracted from the defendants by force had been used as evidence. The Ombudsperson also criticized the public prosecutor for failing to investigate allegations that the defendants had been ill-treated.

In May the Republika Srpska Supreme Court quashed the 1998 verdict, stating that the judges' reasoning had been contradictory and that the available evidence had not been used in accordance with domestic law. The case was again sent for a retrial, despite the lack of new evidence to support further criminal prosecution, and the three men were released from custody in June.

Ill-treatment by police

Reports of ill-treatment in custody continued despite the overwhelming level of international scrutiny that law enforcement officials were subjected to.

  • Andrija Beljo, a Bosnian Croat businessman, was detained by police in Mostar on 26 August in connection with the alleged theft of cars in Croatia. He was reportedly punched in the face, beaten and kicked by three Bosnian Croat police officers, one of whom had been decertified by IPTF in 1997. When he left the police station on 27 August he was accosted by two of the three men and by a third man he did not recognize who forced him into a car at gunpoint and drove him to an open mine near Siroki Brijeg. He was beaten and forced to participate in a mock execution before the three men received a mobile telephone call warning them that the IPTF were already inquiring into his whereabouts. The three then forced him to cross the Croatian border, where he was detained on the basis of a decision by the Split County Court investigating magistrate.

Andrija Beljo claimed that he had refused to pay a large sum of protection money to one of his assailants some months before his arrest. He stated that other local entrepreneurs had been forced to pay protection money to these police officers after they were physically intimidated and threatened with imprisonment.

AI Action

AI continued to call for SFOR to adhere to its mandate to seek out and arrest persons indicted by the Tribunal. It continued to call on the governments of Croatia, FRY and Bosnia-Herzegovina to live up to their obligations as UN member states to cooperate unconditionally with the Tribunal, to provide the Prosecutor's office with information, and to surrender any indicted suspects on their territory without delay. AI also called on the three governments to amend their domestic legislation in order to facilitate the surrender of indicted suspects.

During 1999 AI endeavoured to ensure that the fight against impunity for human rights abuses committed in the region was kept on the political agenda throughout the world. It stressed the crucial link between continued impunity and other unresolved human rights issues, such as "minority returns" and the resolution of the tens of thousands of persons still unaccounted for.

AI country reports and visits


  • Concerns in Europe, January – June 1999: Bosnia-Herzegovina (AI Index: EUR 01/002/99)


AI visited Bosnia-Herzegovina in February and March to collect further information related to "disappearances" and abductions, and to monitor trials against political prisoners.

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