Human Rights Watch World Report 1996 - Bosnia-Hercegovina

Human Rights Developments

Attacks against U.N.-declared "safe areas," the expulsion of Muslims and Croats from Bosnian Serb-held areas, and the displacement of thousands of Serbs in western Bosnia following an offensive by Bosnian and Croatian forces resulted in gross human rights violations and forcible transfers of populations in 1995.

In an attempt to break the two-year siege of the Bihac "safe area," Bosnian government and Bosnian Croat forces launched a joint offensive in November 1994. However, by mid-November, Bosnian Serb forces, aided by Croatian Serb troops and rebel Muslims loyal to Fikret Abdic, had recovered most of the territory and begun an assault against the "safe area." The siege of the Bihac pocket lasted until August 1995, when an offensive by Croatian Army, Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Army units in the Krajina region of Croatia and in western Bosnia broke the siege. Thousands of Serbs fled the advancing Bosnian-Croat troops and sought refuge in the Bosnian Serb-held areas near Banja Luka.

Throughout late 1994, Bosnian Serb forces indiscriminately shelled the "safe areas" of Sarajevo, Tuzla, and Gorazde. By mid-November 1994, Bosnian Serbs were repeatedly attacking Sarajevo with heavy weapons that were supposed to have been under U.N. control, and threatened to attack the humanitarian airlift, thus leading to the closure of Sarajevo's airport and the delivery of relief supplies. Although humanitarian aid destined for Sarajevo since November 1994 finally arrived in February 1995, Bosnian Serb authorities once again refused to guarantee the safety of U.N. relief flights. Aid had to be delivered through a treacherous route along Mount Igman, which was also exposed to Bosnian Serb attacks. Only in September were deliveries of aid regularized.

At the request of rebel Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, former President Jimmy Carter traveled to Bosnia as a private mediator on November 19, 1994. To secure Carter's mediation, Karadzic vowed immediate respect for human rights in Bosnian Serb-held territory, free movement for relief convoys, and the reopening of Sarajevo's airport; none of these promises was kept. Nevertheless, during his visit, Carter negotiated a four-month cease-fire between the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian government. On December 31, 1994, in a more ambitious "cessation of hostilities" accord, the Bosnian government and rebel Bosnian Serb leadership agreed to the reopening of supply routes, exchange of prisoners of war, free movement of U.N. troops and aid convoys, protection of the "safe areas," restoration of utilities to Sarajevo, removal of foreign troops, and stationing of U.N. peacekeepers at front lines between the warring parties. Neither Fikret Abdic, whose rebel Muslim troops aided Bosnian Serb forces in the assault against Bihac, nor the Croatian Serbs were party to the accord, and attacks by those parties against the Bihac "safe area" continued until mid-1995. Also, rebel Serbs in Croatia and Abdic's forces repeatedly prevented food convoys from reaching the "safe area" of Bihac in early and mid-1995.

Bosnian Serb authorities resumed several rounds of "ethnic cleansing" in northern Bosnia in late 1994 and throughout 1995. Persistent harassment of non-Serbian civilians induced 300 non-Serbs to flee Banja Luka in late February, and prompted 490 to request U.N. assistance in leaving the area. In April, Bosnian Serb authorities expelled another one hundred Muslims from Bijeljina. Bosnian Serb authorities also used non-Serbian civilians as forced labor, commanding them to dig trenches and remove dead Bosnian Serb soldiers. In May, ostensibly avenging the Croatian government's offensive in the western Slavonia region of Croatia, Bosnian Serbs in Banja Luka expelled and harassed Catholic clergy and nuns, destroyed or damaged church property and beat Croatian and Muslim civilians. During and after the Bosnian Croat and Bosnian and Croatian Army offensives in the Krajina region of Croatia and western Bosnia in August, scores of Muslims and Croats were expelled from Bosnian Serb-held areas in northern Bosnia, where thousands of Serbs displaced from Krajina and western Bosnia had sought refuge. The displaced Serbs expelled Muslims and Croats from their homes and occupied their property. Local authorities organized the non-Serbs' deportation to Bosnian government-held areas or to Croatia. In September and October, Zeljko Raznjatovic (widely known as Arkan) and his paramilitary units arrived from Serbia proper into the Banja Luka area, where they expelled thousands of Muslim and Croatian women, children and elderly persons. Approximately 5,000 non-Serbian men were taken to detention centers or were disappeared reportedly by Arkan's troops, which also were responsible for looting, raping, beating and otherwise terrorizing non-Serbs in northwestern Bosnia.

In April, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic informed international mediators that the Bosnian government would not extend the Carter-brokered cease-fire. Bosnian Serb forces responded to Bosnian government offensives by intensifying their siege of Sarajevo throughout April and early May. Bosnian Serb troops responded to NATO air strikes against their positions by shelling Tuzla on the evening of May 25, killing seventy-one civilians and injuring more than 150, making it the deadliest single bombing during the three-year war. Karadzic also announced in May that his forces would capture U.N. peacekeepers if the U.N. called on NATO to launch air strikes and threatened to overrun the eastern enclaves of Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde. He carried out his threat, and Bosnian Serb forces took approximately 370 U.N. peacekeepers hostage in late May and June and overran the U.N.-declared "safe areas" of Srebrenica and Zepa in July. Following the fall of Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb forces summarily executed hundreds—possibly thousands—of men and boys at various mass execution sites near the Srebrenica area and during their flight from Bosnian Serb-held territory to Bosnian-government-controlled areas. Women, children and elderly persons deported from the area were also terrorized, and thousands of persons remained disappeared.

The Right to Monitor

Human rights monitoring continued to be severely restricted in Bosnian Serb-held territory. The ICRC was given only limited access to persons detained following the fall of Srebrenica in July. Bosnian Serb officials escorted foreign journalists to view the damage caused by NATO bombing but did not allow them to conduct independent investigations. In early September, Human Rights Watch requested access to Bosnian Serb territory to investigate possible violations of the rules of war by NATO, but never received a response. Following the joint Bosnian government, Croatian government and Bosnian Croat militia offensive in western Bosnia in August and September, access was impeded by those forces.

The Role of the International Community

The United Nations and NATO

The U.N. peacekeeping mission was increasingly eclipsed by NATO in 1995. U.N. commanders consistently argued that it was essential to maintain strict neutrality in order to avoid retaliation against U.N. troops. In practice, U.N. neutrality meant inaction. U.N. troops failed to protect the "safe areas" of Srebrenica and Zepa and did little if anything to protect Srebrenica's men and boys from execution, to ensure regular delivery of humanitarian aid, and to maintain operation of Sarajevo's airport. NATO officials grew increasingly frustrated by the U.N.'s persistent reluctance to punish the Bosnian Serb troops for repeated violations of U.N. resolutions and agreements and complained that, as a result, the credibility of the U.N. and NATO had been compromised. By mid-1995, however, NATO's call for a more robust response against Bosnian Serb forces prevailed, and the first sustained bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb military targets took place in June 1995.

In late January 1995, the commander of U.N. forces in Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, was replaced by Lt. Gen. Rupert Smith, a fellow Briton. Smith's willingness to penalize Bosnian Serb forces for violations of agreements or in retaliation for attacks on "safe areas" contrasted with his predecessor's hesitation to use military force against Bosnian Serb forces. However, although the U.N. command in Bosnia was more willing to use force against abusive Bosnian Serb forces in 1995 than in previous years, U.N. military and civilian personnel—especially Yasushi Akashi, the secretary-general's special representative to the former Yugoslavia—were also reluctant to employ force to defend civilians and often vetoed requests from officers in the field. Only after the decision-making process governing the use of force was revised and Akashi's consent was no longer required to launch air strikes, did NATO begin to take punitive actions against Bosnian Serb forces in response to continuing attacks against Sarajevo.

Throughout 1995, U.N. peacekeepers and military observers found themselves increasingly harassed by all the warring parties, especially by Bosnian Serb forces. Serbian forces in Croatia and in Bosnia repeatedly blocked efforts to resupply U.N. troops in Bosnia, effectively preventing them from carrying out their mandate to protect the "safe areas" and escort relief convoys. Bosnian Serbs frequently stole vehicles, ammunition, and flak jackets from the U.N. and intensified other forms of harassment. Serbian forces repeatedly fired on U.N. peacekeepers and vehicles, killing at least two peacekeepers, and fired on planes at the Sarajevo airport in an attempt to disrupt the airport's normal operation. Bosnian Serb soldiers downed an American F-16 jet monitoring the "no-fly" zone near Banja Luka on June 2, and two French airmen were shot down and captured by Bosnian Serb forces near Pale on August 30. The U.S. pilot was discovered alive and rescued on June 7. The French airmen were detained by Bosnian Serb forces but, in mid-October, rebel Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic announced that the airmen had been "kidnaped" from the hospital where they allegedly were being held.

The Bosnian Army also detained U.N. soldiers at their compounds in Gorazde and Visoko, in May and June, respectively. In response to what was perceived as U.N. inaction to Bosnian Serb attacks against the Srebrenica "safe area" in July, a Bosnian government soldier shot and killed a Dutch soldier stationed in the enclave.

In late 1994 and mid-1995, Bosnian Serb forces took scores of U.N. soldiers hostage as a means to deter NATO air strikes. In late May and June, approximately 370 peacekeepers were taken hostage after NATO warplanes bombed several ammunition bunkers near Pale on May 25 and 26. At the end of May, the Bosnian Serb leadership announced that it would free the peacekeepers on the condition that NATO formally renounce its use of air strikes.

In order to negotiate the release of the U.N. hostages, Serbia proper dispatched Jovica Stanisic, the chief of Yugoslav state security, to Bosnian Serb territory, ostensibly to convince Karadzic to release the hostages. On June 2, 122 peacekeepers were released; on June 7, 108 were released; and on June 13 another twenty-eight were released. Then the Bosnian Serbs demanded the return of the four Serbian soldiers captured by U.N. troops on May 27 during the confrontation at Vrbanja bridge in exchange for the release of the remaining twenty-six U.N. hostages. Despite the U.N.'s demand for the unconditional release of the hostages, it capitulated to Bosnian Serb pressure, releasing the Bosnian Serb soldiers captured at the Vrbanja bridge. U.N. troops had also abandoned all the weapons collection points around Sarajevo, thus allowing Bosnian Serb forces to retrieve the weapons contained therein and to intensify the siege of Sarajevo. In return, the Bosnian Serbs had freed the remaining U.N. peacekeepers by June 18.

On June 1, as the situation in Bosnia sharply took a turn for the worse, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali released a report suggesting several alternatives for the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. He declared the current mission untenable, but opposed a complete withdrawal of troops. Instead, he suggested either stationing a reinforced multinational force under the command of contributing countries, or his preferred option of completely abandoning military force and reducing the scope of the mandate. On June 25, the U.N. Security Council agreed to send another 12,500 soldiers as part of a "rapid reaction force" that was meant to respond forcefully to any attacks on U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia. But financing of the force remained a matter of contention, because the Clinton administration had already expressed reservations about the U.S. having to pay part of the cost of the force. The force was eventually deployed but, on October 5, the U.N. announced that it would scale back its mission in Bosnia from 30,000 to 21,000 troops and that part of the rapid reaction force would also be withdrawn and placed on standby in their home countries. On August 19, U.N. forces began moving out of the Gorazde "safe area" and only a handful of U.N. monitors remained in the enclave by year's end.

After the fall of the "safe area" of Srebrenica and Zepa, on July 21 NATO threatened Bosnian Serb forces with air strikes if they attacked the Gorazde "safe area." On August 1, the threat was extended to include Bosnian Serb attacks against the other remaining "safe areas," including Sarajevo, Bihac, and Tuzla. In response to the killing of thirty-seven people by a Bosnian Serb shell in a Sarajevo market on August 29, NATO air strikes were initiated against Bosnian Serb positions around Sarajevo on August 30. The scope of the air strikes was expanded over the course of early September, when Bosnian Serb military targets in the southeast and north were also targeted or destroyed by NATO warplanes. After sustained NATO air raids were conducted for several days, Bosnian Serb forces removed their heavy weapons from around Sarajevo and agreed to resume negotiations to discuss a peace accord to end the war.

In 1995, the International Criminal Tribunal established by the U.N. to adjudicate violations of humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia issued a series of indictments. In February, the tribunal indicted twenty-one Bosnian Serbs for various violations of international law, including the crime of genocide. In July, Karadzic and Mladic and twenty-one other Serbs were indicted. In addition to other crimes, the tribunal charged Karadzic and Mladic with genocide. A Bosnian Croat military officer accused of commanding troops in a 1993 massacre of Muslims in the village of Stupni Do also was indicted by the tribunal in September. In October, the court began hearing evidence against Dragan Nikolic, the former commander of a Bosnian Serb-run camp who had been indicted by the tribunal in 1994. In November, six more Bosnian Croats were indicted in connection with abuses against Muslims in the Lasva valley in 1993.

U.S. Policy

Plagued by the absence of a clear goal or overall approach for resolving the war or ending human rights abuses in Bosnia, the Clinton administration's policy remained confused and erratic in the latter part of 1994 through mid-1995. By late 1995, the Clinton administration had finally assumed a leadership role in the Balkans, deeply involving itself in a war that it had earlier characterized as a "European problem," and embracing, where it had often rejected, the use of force as a necessary supplement to diplomacy. By late 1995, the U.S. encouraged NATO to counter U.N. impotence in the field, thus forcing a response to the continued siege of Sarajevo and the isolation of the Gorazde "safe area." The Clinton administration assumed control over diplomatic efforts of the so-called contact group—comprising representatives from the U.S., France, Germany, Britain, and Russia—by dispatching Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke to negotiate a cease-fire and general outlines of a peace plan between the warring parties.

Although the U.S. had urged and won adoption of a September 1994 U.N. Security Council resolution discouraging any diplomatic contact with the Bosnian Serb leadership as long as it continued to reject the contact group plan that would divide Bosnia roughly in half, with 51 percent of the land going to the Muslim-Croat federation and 49 percent to the Bosnian Serbs, U.S. and European diplomats traveled to Pale in January 1995 for direct discussions with Karadzic. Their main goal was to seek Karadzic's acceptance of the contact group plan as a "starting point" for negotiations. Karadzic, however, refused to accept the contact group proposal, even as a basis for initial discussion.

In light of Bosnian Serb intransigence, U.S. and other contact group negotiators generally ceased direct contact with the Bosnian Serb authorities in February. They then turned to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, asking him to influence the Bosnian Serbs to accept the contact group plan, to grant diplomatic recognition to Bosnia and offering him concessions—including the easing or lifting of sanctions—in exchange for his cooperation. This proved an extremely embarrassing policy shift when, in early March, a CIA report disclosed that Serbian forces—often with the support of Serbia proper—had committed 90 percent of "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia.

Following repeated and unsuccessful attempts at persuading Milosevic to recognize Bosnia and to reinforce his isolation of the Bosnian Serbs in early 1995, the Clinton administration turned again in mid-May to the use of force. The U.S. pressured its allies for several weeks to make use of air strikes to revive the U.N.'s authority and applauded the use of NATO air strikes against a Bosnian Serb ammunition depot on May 25. However, the Clinton administration fell silent after approximately 370 U.N. peacekeepers were taken hostage in late May and June. The Clinton administration once again deferred to the Europeans, and approved measures against the wishes of Congress. In June, President Clinton promised $100 million to support a "rapid reaction force" of French, British and Dutch troops to help protect U.N. troops in Bosnia and vetoed a congressional measure to lift the arms embargo against the Bosnian government in early August.

By late August, however, the U.S. released evidence indicating the probable execution of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces following the fall of Srebrenica and was under increasing pressure to respond to continuing attacks against Sarajevo. Following sustained NATO bombings of Bosnian Serb positions in late August, U.S. negotiators intensified peace efforts, eventually winning, on September 8, an agreement from the three warring parties to nominally maintain Bosnia as a single state that would be divided roughly in half into two entities—the Muslim-Croat federation and the self-proclaimed "Republika Srpska." Subsequent negotiations in Geneva established the outline for a new constitution, and follow-up talks were scheduled for late October in the U.S. A U.S.-brokered cease-fire went into effect throughout much of Bosnia on October 12, after gas and electricity were restored to Sarajevo and aid routes to and from the capital and the Gorazde "safe area" were opened. On November 1, U.S.-led peace talks among Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian representatives began in Dayton, Ohio.

In mid-1995, the Clinton administration issued strong support for accountability in the Balkans, expressly rejecting amnesty for war criminals as a possible bargaining chip at the negotiating table. But as peace talks opened in Dayton, Ohio, in early November, U.S. opposition to an amnesty and support for prosecution of indicted war criminals became less clear.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

In addition to ongoing efforts to document and obtain accountability for violations of the rules of war in Bosnia, in 1995 Human Rights Watch/Helsinki concentrated its efforts on two areas: bringing pressure on the international community, and especially the U.S. government, to take action to protect the civilians who were under attack in the U.N.-declared "safe areas" and insisting that international negotiators include comprehensive and specific human rights guarantees in any overall peace settlement.

In an appeal to world leaders attending the summit meeting of the then-Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in December 1994, we argued that failure to protect the "safe area" of Bihac—that was then under attack by rebel Serb forces in Bosnia and Croatia—and accommodation, rather than punishment, of those besieging the enclave, would legitimize "ethnic cleansing." In a June 2 letter to members of the Security Council and the U.N. secretary-general, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki urged the U.N. not to withdraw from the "safe areas" in eastern Bosnia as part of efforts to regroup and redeploy U.N. forces in Bosnia, such abandonment, we stressed would lead to the probable slaughter or displacement of the areas' inhabitants, mostly Muslims.

On July 31, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and twenty-six other humanitarian, human rights, religious and other groups formed a coalition to increase pressure on the international community to respond to the deepening crisis in Bosnia in particular the unabated human toll of "ethnic cleansing." A statement was issued calling for multilateral military action to stop genocide in Bosnia, as well as for protection of the remaining "safe areas," immediate access to all detainees from Srebrenica and Zepa, the delivery of humanitarian supplies to civilians in the "safe areas," stigmatization of those who direct, assist and supply abusive troops, and the maintenance of sanctions against Belgrade until such time as it cooperated with the investigation and extradition of indicted war criminals.

In late October and early November, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representatives met with European and U.S. officials to present a proposal for a series of steps to be incorporated into any peace proposal for Bosnia, aimed at ensuring respect for human rights and accountability for past crimes. We also proposed that international observers dispatched to monitor the peace be empowered to work toward the betterment of human rights in the region. Specifically, our proposal recommended the establishment of an international civilian monitoring mission and the establishment of measures to strengthen a proposed Bosnian Human Rights Commission and a Commission for Displaced Persons. We also urged that NATO forces dispatched to Bosnia to monitor the cease-fire be empowered and required to report, or intervene to prevent or stop, human rights abuses and that all parties cooperate and assist the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki remained committed during 1995 to documenting violations of humanitarian law and to supporting efforts to obtain accountability for the victims of abuses. After the fall of the safe areas of Srebrenica and Zepa in July, we sent a mission to investigate, and in October issued a report, The Fall of Srebrenica and the Failure of U.N. Peacekeeping. The report documented violations of the rules of war and the U.N.'s mismanagement during and immediately after Srebrenica's fall. In response to the Bosnian Serbs' capture of the two enclaves in mid-July, we issued calls for the U.N. to demand access to and allow ICRC to register all those detained by the Bosnian Serbs and called on the U.N. to take steps to defend the remaining "safe areas."

Our monitoring efforts were conducted with a view to identifying perpetrators of the crimes and providing the international tribunal with additional evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia. In November 1994, we issued a report about continuing human rights abuses in the Banja Luka area.

Throughout the year, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also urged U.N. bodies and the U.N. secretary-general to ensure proper funding for the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We maintained regular contact with the prosecutor's office and continued to forward our documentation to the tribunal's staff. In June, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki released a report critiquing domestic war crimes trials in Bosnia, Croatia and the FRY, pointing to their politicization and lack of due process. The report also highlighted the paucity of trials in which members of the parties' own forces are tried for violations of human rights.

This report covers events of 1995

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