WORLD REPORT 2001 - Bosnia and Hercegovina

Human Rights Developments

A breakthrough occurred in one of the most serious of Bosnia and Hercegovina human rights issues: the return of refugees and displaced persons. For the first time since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) refugees and displaced persons returned in relatively large numbers to areas where they would be part of an ethnic minority. In other progress in human rights, nine persons were detained who had been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the death penalty was formally abolished in Republika Srpska (R.S.).

The progress was still not self-sustained: it required the strong involvement of the international community to ensure that Bosnia stayed its course to become a democratic state with the full protection of human rights.

The April municipal elections brought significant gains for the moderate Social Democratic Party in Bosniack areas of the federation, at the expense of the nationalist Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA). However, in the Croat areas of the federation, the nationalist Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) managed to maintain its position, while the Serb Democratic Party founded by Radovan Karadzic remained in control of the vast majority of municipalities in the Republika Srpska. Parliamentary elections were scheduled for November 2000.

In July, President Alija Izetbegovic announced that he would resign from the three-person Bosnian presidency in October 2000. Because the Bosnian constitution did not specify the succession procedure, the parliamentary assembly adopted a controversial law to do so. The law gave control over appointment to the appointed members of the House of Peoples, excluding the directly elected members of the House of Representatives from the process. The international community's high representative in Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, imposed an amendment to rectify this.

War Criminals

Several more indictees were transferred to the ICTY's detention unit in The Hague after being detained by the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR). Among them was Momcilo Krajisnik, the wartime president of the Bosnian Serb assembly and a postwar member of the Bosnian presidency, who was the highest ranking politician arrested so far. The Krajisnik detention showed that even high-ranking figures can be detained without widespread retaliation by the civilian population. Others arrested in 2000 included Mitar Vasiljevic, Dragoljub Prcac, Dusko Sikirica, and Dragan Nikolic, the first person indicted by the ICTY. Moreover, the Croatian authorities in March transferred Mladen Naletilic after delaying this for months for medical reasons. In January, indictee and notorious paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznjatovic, also known as "Arkan," was shot and killed in the lobby of a hotel in Belgrade.

Despite the increased willingness of the SFOR to detain indictees, twenty-six publicly indicted persons, including Bosnian Serb wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, remained at large, while an unknown number of others were the subject of sealed indictments. The Bosnian Serb authorities, despite improved cooperation with the ICTY, still had not arrested a single indictee. Therefore, the role of the international SFOR troops remained essential to the accountability process.

Return of Refugees

Members of minority groups returned in significant numbers for the first time since the end of the war. In the first six months of 2000, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) registered 19,751 minority returns, as compared to 7,709 during the same period in 1999. The increased return movement, which started in late 1999, was caused by several factors. The international community had focused much more attention on return; the legislation facilitating return was finally in place, and implementation started; and displaced persons started to realizethat if they did not return soon, they might not return at all. This resulted in many spontaneous returns: rather than waiting for organized return, small groups of displaced persons returned and started to clean or rebuild their homes. Returns, albeit in small numbers, also took place to areas in eastern R.S. that were previously completely closed to returnees.

The increased return was accompanied by an increasing number of return-related abuses throughout Bosnia. One of the worst abuses took place in Bratunac, where a large group of protesters attacked four buses carrying Bosniak returnees, and Janja, where a series of incidents took place in March and again in July.

Despite the increased number of returns, over one million Bosnians remain displaced, the majority of them within Bosnia and Hercegovina. A survey conducted by the UNHCR showed that 61 percent of the displaced still wish to return to their homes. However, the returns process continues to face serious problems. The implementation of the legislation enabling return was extremely slow. There was a lack of political will to enable return, in particular among the Bosnian Croat and the Bosnian Serb authorities.

Just when the returns process was finally picking up speed, many donors were decreasing their funding for reconstruction and return, or pulling out altogether. Rights groups and other observers urged the international community to remain committed to return, arguing that continued assistance could produce speedy, substantial, and sustainable results, while withdrawal could mean that hard-fought gains would be squandered and the nationalists' policy of ethnic cleansing would have succeeded.

Human Rights Institutions

A provision in the R.S. constitution described the R.S. as the "state of the Serb people," whereas the federation constitution had a provision stating that Bosniaks and Croats were the "constituent peoples" in the federation. In July, the Constitutional Court decided that these provisions were discriminatory and contradicted the Bosnian constitution. This decision was strongly criticized by Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat politicians, but Constitutional Court decisions are binding and cannot be appealed. The decision may have an enormous impact, because many Bosnian laws based on the same ethnic principles may have to be revised.

In February, the R.S. National Assembly passed a law establishing an ombudsmen for the R.S. The establishment and composition of this institution had been the subject of protracted negiotiations between the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Hercegovina (OHR), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the R.S. government. Ultimately, it was decided to create a three-person, multi-ethnic institution, which was expected to be able to receive claims by the end of 2000. In July, the federation parliament passed a law harmonizing the laws on the ombudsmen institutions in the federation with that in the R.S., and allowing the federation parliament to appoint new ombudsmen in 2001.

The Human Rights Chamber, which together with the Office of the Ombudsperson for Bosnia and Hercegovina forms the Human Rights Commission, continued to issue decisions on numerous issues including employment discrimination, property rights, and fair trial.

Although the human rights institutions noticed increased compliance by the authorities with its decisions and recommendations, funding for the institutions was still inadequate, and several important decisions remained unimplemented. For instance, the Human Rights Chamber's June 1999 decision ordering the municipality of Banja Luka to issue permits for the reconstruction of seven mosques was still not implemented. R.S. Prime Minister Dodik said that reconstruction might begin after the November elections but that any activities without permits would be stopped immediately.

An important step was made toward the independence of the judiciary by the adoption of laws governing the selection and dismissal of judges and prosecutors. These laws, imposed by the high representative in the federation and adopted but later amended in the R.S., provided for appointment and dismissal based on merit alone. The OHR, in cooperation with the United Nations Mission in Bosnia-Hercegovina (UNMIBH), in July started a comprehensive review program to evaluate all judges and prosecutors.


Harassment of the media was a growing problem, and numerous abuses were recorded throughout the year. The OSCE' s Free Media Helpline received more than one hundred complaints in a period of less than ten months. Zeljko Kopanja, the editor-in-chief of Nezavisne Novine who lost both legs in a car bomb explosion in October 1999, was again threatened several times. The driver of federation Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic attacked a journalist of the daily Dnevni Avaz. In June, the SDA used a tax audit to harass Dnevni Avaz, a daily that used to be aligned with the SDA but recently had taken a more critical approach.

R.S. Minister of Information Rajko Vasic called for criminal prosecution of a journalist for alleged false reporting, but resigned from his post after being criticized severely by journalists' associations, the OHR, and the OSCE. In August, Marko Asanin, a former Bosnian minister and current director of the R.S.-owned electricity company, beat and kicked journalist Ljubisa Lazic. Many other journalists and media outlets were attacked or received threats.

The federation authorities in December 1999 presented a draft Law on Compensation for Damage Caused by Defamation and Libel, which was severely criticized for the excessive fines it sanctioned. As of this writing, the law had not yet been adopted. The OSCE and the OHR together presented a draft Freedom of Information Act that established the right of access to information held by government and other public bodies. The law, which would significantly enhance media freedom, had not yet been passed by parliament.

Defending Human Rights

Local and international human rights organizations were generally able to monitor and report on the human rights situation, although some organizations and monitors occasionally experienced harassment. The Human Rights Commission and the federation ombudsmen continued their important work to ensure respect for human rights, and the office of the R.S. ombudsmen is expected to be operational by the end of 2000.

The Role of the International Community

The international community's close involvement continued to be necessary to move the peace process along, as witnessed by the many decisions and amendments imposed by the high representative. However, many in the international community were losing patience with the slow progress in Bosnia, and international attention was shifting to other areas.

Office of the High Representative

The OHR continued to take the lead role in coordinating the civilian aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement. High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch maintained three objectives: strengthening Bosnian institutions and ensuring the rule of law, transforming the economy and stimulating investment, and enhancing the return of displaced persons and refugees. Although Petritsch made the idea that the responsibility for the future of Bosnia lies with the Bosnians and their leadership the basis of his tenure as high representative, he did not shy away from taking decisive action to further these objectives. Numerous political and government figures, including ministers and governors, were dismissed for failing to implement the DPA, and Petritsch imposed many decisions on issues as diverse as the R.S. Law on the Prosecutors Office, the Privatization Law, and the Law on Presidential Succession. Bosnian politicians continued to lack the political will to take these decisions themselves, and sustained international involvement remained necessary to continue the peace process and avoid a return to the brutal nationalist policies of the recent past.

Stabilization Force

The NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Hercegovina (SFOR) continued to play a significant role in Bosnia in, among other areas, the return process. SFOR also detained more persons indicted by the ICTY than ever before, including Momcilo Krajisnik, the highest ranking politician apprehended so far. Despite fears that high-level arrests might create civil unrest, the situation remained relatively calm throughout Bosnia.

The strength of SFOR was reduced to some 20,000 troops, down from 30,000 the previous year, although its presence in Bosnia and Hercegovina appeared necessary for years to come: the peace remained fragile, and many feared that violence would break out again if SFOR withdrew. Moreover, as the local authorities continued to refuse to arrest ICTY indictees, it remained SFOR's duty to bring those indicted for war crimes to face justice.

United Nations

The largest section of the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Hercegovina (UNMIBH) was the International Police Task Force (IPTF), charged with overseeing and restructuring the local police forces. Lacking exact information on who is engaged in law enforcement activities, the IPTF initiated a program to register, screen, and certify all police officers by the end of 2001, while working with the respective Ministries of the Interior to recruit minority police officers. These efforts met with limited success: according to the U.N. secretary-general's report of June 2, the federation had around 600 minority officers of a total of about 11,500 officers; the R.S. only had fifty-seven minority officers of a total of 8,500 officers.

The Human Rights Office (HRO) continued its work in monitoring human rights abuses at the hands of the police, and other measures to improve the human rights record of the police forces, such as an audit of arrest and custody procedures and instruction on the role of police at evictions. The U.N.'s Judicial System Assessment Program continued to monitor the functioning of the judiciary and published reports about problems related to implementation of amnesty legislation, delays and detention, and trials in absentia.

The United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the OHR, played a leading role in stimulating return in Bosnia, both by guiding the policy and through its own programs. Unfortunately, decreases in UNHCR's budget hampered its ability to operate effectively.

During its fifty-sixth session, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Bosnia in which it called upon the authorities to work on human rights issues such as the return of refugees, independence of the judiciary, the role of the police, and freedom of expression. Moreover, the commission renewed the mandate of Special Rapporteur Jiri Dienstbier, whose December 1999 report once again drew attention to those and other human rights issues in Bosnia.

On November 15, 1999, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan published a report on the events in Srebrenica from the establishment of the Safe Area in 1993 through the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995, after which over 7,000 Bosniaks disappeared and were most probably killed. The report, which was surprisingly critical of the U.N.'s own role, was well received by many Bosnians, who considered it to be a recognition of what had actually happened and of the mistakes made by the international community.

International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

In March, Tihomir Blaskic, a Bosnian Croat general, was found guilty of crimes against humanity committed in the Lasva Valley and sentenced to forty-five years in prison. The Appeals Chamber in July dismissed Anto Furundzija's appeal and confirmed his ten-year sentence. After a trial marred first by prosecutorial misconduct in withholding evidence from the accused and then by disclosures that failed to respect victim amd witness privacy rights, Furundzija was convicted for aiding and abetting rape, among other charges. Zlatko Aleksovski saw his sentence on appeal increased to seven years, while Dusko Tadic's sentence was lowered to a maximum of twenty years. Goran Jelisic was convicted on all but one count and sentenced to forty years of imprisonment. In the Ahmici case, five Bosnian Croats were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of six to twenty-five years, while one indictee was acquitted.

In 2000, the ICTY commenced trials in the Keraterm and Omarska case, the Srebrenica case, and the Foca case. Miroslav Tadic, Simo Zaric, and Milan Simic were provisionally released in May 2000, because two years after their voluntary surrender a trial date had still not been set.

The R.S. slowly improved its cooperation with the tribunal. R.S. authorities reportedly released files to the ICTY, and several high-ranking R.S. officials visited the tribunal, including Prime Minister Dodik, who promised that the R.S. would soon pass the Law on Cooperation with the ICTY.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

The conditions for the municipal elections organized by the OSCE were better than in the past, although candidates continued to face harassement and press freedom was limited. Despite OSCE's campaign encouraging Bosnians to "vote for change," both the Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb ruling nationalist parties largely managed to hold on to their positions.

The OSCE, together with OHR, drafted a new electoral code to replace the election regulations formulated in the DPA, which had been criticized for encouraging ethnic clientelism. However, the draft was criticized for a number of reasons, and subsequently some provisions were amended, while discussion of the most contentious issue, the election of the three-member presidency, was deferred to a later date. Even this amended draft could not count on parliamentary support, and it seemed unlikely to be passed without delay.

The OSCE's Human Rights Department, with officers throughout the country, continued its important work in monitoring human rights abuses in the field and working on policies to curb such abuses.

Council of Europe

In May 1999, the Council of Europe rapporteurs for Bosnia announced a list of conditions to be fulfilled for Bosnia's accession to the Council of Europe. New rapporteurs Laszlo Surjan and Anneli Jaatteenmaki, appointed in late 1999 and early 2000 respectively, like the high representative took a prudent approach, stressing that far too many of the conditions had not been met. In a worrisome development, however, Petritsch and the rapporteurs for accession seemed to have identified three "priority" conditions: the functioning of the common institutions, adoption of a new election law, and progress on some human rights issues. Emphasizing these conditions at the expense of others previously identified risked squandering the opportunity for change represented by the conditions for Council of Europe membership.

European Union

The European Union's policy was based on the idea of the eventual integration of Bosnia and Hercegovina into Europe. The Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, which uses the prospect of integration into Europe to foster good neighborly relations and accelerate transition into stable democracies in the Balkans, was launched in mid-1999. A concrete step toward integration was taken in March when the E.U. commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten, handed the Bosnian authorities a "road map" of conditions for a feasibility study for E.U. membership, which largely overlapped with the Council of Europe's conditions for Bosnia's membership. The prospect of closer ties with the E.U. represented a possibly strong incentive for the authorities to meet these conditions as soon as possible.

The E.U. and its member states remained the biggest donors of reconstruction aid in Bosnia. At the Regional Funding Conference held in March, the E.U. and its member states pledged over one billion euro in aid, of which a substantial part was targeted for projects involving Bosnia. In 2000, the European Commission invested around 100 million euro in programs in Bosnia, mostly for returns projects. However, the withdrawal of the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO) strongly affected return programs, because ECHO's large budget (56 million euro in 1999) had been very flexible and able to follow developing return patterns. There was a need for other donors to fill this void: since most of this year's return was spontaneous, there was an increased need for flexible funding that would follow return movements as they developed.

United States

The United States, which forged the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia, continued its close involvement in Bosnia, although it let the E.U., and in particular High Representative Petritsch, take the lead role. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Bosnia and Hercegovina in March this year to attend the official inauguration of the Statute for the Brcko District, which was imposed by Petritsch. During the visit, Secretary Albright also announced U.S. $7 million in budget support for the R.S. government of Prime Minister Dodik, the recipient of continuous political and financial backing by the United States despite his government's often disappointing record on crucial human rights issues.

United States assistance focused on four issues: private business development, democratic reform, economic transformation, and municipal infrastructure and services. The municipal infrastructure program was increasingly geared toward enhancing minority return, and its successor, the U.S. $70 million Community Reintegration and Stabilization Program (CRSP), was designed to focus exclusively on reconstruction of public infrastructure in return areas. Continued debates in the U.S. Congress over the ongoing U.S. military presence in Bosnia raised concern that support for the peace process might be waning, just as the investment was beginning to pay off.

Relevant Human Rights


Unfinished Business: Return of Displaced Persons and Other HR Issues in Bijeljina, 5/00