- Federation Deputy Minister of Interior dies as a result of car bombing in Sarajevo
- Security concerns lead to evacuations from Republika Srpska
- Influx of persons from FRY
- More explosions in Stolac
- High Representative extends deadline to claim property in the Federation to 4 July 1999
- High Representative cancels permanent occupancy rights issued during and after war
- On 16 March, a car-bomb exploded in the center of Sarajevo fatally injuring the (Bosnian Croat) Federation Deputy Minister of Interior, Jozo Leutar, who died on 28 March from injuries sustained in the bombing. All leading members of the international community stressed the importance of those responsible being brought to justice. Even though the perpetrators of this crime have not yet been found, IPTF has commended the professional conduct of the investigation so far.
- Following the dismissal of RS President Poplasen by the High Representative and the announcement of the Brcko Arbitration Award on 5 March, the security situation for personnel of the international community in the RS deteriorated. A number of limited attacks and threats against the personnel and property of the international community were reported and led to the evacuation of a number of international personnel from the RS, including personnel from member organisations of the HRCC. The NATO air operation against Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), which commenced on 24 March, has further increased tensions and hostility against the international community in the RS. As a result, most of the international staff members of the HRCC’s member organisations were evacuated from the RS and relocated to the Federation. OHR and IPTF, however, maintained a limited presence. [Ed. Note: Some organisations started to return their personnel as of mid April.]
- As a result of the evacuation, human rights and return-related activities for most of the reporting period have been seriously hampered and the information contained in this report may not be comprehensive.
- The most serious incident against the international community, resulting in the death of a Bosnian Serb, took place on 5 March 1999 in Ugljevik (RS). Four SFOR soldiers attempting to leave a restaurant were assaulted, pushed and struck from behind. Outside the restaurant the soldiers were confronted by a crowd of approximately 15-20 persons. The soldiers then attempted to run to their vehicle when one soldier was struck from behind with a club and as a result he fell to the ground and drew his weapon. As he was attacked for a second time, the soldier opened fire twice. The attacker, a local politician, was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.
- Other attacks made against members of the international community included a rocket attack on the Visegrad OSCE Reading Room, explosions in or around IPTF stations in e.g. Trebinje, Gradiska. Bijeljina and Pale and the setting on fire of UN vehicles in Bijeljina, Doboj and Zvornik (all in the RS). OHR, other UN agencies and other offices have also been targets of attacks in the RS.
- Demonstrations were organized across the RS throughout March in a protest against the 5 March decisions and the NATO air operation in FRY. Overall the demonstrations have been peaceful and the local police have, according to IPTF, acted professionally.
RIGHTS OF REFUGEES AND DISPLACED PERSONS
- The international community is concerned that prospects for minority return have been reduced due to increased tensions in particular in the RS following the Poplasen dismissal, the Brcko Arbitration Award and the NATO air operation against FRY. Though there have been no reports of a significant increase in the number of attacks against minority returnees in the RS, some attacks were reported following the launch of the NATO air operation. These included the burning of a Bosniak owned caravan, the destruction of a house occupied by an Albanian (although he was not present at the time of the attack) and the desecration of an Islamic graveyard (all in Prijedor).
- Due to the tense situation in the RS, UNHCR bus lines were closed down in eastern and southern RS during most of the reporting period.
- As a result of the Kosovo crisis and the NATO operation against FRY, there have been a significant influx of persons from FRY coming to BiH in search of international protection. From the beginning of the NATO operation to 5 April, there were 600 estimated new arrivals from Kosovo, 11,000 from Sandjak (both to the Federation) and 2,000 Serbs from FRY to the RS with an additional 200 Serbs to the Federation (all figures have been provided by Entity sources). Taking into account the limited housing stock available in BiH, the international community is concerned that the influx may slow down the returns in BiH.
RIGHT TO RETURN
[This section focuses on returns and assessment visits that are significant from a human rights perspective]
Visits/Returns to Eastern RS
- UNHCR reports that on 1 March, 130 Bosniak displaced persons started cleaning and repairing their houses in Klisa, Zvornik municipality and that work remains ongoing. The local police and IPTF have been present and the return has proceeded peacefully. Return to Zvornik is considered a high priority by the international community and these visits are particularly significant considering the heightened tension in the RS. On 2 March, representatives of displaced persons from Rogatica met, together with UNHCR, with the mayor of Rogatica to discuss freedom of movement and assessment visits (which have so far required heavy UNHCR involvement).
- Due to the security situation, all other visits in this area as well as the UNHCR bus lines were cancelled for the rest of the March.
Visits/Returns to Federation
- UNHCR reports that approximately 80 Bosniak displaced persons returned to their village Gracenica in Bosnian Croat administered Prozor Rama municipality on 30 March. This was the first Bosniak return in 1999.
- The first group of Bosnian Serbs (20 persons) returned to the village of Krnjeusa in Bosanski Petrovac municipality from Derventa (RS) on 23 March. Altogether some 300 Bosnian Serbs have now returned to Bosanski Petrovac, and two have joined the local police force. No security incidents have been reported following these returns. Return to Bosanski Petrovac is considered as a high priority by the international community as the pre-war population was approximately 75% Bosnian Serb, the highest percentage of any municipality in the Una Sana Canton. During the war nearly all the Bosnian Serbs were expelled or forced to flee resulting in a post-war population of nearly 100% Bosniak. Return to Bosanski Petrovac began comparatively early, at the end of 1997, and has continued largely unhindered.
[This section focuses on a few of the most significant return-related incidents that were reported to and investigated by the international community.]
- On 1 March, a refugee office in Modrica was stoned after office hours and the windows smashed. This office suffered damage in an earlier hand grenade explosion in December 1998. This was followed by a second incident in the same week in Modrica on 9 March when a hand grenade exploded outside the house of a Bosniak returnee. No injuries were reported. Despite the agreement reached on the return of Bosniak refugees to Modrica last year, scarcely any returns have taken place since.
- On 20 March, a Bosniak-owned house in Aladnici, Stolac municipality, was destroyed completely in an explosion. No injuries were reported. The Bosniak family were the target of a number of attacks in 1998. This attack renews the pattern of violence and intimidation in Stolac directed at minority residents and minority returnees seen throughout 1998. Other signs indicating that security incidents may occur in Stolac once ‘return season’ gets underway include the recent removal of unexploded devices (plastic explosives with a detonating cord and hand grenade attached) found in a number of abandoned Bosniak- owned houses in the municipality.
- On 1 April, following the first returns in 1999 of Bosniak returnees to Prozor-Rama municipality, two fires were set alight in front of neighbouring Bosniak-owned houses in Borovinica village. No injuries were reported although partial damage was caused to the exterior of both houses.
INFLUX OF PERSONS FROM FRY
- From 7 April to date, UNHCR and OSCE have been interviewing people arriving from Kosovo, Sandjak and Belgrade in Sarajevo and Srdnje and Rakovica (FBiH) reception/collective centres. Questions asked have included reasons for flight, travel route and treatment at the borders and en route. Some of the refugees have reported human rights violations occurring within BiH; including harassment, beatings and extortion of money by RS police at border crossings and at checkpoints on the roads of eastern RS en route to the Federation. There have also been reports that RS police have taken documents from the refugees and destroyed them
- The BiH Ministry of Civil Affairs and Communication continues to struggle with provisions necessary to accommodate and protect the arrivals in Sarajevo tents are accommodating the new arrivals in very cramped conditions.
RULE OF LAW
- Miodrag Andric, re-tried for war crimes, was acquitted by the Sarajevo Cantonal Court on 17 March (see HRCC Monthly, February 1999, at para. 15). This case is viewed by the international community as a promising case of inter-Entity judicial co-operation. Though the retrial took place in the Sarajevo Cantonal Court, the Court agreed to carry out a re-enactment in the RS and also to hear essential eyewitnesses in Rogatica (RS) Basic Court. Andric was subsequently acquitted by the Sarajevo Cantonal Court on the ground that there was insufficient evidence to convict him – the court found the eyewitness testimony to be unreliable. The international community considers that the Memorandum of Understanding on Inter-Entity Judicial Co-operation, signed on 20 May 1998 by the Ministers of Justice in both Entities, allowed the re-enactment to take place and ultimately led to Andric’s acquittal.
EXTENSION OF THE DEADLINE FOR CLAIMING APARTMENTS IN THE FEDERATION
- On 1 April, the High Representative issued a Decision extending the deadline for claiming socially owned apartments in the Federation by three months. The new deadline is 4 July 1999. In a letter to Federation Prime Minister Bicakcic, the High Representative noted that the process of registering claims for apartments had improved significantly over the past six months; and that based on a survey of municipal housing authorities carried out by OHR and other international organisations, approximately 75% of abandoned apartments Federation-wide had been claimed. However claims figures in some parts of the Federation are considerably lower, including certain municipalities in Una-Sana, Zenica-Doboj, Gorazde and Herzegovina-Neretva Cantons. This indicated that not all refugees and displaced persons with apartments in these areas had had a fair opportunity to make their claim and protect their property rights.
- The High Representative also noted that there are several problems with the property laws which the Federation Government should solve before the deadline can be permitted to expire. First, the amendment to the Law on Housing Relations which is currently on the agenda of the Federation Parliament, must be adopted. This amendment will allow individuals whose occupancy rights were cancelled by a court decision to claim for their apartments through the administrative process, under the Law on Cessation of Application of the Law on Abandoned Apartments. These individuals will need additional time to present their claim. Second, refugees and displaced persons whose apartments were never formally declared abandoned, but are now illegally occupied by another person, do not at the moment have a right to claim their apartments under the law. These individuals should also have the right to claim their apartments through the administrative authorities, and needed additional time to do so. Third, OHR is concerned about the status of apartments which are not claimed when the deadline expires. Under the law, as soon as the deadline expires, displaced persons living in these apartments with temporary permits are unprotected, and may be evicted immediately. The High Representative requested the Federation Government to adopt regulations requiring these apartments to be used for humanitarian purposes, so as to assist the return process. The Federation Government has acknowledged these concerns, and agreed to work with OHR in identifying solutions. OHR is confident that no further extensions of the deadline will be necessary.
IMPLEMENTATION OF FEDERATION PROPERTY LAWS
- Following concerted pressure from the international community, on 6 April the Minister of Housing for Sarajevo Canton finally re-appointed the former Director of the Sarajevo Canton Housing Authority. The abolition of the Sarajevo Cantonal Housing Department by the Cantonal Assembly and delay in re-appointment of the director had led to a backlog of some 17,000 cases, 700 of which are prepared evictions notices awaiting the appointment of the Director for her signature.
- On 15 December 1998, the Sarajevo Cantonal Assembly had passed legislation which resulted in the abolition of the Sarajevo Cantonal Housing Department, the cantonal body responsible for processing claims for socially owned housing and issuing eviction notices. Following this decision there had been no decisions or eviction orders issued, although cantonal officials have continued to process claims for the return of socially owned housing. On 25 February, at a meeting of the Sarajevo Cantonal Assembly, a law regulating the reconstitution of the Cantonal Housing Department was passed. However a Director had not been appointed and consequently decisions or eviction orders were still not issued.
- The director of the Municipal Housing Office in Bugojno has been removed from duties, following a number of findings of obstruction and non-implementation of the property laws. The decision of the Bugojno Mayor, Mr. Strukar, was taken following investigation made at the request of OHR by a joint investigation team of the Federation Ombudsmen and OSCE,, and a formal investigation by the Administrative Inspectors of the Federation Ministry of Justice. In each case, the reports found that the rights of claimants under the Federation property laws had been routinely disregarded. The Federation Ombudsmen have been requested by OHR to carry out similar investigations into the work of the housing authorities in Stolac and Capljina.
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE RS PROPERTY LAWS
- Monitoring of the implementation of the claims process in the RS has been hampered by the current political crisis, as international organisations have greatly reduced their field presence in the RS during the reporting period. Available reports indicate that while administrative claims office have been established by the Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons in most municipalities, they have been extremely slow to commence operations, and a number of problems are occurring. These range from obvious forms of obstruction such as the refusal of the Banja Luka municipality to accept claims because the building for receiving such claims does not have central heating, administrative reasons such as the lack of availability of standard claim forms in the eastern RS, as well as a widespread shortage of basic facilities and trained staff. Other difficulties echo the obstruction carried out earlier in the Federation, and include the imposition of fees to obtain documents evidencing ownership or occupancy rights; the unwillingness of municipal authorities in the Federation to transfer required documents to RS municipal authorities, and unreasonably short opening hours of the municipal offices where claims are to be filed.
- The Decision issued by the High Representative on 1 April 1999 to extend the deadline for filing claims for socially-owned apartments applies only to the Federation. The deadline for claiming apartments in the RS remains 19 June 1999. Once international organisations are operating again in the RS, a review of the status of the claims process will be carried out. The High Representative has indicated that if the registration of claims does not improve dramatically in the coming months, he will have no hesitation in imposing an extension to the deadline.
CANCELLATION OF PERMANENT OCCUPANCY RIGHTS IN THE FEDERATION AND RS
- On 13 April, the High Representative issued four decisions under Annex 10 of the Dayton Agreement and Article XI of the Bonn PIC document amending provisions of the property laws in the RS and the Federation relating to permanent occupancy rights, as follows:
i. All permanent occupancy rights created between 1 April 1992 and 7 February 1998 in the Federation and 1 April 1992 and 19 December 1998 in the RS are canceled. People who acquired an apartment during or since the conflict will now be treated as temporary occupants under the claims procedure. If the apartment is not claimed at the expiry of the deadline, or if the claim is not successful, they will be permitted to remain in the apartment, and receive a new occupancy right (provided that they do not have other accommodation available to them). However, if the pre-war occupant successfully claims to return, they will be obliged to vacate the apartment. If they have spent their personal funds on repairing the apartment, they may claim reimbursement from the pre-war occupant, but only after the pre-war occupant has possessed the apartment.
ii. The High Representative’s Decision of 5 November 1998, which suspends Art. 3(6) of the Federation Law on Cessation of Application of the Law on Abandoned Apartments as well as the sale of apartments to persons who acquired an occupancy right during and since the war, is repealed, as it is replaced by the above Decision.
- The permanent reallocation of apartments belonging to refugees and displaced persons has been one of the greatest obstacles to the return of refugees and displaced. Many thousands of apartments in the main cities throughout BiH were taken away from their original occupants according to the laws and administrative practices relating to abandoned property, which remained in force for more than two years after the end of the conflict. In the Federation, the law allowed local authorities to cancel permanently the occupancy rights of refugees and displaced persons, making the apartments available for reallocation. The law was condemned by OHR and many other observers as a clear violation of the Dayton Agreement and international human rights standards, but it continued to be applied until April 1998. In the RS, while the legal framework was different, very similar practices occurred.
- These apartments were then reallocated in an arbitrary and often illegal fashion. Many of the beneficiaries of these apartments were not people displaced as a result of the conflict; rather, they were given to people who were already residents of the city, in order to improve their housing situation. A result of this practice is the widespread multiple occupancy and misallocation of housing which now makes the implementation of Annex 7 of the Dayton Agreement so difficult.
- This problem has grown dramatically over the past year. In December 1997, when the Federation Government first proposed the adoption of laws permitting return to apartments, Sarajevo Canton officials estimated that approximately 5,000 apartments in Sarajevo had been permanently reallocated. By mid-1998, when implementation of the new property laws commenced, more than 12,000 permanent reallocations had taken place. Responsible Federation and Canton officials acknowledge that most of these reallocations were done illegally, even according to the inadequate laws in place at the time. While Sarajevo is the most extreme example, the problem is also severe in Mostar and other Federation cities.
- The Entity property laws (the Federation Law on Cessation of Application of the Law on Abandoned Apartments (Art. 3(6) & (7)), and the RS Law on Cessation of Application of the Law on Use of Abandoned Property (Art. 17) ) dealt with these new occupancy rights by permitting the authorities to allow the current occupants to remain in the apartments, and to reallocate returning refugees and displaced persons to other apartments, in accordance with ‘Criteria’ to be developed in consultation with OHR. As the allocation right holders had no alternative apartments to offer, these provisions were not capable of application consistently with Annex 7. In the Federation, many months of negotiations on ‘Criteria’ were not able to address this fundamental problem. As a result, the High Representative was obliged to suspend the application of this section of the Federation Law on 5 November 1998.
- On 13 April 1999, the High Representative also imposed an amendment to the RS Law on Housing Relations. The amendment is similar to the one already agreed with the Federation Government and had been accepted on principle by the RS Government. However, its adoption by the RS National Assembly had been delayed by the current political crisis, and a deadline of 31 August 1998 for its adoption set by the Luxembourg PIC had long since passed. The amendment removes the powers of courts under the Law on Housing Relations to cancel the occupancy rights of refugees and displaced persons on the grounds of their failure to use the apartment during their displacement. It also cancels all court decisions already made on this basis, and permits the pre-war occupant to claim for repossession the apartment in accordance with the administrative procedure which applies to other abandoned apartments.
- The amendment also repeals a section of the Law on Housing Relations which had been adopted in 1993, permitting the authorities to reallocate apartments on the grounds of space rationalisation. This provision was applied during the course of the war on a highly discriminatory basis, and constituted an impediment to the return of refugees and displaced persons. Decisions on reallocation of apartments made under these provisions are now cancelled, and the affected individuals may reclaim their apartments under the administrative claims procedure.
ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
- Pension rights In March, OSCE issued a paper/study on the pension system and its current problems in BiH. The paper as a starting point discusses the relevant international and national law related to pension rights and gives a historical overview of the pension system under the SFRY and during the war. It then moves on to describe the difficulties the pensioners throughout BiH experience in receiving and surviving on their pensions; there is no single aspect of the present system free of problems: from the level of discriminatory treatment of minorities in branch offices to the inadequate legislation governing the system’s development. It concludes that the BiH pension system has fallen victim to both political manipulation and administrative neglect. At present, there is no comprehensive effort being made within the BiH pension system to address these problems. Most critically, there is also no plan to address these issues in a manner that takes into account the responsibilities assumed under the pre-war SFRY pension system.
- Inter-Entity lack of access to documents and excessive fees remain problematic. Poor relations amongst the Federation and RS funds have resulted in decisions negatively affecting returnees, as the funds fear that individuals will take advantage of these poor relationships to register illegally for two pensions.
- The BiH pension funds do not currently pay pensions to qualified individuals living outside of BiH. As the republics of the former SFRY have not all established formal post-war relationships with each other, pension problems stemming from the absence of established relations come up quite frequently. Categories of people affected have included Croatian Serbs now living in the RS, Bosnian Croats living in Croatia, and a number of individuals who contributed during their working lives to the fund of one republic and then retired or moved to another republic within the last ten years. (Falling Through the Cracks – the Bosnian Pension System and its Current Problems, available from OSCE Human Rights Department on 387 71 292 384).
- Education A Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Rapporteur on education visited the Federation from 8-11 March to assess the situation (a visit to the RS could not take place due to political developments). The Rapporteur focused in particular on issues concerning the right to education and non-discrimination, including revision of textbooks and curricula. The Rapporteur will be submitting a report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which it should take into account when assessing whether BiH meets the conditions for membership of the organisation.
WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS
- On the occasion of International Women’s Day on 8 March, women parliamentarians from the Federation Parliament and OSCE jointly held a promotional event in the Federation Parliament building to present the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (for the first time translated into local languages) and begin its implementation. Members of parliament from both Houses attended the event, as did the Federation prime minister, Federation Ombudsmen, representatives of Federation political parties, Cantonal Ministers and NGOs. The promotion of the Beijing Declaration was the central event of a number of OSCE sponsored activities in association with International Women’s Day to promote the involvement of and raise the visibility of women in politics.
HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS
- At its plenary meeting on 22-23 March, the Council of Europe’s European Commission for Democracy Through Law (the Venice Commission) discussed a preliminary proposal on the restructuring of BiH human rights mechanisms and held an exchange of views with the President of the Human Rights Chamber. A Venice Commission working group at which members of OHR, OSCE and the Human Rights Chamber were present had previously looked at issues to be addressed in this context, including e.g. the future of the Human Rights Chamber and the Constitutional Court after the five-year transitional period, the creation of special courts at the BiH state level, human rights institutions at Entity level etc.
- At its meeting in Venice, the Commission also adopted an opinion on the scope of responsibilities in BiH in the field of immigration and asylum with particular regard to possible involvement of the Entities, and discussed its work on a draft opinion on the conclusion and implementation of international agreements in BiH. The Commission also discussed draft organic laws on the Ombudsmen institution of the Federation.
- Following the Brcko Decision and the removal of RS President Poplasen by the High Representative, and in accordance with a resolution adopted by the RS National Assembly on 7 March, the RS judges to the Human Rights Chamber suspended their work with the institution indefinitely. The resolution also provided that the RSNA “will not accept decisions Š without participation of Republika Srpska representatives in it.” The Chamber however, continued to function as a quorum can be obtained without the presence of the RS judges.
- The Chamber held its first hearings on the ‘frozen’ bank account cases. Before the war, the applicants held foreign currency savings with various banks in Sarajevo. During the war, foreign currency accounts in the Federation were ‘frozen’ and account holders had no access to their savings. In 1997, the Federation passed a law allowing these account holders to make a claim to replace their savings with certificates which will enable them to purchase socially owned apartments and shares in government-owned enterprises to be privatised. Citing the new legislation, the banks then refused to allow the applicants to draw from their accounts. The applicants initiated the proceedings against the banks, BiH and the Federation, arguing that the legislation violates their right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR. BiH and the Federation argued that it was not liable to pay the funds because, 1) the applicants have not exhausted all local remedies; 2) neither defendant has the funds to pay out the foreign currency accounts; and 3) the Chamber does not have jurisdiction to hear the case because the events in question occurred before the Chamber was established. BiH also argued that it had not assumed the obligations of the banks in question.
- The Chamber also released its 1998 Annual Report and a companion volume of 1998 Decisions and Reports noting that the number of applications before the Chamber increased more than tenfold during 1998 with an additional 1,500 cases. The Report states though that co-operation with the state and Entity authorities improved in some respects in 1998, it continues to be unsatisfactory, and notes serious problems with implementation of Chamber decisions at all levels.
- At the beginning of April 1999, the Chamber had registered 1888 cases, had issued final and binding decisions with respect to 162 cases (50 of which were decided at the admissibility stage), and had granted orders for provisional measures in 78 cases. At the beginning of April 1999, CRPC had received claims for 179,523 properties and had adopted 35,949 decisions. At the beginning of April 1999, the Office of the Ombudsperson had registered 2903 cases and had completed work on 676 cases (including 355 of which were either closed following an investigation or it was decided not to open and investigation), and had issued 14 ex-officio ‘Special Reports’.
- Implementation of Chamber decisions: This includes only cases in which both a final decision was issued and in which the time limit for compliance has expired, and are therefore in non-compliance with the order(s) of the Chamber.
Amicable resolution, no violation found, no remedy required, or review rejected:
An additional 50 cases were either struck out or deemed inadmissible, and therefore required no follow-up.
NOTE: The HRCC Human Rights Monthly Report is based on the regular and special reporting of inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations. The aim of the Report is to provide a concise overview of human rights issues, cases and trends affecting the overall human rights situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the reporting period. Questions on specific items should be directed to the reporting organisation or to the HRCC. Please send information for inclusion in the report to 387-71-447-420 to the attention of Bela Kapur or Sirpa Rautio or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.