Read about The European Centre for Classical Studies Read the Convention Relating to the Regime of the Straits (24 July 1923) Read the Convention Relating to the Regime of the Straits (24 July 1923)
HR-Net - Hellenic Resources Network Compact version
Today's Suggestion
Read The "Macedonian Question" (by Maria Nystazopoulou-Pelekidou)
HomeAbout HR-NetNewsWeb SitesDocumentsOnline HelpUsage InformationContact us
Sunday, 23 June 2024
  Latest News (All)
     From Greece
     From Cyprus
     From Europe
     From Balkans
     From Turkey
     From USA
  World Press
  News Archives
Web Sites
  Interesting Nodes
  Special Topics
  Treaties, Conventions
  U.S. Agencies
  Cyprus Problem
  Personal NewsPaper
  Greek Fonts

U.S. Department of State

Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

January 30, 1997



  • Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person
  • Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties
  • Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
  • Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
  • Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
  • Section 6 Worker Rights


The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Dayton Accords), signed after 3 years of war, provided for the continuity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, originally one of the constituent Republics of Yugoslavia, as a single state, Bosnia and Herzegovina, with two constituent entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Federation) and the Republika Srpska (RS). The Federation, which incorporates the areas with a Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat majority, occupies 51% of the territory; the RS, populated mostly by Bosnian Serbs, occupies 49%. The Dayton Accords established a constitution for Bosnia and Herzegovina that includes a central government with a bicameral legislature, a three-member presidency comprised of a representative of each major ethnic group, a council of ministers, a constitutional court, and a central bank. Defense remains under the control of the respective entities.

In a significant step toward implementing the Dayton Accords, elections for central, entity-level, and, within the Federation, cantonal offices were held on September 14. Alija Izetbegovic, Momcilo Krajisnik, and Kresimir Zubak were elected to the presidency representing respectively Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. Izetbegovic, who received a plurality of the votes, was named Chair in accordance with the new Constitution. Although the preelection period was marked by widespread limitations on the ability of opposition parties to campaign effectively and significant restrictions on freedom of interentity movement, the balloting was orderly and calm. The large turnout demonstrated that citizens were committed to the voting process.

Before and after the elections, the main political parties continued to exercise significant political power at all levels. These were the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in predominantly Bosniak areas, the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in the RS, and the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ) in Croat areas.

One of the two entities that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was established in March 1994 and transformed the internal structure of the Bosnian territories under Bosniak and Croat control. It is a mixed system with a president and a parliament that must approve the president's choice of Prime Minister. Federation structures have been implemented only gradually. Major steps were the creation of provincial structures in the form of cantons, the unification of Sarajevo under Federation control, and September elections to a Federation Parliament. In these elections, the mainly Muslim SDA and Croat HDZ won 59% and 22% of the votes, respectively. Widespread abuses of citizens on an ethnic basis in the Sarajevo suburbs that occurred during and after the transfer of authority there in March and inconclusive efforts to integrate separate Bosniak and Croat administrations in the ethnically bifurcated city of Mostar highlighted the willingness of political leaders of both Bosniaks and Croats to manipulate ethnic factors for political gain.

In most respects Federation authority did not extend effectively outside the areas in which Bosniaks constituted a majority. The self-proclaimed "Croat Republic of Herceg-Bosna" was a rival claimant to Croat-held territory in Bosnia and Herzegovina until March 1994. Although its official dissolution was called for under a separate agreement reached in Dayton, security and administrative structures associated with Herceg-Bosna persisted and remained closely associated with the military structure of the Croat Defense Council (HVO) and the political party structure of the HDZ. This relationship included close military ties, and along with the fact that Bosnian Croats had dual citizenship with Croatia and were able to vote in Croatian elections, brought into question the degree of the HDZ's independence from Croatia.

The Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the other entity. Its de facto capital is the town of Pale, near Sarajevo, although Banja Luka is the seat of the RS Parliament and other entity ministries. A president and two vice presidents are directly elected for 4-year terms. Until July 18 Radovan Karadizic acted as the president of Republika Srpska, despite his indictment for war crimes. The legislative branch, the National Assembly, is elected on the basis of proportional representation. Real control, however, was exercised by the dominant political party, the SDS. The party ensured conformity among local authorities in many areas and used its authority to ensure adherence to nationalistic positions. In the September elections the SDS won 66% of the vote. Then-acting RS President, Biljana Plavsic, was elected President for a full term.

The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Annex 4 of the Dayton Accords) made the Federation and RS responsible for maintaining civilian law enforcement agencies operating in accordance with internationally recognized standards. Law enforcement bodies of both entities have on many occasions violated these standards, giving preferential treatment on the basis of political, ethnic, and religious criteria. Police personnel and in some instances special military police were involved, but with the end of active hostilities, local police structures assumed a much greater role in people's daily lives throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, the existence of special or secret police in all three ethnic areas, a throwback to the Communist heritage, poses another problem. They are not in the normal police chain of command but are directly responsive to the senior leadership. The police in Bosniak- controlled areas of the Federation are locally recruited and organized. They have been guilty of widespread human rights abuses.

A Federation army was created by agreement of the Croat and Bosniak leaders in October, to be comprised of five corps and two independent divisions. Four corps and the two independent divisions are mostly Muslim and one corps is Croat. A joint command is expected to develop into a unified organization in 3 years.

For most of 1996, the Bosnian Army (ABiH) was the military arm of the majority Muslim portion of the Federation. During the war it developed from a citizen militia into an army. It is in principle, and to some extent in reality, a multiethnic fighting force, comprised predominantly of Bosnian Muslims, but also of Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians of mixed ethnicity. During the year the influence of non-Muslims among the military command diminished, primarily as a result of the growing influence and ethnic orientation of the ruling Party of Democratic Action. The Bosnian Army generally respected citizens' human rights, although it did commit some violations.

The one Croat corps of the newly formed Federation army operated separately as the Croat Defense Council and appeared to remain under the effective control of the Croatian army. Police remained monoethnic, and those in predominantly Croat areas were outside the control of Federation officials. They were generally responsive to the direction of higher officials and the HDZ party, although they appeared somewhat less disciplined than police in the RS. Police in Croat areas committed numerous human rights abuses.

The Bosnian Serb Army is the military arm of the RS. It was amalgamated in 1992 from Serb paramilitary bands, local rural militias, and elements of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA). Its commander, Ratko Mladic, was indicted for war crimes and replaced in November. There were no reports of human rights violations by Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) units during the year, but individual soldiers or persons dressed in BSA uniforms were reported to have committed human rights violations. Serb police forces consist of locally recruited municipal forces and a special force responsible to the Ministry of the Interior. Both forces respond to central direction. Both were responsible for widespread human rights abuses.

The NATO-led Implementation Force (SFOR/IFOR) continued its mission to implement the military aspects of the Dayton Accords and create a more secure environment to facilitate implementation of the nonmilitary aspects of the settlement, such as civilian reconstruction, the return of refugees and displace persons, elections, and freedom of movement of the civilian population.

In addition to the human suffering, the war had a destructive impact on the economy and infrastructure. Gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have contracted by three-quarters with income losses of up to 85 percent in the Bosniak majority areas. Croat-controlled territory fared relatively well, with GDP contraction estimated at around 15 percent. The economy in Serb-controlled areas appear to have performed somewhere between the two. Since the Dayton Accords, there are signs of increased trade in the Croat-majority areas and significant growth (from a very low base) in the Bosniak parts of the country. Reconstruction programs initiated by the international community have financed physical construction of infrastructure and provided loans to the manufacturing sector, which is expected to increase employment.

Economic assistance is expected to lay the groundwork for a revival of the economy. The actual distribution of assistance to particular entities or areas continues to be conditioned on the parties' compliance with their Dayton obligations, including the turnover of persons indicted for war crimes to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Unemployment was a major problem. The military demobilization on all sides subsequent to the Dayton Accords, the large number of displaced persons, and the destruction of a significant part of housing, have further contributed to economic and social insecurity. There are an estimated 650,000 unemployed persons in the Federation. In addition 40 percent of the estimated 1.2 million refugees would need work should they return.

The year 1996 was a period of transition in which the international community sought, through implementation of the Dayton Accords, to promote political reconciliation after more than 3 years of war during which more than 250,000 people were killed and some 3 million were uprooted and dispersed. The most egregious abuses of the war period-- murder, rape, and widespread disappearances and displacements--largely ended. However, to varying degrees the authorities in both RS and the Federation continued to commit abuses, and the human rights situation remained precarious nearly a year after the signing of the peace agreement.

Members of the security forces physically mistreated citizens and made widespread use of arbitrary arrest and detention. Prison conditions are poor. Judicial institutions throughout the country did not effectively try cases of human rights abuses; even in cases where fair judgment was reached, local official refused to implement court decisions. Authorities in all areas infringed on citizens' right to privacy and home, and as a rule the right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes was not respected. Restrictions on freedom of movement, destruction of homes, and the displacement of large numbers of people for reasons of ethnicity constituted a serious problem, with the most serious such abuses committed by the RS. Members of all security forces harassed and intimidated refugees. The authorities on the Bosniak side exerted control over the media; in the RS the authorities dominated the media. Both sides constrained academic freedom and freedom of assembly and association.

Abuses based on ethnicity constituted a major problem, and interethnic differences were further complicated by religious differences. The large numbers of refugees and displaced persons, themselves often embittered victims of ethnic conflict, combined with greatly reduced housing resulting from the war, posed serious problems for interethnic relations.

Abuse of such human rights as privacy, freedom of movement, security of the person, and ethnic nondiscrimination were so frequent as to be almost routine, especially in the Croat and Serb areas. In the Muslim areas the situation was somewhat better, but when important interests of the political and administrative elite were at stake, for example, in the efforts of non-SDA partisans to return to Bihac and neighboring areas, the transfer of authority of the Sarajevo suburbs from RS to Federation control, and efforts to unify Mostar, the actions of Bosniak police did not differ greatly from those of their ethnic counterparts. In many instances, police reinforced the insecurity of ethnic minorities by failing to assist them when they were victimized by popular animosities on the part of the majority.

Bosniak police were responsible for the harassment of other ethnic groups and the mistreatment of detainees and prisoners, although some improvement has been noted by the International Police Task Force (IPTF). The Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina was reportedly responsible for the widespread mistreatment of returnees from the Kupljenska refugee camp in Croatia.

The leaders of the dominant political parties failed to demonstrate a commitment to ethnic nondiscrimination. The leaders of the SDS, who effectively ruled the RS, single-mindedly pursued policies of ethnic exclusivity, including ethnic cleansing, against Muslims and Croats and intimidated ethnic Serbs who opposed such policies. Leaders of the HDZ continued, in such places as Mostar, to place the interests of Croats above the ethnic integration to which they committed themselves in the Dayton Accords. The most conspicuous examples of discrimination in this connection related to the return of refugees and displaced persons to their former places of residence and the security of individuals from repressive measures designed to induce them to move, which represented continuing, if less massive and brutal, manifestations of ethnic cleansing characteristic of the war period.

The international presence throughout the country helped deter additional human rights abuses.

Nationwide elections on September 14 marked a significant milestone in the creation of a state based on democracy and the rule of law. The preelection period was marked by the unwillingness of important leadership elements in all three of the dominant parties to tolerate political opposition even from members of their own communities.

Although the Bosniak side of the Federation has surrendered persons indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, authorities in the Croat-controlled parts of the Federation and the RS continued their failure to apprehend and deliver indicted persons to the Tribunal. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia handed down its first verdict in November, sentencing a Bosnian Serb soldier to 10 years' imprisonment for war crimes.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There was only one report of political or other extrajudicial killing by police under the effective control of the Federation. International organizations reported that two Croat special police officers were identified as the perpetrators of the murder of a Bosniak driving between Zenica and Zepce. After intervention by international officials, the two suspects were brought before a court in Vitez, in the Croat controlled area, and convicted of their crime.

In the RS, human rights officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported a case in Banja Luka in which a Bosniak died due to physical abuse while in police custody. Arrested for alleged possession of illegal weapons, he suffered massive internal injuries produced by a blunt instrument. Another Bosniak man was found beaten to death in Doboj. Police involvement is suspected, but noncooperation by RS authorities with the investigation made responsibility difficult to confirm.

Extensive killings and other brutal acts committed in earlier years remained unpunished. Although all parties bore some responsibility for some of the killings, the RS was responsible for the most massive, egregious, and well-organized killings targeted on members of an ethnic group. These include, since 1995, about 7,000 persons missing and presumed killed by the Bosnian Serb Army after the fall of Srebrenica, the worst incident of mass killing in Europe since World War II, and another 1,500-5,000 missing and presumed killed as a result of "ethnic cleansing" in Northern Bosnia. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia by year's end had indicted 75 individuals on charges of war crimes and genocide in connection with these and other occurrences. Only the Bosniak side of the Federation has been willing to surrender persons under indictment. At year's end only seven of the accused were in custody. The Tribunal handed down its first verdict in November, sentencing a Bosnian Serb soldier to 10 years' imprisonment for war crimes. Authorities in both the Croat-controlled parts of the Federation and the RS have failed to apprehend and surrender indicted persons to the Tribunal. Those indicted include former RS President and SDS Chairman, Radovan Karadzic, and former Bosnian Serb Army Commander Ratko Mladic. Karadzic retained his positions in the RS long after the indictment was handed down, before being removed from office in July.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

Despite delays there was some progress in solving earlier disappearances. With the cooperation of the RS, international and Bosniak experts began to exhume the bodies buried around Srebrenica. Several sites have been excavated and hundreds of bodies found, but many more persons are still missing from Srebrenica and Zepa.

In addition to those believed killed in Srebrenica and Zepa, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported in December that a total of 17,689 family members from the war years had requested assistance in tracing missing persons; 999 individuals have been found. Several hundred people expelled from Banja Luka, Prijedor, Bosanski Novi, and Bosanska Dubica may also have been killed. Local Bosnian officials in Bugojno have yet to provide satisfactory information on the whereabouts of 26 prominent Croats who disappeared when the Bosnian Army took the town in late 1993. Nor was there any resolution of the longstanding case involving the disappearance of approximately 180 Bosniak men from Hadzici in June 1992.

In September the International Commission on Missing persons in Former Yugoslavia was formed under the Chairmanship of former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Comprised of distinguished international public servants, the Commission is working to get the Bosnian parties, Serbia and Montenegro, and Croatia to provide a full and timely accounting of the missing.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution provides for the right to freedom from torture and cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment. No reliable reports emerged that any of those in authority in Bosnia and Herzegovina employed torture as an instrument of state. However, in all areas of the country authorities, police, and prison officials were responsible for numerous instances of physical mistreatment.

For example, the IPTF reported in November that a Bosniak man and his family were forcibly expelled from their house in Dubica in the RS by local police. The man was arrested, beaten, and detained without charge for 3 days.

According to the IPTF, a Bosniak man was beaten in a restaurant in Teslic by two RS policemen in November after being asked for his identification papers. The man was arrested without being charged and released a week later.

The Human Rights Coordination Center of the Office of the High Representative for Implementation of the Peace Agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR) reported the complaint of a Serb woman in the town of Hadzici (Federation) who said that local police refused to investigate an incident in November in which a group of men in uniform entered her house, beat her husband at gunpoint, and tried to forcibly evict them.

In December the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Mostar reported that an old Bosniak woman living in the Croat sector of the divided town was evicted from her residence. The woman reportedly died during the expulsion from heart problems.

Also in December a group of six Bosniak policemen severely beat and robbed a Croat driving through the Bosniak sector of Mostar. The victim was taken to the Bosniak police headquarters where he was beaten again. The victim suffered a fractured jaw and several broken teeth. There have been no arrests or reprimands.

Conditions in Federation prisons are poor and well below minimum international standards. There are accounts of beatings and mistreatment by officials in government detention centers. Conditions in RS prisons also remained poor.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary arrest and detention continue to be widely practiced in both the Federation and the RS. In some cases people are released after 2 or 3 days, although international organizations have reported several cases that remained unresolved for months. The victims are frequently members of ethnic minorities in their areas. Local officials are in many instances able to act in an entirely arbitrary manner with absolute impunity.

According to the OHR, three persons were arrested in February in Kiseljak, a predominantly Croat town and transferred into HVO custody in Mostar. They were kept in detention without being charged, and there was no evidence that judicial proceedings were under way. It appears that the detaining authority hoped to exchange them for Croats who were serving criminal sentences elsewhere in Federation territory. They were eventually released in September; however, others remain in detention.

Of major concern were prisoners held before the Dayton Accords came into effect who have not been registered and are unknown to monitors. OHR reports that in a particularly egregious and well-known case, a Croat priest from Prijedor, Tomislav Matanovic, and his parents have been detained in the RS since September 1995. RS authorities acknowledged that the priest is being held in private detention and have pledged that he will be released.

There were no reports that forced exile was practiced as a juridical device. However, authorities in all areas of the country and at all levels undertook to drive out individuals, especially members of minority groups, as a means of consolidating ethnic and political control. Moreover, police often failed to provide protection to individuals being mistreated by elements of the population or nongovernmental organizations, with the same end in mind. In the Federation, during the transfer of authority of the suburbs of Sarajevo, local authorities did little to prevent the exodus of non-Bosniaks, and there was no determination to forestall or stop acts by Bosniak displaced persons intended to drive them out. Similar practices were apparent in some parts of majority Croat areas within the Federation.

In the RS there were continuing expulsions, notably in Teslic and Urbanja. In the RS a joint fact-finding mission conducted by the OHR, the OSCE, and the U.N. Center for Human Rights uncovered evidence of significant numbers of expulsions of non-Serbs from the greater Teslic region. Bosnian Serbs intimidated or expelled dozens of families, mostly Bosniaks, during May and June. The principal perpetrators appeared to be displaced persons and Serb thugs from nearby villages.

e. Denial of a Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, extends the judiciary's independence to the investigative division of the criminal justice system, and establishes a judicial police force that reports directly to the courts. However, these provisions have not yet been implemented, and the executive appears to exercise authority over the judiciary. Yugoslav and wartime practices in which the executive and the leading political parties exerted considerable influence over the judicial system persisted in all areas. Party affiliation and political connections appeared to weigh heavily on the appointment process, and the ruling parties attempted to stack the courts with party loyalists.

The existing judicial hierarchy in the Federation is based on municipal courts, which have original jurisdiction in most civil and criminal cases, and cantonal courts, which have appellate jurisdiction over the canton's municipalities, as well as three federal courts (Constitutional, Supreme, and Human Rights). The Constitution provides for the appointment of judges until the age of 70 and for internal administration of the judicial branch. The Constitution also provides for open and public trials, and the accused has the right to legal counsel.

The Bosnian Serbs reportedly use a modified form of the old Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia's criminal code.

Human rights ombudsmen reported that judicial institutions in both entities, whose work was controlled by the ruling parties, were neither capable nor willing to try cases of human rights abuse referred to them, and that even when the courts rendered a fair judgment, local officials refused to implement their decision.

There have been no credible reports that the Bosnian Government holds political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina provides for the right to "private and family life, home, and correspondence." These rights were generally better observed in the Federation than the RS, but neither entity brought property law into conformity with international norms, and implementation of the laws that did exist was often guided by considerations of ethnic or political advantage.

In the Federation, the authorities sporadically used their power over possession of property, including housing, in a manner that effectively dispossessed ethnic minorities (see Section 5). RS authorities tried to obstruct the reintegration of Sarajevo by forcing Serbs to leave the area and dismantling or destroying housing, industrial facilities, essential utilities, and other infrastructure. OSCE monitors reported that evictions of Muslims continued in Prijedor and Doboj, and in the latter town a Serb woman from the local Red Cross was reportedly interrogated and beaten by local police when she tried to help a Muslim woman who was being evicted. Bosnian Serbs who left the Sarajevo suburbs, in some cases because of intimidation by RS police and SDS party activists, were forced to resettle in Brcko, Pale, Sokolac, Srebrenica, Visegrad, Zvornik, and other areas previously purged of non- Serbs. Intimidation was also used to prevent Bosniak and Bosnian Croat refugees from returning to their homes in RS territory, as well as to influence the arbitration decision on the future of Brcko. Approximately 10,000 Serbs of an original population of 70,000 remained in the Sarajevo suburbs transferred to Federation control.

Local authorities responsible to the RS continued to expel Bosniaks. Several families that were expelled from the village of Vrbanja near Banja Luka in June and returned had to be evacuated for their physical safety by the United Nations. Following the evacuation, only 40 Muslims remained in this village, once inhabited by 4,500. However, RS authorities were not alone in seeking the ethnic purity of this region as the HVO evacuated ethnic Croats from RS territory to Croat-controlled territory (see Section 1.g.).

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

The performance of Federation military and police forces did not indicate a policy of reliance upon force to achieve ethnic or other goals in the Bosnia-wide setting. However, excessive force was used with sufficient frequency in localized situations to suggest that such behavior was tolerated. In the region around Bihac, the Bosnian Army V Corps and the Bosniak police frequently harassed and intimidated refugees returning from Kuplensko Refugee Camp in Croatia. Representatives of the IFOR reported 56 such cases in January, and some refugees fled back to Croatia. The OHR indicates that such occurrences were considered a "rite of passage" by victims and authorities alike. It was unclear whether they represented an organized campaign against the returnees. In the transition to Federation rule of the Sarajevo suburbs, Federation police were reliably accused of mistreating ethnic Serbs or not intervening when others did so (See Section 5).

The Catholic Press Agency reported the protest of Catholic Bishop Komarica of Banja Luka over the forced repatriation by the HVO to "Herceg-Bosna" of 500 residents of his Diocese from the town of Majdan in the RS, despite their wish to remain in their ancestral homes. This village was designated by the Dayton Accords as part of RS. The Croats had lived in this village since before the war, experiencing no problems with their non-Croat neighbors.

Serb police often employed excessive force to prevent Bosniak former residents from returning to, or staying in, territory designated as RS territory by the Dayton Accords, to force ethnic Serbs living in other parts of Bosnia to move to RS territory, and to intimidate ethnic Serbs from registering as voters in territory other than that of the RS. Local Serb police apparently took no action against the perpetrators of severe harassment. The UNHCR described the expulsions as ethnic cleansing. Bosnian Serb police obstructed IPTF investigations through noncooperation and restrictions on movement by means of checkpoints.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. This right was partially respected in the territory under effective control of the Bosniak Muslims; authorities in the RS and Croat-controlled areas of the Federation respected it to a considerably lesser extent, although some progress was made in establishing alternative print media in the RS.

The dominant political parties continued to exercise strong control over the most influential media outlets. However, in the Federation, a number of independent publications have consolidated their positions in terms of readership and influence, if not financial health. They include the leading daily Oslobodjenja and the weeklies Dani and Slobodna Bosna. In the Bosniak-controlled portions of the Federation there was a strong tendency to favor the positions of the governing SDA. Party influence was particularly notable in the State-run television outlets, the principal source of information in all areas. The OHR reported that on TV Bosnia and Herzegovina, announcers continued to use inflammatory generalizations to describe persons from the RS. In general the media of the RS and the Croat-controlled portions of the Federation were unremittingly biased in favor of the positions of their ruling parties.

Complying with commitments made in connection with the Dayton Accords, the authorities permitted other political parties limited access to television in advance of the September national elections. However the content of many broadcasts continued to reflect the views of nationalist hardliners.

In the Federation many private radio stations broadcast locally; a smaller number of private television stations served local markets in Sarajevo, Zenica, and Tuzla. In central Bosnia SDA officials appeared to be using their influence over government frequency allocation to restrict the further establishment of broadcast media outlets. After overcoming great resistance from Federation authorities, a Western- sponsored Independent Open Broadcast Network was established by broadcasting material through some of these independent television stations. The purpose was to create a strong independent television sector in all parts of Bosnia, drawing talent from among all ethnic communities. Despite a number of ongoing logistical and resource problems, its signal could be received in most major population centers.

The development of independent media was constrained by a number of structural factors including limited circulations, a lack of locally produced material with a wide appeal, poor advertizing revenues, and high operating costs. Few of the media were commercially viable; some survived through the sponsorship of private organizations, cultural societies, and political parties, others with help from Western aid organizations.

In Croat-controlled Federation territory, broadcast transmissions from neighboring Croatia, as well as local Croatian-nationalist broadcast entities, captured the majority of audiences, while few alternative or nonnationalist news sources were available. In the RS most media are a propaganda tool of the ruling SDS party. Srpska Radio-Televizija broadcasts from RS engage in negative ethnic stereotyping. The party uses its own information resources, an information ministry, and tight control of most media outlets to dominate most outlets. Nonetheless, some independent media were established. In Banja Luka an independent newspaper, Nezavisne Novine, began publication, as did a monthly and a weekly not under the control of the SDS. In some areas RS authorities have exerted considerable pressure against independent publications, forbidding local businesses to advertise in them, local presses to print them, and local kiosks to sell them.

Foreign journalists representing recognized media were generally free to report from all areas of the country, although local authorities occasionally reacted with force to prevent efforts to film incidents involving violence. The absence of telephone and fax links between the entities complicated journalists' work.

Academic freedom was constrained. In the Federation, Serbs and Croats complained that SDA party favorites were more likely to get promoted or obtain senior managerial positions. In Serb-controlled areas, the authorities' general lack of tolerance for dissent led to total control of the educational media. The curriculum in Serb-controlled areas has been revamped to teach solely Serb history, art, literature, etc.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association. However, none of the parties fully respected these rights in practice. A wide range of social, cultural, and political organizations functioned without interference, but there were serious exceptions relating to efforts of certain opposition political parties to stage rallies and campaign in the September national elections (see section 3).

In the RS, control over security and police by the SDS imposed severe limitations on the right to assembly. There was a clear attitude of intolerance toward opposition parties. For example, the OHR reported the disruption in March of a Socialist Party of RS (SPRS) public meeting in Blatnica by a members of a local paramilitary group.

Although freedom of association is not directly limited, indirect pressure constrains the exercise of this right. While political membership is not forced, membership in the ruling SDA and HDZ parties in Federation territory was increasingly viewed as a way to obtain and keep housing and high-level jobs in the state-owned sector of the economy. The OHR reported that in Croat-held areas, particularly West Mostar, opposition parties were reluctant to organize openly because of fear of retaliation by HDZ supporters.

Human rights groups in the RS pointed to a number of physical attacks on activists of the Alliance for Peace and Progress (SMP), a party opposing the ruling SDS. The atmosphere of intimidation was apparent in an incident in Kalesija, near Tuzla where, according to the OHR, 159 people were called in for informational interviews by the military police because they were accused of having heckled the Mayor of the municipality during a public appearance in April.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, including private and public worship, and in the Federation the authorities rarely interfered. In general, individuals in their ethnic majority areas, who constitute the great majority of the population, enjoyed unfettered freedom of religion. However, there were some incidents that resulted in damage to religious edifices. Some of these incidents resulted from actions by the authorities; others were due to societal religious violence (see Section 5).

In the RS, whose core ethnic group is traditionally Serb Orthodox, authorities demolished property at the site of the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka without consultation with religious leaders. Authorities repeatedly rejected efforts of Muslims to revisit religious sites and graveyards in their previous areas of residence, and international representatives had to negotiate on a case-by-case basis with the RS authorities for the few such visits that did take place. Muslim members of the RS Parliament, who were elected in October, were initially required to take an oath referring to the Christian Scriptures when they sought to take their seats in the opening session. They declined to do so and were barred from participation in parliamentary work until the legal commission of the assembly ruled that they were not required to take the oath. While now participating in parliamentary discussions, they remain isolated from the committees, where the substantive work is done.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for "the right to liberty of movement and residence." Within the Federation checkpoints between areas controlled by Bosniaks and those controlled by Croats have been largely dismantled. Travel across the Interentity Boundary Line (IEBL) separating the two entities within Bosnia, impossible during the war, has become possible in certain limited circumstances. Interentity bus connections were reestablished in certain areas and generally operated without interference. Thousands of people crossed the IEBL each day.

Nonetheless, the extent of travel between the entities remains far less than might normally be expected. Fears engendered by the 3-year conflict, reinforced by frequent police checks of vehicles, are in part responsible. There were also some examples of more forceful constraints: The road leading to the Federation town of Gorazde was under threat by Serb nationalists who threw stones at vehicles during most of the year. OSCE human rights reporting indicated that the road was attacked 13 times in less than a 2-day period in July and August. The persistence of roadblocks along the IEBL also frequently appeared designed to impede the freedom of individuals to travel to and from areas in which they were part of an ethnic minority.

There were credible reports that Bosnian Muslims restricted Croat freedom of movement in the Vares region. For much of the year both Croats and Muslims restricted freedom of movement between the divided communities in Mostar. Only continual prodding by representatives of the international community permitted some halting progress in permitting the return of refugees to the towns of Jajce, Bugojno, Stolac, and Travnik, as spelled out in the Dayton Displaced Persons Agreement.

A major aspect of freedom of movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the ability of refugees and displaced persons to return to their places of residence, a right established in the Dayton Accords. Some progress was made in this regard. By October between 220,000 and 240,000 individuals had returned, albeit primarily to areas in which they were part of the ethnic majority. This number must be evaluated, however, against an estimated total of 2.4 million refugees and displaced persons.

A number of policies and measures served to discourage the return of persons to their former homes. In both the Federation and the RS, property laws were manipulated both to prevent individuals who fled as a result of the war from returning, or to force others to flee. The parties have failed to implement adequate amnesty laws, which the OHR indicates is a substantial obstacle to freedom of movement and return of refugees and displaced persons.

In certain strategic or sensitive areas, such as Mostar, the suburbs of Sarajevo, and the Brcko region, population movement--including pressure for resettlement of some groups and restrictions on the movement away of others--strongly suggested policies adopted at the highest levels by the leadership of all three ethnic groups. In the Federation, with the possible exception of the specific areas described above, local authorities or popular sentiment more often appeared to be responsible for the violations, but Federation-level authorities often took little action to prevent or undo them. In general the pattern of violations in the RS suggested a systematic policy of attempting to achieve ethnic homogeneity.

The Federation Parliament adopted an amnesty law, described by the UNHCR as inadequate, on June 12. One of the intended effects of this law was to permit individuals who fled during the war and were subsequently charged with a variety of offenses to return. The UNHCR states that the law has not been fully respected, citing the arrests of returnees from the Kuplensko camp in Croatia on war crimes allegations and the reported initiation of criminal proceedings in Sarajevo courts against some 83 Bosnian Serb Army soldiers.

The RS Parliament adopted an amnesty law, flawed in certain respects, in July. Non-Serbs in the Banja Luka region were subjected to continuing pressure, including eviction or threats of eviction from their homes. Expulsions during the war greatly reduced the population of non-Serbs, who once numbered 250,000. They now number fewer than 4,000.

A few hundred Muslims have returned to areas of their former residence in Jusici, Mahala, and Dugi Dio on RS territory in the zone of separation between the entities. Press reports described RS efforts to prevent Muslims from returning to the town of Mahala: Serb Interior Ministry police beat 10 persons before NATO soldiers gained control of the situation. Efforts of Muslims to return to towns in the northern RS continued, however. Local Serbs who might be favorably disposed toward the returnees appeared to be afraid of the reaction of Serb authorities.

The Government grants asylum and refugee status in accordance with international standards. It cooperates with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise in 1996.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Dayton Accords commit the parties to "ensure that conditions exist for the organization of free and fair elections, in particular a politically neutral environment," and to the right to "vote in secret without fear or intimidation." Observance of these rights was first tested on the national, entity, and, in the case of the Federation, at the provincial level, in elections held on September 14. Alija Izetbegovic, Momcilo Krajisnik, and Kresimir Zubak were elected to the Presidency representing respectively Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. Izetbegovic, who received a plurality of the votes, was named Chair in accordance with the new Constitution. Voters throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina (and refugees abroad) also elected national and entity-level Assemblies.

Some human rights organizations charged that the elections were unfair because of the obstacles placed in the way of campaigns by political parties other than the three dominant nationalist parties, which have ruled in their respective ethnic areas. They also declared them undemocratic because of alleged fraud in the voting and counting of ballots. The Coordinator for International Monitoring concluded that the elections, "although characterized by imperfections, took place in such a way that they provide a first and cautious step toward the democratic functioning of the governing structures of Bosnia and Herzegovina." The Bosnian Provisional Election Commission "certified" them as valid. The three nationalist parties won large majorities in their respective areas. However, in both the Federation and the RS other parties garnered sufficient votes to win representation in Bosnia and Herzegovina's House of Representatives. The Dayton Accords specified that voters who had been forced to flee because of the war could return to the localities where they lived earlier in order to vote. The High Representative reported that there were no serious restrictions on freedom of movement in this connection, although fewer than expected chose to exercise this option.

In the Bosniak areas of the Federation, opponents of the governing SDA endured acts of hooliganism. Former Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic, running for President for the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBiH), was attacked prior to a campaign rally by local supporters of the dominant SDA. In July OSCE human rights monitors reported several other instances of personal intimidation and interruption of political meetings suffered by minority parties, to such an extent that it became effectively impossible for opposition parties to operate in some areas. There was a concerted campaign of harassment and intimidation of opposition party representatives and their supporters in Cazin and Velika Kladusa, including bombing and grenade attacks, assaults, and arbitrary arrests.

In Croat-controlled areas of the Federation few incidents were reported. Few opposition candidates and parties conducted large-scale activities during the campaign period, probably as a result of fear occasioned by earlier violence.

Although persons in the RS have a theoretical right to change their government, SDS control of the media and security apparatus precluded true citizen participation without intimidation. The SDS was intolerant of opposition political activity. In the period leading up to the polls, pressure on the opposition took various forms, both subtle and overt, including firing on party offices, disruptions of meetings, and harassment of party members.

The Dayton Accords also provided that local elections be held throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina if feasible. They were scheduled to take place at the same time as the national and provincial elections. However, logistical and political difficulties, including massive manipulation of Serb voter registration, resulted in their postponement.

Women are generally underrepresented in government and politics, although a few women occupy prominent positions. For example, a Serb woman, Biljana Plavsic, was appointed, and in September elected, to the Presidency of the RS. In the three legislatures, women are woefully underrepresented, particularly in RS and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

In general, the authorities permitted outside investigations of alleged human rights violations. International and local NGO's involved in human rights appear to operate fairly freely. The OHR reports that human rights monitors, both those associated with government and NGO's, were able to travel without restriction in all areas of the country, although there were some threats directed at the Federation Ombudsmen. The International Police Task Force was given widespread access to detention facilities and prisoners in the RS as well as in the Federation. However, monitors experienced difficulties, especially in the RS, in obtaining relevant laws and procedural rules as well as documents pertaining to individual cases.

While monitors enjoyed relative freedom to investigate human rights abuses, they were less successful in persuading the authorities in all regions to respond to their decisions or interventions, often meeting with delays or outright refusal. In the Federation, for example, Ombudsmen tried without success to seek equitable resolution to hundreds of property cases. In other cases, interventions by international monitors to win the release of persons arbitrarily detained were met with frank acknowledgment of the unfounded nature of the detention, and offers to exchange the detainee for others who were allegedly wrongfully detained by another side (see Section 1.d.). The Federation Ombudsmen accused local Federation authorities of refusing to cooperate with them.

There are few reports of threats or harassment of international monitors, with the notable exception of the Mostar area. In one case, the OHR reports that in April an Italian European Union officer was shot in the neck by an off duty Croat policeman who reportedly demanded that the officer turn over two Bosniak policemen riding in his car.

Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague is a key factor in the implementation of the Dayton Accords, the establishment of respect for human rights, and the elimination of impunity for those responsible. While the Bosniak side of the Federation became the first party to surrender persons under indictment of their own dominant ethnicity to the Hague (two Bosniaks were transferred to the Tribunal after a decision of the Supreme Court in June), the RS continued its policy of defiance of the Tribunal and the Dayton Accords by allowing persons indicted for war crimes to remain in high political and military office for part of 1996. Karadzic was removed from political office in July and Mladic from the military command in November.

On November 29, the ICTY handed down its first verdict, sentencing a former soldier of the Bosnian Serb Army to 10 years' imprisonment for his role in the massacre of Muslim civilians in 1995 near Srebrenica. The soldier is appealing the verdict.

The parties have cooperated on several joint exhumations through a process facilitated by international organizations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

In the Dayton Accords the parties agreed to reject discrimination on such grounds as sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, or association with a national minority. There were nevertheless many cases of discrimination.


Physical abuse of women has greatly diminished as a result of the end of the war, when rape was one of the most frequently used tools of ethnic cleansing by the Bosnian Serbs.

Although accurate statistics are not available, there appears to be little legal or social discrimination against women. Women hold some of the most responsible positions in society, including judges, doctors, and professors. A woman is President of the RS. A Bosnian woman heads Bosniak radio and television. Women are entitled to 12 months' maternity leave and required to work no more than 4 hours per day until a child is 3 years old. A woman with underage children may not be forced to do shift work.


The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child is incorporated by reference in the Dayton Accords and has the effect of law in both entities. The end of the fighting has brought a major improvement in the human rights of children. During the war nearly 17,000 children were killed, 35,000 wounded, and over 1,800 permanently disabled.

The domination by ethnic majorities adversely affects children of minorities, who must attend schools in which the educational content is skewed toward the values, history, and religious traditions of the local majority. Children also suffer from the extreme paucity of social services, especially the lack of adequate care for mentally retarded children.

There is no discrimination or societal pattern of abuse against children. Nonetheless, they have suffered and continue to suffer disproportionately from the societal stress being experienced in Bosnia. United Nations experts estimated that one-half of the children in Bosnia and Herzegovina--some 700,000--are refugees or displaced persons.

A U.N. official overseeing human rights in Bosnia reported two situations in which children were apparently singled out for abuse. In an ethnically motivated incident, a bus carrying Bosniak children was pelted by a stone-throwing mob near Banja Luka and received no assistance from local authorities. In the Velika Kladusa-Cazin area, the teenage children of returning Bosniaks who had not supported the SDA were assaulted because of their parents' alleged political beliefs. The perpetrators were identified to the local police, arrested, and speedily released.

People with Disabilities

By law the Federation Government is required to assist people with disabilities in finding employment and protecting them against discrimination. In the current situation there are few jobs available, and approximately 12,000 newly disabled victims of the war are entering the job market. The Government had limited resources to address the special needs of the disabled.

Religious Minorities

In July a Roman Catholic church in the Muslim-controlled town of Bugojno was firebombed. It was reportedly the last Catholic church in the town. This act followed by a few days a fire that damaged a mosque in the Croat-controlled town of Prozor and may have been in retaliation for the burning of the mosque. In the latter case police apprehended a Croat man in connection with the vandalism.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic differences--complicated by religious differences--were at the heart of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After family ties, ethnic identity remains the most powerful social force in the country. Both the SDS and the HDZ leaders have conveyed a commitment to the concepts of a "Greater Serbia" and a "Greater Croatia," even after having agreed in the Dayton framework to abandon them. These parties, and to a lesser extent the primarily Bosniak SDA as well, have sought to manipulate the movement of people and the access to housing and social services they control to ensure that the ethnic groups with which they are associated consolidate their position in their respective geographic regions.

Although in certain areas like Sarajevo and Tuzla mixed communities coexist relatively peacefully, there continue to be an extremely high number of incidents of harassment and discrimination directed against minority populations throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. In some cases, these reflect popular animosities exacerbated by years of ethnic conflict. In many cases there is evidence of tacit or direct involvement of the authorities. Most such instances are clearly designed to intimidate remaining ethnic minorities. There have been numerous, well-documented instances of overt discrimination or violence; incidents commonly cited include forced evictions, beatings, and arbitrary arrest/detention.

Property disputes often form the basis of incidents of ethnic discrimination. The flight of hundreds of thousands of refugees during the war left many dwellings and other properties empty. Local officials continued to apply laws concerning abandoned property arbitrarily either to manipulate the ethnic make-up of a particular area or to falsely declare apartments abandoned in order to evict minorities. The OHR reported that in Busovaca, in the Federation, municipal authorities refused to recognize the occupancy of about 95 Croat families who had lived in military-owned apartments prior to the war, apartments subsequently allocated to other families. An RS law on deserted property permits the return of such property to the original owner only if any subsequent occupant willingly departs, an unlikely eventuality in light of the large number of displaced persons, mostly Serb, and the lack of adequate alternative dwellings.

The departure of the majority of Serb inhabitants in connection with the transfer of authority over Sarajevo in March exemplified the effects of ethnic intolerance at all levels of authority and among the populace. RS authorities, expressing dissatisfaction with the reorganization, threatened to pull all Serbs out of Sarajevo and sought to dismantle or destroy housing, industrial facilities, essential utilities, and other services. Reliable reports indicate that the RS authorities made plans in advance to resettle Serbs in large numbers in areas of the RS from which Bosniaks had been forced to flee earlier. There were numerous reports of intimidation and harassment of those who indicated a willingness to remain in the suburbs after the 20 March transfer. A common tactic, according to the OHR, involved late-night visits to homes of persons who did not appear to be making preparations to leave. In such cases these individuals were asked repeatedly when they planned to leave, and others were told that their apartments would be looted or burned if they did not leave. In part as a result of such pressure, about 60,000 of the 80,000 Serbs in the Sarajevo canton moved away; others trickled out in the months that followed.

However, the arrival of Federation police did not result in a significant improvement in the situation for most of the Serbs who remained. Evictions and harassment of ethnic Croats and Serbs continued. Minorities remaining in these areas have trouble gaining or retaining employment. Many of these acts appear have been perpetrated by incoming displaced Bosniaks from eastern Bosnia, although there were incidents involving the Federation police using violence against Serbs. According to a statement made in June by the Chairman of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina, "the remaining Serbs in Sarajevo are currently in an alarming position." He claimed that neither the local nor the international police were providing sufficient protection for the remaining Serb population, with the result that Muslims arriving from Podrinje, Srebrenica, Zvornik, Zepa, and Visegrad were throwing Serbs out of their homes.

Ethnic discrimination was also evident repeatedly in international efforts to integrate Mostar, which had been divided for 3 years between the Croat-controlled Western sector and a Muslim controlled Eastern sector. European Union authorities responsible for overseeing the reunification enforced a political structure, including three districts for Croats, three for Bosniaks, and one mixed. Elections for the local government of Mostar in June demonstrated the highly charged atmosphere between Bosniak- and Croat-controlled areas. When the mainly Muslim SDA gained a majority of one seat on the new city council, Bosnian Croats initially refused to participate in Council sessions. Mostar remained a city bitterly divided along ethnic lines, and movement between the two ethnic halves of the city was minimal. Incidents of ethnically based violence persisted.

According to Bosnian Federation Ombudsmen, human rights violations based on ethnic origin continued to be committed at all levels of government in the Federation. According to one report from the Ombudsmen, the essential problem is the continued existence of two ethnically pure police forces; as a result, members of an ethnic community who are part of a minority in a certain area suffer. There is reportedly little difference in this respect between the police in the areas under Bosniak control or in those held by the Croatian Defense Council. Two examples cited by the Ombudsmen were Croat-held West Mostar and Moslem-held Bugojno, where local police forces not only tolerated violence and discrimination but were directly involved in it.

In the RS abuse of ethnic minorities has been tantamount to official policy. Ethnic minorities have been subjected to harassment and on occasion expulsion. Serb local authorities, whose numbers appear to have been purged by hard-line SDS officials, have been directly involved in restricting freedom of movement, conducting discriminatory policies, and fomenting, through propaganda, violence against non-Serbs. The return of minority refugees to their former place of residence in Serb- controlled areas was often hampered by the deliberate destruction of their homes.

There are indications that some resettlement efforts in "strategic" areas of the RS, including by persons not originally residents of those areas, had tacit support from Bosniak authorities.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Federation Constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join labor unions. The largest union is the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the heir of the old Yugoslav Communist Trade Union Confederation. Unions have the right to strike, but there were few strikes during the year because of the economic devastation and joblessness caused by the war throughout much of the Federation.

A threat to strike by representatives of 19,000 Bosnian miners was dropped in October after the Federation Prime Minister promised to pay back wages for August.

Unions may affiliate internationally.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The practice of collective bargaining in labor-management negotiations was used only in a limited way in 1996.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There were no reports of forced labor in either entity.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment of children in the Federation was 16 years. Children sometimes assisted their families with farm work and odd jobs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum monthly wage is $60 (96 DM) and $46 (74 DM) per month for pensioners. In principle this wage level is guaranteed, but in reality it is meaningless as the economy is only beginning to recover from the war. Many workers still have claims outstanding for salaries earned during the war but are being paid in full for current work.

Occupational safety and health regulations were generally ignored because of the demands and constraints imposed by the war.

Back to Top
Copyright © 1995-2023 HR-Net (Hellenic Resources Network). An HRI Project.
All Rights Reserved.

HTML by the HR-Net Group / Hellenic Resources Institute, Inc.
Thursday, 30 January 1996