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U.S. Department of State

Bosnia and Herzegovina Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997

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

January 30, 1998



  • Introduction
  • 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. The Agreement also provided for two constituent entities within the state: 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 per cent of the territory; the RS, populated mostly by Bosnian Serbs, occupies 49 per cent. 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. The Accord also provided for a High Representative (OHR) to oversee implementation of its civilian provisions. Defense remains under the control of the respective entities. In 1997 the three members of the joint presidency agreed on legislation establishing a number of key common institutions, including laws on the central bank, the budget, and customs. The main political parties continue 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. Although the judiciary if formally independent in all entities, it remains subject to influence by ruling political parties and by the executive branches of government.

Municipal elections, originally slated to take place concurrently with the 1996 national and provincial elections, were postponed until September 1997 because of widespread fraud in registering Serb voters. There were few reports of political harassment or violence during the 1997 campaign period compared with the preelectoral period in 1996. During the voter registration period, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) enforced sanctions against parties that attempted to register voters fraudulently. Despite threats of a boycott by the Croat and Serb nationalist parties, elections took place on September 13 and 14, and well over 70 percent of the population took part. Most of those voting cast their ballots for municipalities where they had lived prior to the war. For this reason, election results proved difficult to implement in some areas, as majority groups attempted to prevent minority representatives from assuming their municipal government seats.

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 1996 elections to a Federation parliament. The obstacles to establishing a new, unified city administration in the ethnically bifurcated city of Mostar illustrate the difficulty of melding Bosniak and Croat institutions.

The Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the other entity. Its administrative and political system is split, with Banja Luka as the seat of the RS president, and a powerful group around former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic located in Pale near Sarajevo. A president and two vice presidents are directly elected for 4-year terms. The legislative branch, the National Assembly, is elected on the basis of proportional representation. The dominant political party, the SDS, headquartered in Pale, however, exercised real control. Until the summer, the party ensured conformity among local authorities in many areas of the RS and used its authority to ensure adherence to nationalistic positions.

In September 1996, then-acting RS President Biljana Plavsic was elected President for a full term. However, former RS President Radovan Karadzic continued to wield important influence behind the scenes. Starting in June, Plavsic publicly criticized SDS leaders for corruption, and when she attempted to dissolve the RS assembly and call new elections for October, the SDS leadership contested her authority to do so in the RS Constitutional Court. Under heavy political pressure and physical intimidation--including the severe beating of one judge by Bosnian thugs at the instigation of Serb political leaders--the Court ruled against Plavsic, despite her constitutional authority to dissolve the assembly. The decision did not end the political controversy and lacked legitimacy, since the justices were intimidated. In September RS President Plavsic and Serb member of the Bosnian Presidency Krajisnik agreed to hold early elections for the RS Assembly. The elections were held on November 22 and 23. Due to intense OSCE efforts, voting to fill the 83-seat assembly was carried out with few difficulties, and voter turnout was approximately 70 percent. The hard-line nationalist Serb parties lost their parliamentary majority. Subsequently, a Government strongly supportive of the Dayton Accords, led by a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party, was formed with the votes of moderate Serb parties as well as Bosniak and Croat representatives.

The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Annex 4 of the Dayton Accords) made the Federation and the RS responsible for maintaining civilian law enforcement agencies that operate in accordance with internationally recognized standards. Under the auspices of the International Police Task Force (IPTF) established by the United Nations (U.N.) pursuant to Annex 11 of the Dayton Accords, police in both entities is undergoing restructuring and training on proper police procedure and human rights. This process is expected to be completed by mid-1998. Law enforcement bodies of both entities have on many occasions violated international standards, giving preferential treatment on the basis of political, ethnic, and religious criteria. Another problem was the existence of special or secret police in all three ethnic areas, a throwback to the Communist heritage. These forces are not in the normal police chain of command but respond directly to the senior political leadership. In addition to locally recruited police forces, each entity also maintains an army. Police throughout the country committed human rights abuses.

The Stabilization Force (SFOR) led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization continued its mission to implement the military aspects of the Dayton Accords and create a more secure environment for implementation of the nonmilitary aspects of the settlement, such as civilian reconstruction, the return of refugees and displaced persons, elections, and freedom of movement of the civilian population.

Since the Dayton Accords, signs of economic revival are evident, particularly in the Federation. In BiH real gross domestic product (GDP) almost doubled since 1995, and GDP growth in 1997 was expected to be 30 percent. Unemployment dropped from 90 to 50 percent, and wages more than quadrupled in the Federation, up to $145 (260 DM) per month. Bosnia-Herzegovina remains heavily dependent on international reconstruction assistance, and the anticipated return of refugees from abroad is expected to compound the problem of creating sufficient jobs. International assistance, which is conditioned upon compliance with the Dayton Accords, financed the physical construction of infrastructure and provided loans to the manufacturing sector. An August donors conference garnered $1.4 billion in pledges for Bosnian reconstruction.

The commitment to respect citizens? human rights and civil liberties remains tenuous in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the degree of respect for these rights continues to vary among areas with Bosniak, Bosnian Croat, and Bosnian Serb majorities. In many areas the reduction in interethnic abuses and discrimination owed less to reconciliation than to the groups' continuing separation.

Human rights abuses by the police declined in 1997, but serious problems persist. Police continued to commit abuses throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. Police and mobs that appeared organized by local authorities committed a few extrajudicial killings. For example, West Mostar police shot and killed a retreating Bosniak man; a Bosniak man was killed when mobs in Jajce, with police complicity, burned 4 houses and expelled more than 435 Bosniak returnees; and a group of displaced Bosniak women beat a returning Serb refugee to death in Visoko and held violent demonstrations protesting Serb returns. In two incidents in the Travnik area, ethnic Croat returnees were murdered by unknown assailants, and Croats in the area subsequently complained about insufficient police efforts to find the perpetrators and about the lack of security.

Members of the security forces abused and physically mistreated citizens. They also continued to use arbitrary arrest and detention, although to a lesser extent than during the previous year. Criminal procedure legislation held over since the Yugoslav period granted police wide latitude to detain suspects for long periods of time before filing formal charges. Police often exceeded even the broad powers granted them by law--those illegally detained included two Serb men released in August who had been registered by the Red Cross as missing since September 1995 and "war criminals" in Una-Sana Canton whose arrest was not authorized by the ICTY. Prison conditions continued to be poor.

IPTF and SFOR supervision of police produced a number of improvements, such as the dismantlement of virtually all fixed police checkpoints, which greatly enhanced freedom of movement. In August the SFOR announced that it would begin inspecting and monitoring special police units in both the Federation and the RS under military provisions of the Dayton Accords. These units are composed of former state security police officers that are outside the regular chain of command and have close ties to hard-line nationalist parties.

The judiciary in all entities remained subject to coercive influence by dominant political parties and by the executive. In many areas, close ties exist between courts of law and the ruling parties, and those judges who show independence are subject to intimidation by the authorities. For example, a judge on the RS Constitutional Court was severely beaten by thugs prior to a major politically related case. Even when independent decisions are rendered, local authorities often refuse to carry them out. Authorities in all areas infringed on citizens? right to privacy and home.

Although authorities imposed some limits on freedom of assembly and association, there was marked improvement compared with 1996, especially during the election campaigns. Authorities and dominant political parties in their respective areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina exerted influence over the media, and freedom of speech and the press was limited to varying degrees in the different entities. Political influence was particularly egregious in parts of the RS broadcast media, which strongly backed the Pale-based SDS party leaders at the expense of RS President Biljana Plavsic. The RS media also made inflammatory statements against the SFOR and the ICTY actions directed at persons indicted for war crimes. This led the SFOR in October to take control of a number of broadcasting facilities in the RS. In contrast, in the western RS, there was notable development of an independent media. International donors are attempting to expand the broadcasting range of the Open Broadcast Network (OBN) in an effort to promote more objective reporting in the RS. Academic freedom was constrained.

Severe ethnic discrimination continues, particularly in the treatment of refugees. Expulsions of minorities who had remained in place throughout the war generally have ended, with the significant exception of the harassed Bosniak community in the RS town of Teslic. More often, local authorities and organized mobs violently resisted the return of minority refugees. RS and Bosnian Croat authorities encouraged their own people to remain or move to areas where their group was in the majority, rather than stay in or return to their homes. Inadequate property and amnesty laws further impeded returns, few of which involved minorities. Some restrictions on freedom of movement and the destruction of houses continued. Religious discrimination and economic discrimination remained problems. Mob violence was also a problem.

Most wartime atrocities remained unpunished. The SFOR?s July 10 arrest of one suspected war criminal and killing of another in self-defense, both of whom were on a list of sealed indictments issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), triggered a hail of inflammatory statements in the RS-dominated media and over a dozen attacks against international representatives. Ten Croats indicted for war crimes surrendered to the ICTY In October following massive international pressure on Croatia, and in December SFOR troops seized two more Bosnian war crimes suspects.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There was one report of a political killing by police. On February 10, approximately 750 Bosnian Croats confronted 500 Bosniaks visiting a graveyard in West Mostar on a Muslim religious holiday. At the edge of the cemetery the group of Bosniaks was stopped by plainclothes and uniformed Bosnian Croat police officers who began to beat members of the group. When the group retreated, a number of police opened fire at the crowd, killing 1 person and injuring 19 others. The Croat police were led by the West Mostar chief of police, who was in plainclothes at the time. A United Nations (U.N.) IPTF investigation identified five police officers who were involved in the incident. The higher court in Mostar handed down suspended sentences for three officers and acquitted two men. The Human Rights Ombudsperson for Bosnia-Herzegovina issued a special report in April that faulted local authorities for failing to conduct an impartial investigation and a fair judicial proceeding.

In the period of August 1 to 3, Croat authorities orchestrated mob protests against Bosniaks who recently returned to several villages in the municipality of Jajce. In addition to the burning of four houses, one Bosniak was found murdered inside a house. In view of police complicity in the events, the IPTF conducted the investigation into the arson and the death, and recommended dismissal of the chief of police and his deputy as well as disciplinary action against eight other officers. The local authorities implemented these recommendations, although the deputy was transferred to a non-supervisory post for one year rather than dismissed. IPTF is also investigating other similar incidents.

Mob violence continued to be a problem. For example, a group of Bosniak civilians beat a Serb man who was visiting a cemetery in Visoko on March 1. The man died of his injuries 5 days later. The case against those responsible is proceeding slowly in the courts.

Extensive killings and other brutal acts committed in earlier years remained unpunished. These acts include the 7,000 persons missing and presumed killed by the Bosnian Serb army after the fall of Srebrenica, and another 1,500 to 5,000 missing and presumed killed as a result of "ethnic cleansing" in northern Bosnia.

The ICTY indicted 78 individuals on charges of war crimes and genocide in connection with these and other occurrences. In view of the failure of appropriate authorities to surrender the indicted persons to the ICTY, the Tribunal began to issue issued a limited number of "sealed" (unpublished) indictments. SFOR troops arrested some of those on the list of sealed indictments in 1997. On July 10, British troops in Prijedor arrested Milan Kovacevic and killed Simo Drljaca in self-defense when he resisted arrest. Hard-line RS media bitterly denounced the arrest and death and endorsed violent action against representatives of the international community. Unknown assailants attacked the facilities of the SFOR troops and international organizations stationed in the RS in over a dozen incidents. By the end of 1997 only 19 of those accused by the ICTY were in custody, and 2 persons had been convicted.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically-motivated disappearances in 1997, and investigations into some earlier disappearances make progress, despite delays.

Several sites have been excavated and hundreds of bodies found, but many persons from Srebrenica and Zepa are still missing.

In addition to those killed in Srebrenica and Zepa, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported in July that it received tracing requests from family members on 19,380 persons missing from the war years; 1,133 of these persons were accounted for. The ICRC noted that Serb, Croat, and Bosniak authorities should be able to provide more information in response to its inquiries, particularly those concerning 432 persons who are known to have been detained at one time in connection with the war and who are still missing. The ICRC also called for stepped-up exhumation efforts, although it acknowledged that in many cases this complex process would not lead to positive identification.

Former Senator Robert Dole took over the chairmanship of an international commission on missing persons established by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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 at the time of arrest and during detention. In some areas, the growing number of complaints in part reflect citizens' increased access to international human rights groups and growing confidence that allegations of abuse would not trigger retribution against the complainants. However, frequent reports of excessive force used in some places suggests local authorities tolerate such abuses. According to a number of reports, police beat drivers dragged from their cars and beat detainees during questioning.

The International Police Task Force made significant progress in its efforts to restructure and professionalize the police. By the end of December the IPTF has certified police in eight of the ten Federation cantons, six of which had integrated their police forces to reflect the prewar ethnic composition of the area. Human Dignity and basic skills training was well underway in these cantons. In the RS, police restructuring had begun in Banja Luka, Trebinja, Doboj, Mrkonjic Grad, and Prijedor, and was scheduled to be completed throughout the entity by May 1998. Brcko deployed a certified and ethnically integrated police force in December 1997.

Serb police often employed excessive force to prevent Bosniak former residents from returning to, or staying in, territory designated as RS territory in the Dayton Accords. Local Serb police apparently took no action against the perpetrators of severe incidents involving harassment. Similar patterns of abuse occurred in Croat-majority areas.

As mentioned above, Bosnian Croat police used excessive force against a crowd of Bosniaks visiting a West Mostar graveyard on February 10, resulting in the death of one Bosniak man (see Section l.a.). A June IPTF investigation of the Sarajevo canton police force looked into 29 allegations of police abuse and use of excessive force in 5 police stations in the period from January 1 to June 15. The investigation substantiated seven cases of abuse, and recommended disciplinary action against the officers involved. Of the cases in which excessive force was alleged, 3 were untrue, and the remaining 20 allegations were not confirmed due to lack of evidence or serious injury. The Sarajevo police force took disciplinary measures against several of the officers.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented a pattern of severe police abuses by SDA-controlled local police in Velika Kladusa and Cazin, although the frequency of such acts has greatly diminished since 1996 as a result of intense monitoring and intervention by international human rights organizations. The HRW identified most of those abused as persons formerly associated with Fikret Abdic, who led a breakaway Bosniak region during the war. The IPTF investigated a number of reported cases of police abuse in Brcko and Banja Luka, in the RS, as well as in Drvar, in a Croat-majority region of the Federation. The officers found responsible for these abuses were either dismissed from the force or fined.

In 1997 police were provided with human dignity and basic skills training. Toward the end of the year, such training began in the RS as well. In addition, the IPTF is working with local police to develop their own internal controls and capacity to conduct their own investigations of police abuse. Until recently, RS police generally had failed to cooperate with international monitors, particularly on police restructuring. For example, they refused to give the IPTF the names of officers on police rolls. After the internal dispute between competing factions in the RS broke out in the summer, police in the western RS took a much more cooperative attitude and by year?s end, both the Banja Luka and Pale leaderships formally had committed to begin the police restructuring process. This process began in the Banja Luka area. In Brcko RS police initially refused to issue identification cards to returning Bosniaks and improperly issued cards to nonresident Serbs in an effort to distort electoral results. However, in October the Brcko police began to restructure their organization in cooperation with the IPTF.

Conditions in Federation and RS prisons are poor and well below minimum international standards.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There were fewer cases of arbitrary arrest and detention in both the Federation and the RS compared with 1996. In both entities, police enjoy great latitude based on Communist-era criminal procedure laws that permit the police to detain persons up to 6 months without bringing formal charges against them. In the Federation, these laws are currently being revised, with the aim of eliminating this practice.

Of major concern were reports of prisoners held before the Dayton Accords came into effect who have not been registered and whose locations are unknown to monitors. In several other instances, authorities have detained members of ethnic minorities in the hope of exchanging these prisoners for members of their own ethnic group who are detained elsewhere in Bosnia. The Bosnia-Herzegovina Human Rights Chamber reported that in a particularly egregious and well-known case, Tomislav Matanovic, a Croat priest from Prijedor, and his parents disappeared after they were arrested in the RS in September 1995. Their whereabouts remain unknown, although in 1996, RS authorities acknowledged their detention and expressed interest in swapping them for Serb prisoners. On August 4, two Serb men who had been registered by the ICRC as missing since September 1995 were freed from an isolated section in the Zenica military prison.

Una-Sana authorities are currently holding approximately 10 individuals in the Luka prison near Bihac on charges of war crimes. Their arrests and detentions were done without ICTY approval, in violation of the February 1996 agreement signed in Rome by the parties to the Dayton Accords (a Serb prisoner, Milorad Marceta, was released on August 12). Some detainees were beaten severely before their imprisonment.

There were no reports that forced exile was practiced as a juridical device. However, police often failed to provide protection to individuals being mistreated by elements of the population, with the same end in mind. In the RS there were continuing attempts to expel families, notably in Teslic, where Serb thugs and members of the civil protection unit from nearby villages intimidated or attempted to evict mostly Bosniak families. Land confiscations were also reported.

In the Federation, on February 10 approximately 30 Bosniak families were forcibly removed from their homes in West Mostar, after the cemetery confrontation that occurred earlier in the day (see Section 1.a.). Most of those families later returned to their homes, after the international community exerted heavy pressure on local authorities. Pressure on Bosniaks to emigrate through land expropriation and denial of employment also occurred in Tomislavgrad.

e. Denial of 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, 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 weighed heavily in the appointment of prosecutors and judges. In particular, Bosnian nongovernmental organizations (NGO?s) expressed concern over the judicial selection process in eight Federation cantons, especially in Sarajevo and Tuzla. Bosnian legal experts argued that the laws on judicial selection in those two cantons are inconsistent with the canton and Federation Constitutions.

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 who serve until the age of 70 and for internal administration of the judicial branch.

The Constitution provides for open and public trials, and the accused has the right to legal counsel. In April an RS municipal court in the town of Zvornik found seven Bosniaks guilty of murdering four Serb civilians in May 1996 and of possessing illegal weapons. International organizations found the court?s proceedings deeply flawed and called on the court to retry the case in accordance with fair trial standards. Human rights groups pointed to the lack of evidence, torture of the defendants, and the refusal to allow effective representation by lawyers chosen by the defendants. Three of the defendants were sentenced to 21 years each for murder; the other four men were given 1-year sentences for illegal possession of firearms, then freed because they had served 11 months in jail awaiting trial. The Human Rights Ombudsperson for Bosnia-Herzegovina is reviewing this case.

On August 15, the RS Constitutional Court ruled that RS President Plavsic exceeded her authority in dissolving the RS assembly, despite clear constitutional provisions to the contrary. The Court's decision was clearly made under duress -- Bosnian Serb thugs severely beat one of the judges in advance of the ruling.

Human rights organizations reported that judicial institutions in both entities were controlled or influenced by the ruling parties. As a result, they were often neither able nor willing to try cases of human rights abuse referred to them. Lack of resources and a backlog of unresolved cases provided a convenient and credible excuse for judicial inaction. Even when the courts rendered a fair judgment, local officials often refused to implement their decisions.

Except for the alleged war crimes cases in Una-Sana Canton (see Section 1.d.), there were no reports of 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" and the right to protection of property. These rights were generally better observed in the Federation than the RS. Neither entity has acted to bring property law into conformity with international norms. Implementation of the laws that do exist was often guided by considerations of ethnic or political advantage.

In most places the authorities continued to use their control over "socially-owned" and privately-owned housing occupied by displaced persons or other nonowners to slow down or block altogether minority returns. While the main problem is the large number of displaced persons in relation to available housing stock, all three ethnic groups have used the control of housing as a major instrument for political influence-peddling and enrichment.

Reports continued of persons who either had returned to their homes or had never left who found their residences occupied after short absences, as permitted under Federation and RS law. In Serb- and Croat-controlled areas, authorities appear to have incited crowds to violence against minority returnees. In Bosniak areas as well, radical elements of the SDA exerted growing influence over certain groups of displaced persons, inciting them to acts of violence against returning Serbs. In addition, as in the case of Jajce (see Section l.a.), there were a number of cases in which returnees were subsequently forced to leave their homes under threat, although in some cases external intervention succeeded in returning those evicted to their homes. In the Bosniak-majority Travnik area, Croat returnees were shot to death in their homes in two incidents--one in August and one in November. A joint investigation by Croat and Bosniak police and IPTF was underway at year?s end. The Bosniak leadership condemned the acts.

Because few minorities dared to return to the RS, the most frequent cases of intimidation against returnees occurred in Bosnian Croat-controlled regions. In addition to the violence in Jajce, in early May Bosnian Croats burned 25 houses belonging to former Bosnian Serb residents in a village outside the western Bosnia town of Drvar. The organized attack, which occurred shortly after Federation mediators held discussions with the Drvar mayor on possible Bosnian Serb returns, was clearly intended to prevent such returns. Weeks before the arson incidents, the Drvar mayor incited Croats against returning Serbs on Drvar radio, and Bosnian Croat officials appear at least to have acquiesced in the attacks, which took place over 2 days. Other homes had been burned near Drvar in previous months. The IPTF investigated and concluded that the chief of the criminal department and the leader of anti-terrorism and homicide were directly involved in the incidents. On recommendation of the IPTF, both were relieved of duty on June 3, 1997. Organized mobs also repeatedly have obstructed the return of Bosniaks to Stolac, now Croat-controlled, through the use of violence and intimidation. On August 16, three potential returnees, including two children, were assaulted during an assessment visit. The investigation of this attack is proceeding slowly.

Evictions of those who remained in their homes throughout the war decreased dramatically, in large part because so many minorities had already been forced to relocate to areas where their group was in the majority. However, in some areas minorities continued to face intense pressure to move. In the RS town of Teslic, Bosnian Serb thugs threatened Bosniak families, burning haystacks and burglarizing homes in a campaign that appeared to be backed by local authorities. Similar pressure was felt by Bosniaks in Croat-controlled areas, e.g. Jajce, Stolac, Tomislavgrad, and Livno, by Serbs in Bosniak-controlled areas (Drvar), and by Croats in some Bosniac areas, e.g., Bugojno.

In the RS, displaced persons generally were placed in dwellings alongside the primary occupants, when the original occupants had more than 15 square meters per person. These unwanted "roommates" were often Serbs inserted into Bosniak or Croat households. In a few reported cases, the dwelling's owner was harassed into vacating his bedroom for a shed in the backyard or abandoning his property altogether.

There were frequent and growing reports in the RS of threats against displaced persons, particularly those concentrated in collective centers, who spoke with representatives of international organizations about the possibility of returning to their homes in the Federation. Noncompliant displaced persons were threatened with a cutoff in humanitarian assistance, permanent exile from the RS, or worse, should they break solidarity with the Serb hard-liners on the issue of return. The work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in particular, was affected by such tactics, with persons previously anxious to return home subsequently intimidated into silence.

Throughout the country, membership in the leading party was often necessary to obtain, retain or regain employment, especially in the management of state enterprises.

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 Federation and in the western Republika Srpska, but less so in the eastern RS. Within the Federation, press freedom is more severely restricted in Croat-majority areas. Some progress has been made in establishing independent media in the Federation (though only in Bosniak-majority areas) and in the Republika Srpska, particularly in Banja Luka. Party-controlled media--particularly Croatian State Radio and Television--are the only electronic media available to the vast majority of citizens in Croat-majority areas of the Federation.

Some opposition and independent newspapers operate in the Muslim-majority areas of the Federation and in the Republika Srpska, principally in Banja Luka. Oslobodjenje and Vecernje Novine are the leading independent dailies, and Dani and Slobodna Bosna the most influential independent magazines in the Federation. Dani and Slobodna Bosna are the most influential independent magazines in the Federation. One of the few independent magazines in the RS is Reporter, a first-rate weekly published by a former foreign correspondent of the independent weekly Vreme. Also in the RS, the Social-Liberal Party publishes an opposition magazine, Novi Prelom, and the Social Democratic Party publishes a daily paper. Both of these publications take an opposition line, and are consistently supportive of the Dayton Accords.

It is difficult for independent and opposition media in the RS to gain access to the kiosk distribution system. The same is true of some areas of the Federation. Distribution is particularly problematic in Croat-controlled regions. In Sarajevo, however, independent print media access to distribution systems is readily available. Some independent media in the two entities, for example, Dani and Reporter, assist in the distribution of each others' publications in their respective entities.

The dominant nationalist political parties continue to exercise strong control over the most influential media, i.e., television and radio. Federation state television (TVBiH) faithfully serves the interests of the SDA. TVBiH gives preferential coverage to SDA leaders and greatly limits reports on the opposition. Its broadcasts are often biased, but rarely of an inflammatory nationalist nature. Croat politicians in the Federation have complained about TVBiH coverage and argued against the Muslim ethnic homogeneity of its staff. However, TVBiH does employ journalists from minority ethnic groups, though their numbers are small and their influence inconsequential.

Croat-controlled areas in Bosnia-Herzegovina are covered by Croatian state television HTV. Its news programs and editorials frequently criticize the Dayton Accords. HTV weather maps show the Federation as part of Croatia, and coverage of Bosnian events often leaves the impression that the scene pictured was actually in Croatia. The HTV station in Mostar refused to issue an OSCE-mandated apology for inaccurate and inflammatory broadcasting, resulting in the resignation of the editor (in an attempt to avoid more radical measures by the Office of the High Representative).

Until the SFOR acted on an OHR request to end offensive broadcasts by RS government-run Serb Radio-Television (SRT), SRT followed the SDS line, with frequently inaccurate and inflammatory reporting. SRT sought to undercut the Dayton Accords by covering events in the Federation in the "international" portion of the news. After the SFOR actions in Prijedor against persons indicted for war crimes, the SRT broadcasts endorsed violent actions against representatives of the international community. The SRT backed off only when the SFOR and the OHR threatened retaliatory actions. Following RS President Plavsic's break with the Pale leadership, the SRT affiliate in Banja Luka began to broadcast its own programming, giving a favorable slant to Plavsic's activities. The High Representative has developed a plan for restructuring the SRT. In the interim, only the SRT station in Banja Luka is authorized to continue broadcasting.

Radio broadcasting in the Muslim-majority areas of the Federation-- particularly in Sarajevo, Zenica, and Tuzla--is diverse, and opposition viewpoints are reflected in the news programs of independent broadcasters. Independent or opposition radio stations broadcast in the Republika Srpska--particularly in Banja Luka--but they tend to skirt most significant political issues for fear of retaliation by the SDS. Nezavisni Radio and Nesavisna Televizija (NTV) report a wide variety of political opinions. Local radio stations broadcast in Croat-majority areas, but they are usually highly nationalistic. Opposition viewpoints are not tolerated.

The television Open Broadcast Network -- with affiliates in Sarajevo, Mostar, Zenica, and Tuzla and a correspondents' bureau in Banja Luka -- reports independent news and public affairs programming under the sponsorship of the international donor community. The Network has been plagued by poor management at its Sarajevo hub and problems with affiliate relations. The OBN fares extremely poorly in the competition for viewers with party-controlled media in the two entities. The quality of the network's programming is below local standards. In August the OBN launched a major effort to expand its broadcast range and improve programming quality. The Banja Luka OBN bureau has facilities to broadcast network programs but not to broadcast programs directly in the way affiliates in the Federation do. There are plans to convert the OBN affiliate in Banja Luka (ATV) into a full-fledged OBN affiliate. There is no Bosnian Croat participation in the OBN.

Foreign journalists representing recognized media were able to travel freely to most areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian journalists from the Federation were able to travel to the Republika Srpska only under the escort of accredited diplomatic personnel. Journalists from the Republika Srpska travel to the Federation only under the same conditions, although there have been no incidents of abuse of Republika Srpska journalists in the Federation. Federation journalists have been beaten and verbally harassed in the RS. Bosniak journalists were harassed in West Mostar on several occasions. International journalists also have been harassed on several occasions in the RS.

Academic freedom was constrained. In the Federation, Serbs and Croats complained that SDA party members receive special treatment in appointments and promotions. Officials of the "Cultural Community of Herceg Bosna" ensure that Croats dominate the University of (West) Mostar.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, there were some limits imposed on this right in practice. In the lead-up to the September municipal elections, opposition political parties enjoyed greater latitude in staging rallies and campaigning than they had during the 1996 national elections.

The Constitution provides for freedom of association; however, while this right is not directly limited, indirect pressure constrains its exercise. A wide range of social, cultural, and political organizations functioned without interference. Although political membership is not forced, membership in the ruling SDA and HDZ parties in Federation territory was viewed as a way to obtain and keep housing and high-level jobs in the state-owned sector of the economy.

In the RS, SDS-controlled security and police demonstrated a clear attitude of intolerance toward opposition parties. Few opposition parties exist in Croat-majority areas, and in the Bihac area, former Abdic supporters continue to be harassed.

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 and cemeteries (see Section 5).

In the RS, authorities repeatedly rejected efforts by minorities to visit religious sites and graveyards in their previous areas of residence, and international representatives had to negotiate on a case-by-case basis with authorities for the few such visits that did take place. In February Bosnian Croat police fired at retreating Muslims visiting a graveyard in West Mostar (see Section l.a.).

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

The Constitution provides for "the right to liberty of movement and residence." Freedom of movement -- including across the inter-entity boundary line (IEBL) -- improved significantly, although many people continue to fear crossing that line. Under prodding from the SFOR and the IPTF, fixed police checkpoints -- particularly those in the RS -- were virtually dismantled, although some RS authorities continued to impede traffic by demanding unauthorized "visas" and transit fees. The UNHCR-funded IEBL bus lines begun in 1996 were expanded into new areas. The total number of passengers grew dramatically to nearly 1/2 million by August. The bus lines have been instrumental in encouraging minority return, allowing displaced persons a secure opportunity to assess conditions at their places of origin. IEBL bus lines in many cases forced hard-line communities to deal with the fact of a minority presence. Even in such places as Stolac, Drvar and Prijedor, daily visits became a reality.

For minorities in the Federation, freedom of movement remained restricted, but to a far lesser degree than in 1996.

By midyear, some 52,000 refugees had returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina from their places of refuge abroad. Through May an additional 19,000 internally-displaced persons were estimated to have returned to their homes of origin. Of those returning from other countries, only a small number went to regions where they would be in the minority. The total number of returns fell far short of UNHCR expectations.

Returns from Europe further complicated the situation within Bosnia-Herzegovina, as most of such returnees were unable to return to their homes of origin in the RS. They thus became internally displaced and, through a combination of tightening regulations, limited accommodation, and political interests, ended up massed in a few areas. Chief among these is the Una-Sana Canton which, like Croatia, is openly soliciting those returning from Europe to take up residence there, a short distance from their original homes in the RS. The overcrowding of such places creates the potential for social tension and also provides a mass of persons who could be manipulated to agitate for return to the Serb republic.

The pace of spontaneous returns by displaced persons increased somewhat in the late summer months, particularly in the wake of the UNHCR "open cities" initiative. Under this initiative, the UNHCR evaluates towns and cities using a set of criteria (including, inter alia, access to housing, freedom of movement, and police protection) to determine whether the municipalities have dropped the barriers to return by displaced persons and refugees. More significant returns were impeded by a variety of factors. Chief among these is the continuing use of the "law on abandoned apartments," which effectively deprives prewar owner/occupants of the right to return to their homes by declaring such property to have been abandoned. Claims to such "socially-owned" property increased during 1997, but few reached positive resolution through the municipal court system. Even decisions issued by the Commission for Real Property Claims by Displaced Persons and Refugees relied on political will at the local level to issue and enforce eviction orders and to provide security for returnees. Another problem was the failure by both entities to pass amnesty laws that would stimulate the return process.

The patterns of return and obstruction suggest that most problems do not originate at the local level. While the RS intention to remain ethnically distinct and to bar repatriation of Serbs to non-Serb areas is clear, the highest levels of the Croat leadership also appear to be manipulating events in a similar direction. Accordingly, the Croat-majority areas between Stolac and Drvar remain opposed to more than the most token returns, and Croatian newspaper ads recruit settlers for areas in Bosnia-Herzegovina that are now under Croat control and ethnically "pure." In central Bosnia as well, a general policy of obstructing return has been in effect, along with a policy of recruiting Croat minorities to relocate to "Croat" areas. In Bosniak areas, policies on property negatively affected the possibility of return, particularly in Sarajevo, where there is paralysis in the settlement of property claims by intending returnees.

Official and popular attitudes toward minority returns are reflected in the rate at which they occurred in the various areas. Through midyear 78 percent of all minority returns were to Bosniak-controlled areas of the Federation, 19 percent to Croat-controlled areas of the Federation, and 3 percent to the RS.

On the positive side, although high-level political figures continue to promote ethnic separatism, popular attitudes are far more favorable toward reintegration and acceptance of prewar neighbors. Displaced persons other than former neighbors remain a problematic social factor, however, and have often been used as the pretext for acts of intimidation and harassment against minorities. Authorities have manipulated displaced persons for this purpose.

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 1997. There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a place where they feared persecution.

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 ensure the right to "vote in secret without fear or intimidation." These rights were respected imperfectly in the national, entity, and Federation cantonal elections of September 1996. The three dominant nationalist parties harassed their rivals and impeded their campaigns. The coordinator for international monitoring concluded that the elections nevertheless provided "a first and cautious step toward the democratic functioning of the governing structures of Bosnia and Herzegovina."

Municipal elections were originally scheduled to take place at the same time as the 1996 national and provincial elections. However, logistical and political difficulties, including massive manipulation of Serb voter registration, resulted in their postponement until September 1997. The OSCE registered 2.5 million voters and approximately 20,000 candidates who ran in 136 municipalities.

International supervision of the registration process disclosed irregularities and fraudulent attempts to register voters in certain areas: Banja Luka, Prijedor, Gradiska, Kotor Varos, Srpski Drvar, Srpski Kljuc/Ribnik, Brcko, Zepce, Jajce, Stolac, and Capljina. Where fraud claims were substantiated, the OSCE reregistered voters and enforced sanctions that included striking candidates from party lists and removing members of local election commissions.

There were few reports of politically motivated harassment or violence compared with the pre-electoral period in 1996.

Croat and Serb nationalist parties threatened to boycott the process, but elections took place on September 13 and 14, and well over 70 percent of the population took part. Voters had a choice of voting in the municipality where they currently resided or in their prewar municipality, and if they could show substantial ties to that municipality, in a place of future residence. Most of those voting cast their ballot for municipalities where they had lived prior to 1991.

In certain areas, election results are proving difficult to implement, as majority groups attempt to prevent minority representatives from assuming their municipal government seats, and as opposition or minority parties block final certification for political purposes. Election results demonstrated that nationalist parties still remain strong in both entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but opposition parties made important gains in the western RS and parts of the Federation.

RS assembly elections were called following President Plavsic's decision to dissolve the assembly. On November 22 and 23 these elections were held under OSCE supervision. Voter turnout was approximately 70 percent. The Serb nationalist parties lost their parliamentary majority. The Pale hard-liners' SDS won 24 seats, the Bosniaks' Coalition for an Undivided Bosnia-Herzegovina (led by the SDA) 18, the Serb Radical Party and President Plavsic's SNS 15 each, the RS branch of Milosevic's Socialist Party 9, the Independent Social Democrats 2, and the Bosnian Social Democratic Party 2 seats as well. A government strongly supportive of the Dayton Accords, led by Milorad Dodik, a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party, was elected on January 18 with the votes of moderate Serb parties and Bosniak and Croat representatives.

Although Bosnian citizens have the right to change their government, ruling party control of the media and security apparatus precluded full citizen participation without intimidation, especially in Bosnian Croat areas and parts of the RS. The SDS was intolerant of opposition political activity, and after tensions emerged between the SDS leadership in Pale and President Plavsic in Banja Luka, Pale-controlled media severely constrained her access to live and unedited broadcast time. To a lesser degree, the SDA also inhibited political expression in Bosniak areas. There was intimidation of non-ethnic based minority parties by the SDA and HDZ outside of Sarajevo in the Federation.

Women are generally underrepresented in government and politics, although a few women, such as the President of the Republika Srpska entity, occupy prominent positions. In the three legislatures, women are seriously underrepresented. Only two women were elected to the RS assembly in the November elections.

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, with few reports of intimidation or harassment. The OHR reports that human rights monitors, both those associated with foreign governments and NGO's, were able to travel without restriction in all areas of the country. The ECMM, the OSCE, and the IPTF were given widespread and for the most part unhindered access to detention facilities and prisoners in the RS as well as in the Federation.

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 recommendations, especially in cases in which the authorities were involved. Monitors' interventions often met with delays or outright refusal. For example, protests by the OHR and the Ombudsperson failed to obtain due process for the "Zvornik Seven" (see Section l.e.) or to obtain the release of Tomislav Matanovic and his parents (see Section l.d.).

Cooperation with the ICTY in the Hague is a key factor in the implementation of the Dayton Accords, and the establishment of respect for human rights. The RS continued its policy of defiance of the Tribunal and the Dayton Accords by refusing to arrest and surrender persons suspected of war crimes, and by allowing former President Radovan Karadzic to retain important behind-the-scenes political influence. Following massive international pressure, ten Bosnian Croat indictees turned themselves in for surrender to the International War Crime Tribunal.

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.


There is little legal or social discrimination against women, and women hold a few of the most responsible positions in society, including judges, doctors, and professors. A woman heads Bosnia radio and television. In general, however, male-dominated societies remain in all of the entities, with few women in positions of real economic power. Women are entitled to 12 months' maternity leave and are 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.

Accurate Statistics on violence against women, spouse abuse, rape etc. are not available. Anecdotal evidence is of limited use, since reporting patterns vary widely.

Compared to the war years, when violence against women was frequent and occasionally used as a weapon of war, the situation has improved dramatically. Throughout the country, rape or violent abuse are again considered criminal offenses. However, domestic violence is not usually reported to the authorities.


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 the 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 continue to suffer disproportionately from the societal stress being experienced in postwar Bosnia.

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 thousands of newly disabled victims entered the job market after the war. The Government has limited resources to address the special needs of the disabled. There are no legal provisions mandating that buildings be made accessible for the physically challenged.

Religious Minorities

Several Roman Catholic churches were vandalized or damaged by explosives in February, apparently in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in a West Mostar graveyard in which Bosnian Croat police participated (see Section l.a.). Another was bombed in Sarajevo in October. None of the mosques in the RS destroyed during the war have been rebuilt or repaired.

During his April visit to Sarajevo, the Pope stressed the importance of reconciliation among religious and ethnic groups. About 45,000 Croat Catholics traveled to Sarajevo for the visit, despite some Bosnian Serbs' threats to block passage across RS territory or to charge transit fees. In advance of the Pope's arrival, Federation police found explosive devices placed along the route from the airport.

In Herzegovina, Muslims felt pressure not to practice their religion in public. Several incidents of vandalism occurred against Muslim religious objects in general, as well as two attacks on the Tomislavgrad mosque.

Throughout the country, religious minorities felt pressure by the ethnic/religious majority. On the positive side, after 2 days of talks in Vienna in early June, the country's main religious leaders created an Interfaith Council composed of the four religious communities: Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish. The agreement contained specific short-term and long-term objectives, including encouraging freedom of movement, facilitating the return of refugees, and investigating human rights violations. The OSCE and the OHR facilitated many interfaith meetings at the local level as well.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic differences -- based on 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. Some leaders of both the SDS and HDZ parties have expressed support for the concepts of a "Greater Serbia" and a "Greater Croatia", even after having agreed in the Dayton Accords 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.

In certain areas, such as Sarajevo and Tuzla, mixed communities exist peacefully, but frequent instances of harassment and discrimination against minorities continue throughout the country. There include desecration of graves, damage to houses of worship, tossing of grenades into residential areas, harassment, threats, and assaults.

Incidents of ethnic discrimination often center on property disputes. An RS law on abandoned property permits the return of such property to the original owner only if any subsequent occupant willingly departs. This is unlikely given the lack of adequate alternative dwellings. In a number of areas, local authorities refused to accept returning ethnic minorities until members of their own group had been permitted to return to their homes outside the region, in effect blocking the return of refugees to all of the areas involved. Bosnian Serb and Croat political leaders discouraged displaced persons within their groups from returning to areas where they would be in the minority, and encouraged people to migrate to areas where they would be in the majority. In contrast, Bosniak authorities appear tacitly to support some resettlement efforts in "strategic" areas of the Federation, including by persons new to those areas.

In some cases, opponents of refugee returns employed violence, including sporadic house burnings and orchestrated demonstrations. In July a group of women displaced from Srebrenica attacked a Serb visiting a grave in the Visoko area and beat him to death (see Section 1.a.); on August 1, a crowd of about 50 to 100 women mobbed the municipal building in the Sarajevo suburb of Vogosca, terrorizing a small group of Serbs visiting to discuss their return. Both the Serbs and Bosniak officials had to be evacuated under heavy police protection. The latter incident, like the house burnings, appeared to be orchestrated by extremist political elements.

In Bosnian Croat areas, the homes of intending returnees were burned in Drvar and Jajce; one Bosniak man was found dead after the violence in Jajce (see Section 1.a.).

According to Federation ombudsmen, human rights violations based on ethnic origin, which occurred early in the year, were facilitated by the continued existence of two ethnically pure police forces. By year?s end, 6 of the 10 Federation cantons had integrated their police force with officers from the various ethnic groups and were conducting multiethnic patrols (there are currently insufficient numbers of police of some ethnic groups in some cantons, but their slots in the forces are being left open until police of the appropriate ethnic group can be recruited to fill them).

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.

More than 5,000 coal miners from Breza, Kakanj, Zenica, and Bila went on strike briefly in early August to demand more prompt payments by local power stations for delivered coal.

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 1997.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits servitude or forced labor, including that performed by children, and despite rumors that work camps exist in isolated areas, investigations have not turned up any corroborating evidence. There were no credible reports of child labor in either entity.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment of children in the Federation was 16 years. Children sometimes assisted their families with farm work and odd jobs. The Government does not specifically prohibit forced and bonded labor by children, but such practices are not known to occur (see Section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum monthly wage is $60 (100 DM) and the minimum pension is $46 (80 DM) per month. In principle this wage level is ensured, but it often is not reached in reality because 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 only for current work. Similarly, many pensioners have outstanding claims.

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

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Saturday, 31 January 1998