US Department of State: Impunity for some War Crimes nevertheless continued to be a Problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina

March 13, 2020 4:15 PM

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a democratic republic with a bicameral parliament. Many governmental functions are the responsibility of two entities within the state, the Federation and the Republika Srpska (RS), as well as the Brcko District, an autonomous administrative unit under BiH sovereignty.

The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace (the Dayton Accords), which ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war, provides the constitutional framework for governmental structures, while other parts of the agreement specify the government’s obligations to protect human rights and enable the right of wartime refugees and displaced persons to return to their prewar homes or be compensated for properties that cannot be restored to them.

The country held general elections in October 2018. As of December, however, the election results had not been fully implemented, as the state-level government and two cantonal governments had not yet been formed. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) reported that elections were held in a competitive environment but were characterized by continuing segmentation along ethnic lines. While candidates could campaign freely, ODIHR noted that “instances of pressure and undue influence on voters were not effectively addressed,” citing long-standing deficiencies in the legal framework.

ODIHR further noted that elections were administered efficiently, but widespread credible allegations of electoral contestants manipulating the composition of polling station commissions reduced voter confidence in the integrity of the process. More than 60 complaints of alleged election irregularities were filed with the Central Election Commission.

State-level police agencies include the State Investigation and Protection Agency, the Border Police, the Foreigners Affairs Service (partial police competencies), and the Directorate for Police Bodies Coordination. Police agencies in the two entities (the RS Ministry of Interior and the Federation Police Directorate), the Brcko District, and 10 cantonal interior ministries also exercise police powers. The armed forces provide assistance to civilian bodies in case of natural or other disasters. The intelligence service is under the authority of the BiH Council of Ministers.

An EU military force continued to support the country’s government in maintaining a safe and secure environment for the population. While civilian authorities maintained effective control of law enforcement agencies and security forces, a lack of clear division of jurisdiction and responsibilities between the country’s 16 law enforcement agencies resulted in occasional confusion and overlapping responsibilities.

Significant human rights issues included: significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions of free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; significant government corruption; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against members of national/ethnic/racial minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Units in both entities and the Brcko District investigated allegations of police abuse, meted out administrative penalties, and referred cases of criminal misconduct to prosecutors. Observers considered police impunity widespread, and there were continued reports of corruption within the state and entity security services. Ineffective prosecution of war crimes committed during the 1992-95 conflict continued to be a problem.

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

While national authorities made significant progress prior to 2018 in the investigation and prosecution of war crimes committed during the 1992-95 conflict, many problems remained. Insufficient funding, poor regional cooperation, lack of personnel, political obstacles, lack of evidence, and the unavailability of witnesses and suspects led to the closure of cases and a significant backlog. Authorities also lacked adequate criteria to evaluate which cases should be transferred from state to entity-level courts.

Data from August indicated that the BiH Prosecutor’s Office had 464 unresolved cases involving 4,273 individuals. According to the OSCE, the Prosecutor’s Office continued to focus on less complex war crimes cases during this period, misusing resources and failing to act in accordance with the current war crimes strategy. The Prosecutor’s Office also processed the cases at a very slow rate. The conviction rate has declined significantly, down to 39 percent in 2018.

Some convictions were issued or confirmed during the year. For example, the Appeals Chamber of the Court of BiH confirmed a verdict by which Minet Akeljic, Saban Haskic, Senad Bilal, and Hazim Patkovic were sentenced to prison for crimes committed against civilians imprisoned in Kruscica prison near Vitez in 1993. Akeljic and Haskic were sentenced to seven years of prison, Bilal to eight years, and Patkovic to five years of prison. In a separate case, on September 30, the court found Enver Buza guilty of the criminal offense of war crimes against civilians under the criminal code of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. Buza, the former commander of the Army of BiH battalion, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for failing to discipline his subordinates for killing 27 Croat civilians in the village of Uzdol in 1993.

Impunity for some war crimes nevertheless continued to be a problem, especially for persons responsible for the approximately 8,000 persons killed in the Srebrenica genocide and for approximately 8,000 other persons who remained missing and presumed killed during the conflict. Authorities also failed to prosecute more than a very small fraction of the more than 20,000 instances of sexual violence alleged to have occurred during the conflict.

The law prohibits such practices. While there were no reports that government officials employed such measures, there were no concrete indications that security forces had ended the practice of severely mistreating detainees and prisoners reported in previous years.

The country has not designated an institution as its national mechanism for the prevention of torture and mistreatment of detainees and prisoners, in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In 2018 the Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman in BiH (Ombudsman) received 144 complaints of security force abuses against prisoners, some of which referred to prisoner treatment in detention and prison facilities. Observers noted that while mistreatment of suspects and prisoners in police stations and detention centers generally decreased, it remained a matter of concern. Prosecution of such cases remained slow and inconsistent, according to the US Department of State.

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