Human Rights Watch World Report 1995 – Bosnia-Hercegovina

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1995
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1995 – Bosnia-Hercegovina, 1 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fcaab7.html %5Baccessed 11 March 2016]
Disclaimer This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Events of 1994

Human Rights Developments

Abuses against Bosnia’s three ethnic groups – Muslims, Serbs, and Croats – continued in late 1993 and early 1994 but the overwhelming majority continued to be perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs. Most of these abuses were associated with “ethnic cleansing,” whose main objective is the removal of an ethnic group from a given area through murder, population exchanges, forced displacement, and terrorization. Non-Serbs in northern Bosnia continued to be “cleansed” from their homes by Bosnian Serb authorities, while abuses between Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats noticeably decreased after the two groups ended their year-old war. Despite a lull in the fighting in Sarajevo, the city remained under siege by Bosnian Serb forces for much of 1994.

On February 5, a Bosnian Serb mortar attack killed sixty-three people in Sarajevo’s open market. By late February, a NATO ultimatum forced Bosnian Serb forces to pull back their weaponry around Sarajevo or place it under U.N. supervision and a weapons exclusion zone was established around the city. As a result, shelling in Sarajevo decreased and a general cease-fire remained in place until mid-year, although snipers continued to kill civilians in the city. By July, however, shelling and sniping increased in Sarajevo, and roads on Mount Igman, which had been open for commercial traffic since February, were once again too treacherous to transit.

In April, the Bosnian Serb army used indiscriminate and disproportionate force in retaliation against Bosnian army provocation in the Gorazde enclave, which had been designated as a “safe area” by the U.N. in 1993. Bosnian Serb forces eventually captured part of the Gorazde enclave and then prevented journalists and some U.N. personnel from entering the area to assess the material damage and loss of civilian life. In response to the Bosnian Serb attack, Muslim forces within Gorazde expelled some Serbs and placed under house arrest others who remained in the enclave. Bosnian Serb forces restricted access to the area throughout the year.

In October, a Bosnian army commando unit killed twenty Bosnian Serb soldiers and military medical personnel on Mount Igman, an area which had been declared a demilitarized zone by the U.N. in 1993. Soon after the attack, Bosnian Serb forces opened fire on a trolley car in Sarajevo, wounding eight civilians. The Bosnian army refused U.N. demands that it withdraw from Mount Igman, saying it would do so only if the U.N. guaranteed the opening of a road through which commercial traffic could enter Sarajevo. As of mid-November, a tunnel under the airport was Sarajevo’s primary link with the outside world.

Bosnian Serb forces were responsible for most of the attacks on humanitarian aid convoys throughout 1994. In October, they attacked a U.N. convoy and killed a U.N. driver near Gorazde. Bosnian Serb forces cut utilities to the Bosnian capital in mid-September and prevented opening of the Sarajevo airport in late September by refusing to guarantee the safety of U.N. relief flights.

“Ethnic cleansing” in Bosnian Serb-held areas continued during the early part of 1994 but decreased following international condemnation. However, in July, non-Serbs from the Bosanska Krajina and Bijeljina regions were once again expelled in large numbers and those who remained behind in Serbian-occupied territory were conscripted into work gangs and used as forced labor. Between July and October, more than 10,600 non-Serbs were expelled from northern Bosnia.

The war that raged between the mostly Muslim forces of the Bosnian army and the Bosnian Croat militia (HVO) after mid-1993 ended in late February 1994. On February 28 and March 1, the Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian government reconciled and formed a federation. At the same time, Bosnia and the Republic of Croatia, which supported the Bosnian Croats, also agreed to form a confederation. Following the formation of the federation, human rights abuses in central and southwestern Bosnia-Hercegovina decreased substantially. Despite the arrival of administrators from the European Union in mid-1994, abuses in the Croat-held part of Mostar continued, albeit to a lesser degree than in 1993. More than one-hundred Muslim families were evicted from Mostar after the signing of the Muslim-Croat federation. In an apparent assassination attempt on September 11, HVO soldiers launched a rocket-propelled grenade into the bedroom of Hans Koschnik, the E.U. administrator of Mostar. The Croatian authorities arrested four soldiers and removed the local police chief after the incident, but tensions between Muslims and Croats in the city remained high. Moreover, an ombudsman and court established by the federation to monitor human rights had not begun work as of early November. Repatriation of the displaced had not begun either, because minority populations in parts of the federation were not guaranteed safety.

Despite its past support for the Bosnian Serbs, Serbia closed its border with its Bosnian surrogates in September, following the Bosnian Serbs’ refusal to accept an internationally brokered peace plan. One hundred and thirty-five international observers were stationed along the Bosnia-Serbia border and, by mid-October, the Bosnian Serbs generally were denied fuel and military support from Serbia. As of this writing, no violations of international law by either Bosnian army or HVO forces during their latest offensives in the Bihac, Sarajevo or Kupres areas had been reported. However, thousands of Serbs fled the offensive and sought refuge in Serbian-held areas of Croatia and other parts of Bosnian Serb-held territory.

The Right To Monitor

The Bosnian government and Bosnian Croat officials generally did not impede human rights monitoring by domestic and international organizations, but the Bosnian Croats continue to reject U.N. efforts to rectify the eviction of Muslims from their homes in west Mostar.

By contrast, human rights monitoring was severely restricted in Bosnian Serb-held areas. International monitors and much of the international press were banned from entering, or their movements were severely restricted within, Bosnian Serb territory. In August, a Human Rights Watch/Helsinki researcher attempted to interview Serbs who had left or been forced to leave Bosnian government-controlled areas of Sarajevo. Upon her arrival on August 26 in Pale, the headquarters of the Bosnian Serb authorities, the researcher was told by the “state security forces” to leave on the next bus. An advisor to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic overruled this order and advised her to stay. The next day, she was again ordered by a plainclothes police officer to leave; the officer also threatened and insulted the researcher and accused her of espionage. Hours later, the officer told her that she was welcome to stay. Finally, forty-eight hours after she had arrived in Pale, the researcher was placed under armed guard in a car and not told where she was being taken. Finally, at 1:00 A.M. she was brought to the border with Serbia and expelled from Bosnian Serb territory.

The Role of the International Community: U.S. Policy

With the notable exception of brokering a peace between Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats, the Clinton administration’s policy toward Bosnia was marked by indecision and policy reversals. Having distanced itself from the Bosnia crisis in late 1993, the U.S. reluctantly joined its allies in January 1994 calling on the NATO command to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo and other U.N.-declared safe areas in Bosnia.

The Clinton administration’s major accomplishment in Bosnia during 1994 was the brokering of a peace agreement between Bosnian Croats and Muslims. In late September, the Clinton administration pledged $20 million in non-humanitarian aid to the federation. The aid was intended to rehabilitate housing and infrastructure primarily in central Bosnia. In late October, the U.S. announced that it would send approximately fifteen U.S. military officers to Bosnia to integrate the military alliance between Bosnian government forces and the HVO.

On March 30, Madeline Albright, U.S. representative to the U.N., and Gen. John Shalikashvili, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Sarajevo in a show of support for the Bosnian government. In a speech there, Ambassador Albright supported the sovereignty of Bosnia and announced that the U.S. would donate $10 million to the reconstruction of Sarajevo. The following day, however, the U.S. blocked passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the deployment of 10,000 more peacekeeping troops to Bosnia, citing the financial strain of the U.N. field mission and the potential unwillingness of the U.S. Congress to approve the U.S. share of the bill. The U.S. sponsored instead a compromise resolution which approved an initial deployment of 3,500 peacekeepers and left the deployment of further troops for a later date.

The Clinton administration’s vacillations in the face of the Gorazde crisis in April were emblematic of U.S. policy toward Bosnia more generally. As Bosnian Serb forces began a new and vigorous offensive against the Bosnian government-controlled enclave of Gorazde, a U.N.-declared safe area, the Clinton administration faced the familiar situation of attempting to avoid military intervention while, at the same time, risking a potential loss of credibility as further Bosnian Serb abuses went unpunished. On April 3, following the start of the offensive against the encircled Bosnian town, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry stated that the U.S. would not use military power to prevent the fall of Gorazde. Perry’s statements seemed to jeopardize U.S. peace efforts in Bosnia by sending a “green light” to Bosnian Serb forces to do as they pleased. An embarrassed U.S. tried to provide a different impression of its intentions on April 7, when National Security Adviser Anthony Lake claimed that “neither the president nor any of his senior advisers rules out the use of NATO air power to help stop attacks such as those against Gorazde.”

On April 10, as Bosnian Serb troops stood on the verge of overrunning Gorazde, two U.S. jets flying a NATO mission attacked a Serbian command post outside the besieged town. The attack represented not simply the first NATO air strike of the Bosnian war, but the first air strike in NATO history. Bosnian Serb forces briefly halted their offensive, but by the next day they advanced once again. U.S. jets carried out a second mission, this time destroying a Bosnian Serb tank. On the same day, President Clinton announced that NATO would continue to use air power until the advancing forces withdrew from the Gorazde area.

The U.S.’s newfound resolve quickly dissipated. Faced with Russian criticism and dissension within U.N. ranks, NATO did not follow up on its first round of air strikes, even as Serb forces continued their offensive. Finally, on April 17, the Clinton administration announced that it would seek no new air strikes against Serb forces in Bosnia. Three days later, however, the administration endorsed a plan by which NATO would use air power to protect all six U.N.-declared safe areas in Bosnia as weapons-exclusion zones, which NATO had previously established in the Sarajevo area. A version of this plan became NATO policy on April 22.

In a major policy shift, U.S. officials signaled at the same time that they were ready to entertain European proposals gradually to phase out U.N.-imposed sanctions against Serbia in exchange for Serb cooperation in Bosnian talks. Previously, the Clinton administration had opposed any loosening of sanctions against Serbia and its surrogates in Bosnia and Croatia until, among other things, they demonstrated cooperation with the international tribunal established to adjudicate war crimes and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia. Given the continuing assault on Gorazde, the apparent involvement of Yugoslav army troops from Serbia in that attack, and the Serbs’ unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of the tribunal, the Clinton administration’s new position on easing of sanctions against Serbia was particularly ill-timed.

On April 25, U.S., Russian, and British officials announced the establishment of a “contact group,” consisting of representatives from the U.S, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, and France, that would seek to broker an end to the Bosnian war. The contact group presented a map giving the Muslim-Croat federation control of 51 percent of Bosnia, and both the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Croats eventually accepted the proposal. Bosnian Serbs rejected the plan because it decreased their control of Bosnia from 70 percent to 49 percent. In light of Bosnian Serb rejection of the plan, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic withdrew his government’s support for the plan in late July. U.S. support for the contact group’s plan marked a departure from its long-articulated support for the territorial integrity of Bosnia. However, Viktor Jakovich, the U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia-Hercegovina, promised U.S. support for “an undivided Sarajevo and for a free and democratic Bosnia-Hercegovina within its internationally recognized borders” at the July 4 opening of the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.

The proposed plan focused solely on the territorial division of Bosnia; it offered no protection to minorities, particularly non-Serbs who continued to be persecuted in Bosnian Serb-held areas, nor was the right to repatriation mentioned. Though the contact group repeatedly threatened to adopt severe punitive measures against any party that refused to accept the proposed map, its members were far from united in their desire to punish the Bosnian Serb forces for their rejection of the plan. Indeed, in October, members of the contact group began considering new concessions to the Bosnian Serbs in exchange for their accession to the peace plan. In particular, Russia argued that the plan should be amended to allow the Bosnian Serbs to form a confederation with Serbia proper, as the Bosnians had done earlier in the year with Croatia.

For much of the year, the Clinton administration faced strong pressure from Congress to lift the arms embargo against the Bosnian government and confronted opposition to such action by the E.U. and Russia. Although President Clinton’s rhetoric signified his support for lifting the embargo, his public dithering on the issue and his vigorous campaign against Congressional initiatives showed that he was unwilling to differ with the European allies on the issue for much of the year.

On August 11, President Clinton declared that he would urge the U.N. Security Council to lift the arms embargo against the Bosnian government if the Bosnian Serbs failed to accept the contact group’s proposal by October 15. Despite E.U. rejection of such a proposal, the U.S. renewed calls for lifting the arms embargo in mid-October, this time saying it would consider lifting the arms embargo unilaterally.

Reportedly under pressure by the U.S., and in light of French and British threats to pull out their troops in Bosnia, Bosnian President Izetbegovic accepted a six-month postponement for lifting the arms embargo. Izetbegovic’s statement, made before the U.N. General Assembly on September 27, spared President Clinton the need to confront both the E.U. and the U.S. Congress. In late October, the Clinton administration introduced a resolution at the U.N. to lift the embargo in six months’ time unless the Bosnian Serbs accepted the contact group’s peace proposal by then. Then, in a decision bound to strain relations with NATO allies, the Clinton administration announced on November 10 that it had directed the U.S. military to stop enforcing the arms embargo against the Bosnian government as of November 12.

In 1994, the U.S. was forthcoming with humanitarian aid for victims of the war in Bosnia. In addition to the $10 million pledged for Sarajevo’s resconstruction and $20 million to support the Muslim-Croat federation, the U.S. gave a total of $387 million for humanitarian efforts in Bosnia-Hercegovina in the 1994 fiscal year.

The United Nations and NATO

In 1994, U.N. and NATO officials disagreed on their approach to Bosnian Serb violations of U.N. resolutions and NATO ultimatums: while NATO was generally willing to penalize Bosnian Serb violations, U.N. officials sought to accommodate Bosnian Serb demands.

Though existing Security Council resolutions mandated the use of force to protect peacekeepers and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid, military and civilian authorities of the U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR) were reluctant to exercise this option. This inaction drew criticism from two commanders of U.N. forces in Bosnia, one of whom was removed and the other resigned. On the occasions that the U.N. did use force, the action was typically marked by short-sightedness and lack of a broad-reaching strategy or goal. As a result, the U.N. suffered a devastating lack of credibility.

On January 19, a week after the NATO alliance had reasserted its willingness to carry out U.N.-requested air strikes, U.N. Secretary-General Bourtros Boutros-Ghali formally announced his opposition to air strikes in Bosnia, arguing that they would endanger the U.N. peacekeeping mission. Around the same time, the international press announced that both Britain and France were seriously considering withdrawing their troops from the U.N. mission in Bosnia.

Following the highly publicized February 5 marketplace massacre in Sarajevo, the international community responded to intense pressure to make good on its previous threats. On February 9, the NATO allies issued an ultimatum to the Bosnian Serb forces, demanding that by February 21 they either withdraw their heavy weaponry at least twenty kilometers from Sarajevo and place it under U.N. control, or face NATO air strikes. The ultimatum represented a bold new step in Western policy toward Bosnia, and, because the threat of military action seemed credible, Bosnian Serb troops complied with NATO’s demands.

By May 18, however, the U.N. was admitting to the presence of at least four Serb tanks and ten other heavy weapons within the NATO-declared weapons exclusion zone. Because NATO and the U.N. refused to enforce compliance with the weapons exclusion zone, Bosnian Serb leaders grew increasingly confident in their ability to test the world community’s resolve and resumed the siege of Sarajevo by mid-year.

On March 2, two U.S. aircraft under NATO command shot down four Serb jets near Banja Luka in northwestern Bosnia. Though an April 1993 U.N. resolution authorized the enforcement of a “no-fly zone” over Bosnia, the downing of the Serb jet represented the first enforcement after nearly 1,400 reported violations.

According to an April 22 NATO ultimatum, Bosnian Serb forces were ordered to immediately halt their attack on Gorazde, allow the free passage of displaced persons and relief personnel, and withdraw all troops from the town’s center. NATO threatened air strikes against Bosnian Serb heavy weaponry and other military targets found within a 12.4-mile radius of Gorazde’s center, and later extended the ultimatum to include the remaining U.N.-declared safe areas of Bihac, Srebrenica, Tuzla, and Zepa.

On April 24, when it appeared that Bosnian Serb forces were not complying with NATO demands, then-NATO Secretary-General Manfred Werner asked that the alliance begin conducting air strikes. After the U.N. extended their deadline, the Bosnian Serbs made significant strides in withdrawing its troops from the 1.9-mile zone, and both NATO and U.N. authorities stated that air strikes would not be necessary. NATO and U.N. leaders expressed satisfaction with the withdrawal, but a number of Serbian forces remained within the exclusion zone in violation of NATO’s demands.

In July, UNPROFOR forces found themselves under increasing attack by Bosnian Serb militias. On August 5, two U.S. war planes under NATO command bombed a Bosnian Serb antitank vehicle near Sarajevo after Serbian soldiers sneaked into a U.N. weapons collection point and removed heavy guns. In the fourth NATO attack in 1994, NATO war planes strafed and bombed an vacant Bosnian Serb tank near Sarajevo in retaliation for a Serb attack on French U.N. peacekeepers.

In October, Bosnian Serbs attacked a U.N. convoy and killed a U.N. driver, forcing British U.N. soldiers to return fire. The attack lasted two hours, but senior U.N. officials decided not to call for a NATO air strike for logistical reasons.

Throughout 1994, NATO and the U.N. were at odds over the use of force in Bosnia. NATO was more willing to use force when U.N. troops or safe areas were attacked, while the Russians and Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, the commander of U.N. forces in Bosnia, were opposed to expanding the use of force or the role of NATO in the Balkans. On October 27, NATO and the U.N. reached a draft compromise that would allow unannounced air strikes when there is little danger of civilian casualties, and require warnings if the strikes could endanger civilians.

On August 15, South African Judge Richard Goldstone took office as prosecutor to the international war crimes tribunal established by the U.N. to adjudicate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Croatia. The prosecutor’s office began investigating specific cases of abuse in 1994 and, on November 8, it issued its first indictment against Dragan Nikolic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb-run Susica camp. On the same day, the tribunal announced that it would ask Germany to extradite Dusko Tadic, a Serb accused of atrocities in the Omarska detention camp in 1992, who had been arrested in Munich in February. Other suspected war criminals from the former Yugoslavia had been apprehended in Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria by mid-November.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

Throughout 1994, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki continued monitoring and reporting on violations of the rules of war in Bosnia, with a view to identifying by name those responsible for such abuses. We also urged international negotiators to address human rights concerns as part of an overall peace settlement.

In April, we reported on, and identified persons responsible for, crimes in the northern Bosnian town of Bosanski Samac. In June, we issued a report about continuing human rights violations in the Banja Luka area and criticized international peace negotiators’ disregard for continued “ethnic cleansing.” Indeed, on June 28, prior to a meeting of the G-7 leaders (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and United States), Human Rights Watch/Helsinki issued a press release warning the G-7 not to endorse the contact group’s peace proposal partitioning Bosnia until human rights concerns were made part of an overall peace settlement; we sent a similar letter to President Clinton. In early September, we issued a press release calling on the contact group to use its influence with Bosnian Serb authorities to stop “ethnic cleansing” in Bijeljina and other parts of northern Bosnia. We continued calling on the international community to respond to continued “ethnic cleansing” in northern Bosnia in a November newsletter. In a March letter to Jose Ayala Lasso, U.N. high commissioner for human rights, we suggested improvements in the UNPROFOR mission in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki sent a mission to Sarajevo in May and June and issued a newsletter in October reporting on past and present human rights violations in the city. In September and October, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki sent a mission to central and southwestern Bosnia to investigate the status of human rights and accountability for past crimes in the Muslim-Croat federation. We met with E.U. administrators of Mostar in the field and in Brussels. Also in the fall, we researched the campaign to “ethnically cleanse” eastern Bosnia of Muslims and to identify persons who planned or perpetrated abuses in the area in 1992.

Throughout the year, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki kept up pressure for the establishment and support of the international tribunal to adjudicate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Croatia. In February, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki issued The War Crimes Tribunal: One Year Later, which called for the appointment of a prosecutor to the international war crimes tribunal and for the tribunal to begin its work. We also advocated for proper funding and staffing of the tribunal, and on February 25 sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali expressing concern over the failure to provide adequate funding. In March, we urged U.N. budgetary bodies to allocate sufficient funds to the tribunal. Prior to and after the appointment of Judge Goldstone, representatives of Human Rights Watch maintained regular contact with the prosecutor’s office and forwarded our documentation to the tribunal’s staff.

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