News 31 Jan 13

Balkans 'Making No Progress on Human Rights'

Human Rights Watch said Balkan states were still not properly addressing issues like war crimes, the abuse of ethnic minorities and refugees’ rights to return home.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade

There was no significant improvement in human rights protection in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo and Serbia in 2012, the New York-based campaign group said in its annual report on more than 90 countries and territories worldwide.

Twenty years after the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina still isn’t making enough progress towards enabling displaced people to return home, said the report published on Thursday by Human Rights Watch, HRW.

“There was virtually no progress on implementing [Bosnia’s] 2010 strategy to support the return of refugees and IDPs to their pre-war homes, even after the new government was formed in February 2012,” the report said.

In the first six months of 2012, 185 refugees and 198 internally displaced people returned, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, a slight increase commpared to the same period in 2011.

According to the most recent figures in June 2012, there were still 112,802 internally displaced people registered, down from 113,188 a year earlier.

HRW noted that the Bosnian state court’s war crimes chamber reached verdicts in 13 cases between September 2011 and 2012.

However, it warned that inadequate capacity and funding for war crimes prosecutions continued to hamper the implementation of the national war crimes strategy in Bosnia’s cantonal and district courts.

The report warned that the human rights situation in Croatia had deteriorated as Zagreb moved closer to joining the EU.

“The Croatian authorities took a significant step towards improving domestic war crimes trials, but a housing programme aimed at Serbs stripped of property rights during the war helped only two out of more than a thousand households that were eligible,” it said.

In March 2012, five former Croatian soldiers were arrested on suspicion of committing war crimes against Serbs during a military operation in the village of Medak in eastern Croatia in 1993.

Three were released the day after questioning, while the court released a fourth in October pending a prosecution review of the indictment against him for allegedly ordering executions of four prisoners of war.

To date, General Mirko Norac remains the only high-ranking Croatian official convicted of war crimes during the operation.  

The report also noted that only 128 Serbs returned to Croatia during the last half of 2011 and the first half of 2012, down significantly from the 479 returns during the same period a year earlier.

“More than two years after the start of a [Croatian] programme permitting Serbs stripped of tenancy rights during the 1991-1995 war to buy apartments at discounts of up to 70 per cent, only 2 out of a total 1,317 eligible households had completed a purchase as of September,” the report added.

There was some progress however in processing Serb pension claims enabling the recognition of wartime work in formerly rebel-held areas.

Serbia did little to improve its human rights record in 2012 despite being granted candidate status for European Union membership in March last year.

The HRW report criticised Serbia’s lack of efforts to uncover the networks that helped war crimes fugitives wanted by the Hague Tribunal to evade justice.

The Serbian war crimes prosecutor’s office has since begun to investigate 13 suspects, including a former high-ranking security official.

Serbia also made little progress towards finding a lasting solution for refugees and internally displaced people from the Balkan wars.

According to the UNHCR, in July 2012 there were 66,563 refugees in Serbia, mostly from Croatia, and 210,146 internally displaced people from Kosovo.

HRW said Kosovo’s justice system remains poor with large case backlogs, adding that mechanisms for human rights protection remain weak.

“Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians [ethnic minorities] remained among the most vulnerable groups in Kosovo. They continued to face discrimination in areas such as housing, education, and access to public services,” the report said.

“Tensions between the Serb minority and the Albanian majority remained high in 2012, particularly in the divided city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo,” it added.

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Background

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Croatian Dissident Feared Kidnap by Yugoslav Spies

The trial of Zdravko Mustac and Josip Perkovic, former Yugoslav spy chiefs accused of killing a Croatian émigré, heard that the victim repeatedly told his German lover that he was living in fear.

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