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Bosnia: Human Rights Watch Reports On Ethnic Cleansing And Prijedor

  • Julie Moffett

Washington, 27 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- An international human rights organization says that the same people who used ethnic cleansing to forcibly take control of the town of Prijedor in northwestern Bosnia are still in positions of power and are getting rich off of world humanitarian aid.

The report by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was released Sunday and is called, "Bosnia and Herzegovina: Reaping the Rewards of Ethnic Cleansing in Prijedor." The group says "In Prijedor, as elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, the international community's failure to detain war criminals or to control ongoing abuses by unindicted war criminals has combined with the donation of aid to enrich and empower many of the very people most responsible for genocide and ethnic cleansing."

The 70-page report outlines many of the alleged human rights abuses conducted by those currently in power in Prijedor, including pre-meditated murder, kidnapping, mass rape, arbitrary arrests, and the illegal takeover of businesses, government offices and all communal property.

The report expresses particular concern about the fact that before the Bosnian Serbs forcibly took over Prijedor in 1992, the town was a multi-ethnic area with a non-Serb population well over 50,000. Today, the report says, only about 600 non-Serbian residents remain in Prijedor.

The report also makes note of the dwindling Bosnian Croat community left in the Prijedor municipality (about 2,700 people) who are now left without a parish priest since the abduction and disappearance of Catholic priest Father Tomislav Matanovic in September 1995.

According to the report, the one Catholic church and all the mosques in Prijedor were destroyed in 1992 by the Bosnian Serbs, leaving believers of these faiths without a place to practice their religion.

Even more disturbing, says the report, is that the same men who executed thousands of people, consigned many to concentration camps and conducted the forcible evacuation of legal residents of Prijedor, are still in power and continue to engage in criminal activities against civilians. These same men are also preventing the return of non-Serbs to the community and are embezzling large chunks of international humanitarian aid to maintain control of the town and increase their own personal wealth.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki says that it received information from international monitors in Prijedor that roughly 70 percent of international aid never reaches the beneficiaries, and that in some cases, reconstruction or humanitarian aid has directly benefited persons suspected of war crimes.

The report specifically names 11 men in positions of power in Prijedor whom Human Rights Watch/Helsinki believes are responsible for the worst war crimes in the area and yet still remain untouched by the law.

They are: Simo Drlijaca, Former Chief of Police and Head of the Secret Police; Ranko Mijic, Acting Chief of Police; Zivko Jovic, Acting Deputy Chief of Police; Grozdan Mutic, Head of State Security; Milomir Stakic, Mayor of Prijedor; Momcilo Radanovic, Deputy Mayor of Prijedor; Srdjo Srdic, President of the Serbian Red Cross; Milan Kovacevic, Director of Prijedor Hospital; Pero Colic, Former Commander Fifth Kozara Brigade; Milenko Vukic, Infrastructure (Electricity); and Marko Pavic, Infrastructure (Post Office, Telephone and Telegraph).

The report says that these officials, among others, are also responsible for actively obstructing the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and are therefore in direct violation of their commitments under the Dayton Agreement.

The report makes numerous recommendations such as:

Encouraging the establishment of a civilian implementation council in the town that would have the authority to dismiss officials who obstruct or violate the principles of the Dayton Agreement or engage in criminal activity.

Insisting that the international peacekeeping forces now present in the area take a more active role in guaranteeing and protecting the rights of displaced citizens who wish to return to their homes

Asking the United States, Russia and the European Union to exert pressure on the local Prijedor authorities to respect the human rights of its citizens and set up a Human Rights Ombudsman's Office in the area to monitor compliance

Have the World Bank and other international aid agencies ensure the linkage of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to the respect for human rights, and ensure that the money is used for its intended purposes.

The report concludes: "There is no requirement that aid agencies do business with persons under suspicion of war crimes. Instead, the international community should be pressuring the entity governments to enforce the law when these officials are engaged in organized crime or corruption, and should work toward the removal of persons who have clearly obstructed the implementation of the Dayton Agreement or have admitted to participation in the creation and management of concentration camps."

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki is a non-governmental international organization established in 1978 to monitor and promote the observance of human rights around the world.