Vienna, March 19 (RFE/RL) - Every day up to 30
people wait outside the offices in the old part of Sarajevo, near the
Market Hall. Many are old; all are victims of some aspect of the
Bosnian civil war. They hope that the two women and a man in the
offices can help solve their problems.
These are the Sarajevo offices of the "Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe"(OSCE), which is organising elections in
Bosnia. and trying to restore a civil society amid the continuing
chaos and violence. The two women and the man are Ombudsmen appointed
by OSCE as a small but important aspect of this task. They are there
to help resolve human rights violations.
In this case, human rights does not mean torture or rape, but such
things as trying to recover a home taken over by others, or helping a
wounded soldier obtain his release from a reluctant Bosnian army, or
assisting a victim of bureaucratic chaos. The Ombudsmen have few
tools to help them. They have no formal powers, and cannot compel
anyone to follow their recommendations. They can only advise,
negotiate, recommend and persuade. As one says: "for this job you
need a cool head, a lucid mind and a big, warm heart."
The Ombudsmen represent the three communities in Bosnia. Vera
Jovanovic a 49-year-old Serb is a former judge of the supreme court.
Brankka Raguz, a 54-year-old Croat was also a senior judge. The man,
63-year-old Esad Muhibic, a Bosnian muslim, is a former deputy
An OSCE spokesman (anonymous) in Vienna acknowledged to RFE/RL that
the current conditions in Sarajevo are far from ideal for a team
trying to encourage respect for human rights and rectify violations.
Instead of becoming an ethnically-mixed city as promised in
the Dayton accords, Serb citizens are leaving - either voluntarily, or
under pressure from gangs of Serb thugs. The experiences of the last
few weeks have also led some international officials to express
doubts about the commitment of the Bosnian government to a
multi-ethnic society. A United Nations spokesman on the scene,
Alexander Ivanko, has said publicly that the security council is
concerned by the attitude of the authorities toward a multi-ethnic
But despite the questions, the OSCE ombudsmen are determined to
persevere. "The work has been overwhelming from the start," an OSCE
spokesman tells RFE/RL. "The offices opened in January, 1995. Since
then, more than 5,000 people have comes to the Ombudsmen with their
problems and complaints." The Ombudsmen now have subsidiary offices
in Mostar, Tuzla and Zenica, but say there should be more. OSCE
believes the human rights situation in Bosnia is probably worse in
small towns and villages away from the cities.
The current situation in Sarajevo has brought new problems to the
Ombudsmen. But most of the people who line up outside the offices
each day are still caught in the type of predicaments that have
brought them to the ombudsmen since january, 1995.
One example cited by the OSCE spokesman in Vienna is of an
electrical engineer, who joined the Bosnian army in 1992 in the first
month of the war. He was badly wounded in the stomach and the knee,
and underwent five operations. But despite his injuries, he could not
obtain his release from the army. In summer last year, he saw a
television program about the Ombudsmen and went to them for help.
Half a year later, he was finally released from the army. He gives
all the credit to the Ombudsmen.
Housing problems are among the most common and the most difficult,
and are expected to grow as refugees return to the city in the coming
months. "Much of the Ombudsmen's work is in dealing with the housing
authorities," said the OSCE spokesman. "between refugees, returnees
and displaced persons there are many opportunities for problems to
appear - and they do."
It is difficult to choose an example from among scores of different
situations. The Ombudsmen are still struggling to resolve the case of
a 76-year-old Jewish woman, who left her home in Sarajevo in April,
1992, and fled to Zagreb. In November, 1992, the city authorities in
Sarajevo signed an agreement with the Jewish community that all
Sarajevo jews who fled the city would get their homes back when they
returned. But when the Jewish woman returned towards the end of last
year, she found her home taken over by a Muslim man. The OSCE was
unable to retrieve her home, and she had to return to a Jewish old age
home in Zagreb. But the OSCE is still pursuing her case.
Reports from Sarajevo over the past few days hint at problems to
come. Correspondents in Sarajevo write that, since the suburb of
Ildiza passed into Moslem hands last week, people have been occupying
the houses of departed Serbs in defiance of the Dayton accords, which
commit Bosnia's factions to respect property rights. Few expect the
Serb owners to return in the near future, but they may do so
OSCE also receives requests for help in de-mobilisation from the
army, particularly by those who have been severely wounded. Bosnian
officials say they are unwilling to reduce the size of the armed
forces, because of uncertainty about how the situation will develop,
particularly after the international force withdraws in a few months.
Other people have problems because of an article in the legal code
introduced in 1992. It says, in effect, that all those who found
themselves on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina April 6, 1992 are
automatically considered to be Bosnian citizens. The date is
significant - April 6, 1992 is considered as the official start of
the war. The purpose of the law was to increase the number of men
subject to mobilisation.
OSCE says among those affected by the law are around one hundred men
from Macedonia. The Ombudsmen have asked Bosnia's Parliament to
revoke or change the law, but so far they have been unsuccessful.
OSCE officials believe that the Ombudsmen have won the confidence of
ordinary cititzens, despite the ethnic tensions. One factor is said
to be the amicable relations among the Bosnian Muslim, Croat and Serb
Ombudsmen, and the fact that, despite their own backgrounds, they
speak unanimously when it comes to negotiations with the authorities.
According to the OSCE, when the offices first opened, many of the
petitioners went to the Ombudsmen representing their own nationality.
Now, most visitors go to whomever is available, regardless of
nationality. That counts as a success in a city with as many problems