23 September 2004, Volume
BOSNIA: HOW SHOULD SUSTAINABLE RETURN BE SUSTAINED?
A program of Radio Most (Bridge) by RFE/RL's Gordana Sandic Hadzihasanovic, with Eduard Katana.
There is yet another thorny issue: the problem of real-estate exchange involving citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Many of them now have to prove that a wartime exchange was carried out under coercion, which raises another issue: whether the war itself represents a form of coercion, forcing people to make decisions that they would not otherwise take. That is why we asked the ombudsman of the Republika Srpska, Branka Kolar Mijatovic, to explain her views.
We already explained our position on the entire issue in our annual report. The institution of the ombudsman is sometimes powerless to protect the basic human rights of those who left their property during the war.
Furthermore, there are three separate institutions of the ombudsman -- in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the [Croat Muslim] Federation, and the Republika Srpska -- each dealing with its own set of laws....
There are also three separate ministries for refugees, each of which has received requests that are often contradictory. They receive and settle restitution requests, which often involve canceling agreements concluded [under duress] during the war.
It remains to be seen who will enforce decisions once appeals have been exhausted: the court or the ministry.... This is why there is such a huge number of legally undefined and unresolved situations. In spite of extensive media coverage, and the fact that authorities in both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia have repeatedly discussed it, nothing has really changed.
We think that the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina should solve the problem in order to allow both parties involved to return to their respective prewar properties if a court establishes and proves that the sales were the result of war operations.
Representatives of the Union for the Coordination of the Refugees' and Displaced Persons' Societies of the Republika Srpska say that the government has ignored them, which is why they decided to organize protests. Some of those involved are even ready to start hunger strikes....
They have many different problems, starting with inadequate alternative accommodation, and the most recent legislation is actually making these people's lives even more difficult.
Mirko Nikic, who heads the Doboj branch of the Union for the Coordination of the Refugees' and Displaced Persons' Societies, told us:
At the end of June, we wrote to the government of the Republika Srpska, its relevant ministry, the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, demanding to be received, but none of them has responded so far.
We wrote them twice, demanding appointments. We can understand that this is summer vacation time, that politicians need to take a break. But they must understand us, too: we cannot just sit and wait and spend another winter in tents or under the open sky. We simply want government officials to take us seriously and start solving our problems.
One of the primary requests of the union is resolving the matter of financing alternative accommodation in the Republika Srpska.
We have repeatedly asked the ministry to pay what it owes us from 2003. They have made big promises but nothing more. Some people have a lot of trouble with the alternative accommodation [that is supposed to be] financed by the Ministry for Refugees. Some of those people have been evicted and their personal belongings seized because the ministry has failed to pay.
According to Vojislav Milicic, a member of the union, the biggest number of problems with financing alternative accommodation occurred in Banja Luka.
Some people have declared hunger strikes. Landlords keep asking to be paid, the tenants cannot pay, and the money just does not arrive.
Some [$4 million] from the budget of the Republika Srpska was assigned for financing the alternative accommodation of displaced persons and refugees. According to Ministry of Refugees spokesman Vojin Mijatovic, the ministry has already spent [$2.03 million] in the first six months of this year to pay for alternative accommodation and electricity costs.
This is still within their budget. However, they are still short of money, probably by about [$1 million], to pay their debts and cover the contracts they signed in 2004.
According to Mirko Nikic, the ministry does not know the exact number of people using alternative accommodation, and that is another problem.
It is supposed to be some 6,000 people, maybe 5,500 or even 6,500. If the deputy minister says that he does not know the exact number, then I really do not know how we are supposed to know.
According to Milicic, the union would not object to a revision of the list of all refugees and displaced persons, or an updating of the ministry's list of all the users of alternative accommodation.
The ministry keeps promising an update. We are not against it, especially where alternative accommodation is concerned. There is too much chaos. We will certainly demand that a list be made of all individuals and families using assigned apartments as alternative accommodation.