Bosnia and Herzegovina
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Impunity for some crimes committed during the 1992-1995 conflict continued to be a problem, especially for those responsible for the approximately 8,000 persons killed in the Srebrenica genocide and for approximately 7,600 other individuals who remained missing and presumed killed during the conflict. Authorities also failed to prosecute most of the more than 20,000 instances of sexual violence alleged to have occurred during the conflict.
Lack of resources, including insufficient funding and personnel, political obstacles, poor regional cooperation, and challenges in pursuing old cases due to the lack of evidence and the unavailability of witnesses and suspects led to the closure of cases and difficulties in clearing the significant backlog.
During the year national authorities made limited progress in processing of war crimes due to long-lasting organizational and financial problems. In 2020 the Council of Ministers adopted a Revised National War Crimes Strategy, which defines new criteria for selection and prioritization of cases between the state and entities, provides measures to enhance judicial and police capacities to process war crime cases, and updates the measures for protection of witnesses and victims. The revised strategy provides for prioritizing category “A” cases, in which the evidence is “sufficient by international standards to provide reasonable grounds for the belief that the person may have committed the serious violation of international humanitarian law” and provides additional measures to enhance regional cooperation. The implementation of the revised strategy was delayed because the Council of Ministers failed to appoint a supervisory body, mainly due to the opposition of Bosniak victims’ associations to the nomination of RS Center for Investigation of War and War Crimes Director Milorad Kojic as a member of the body. The Special Department for War Crimes within the Prosecutor’s Office has 28 prosecutors and a total of 110 employees, including nonprosecutorial staff. Six regional teams were formed. The courts transferred less-complex cases from the state-level to entity-level or Brcko District courts. During the year the Prosecutor’s Office transferred 13 cases with 27 persons charged to the entities and Brcko District judiciary. The Prosecutor’s Office submitted criminal reports or ordered investigations on 351 cases and worked on 1,522 additional cases with unknown perpetrators or crime (meaning the prosecutor has not finalized a decision on how to qualify the crime). During the year, four guilty verdicts were brought against seven persons who were sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment in total. The Prosecutor’s Office, through the Ministry of Justice, sent a legal assistance request to Croatia with a request to take over the criminal proceedings against 14 Croatian generals who had been reported by the RS police in 2007 for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Western Slavonia during the Flash military operation in 1995. Croatia has not responded to the request.
Some convictions were issued or confirmed over the past year. The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) rejected the appeal of the 20-year prison sentence handed down to Radomir Susnjar for participating in mass killings in Visegrad during the war. The appeals chamber of the Court of BiH upheld the verdict sentencing former soldiers Branko Cigoja, Zeljko Todic, and Sasa Boskic to 14 years in prison each for crimes against civilians in Oborci near Donji Vakuf in September 1995.
In January 2020 the Court of BiH sentenced in the first instance Sakib Mahmuljin, a commander in the former Army of the Republic of BiH to 10 years imprisonment for war crimes committed in the areas of Vozuca and Zavidovici. The verdict is subject to appeal. It prompted strong reactions from Bosniak ethno-nationalist leaders, and BiH Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic called his conviction “a verdict to all who defended their country” and expressed pride in commanders of the BiH army, declaring that “we are all Sakib.” On November 10, the Appellate Chamber of the Court of BiH revoked Mahmuljin’s first-instance war crimes verdict. The Appellate Chamber of the Court of BiH will hold a new hearing in this case.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices. While there were no internal reports that government officials employed such measures, there were no concrete indications that security forces had ended the practice of severely mistreating detainees and prisoners reported in previous years.
On September 14, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released findings from its 2019 visit to the country in which it reported receiving numerous allegations of physical and psychological mistreatment, including of a severity which, in the CPT’s view, amounted to torture. The reported mistreatment consisted of falaka (beating the soles of the feet), rape with a baton, and mock execution with a gun of detained persons by law enforcement officials. The CPT also received allegations of police officers inflicting kicks, punches, slaps, and blows with batons (as well as with nonstandard objects such as baseball bats, wooden tiles, and electrical cables) on detainees. The CPT stated the mistreatment was apparently inflicted by crime inspectors with the intention of coercing suspects to confess as well as by members of special intervention units at the time of the apprehension of criminal suspects. The CPT found the situation in the Republika Srpska (RS) to have improved considerably since its visits in 2012 and 2015, although the CPT received a few allegations of physical and psychological mistreatment of criminal suspects by police officers, notably in rural areas. The CPT report stated that the high number of credible allegations of police mistreatment, particularly by members of the Sarajevo Cantonal Police, was a source of “deep concern” for the CPT.
The country has not designated an institution as its national mechanism for the prevention of torture and mistreatment of detainees and prisoners, in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. In 2019 the Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman in BiH (Ombudsman Institution) received 129 complaints by prisoners regarding prisoner treatment in detention and prison facilities. The number of complaints fell by 10 percent compared with 2018; most of the complaints concerned health care, denial of out-of-prison benefits, transfer to other institutions, use of parole, and conditions in prison and detention facilities. A smaller number of complaints referred to misconduct by staff or violence by other prisoners.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The September 14 CPT report stated that investigations into alleged police mistreatment “cannot be considered effective, as they are not carried out promptly or thoroughly and neither can they considered to be impartial and independent.” The report was critical of the internal control unit of the Sarajevo Cantonal Police and of the role of prosecutors who, in several cases examined by the CPT, had delegated all investigative acts to police inspectors from the same unit as the alleged perpetrators of the mistreatment.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Physical and sanitary conditions in the country’s prisons and detention facilities varied depending on location; some met the need for accommodation of prisoners and detainees, while others did not.
Physical Conditions: In its September 14 report, the CPT stated that conditions were acceptable in police detention facilities in Banja Luka and Sarajevo but unacceptable in Mostar (poor daylight and ventilation in cells, inadequate conditions for rest, and small beds for overnight stays). The CPT criticized RS police for holding detainees in the offices of police criminal inspectors, especially in Banja Luka. The CPT reported that conditions in Sarajevo prison had improved since the appointment of a new director in 2017 but that poor ventilation and sanitary installations continued to present a problem. In Mostar, the CPT reported some improvements, including painting the walls, installation of video surveillance, and installation of air conditioning in the cells. Maintenance of the prison and especially hygiene and ventilation in the prison were substandard. The report found that material and hygienic conditions generally improved in medical units of the Sarajevo prison detention unit and in Mostar prison.
Health care was one of the main complaints by prisoners. Not all prisons had comprehensive health-care facilities with full-time health-care providers. In such instances, the institutions contracted part-time practitioners who were obligated to regularly visit institutions and provide services. Prisons in Zenica, Tuzla, Sarajevo, East Sarajevo, Foca, and Banja Luka employed full time doctors. There were no prison facilities suitable for prisoners with physical disabilities. In some instances, prisoners in need of expensive and more complex medical services faced problems obtaining such services due to limited budgets of the institutions. The CPT report found there is no coherent approach to prisoners who were drug addicts. For example in Sarajevo, only prisoners who were already prescribed substitute therapy before entering the prison were able to continue with the therapy. In Mostar and RS prisons, such treatment would stop when inmates started serving their prison term.
Administration: In its September 14 report, the CPT stated that investigations by authorities into allegation of police mistreatment “cannot be considered effective… and neither can they [be] considered to be impartial and independent” (see Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, above, for details).
Units in both entities and the Brcko District had internal units for professional standards, which were under direct supervision of the district, cantonal, or entity police units to which citizens can report cases of mistreatment or abuse of persons deprived of liberty. Only a small number of reported allegations of police brutality were judged to be justified by police authorities and then processed. For example, only two of 20 allegations of police brutality in Sarajevo Canton in 2019 were deemed justified, and only one of the two was forwarded to a prosecutor for further investigation.
The country’s prison system was not fully harmonized nor in full compliance with European standards. Jurisdiction for the execution of sanctions was divided between the state, entities, and Brcko District. Consequently, in some instances different legal regulations governed the same area, often resulting in unequal treatment of convicted persons, depending on the prison establishment or the entity in which they served their sentence.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent human rights observers to visit and gave international community representatives widespread and unhindered access to detention facilities and prisoners. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the CPT, the Ombudsman Institution, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to have access to prison and detention facilities under the jurisdiction of the ministries of justice at both the state and entity levels. In 2019 the CPT visited prisons and detention facilities, including psychiatric institutions, and provided its findings to the BiH government.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police generally arrested persons based on court orders and sufficient evidence or in conformity with rules prescribed by law. The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the charges against them immediately upon their arrest and obliges police to bring suspects before a prosecutor within 24 hours of detention (72 hours for terrorism charges). During this period police may detain individuals for investigative purposes and processing. The prosecutor has an additional 24 hours to release the person or to request a court order extending pretrial detention by court police. The court has a subsequent 24 hours to decide.
Court police are separate from other police agencies and fall under the Ministry of Justice; their holding facilities are within the courts. After 24 or 48 hours of detention by court police, an individual must be presented to a magistrate who decides whether the suspect shall remain in custody or be released. Suspects who remain in custody are turned over to prison staff.
The law limits the duration of interrogations to a maximum of six hours. The law also limits pretrial detention to 12 months and trial detention to three years. There is a functioning bail system and restrictions, such as the confiscation of travel documents or house arrest, which were ordered regularly to ensure defendants appear in court.
The law allows detainees to request a lawyer of their own choosing, and if they are unable to afford a lawyer, the authorities should provide one. The law also requires the presence of a lawyer during the pretrial and trial hearings. Detainees are free to select their lawyer from a list of registered lawyers.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for the right to a fair hearing in civil and criminal matters while entity constitutions provide for an independent judiciary. Nevertheless, political parties and organized crime figures sometimes influenced the judiciary at both the state and entity levels in politically sensitive cases, especially those related to corruption. Authorities at times failed to enforce court decisions.
The law provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always enforce this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary; the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay; and the right to be present at their trial. The law provides for the right to counsel at public expense if the prosecutor charges the defendant with a serious crime. Courts are obliged to appoint a defense attorney if the defendant is deaf or mute or detained or accused of a crime for which long-term imprisonment may be pronounced. Authorities generally gave defense attorneys adequate time and facilities to prepare their clients’ defense. The law provides defendants the right to confront witnesses, to have a court-appointed interpreter and written translation of pertinent court documents into a language understood by the defendant, to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and to appeal verdicts. Authorities generally respected most of these rights, which extend to all defendants.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The law provides for individuals and organizations to seek civil remedies for alleged human rights violations through domestic courts and provides for the appeal of decisions to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). To date the government failed to comply with many previous decisions pertaining to human rights by the country’s courts. The court system suffered from large backlogs of cases and the lack of an effective mechanism to enforce court orders. Inefficiency in the courts undermined the rule of law by making recourse to civil judgments less effective. In several cases the Constitutional Court found violations of the right to have proceedings finalized within a reasonable time. The government’s failure to comply with court decisions led plaintiffs to bring cases before the ECHR. The RS National Assembly and Brcko District Assembly adopted the Law on the Protection of the Right to a Trial within Reasonable Deadline, while the state level and Federation have not yet done so.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The four “traditional” religious communities (Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish) had extensive claims for restitution of property nationalized during and after World War II. In the absence of a state restitution law governing the return of nationalized properties, many government officials used such properties as tools for ethnic and political manipulation. In a few cases, government officials refused to return properties, or gave religious communities a temporary right to use them, even in cases in which evidence existed that they belonged to religious institutions before confiscation.
The government has no laws or mechanisms in place for resolution of Holocaust-era claims, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government had not made progress on these claims, including for foreign citizens.
In the past the absence of legislation resulted in the return of religious property on an ad hoc basis, subject to the discretion of local authorities, often in favor of the majority religious group in that local community. While the four traditional religious communities unanimously supported adoption of a law on restitution, political disagreement over whether the competencies for restitution lie with the state or the entities blocked progress on the law. While the RS asserted that the competency for restitution rests with the entities, the Federation maintained that it is a state competency. Advocacy groups and legal experts highlighted the need for at least a framework legislation at the state level to prevent discriminatory practices in the implementation of the law.
The Jewish Community had restitution claims involving at least 54 properties that were seized in different ways (through nationalization, expropriation, liquidation, or illegal gifts). For example, one Jewish Community building in the center of Sarajevo, formerly owned by the Jewish charity La Benevolencija, housed the Cantonal Ministry of Interior offices. In addition, the Stari Grad municipality in Sarajevo used the process of land “harmonization” to list itself as the owner of centrally located land owned by members of the Jewish community or their heirs and subsequently authorized construction of commercial real estate on that land. During the year the construction of an apartment and commercial building on the disputed land continued at a rapid pace. The BiH Jewish Community reported that the last living member of the community with claims to the property was compensated in September, thus ending the dispute over the property.
The Department of State’s 2020 Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, which provides further details on the restitution of Holocaust-era communal, private and heirless property as well as a country’s activities for Holocaust remembrance, education and archival access, is available on the Department’s website at: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.