AIM: start

FRI, 06 APR 2001 02:46:42 GMT

The Ombudsmen on Human Rights in the Federation

Poor Administration or Violations Everywhere

AIM, Sarajevo, March 28,2001

Five post-war years of the rule of national parties in the Federation of Bosnia&Herzegovina have created conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes, but also resulted in numerous violations of social rights of all citizens and in widespread corruption. This is the conclusion of the Federal Ombudsmen. The Ombudsmen of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (F B&H) Vera Jovanovic, Branka Raguz and Esad Muhibic were all of the opinion that there was practically no field in which human rights had not been violated. Last year they received as many as 12,5 thousand individual complaints from citizens. Out of that number, 51 percent of cases were positively solved, i.e. the recommendations of this institution were accepted. However, Ombudsmen's recommendations to the former authorities relating to shortcomings of the system and requesting a change of policy in certain fields, were disregarded. The former Federal Government showed the lowest level of cooperation in relation to the top priority issues, such as the return of refugees to their homes and social rights. The authorities also registered poor results in the exercise of human rights, as well as in cooperation with the Ombudsmen - only 9 percent of their special reports relating to en mass human rights violations were accepted.

The authorities in the F B&H practically did not function. According to the Ombudsmen the democracy and the rule of law were at an impermissibly low level. The administration was uneconomically organised. Deadlines were not being met. The administrators were not trained for their tasks and therefore required from the citizens many unnecessary documents when they attempted to exercise their rights, took too long in bringing decisions or improperly applied the law.

Also, the necessary communication between citizens and competent persons did not exist, irrespective of the fact that the authorities are the ones that should serve the citizens, and not vice versa. According to the report on the state of human rights in the Federation of B&H for 2000: "The Ombudsmen's investigations have shown that the authorities in the Federation do not carry out their duties in securing the most fundamental human rights and freedoms, let alone high standards of these rights they are obliged to abide by. Therefore, the right word for this would be - poor administration - which is of late increasingly used in the human rights terminology to denote all forms and ways of human rights and freedoms violations by the authorities of the Federation".

As regards problems with the non-functioning of the authorities, the Ombudsmen particularly pointed out the failure to carry out in practice the result of local (municipal) elections of April 2000 and the existence of parallel municipal authorities, i.e. division of Government and its Ministries into the Bosniac and Croat component in eg. Herzegovina-Neretva Canton or municipalities of Gornji Vakuf, Bosansko Grahovo, Drvar, etc. The establishment of municipal authorities in Stolac, Kresevo, Fojnica was also postponed. At the same time, despite the reform of the B&H judicial system, there are still problems with the setting up of judicial authorities in F B&H.

For example, in the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton again, the process of establishing judicial authorities in accordance with the Constitution has not been completed yet irrespective of the fact that already on July 31, 1998 the High Representative had passed the Law on Cantonal Courts. Thus, the Communal Court in Konjic does not have one single judge from the Croatian community and in Capljina there is no Bosniac judge. On the other hand, in the Municipal Prosecutor's Offices in Konjic, Capljina, Jablanica, Stolac and Mostar I and II prosecutors and deputy prosecutors have not been appointed in line with the rule on national representation of the population. Also there have been justified complaints of the citizens about "reasonable time deadlines". Certain court proceedings last for years even in cases when the law prescribes the so-called urgency. There are also a large number of undecided cases.

In Zenica alone about 45 percent of cases are still under consideration. The Ombudsmen came to a conclusion that the professional skills of a large number of judges are below any acceptable level. The enforcement of court rulings, especially in civil cases, is hard and time consuming. Sometimes the reasons for the non-functioning of courts are rather banal - the courts do not receive in time the funds from the cantonal budget on their accounts so that they are unable to pay phone bills or heating bills and then both their phones and heating are disconnected by the competent services. But, the worst thing to which the Ombudsmen point is the fact that "in the past the executive authorities most directly influenced the work of courts through the method of their financing" so that the "financial independence is an absolutely indispensable preconditions for their operational independence".

In their report on the state of human rights in the last year, the Ombudsmen reiterated what the Council of Europe defined in its documents as "the abuse of power, i.e. each act of officials appointed to public or private functions committed in violation of the office they hold with the purpose of securing illegal gain of any kind, either for himself or a third party" which everyone if the B&H Federation knows to have been the case. Naturally, this refers to corruption. In conclusion, the Ombudsmen stated that during 2000 the authorities at all levels behaved as if they were an end unto themselves, "free of any outside control, lacking transparency and without any responsibility of their officials for the way they exercise the power entrusted to them".

Another "specialty" of the former authorities was demonstrated with privatisation which, in Ombudsmen's opinion, was "characterised by corruption of an economic type which created social poverty on the one side, at the same time making it possible for individuals and privileged sectors to accumulate wealth and power, on the other". Due to the impossibility of directly combating corruption, the Ombudsmen forwarded the investigated cases (among other, workers of Zenica, Velika Kladusa and Livno collectively addressed them with their complaints)to competent authorities (financial control, inspection services and law enforcement authorities), but "these services are not sufficiently qualified nor trained to successfully face and come to grips with the disease called corruption".

The Ombudsmen have concluded that the tolerant treatment of corruption by official circles has brought citizens in two minds as to what is allowed and what is not thus creating an even deeper moral crisis in the society. Guided by the Council of Europe's resolution - Twenty Guiding Principles for Combating Corruption - the Ombudsmen of the B&H Federation pointed out that this year's priority objectives must be raising of the awareness of the population; Parliament's adoption of a code of professional conduct for public servants, including the training of corresponding inspection services, securing the efficiency of judicial system and significant strengthening of prosecutor's functions.

According to the data of the Ombudsmen's Regional Offices which exist all over F B&H, around 24 percent of citizens' applications for return to abandoned apartments and 43 percent of applications for return to deserted real estate were approved in 2000. But, these data can be seen in their true light only if one takes into account the fact that five years after the war, just something over one quarter of citizens have returned to their pre-war property. The impossibility of returnees to find employment, the practice of some public enterprises to bill citizens for someone else's expenses, the laws in force on social rights which do not allow returnees to receive pensions at their pre-war address, frequent checks by the authorities to determine whether returnees are living in their homes, inadequate education of minority returnees' children (certain offensive units have been deleted from the textbooks), as well as the so-called deplorable infrastructure, i.e. unbearable living conditions of returnees with no electricity and water, are all factors that adversely affect the sustainable return of these persons.

Also, quite a number of returns were not carried out in line with the Dayton Accords spirit. As Ombudsman Vera Jovanovic pointed out, there are frequent cases of the "sale" of tenant's rights, i.e. illegal sales contracts are concluded between the current and pre-war tenants on the basis of which the latter usually withdraws his return application. The authorities have tolerated this practice until now. The Ombudsmen concluded that last year the ruling political structures showed no interest in systemic regulation of the most important social rights. Child rights are also endangered in F B&H. The number of enrolled students in elementary and secondary schools drastically fell for various reasons, in most cases the financial ones. In some schools political parties have organised pre-election rallies. An increasing number of children beg or work unregistered. Sexual abuse of children is not adequately sanctioned and there is no strategy for drug abuse control.

As far as the media are concerned, last year was characterised by increased pressure exerted on reporters by the authorities at all leves. The media sensitivity to such pressures grew, especially at the local level. Pressures exerted on the press assumed various forms, from individual political threats to physical assaults, organised and frequently systematic measures directly restricting freedom of the press. These pressures were aimed at creating an atmosphere of fear that leads to self-censorship. The Ombudsmen interceded on behalf of two journalists and editors who were on trial.

Adriana KUCI

(AIM Sarajevo)