Open Letter to Dodik
by Prime Minister, Republika Srpska, Bosnia-Herzegovina
New York, 17 February 1998
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
On the occasion of your first visit to the United States as Prime Minister of
Republika Srpska, we commend you for the willingness you've expressed to implement all provisions of the Dayton Agreement. We are particularly encouraged by
your readiness to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the
former Yugoslavia, and your statement that your government will do everything it
can to ensure the surrender of indicted persons to The Hague for trial. The surrender of Miroslav Tadic and Milan Simic last Saturday is a very positive step.
Human Rights Watch also commends the Dayton signatories for progress on some
longstanding issues, such as the distribution of common licence plates. Freedom
of movement for all citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be greatly enhanced
through the realization of this long-awaited decision.
Given your stated commitment to resolve other problems which have blocked implementation of the peace agreement, Human Rights Watch would like to take the opportunity of your presence in the United States to raise several questions. Human Rights Watch believes that your new position as Prime Minister for the
Republika Srpska, combined with the political and financial support you have received and have been promised from the international community, provides a
critical opportunity for you and your government to demonstrate in concrete and
immediate ways your desire to bring about improvements in the human-rights
We should like to raise two sets of issues: first, several matters which we believe could be addressed without delay, given your and President Biljana
Plavsic's influence in the Banja Luka area; and secondly, longer-term human-
rights issues in the Republika Srpska.
The following serious matters need your urgent attention:
Restitution of property. A number of Bosniak and Croat families, who were
evicted from their homes in Banja Luka after the signing of the Dayton agreement, have not had their rightful property reinstated to them. In some cases, a
local court has even recognized them as the rightful owners and ordered the
reinstatement of their property. Some families have made repeated attempts to
return to their homes but were prevented from doing so by hostile neighbours -
even as the Banja Luka police stood by and refused to intervene. In one case, a
man made ten unsuccessful attempts to regain his property. While Human Rights
Watch commends the Banja Luka authorities on the progress made in sÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
ome of these
cases recently, some 10 families with court-ordered reinstatement continue to
await justice. Several hundred other families have been frustrated by the slow
pace of decision-making in their cases. The court in Banja Luka has been instructed to turn over pending and new cases to the Ministry of Refugees, but few
cases have been resolved by the Ministry, and it appears that taking these cases
out of the hands of the court has further obstructed the process. What steps
will your government undertake to ensure that these families will receive timely
and fair decisions, many having waited months and even years for a decision?
The Matanovic case. In the fall of 1995, Bosnian Serb police in Prijedor 'disappeared' Father Tomislav Matanovic, a Roman Catholic priest from Banja Luka,
and his elderly parents. Later, the Republika Srpska (RS) authorities made an
offer to exchange Father Matanovic for Serb prisoners in the Federation. The Human Rights Chamber, established by the Dayton agreement, having heard the facts
of the case in a full hearing, determined that Father Matanovic and his parents
were victims of forced disappearance and ordered the RS government to immediately reveal his and his parents' whereabouts or fate by 6 October 1997. The RS
government failed to comply with this order. We believe that the following individuals have direct knowledge of the case and the whereabouts of the Matanovic
family: Srdjo Srdjic (head of the Prijedor Red Cross and previously President of
the Prijedor Municipality), Momcilo Radanovic, Gojko Klikovic, Mr. Pecancac and
Mr. Krnjajic (of the Public Security department in Banja Luka), Ranko Jakovljevic (commander of the Urije police station), and Prijedor police officer Milan
Rodic (who guarded the family while it was under house arrest). We believe
General Pero Âolic may also have knowledge of the family's fate. Although there
have been allegations that the brothers of a Bosnian Serb army Major Radovan Lakic (killed in the war) were involved in holding the Matanovic family, it was
clear to the Human Rights Chamber and to Human Rights Watch, which conducted inquiries into the case, that the RS authorities have knowledge of and are respon-
sible for the fate of the family members. Are you willing to arrest and prosecute those members of the Prijedor police, including Ranko Jakovljevic, commander of the Urije police station? What other steps will you take immediately to
ensure the release of Father Matanovic and his parents?
The Kovacevic case. Hasan Kovacevic was murdered while in police custody in a
Banja Luka police station on 31 July 1996. An autopsy report, obtained by Human
Rights Watch, revealed that Kovacevic had 16 broken ribs (some broken twice) and
died due to massive internal bleeding. The police claimed he sustained these injuries jumping out a first floor window. A pathologist who examined his body
concluded that the police explanation was inconsistent with the injuries, but
only mild disciplinary action was taken against the police officers involved. To
date, no full public disclosure of the facts of the case has been made and to
our knowledge, no one has been prosecuted for homicide. What steps will you take
to ensure that the police officers involved are held accountable for this act?
Police brutality in Teslic. There have been two recent cases of beatings of
non-Serbs in police custody in the town of Teslic. In both cases, an SFOR doctor
examined the individuals and determined that their injuries were consistent with
their allegations of abuse at the hands of the police. These beatings are alarming in that they indicate a return to the serious abuses of human rights which
dominated the period following the Dayton agreement in Teslic but which had recently improved. What will you do to ensure that such beatings stop and that the
perpetrators are held responsible? What is your policy toward police officers
who behave in this manner?
Business targets. Human RÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
ights Watch has received information indicating that
a number of directors of major, financially solvent business concerns in the
Banja Luka area have been recently dismissed due to their political affiliation.
Can you assure us that the removals have been carried out in accordance with local law and international human rights standards?
In the second category, there are several other broader issues which also must
be addressed in the interest of human rights and implementation of the Dayton
Over the last couple of weeks, you have expressed your willingness to cooperate
in the return of Croat and Bosniak refugees and displaced persons to the
Republika Srpska. In October, an international human-rights observer in Banja
Luka told The New York Times that there had not been any changes in refugee return issues since Mrs. Plavsic took over the government. What steps is your
government now prepared to take to ensure the right to return of those who were
forcibly expelled and whose property was confiscated during the war? A first
step to facilitate the return process would be the immediate repeal of discriminatory housing laws issued during and right after the war, and acceptance and
implementation of housing laws proposed to the Republika Srpska by the Office of
the High Representative. Do you anticipate your government will make this
change, and if so, when might we anticipate it?
Although some persons indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the
former Yugoslavia (ICTY) might be urged into surrendering themselves, it is unlikely that all or even most will. The arrest of indicted persons is long overdue, yet the Republika Srpska has so far not arrested any indictee. What concrete steps is your government planning to take in order to ensure the arrest of
persons indicted for war crimes by the ICTY? A first step, and concrete proof of
your willingness to cooperate would be the immediate extradition of Zoran Ãigic,
who, according to the latest information available to us, is serving time in the
Banja Luka prison for murder.
In recent interviews, you admitted that your government does not yet have complete control over all law enforcement agencies on the territory of the Republika Srpska. What steps will you take to bring all police units and other law enforcement agencies under government control? Human Rights Watch urges you
immediately to share with the International Police Task Force all available information on the size, composition and organizational and control structure of
all regular, special, secret and paramilitary police forces in the Republika
Finally, Human Rights Watch would like to express its grave concern over the selection of some of the members of your cabinet. In particular, Human Rights
Watch regrets the appointment of Petko Cancar, former mayor of Foca/Srbinje, as
Minister of Justice. Cancar is allegedly responsible for organizing the ethnic
cleansing in the Foca region. Likewise, the appointment of General Momir Talic
as head of the RS Army is unacceptable given his military command responsibility
in the Bosanska Krajina region during widespread, serious and protracted violations of international humanitarian law in that area, of which he was fully
aware. The presence of persons allegedly responsible for war crimes in positions
of power is a major obstacle to peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and greatly hinders
the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes of origin.
We look forward to your responses to these questions, and hope for new cooperation from the RS authorities in the interest of human-rights issues.
Europe and Central Asia Division
|Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic has fired Chief of Staff General Pero Colic, replacing him with General Momir Talic, who commanded the First Krajina
Corps. Colic, who replaced indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic in 1996, was sÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
uspected of maintaining close links with the Pale faction of wartime leader
Radovan Karadzic. Talic commanded forces that besieged Tuzla and Brcko, and reportedly had connections with the Omarska concentration camp. Talic has steadfastly opposed the Dayton formula for reunifying Bosnia and allowing refugees to
return to their homes.