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After ten years of promises, authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina still don't tell the people who pollutes air in their towns

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Air in Bosnia and Herzegovina is among the dirtiest in Europe (1) and in 2020, it was ranked 10th in the PM2.5 pollution worldwide (2). Despite that, citizens still have a hard time trying to understand: Who is responsible? Although the state authorities have been obliged to collect and publish the data on pollution since 2003, they are not able to launch an adequate system so far. Non-governmental organizations Arnika (Czechia) and Eko forum Zenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina) published top-tens of the largest polluters for 2018 (3) based on those data available. They urge the governments to ensure access to information from all large industries. The top-ten of the largest polluters of Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found here.

Not surprisingly, large factories that are usually considered as the culprits of pollution lead  the top-tens for 2018: ArcelorMittal Zenica, thermal power plants Tuzla, Ugljevik, Gacko, cement kilns Lukavac and Kakanj, GIKIL coke plant, and refinery in Slavonski Brod. Arnika and Eko forum Zenica publish the data collected from the state authorities since 2011. For the first time, the alternative database shows industries from both entities of the country.

“There was a slight improvement in the data transparency by 2019, as the annual emission reports are finally publicly available online (4). However, the official websites are not user friendly and only experts can understand what the numbers represent. That is why we interpret the data and believe that the public will use them to act towards the polluters and the authorities. Without public demand, the environmental conditions will never improve,” Samir Lemeš from Eko forum Zenica said.

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Comparison of the data from the last decade enables us to recognize which companies invest in modernization and technologies to protect the environment and human health. Decrease in pollution from coal power plant Ugljevik was caused by investment into desulphurisation in 2019. Emissions of ArcelorMittal Zenica also decreased, but it was caused by the drop in production related to the global economic crisis; citizens of Zenica are still waiting for modernization. 

Some of the largest polluters are still hiding their environmental footprint - such as the coal power plant in Kakanj. While in the EU, coal power plants report emissions of about 15 pollutants, Bosnian plants - such as coal power plant Gacko - publish data only on 3-5 basic chemicals. For example information on heavy metals releases, that represent serious threats to human health, is entirely missing.

Analysis of Arnika and Eko forum Zenica shows that the data submitted by the Industrial companies are not reliable and contain a huge load of errors - almost 90% of the data are irrelevant. Moreover, entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina operate different systems using different methodologies. 

“Although Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the PRTR Protocol (5) in 2003, the parliaments did not ratify it till today. Thus, the system is not obligatory for industries. Transparency of data on pollution is a key step on a way to cleaner air. Without access to information, the state authorities cannot act. The public and the media are not able to control the situation, and the polluters can keep doing their business as usual at the expense of the environment and public health," said Martin Skalsky, an expert on public participation from Arnika.

For comparison, in Czechia, 1,334 facilities reported emissions in 2018 and the reports included 35 pollutants into air and others into soil, wastewater and waste, while in Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina it was only 19 air-polluting substances (6) and in the Republic of Srpska only 6 chemicals. The situation is not improving and the number of reported substances is basically the same today as it was back in 2011.

(1) On pollution of Bosnia-Herzegovina's cities as the most polluted in Europe.     

(2) IQ Air - World's most polluted countries 2020 (PM2.5).

(3) 2018 is the year for which the latest data are available in responsible ministries of FBiH and RS. 

(4) Two authorities are responsible for the data collection, as the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided by the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995 into two entities: Republika Srpska and a Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in 1999 a self-governing administrative unit Brčko District was formed.
Register for Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Federal ministry for environment and tourism).
Register for the Republic of Srpska (Hydrometeorological Institute of Republika Srpska).

(5) A mandatory information tool for the signatories of the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers to the UNECE Aarhus Convention on environmental democracy, signed by Bosnia and Herzegovina back in 2003. However, the country did not ratify the PRTR Protocol till nowadays.

(6) Arsen, cadmium, copper, mercury, nickel, lead, zinc, ammonium, methane, HCL, HF, PAH, PCDD/F, NMVOC, CO, CO2, SO2/SOx, NO2/NOx, PM10. More on chemical substances and their impact on human health.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia's intelligence chief arrested over forged diploma accusations

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Bosnian police on Wednesday (14 July) arrested the country's intelligence chief on accusations of money laundering and abusing his office to forge university diplomas, police and prosecutors said, writes Daria Sito-Sucic, Reuters.

Osman Mehmedagic (pictured), the head of the Intelligence-Security Agency (OSA), was arrested at the request of state prosecutors and police were conducting activities accordingly, Sarajevo police spokesman Mirza Hadziabdic told Reuters.

The prosecutors' office said in a statement it was investigating Mehmedagic for the criminal acts of abuse of office or authority, of forging the documents and money laundering.

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It said that more information would be available later on Wednesday.

Corruption is widespread in Bosnia, ethnically divided after the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, infiltrating all spheres of life, including the judiciary, education and health.

Last month, police arrested the director of the American University in Sarajevo and Tuzla and two associates for reportedly illegally issuing a diploma to Mehmedagic.

In October, Mehmedagic and an associate were charged with abuse of office for allegedly using agency resources to spy on a man who filed a criminal complaint against him but the court acquitted them of the charges. Prosecutors appealed.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Strong support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s integration into the European Union

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In a report adopted on Thursday (24 June), Parliament welcomes Bosnia and Herzegovina’s commitment to advancing on its EU path, but demands further substantial reforms, Plenary session  AFET.

Reacting to the 2019-2020 Commission reports on Bosnia and Herzegovina, MEPs call on the European Council to continue backing Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European perspective, “including sending a positive political message on the granting of candidate status”.

They recognise the steps taken by Bosnia and Herzegovina to address key aspects of the Commission’s Opinion on the country’s EU membership application, but recall that the effective functioning of independent and accountable democratic institutions is a prerequisite for advancing in the EU integration process, including obtaining candidate status. Reforms in the areas of democratic functionality, rule of law, fundamental rights and public administration are crucial, they add.

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In view of attempts to undermine the country’s statehood and constitutional values, Parliament expresses its strong support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina recalling that the path towards EU membership depends on sustainable peace, stability and meaningful reconciliation that underpins the democratic and multicultural character of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Constitutional and electoral reforms

MEPs stress that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to address shortcomings in its constitutional framework and to move forward with reforms to transform the country into a fully functional and inclusive state.

The report also calls on the authorities to resume inclusive negotiations on electoral reform, eliminating all forms of inequality and discrimination in the electoral process. It emphasises that the agreement reached regarding elections in Mostar enabled the city’s citizens to vote in the 2020 local elections for the first time since 2008.

Migratory pressure

Concerned by the increased migratory pressure that has led to a grave humanitarian situation, MEPs call for a coordinated, strategic, countrywide response, in order to improve border management and to build appropriate reception capacity across the country. To fight cross-border crime more effectively, closer cooperation with neighbouring countries and relevant EU agencies is essential, MEPs stress.

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Rapporteur Paulo Rangel (EPP, Portugal) said: “Bosnia and Herzegovina is at the heart of Europe and its diversity is at the core of European DNA. Further reforms are needed, building upon modest progress to date. We support an inclusive dialogue involving reforms that will allow BiH to advance on its European path and to obtain candidate status. This is only possible by affirming Bosnia and Herzegovina's pluralistic nature while ensuring a functional democracy where all peoples and citizens are equal!”

The report was adopted by 483 votes in favour, 73 against and 133 abstentions.

More information 

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Genocide conviction upheld against former Bosnian Serb military chief Mladic

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United Nations war crimes judges on Tuesday (8 June) upheld a genocide conviction and life sentence against former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, confirming his central role in Europe’s worst atrocities since World War Two, write Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie Van Den Berg.

Mladic, 78, led Bosnian Serb forces during Bosnia's 1992-95 war. He was convicted in 2017 on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes including terrorising the civilian population of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during a 43-month siege, and the killing of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys taken prisoner in the eastern town of Srebrenica in 1995.

"His name should be consigned to the list of history's most depraved and barbarous figures," chief tribunal prosecutor Serge Brammertz said after the verdict. He urged all officials in the ethnically divided region of former Yugoslavia to condemn the ex-general.

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Mladic, who had contested both the guilty verdict and life sentence at his trial, wore a dress shirt and black suit and stood looking at the floor as the appeals judgment was read out in court in The Hague.

The appeals chamber "dismisses Mladic appeal in its entirety..., dismisses the prosecution's appeal in its entirety..., affirms the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Mladic by the trial chamber," presiding judge Prisca Nyambe said.

The outcome caps 25 years of trials at the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which convicted 90 people. The ICTY is one of the predecessors of the International Criminal Court, the world's first permanent war crimes court, also seated in The Hague.

"I hope that with this Mladic judgment children in (Bosnia's Serb-run entity) Republika Srpska and children in Serbia who are living in lies will read this, " Munira Subasic, whose son and husband were killed by Serb forces that overran Srebrenica, said after the ruling, highlighting Serb genocide denial.

Many Serbs still regard Mladic as a hero, not a criminal.

Post-war Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, now chairing Bosnia's tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, denounced the verdict. "It's clear to us there is an attempt here to create a myth about genocide that never occurred," Dodik said.

'HISTORIC JUDGMENT'

Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is guided by a French Foreign Legion officer as he arrives at a meeting hosted by French U.N. commander General Philippe Morillon at the airport in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in March, 1993. Picture taken in March, 1993.  REUTERS/Chris Helgren
Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic gestures prior to the pronouncement of his appeal judgement at the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague, Netherlands June 8, 2021. Peter Dejong/Pool via REUTERS
A Bosnian Muslim woman reacts as she awaits the final verdict of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic in the Srebrenica-Potocari Genocide Memorial Center, Bosnia and Herzegovina, June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

In Washington, the White House praised the work of the UN tribunals in bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice.

"This historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable. It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world," it said in a statement.

The appeals judges said Mladic, who after his ICTY indictment was a fugitive for 16 years until his 2011 capture, would remain in custody in The Hague while arrangements were made for his transfer to a state where he will serve his sentence. It is not yet known which country will take him.

Lawyers for Mladic had argued that the former general could not be held responsible for possible crimes committed by his subordinates. They sought an acquittal or a retrial.

Prosecutors had asked the appeals panel to uphold Mladic's conviction and life sentence in full.

They also wanted him to be found guilty of an additional charge of genocide over a campaign of ethnic cleansing - a drive to expel Bosnian Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs in order to carve out a Greater Serbia - in the early years of the war that included brutal detention camps that shocked the world.

That prosecution appeal was also dismissed. The 2017 verdict found that the ethnic cleansing campaign amounted to persecution - a crime against humanity - but not genocide.

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday the final Mladic ruling meant the international justice system had held him to account.

"Mladic’s crimes were the abhorrent culmination of hatred stoked for political gain," Bachelet said in a statement.

The lower ICTY court ruled Mladic was part of "a criminal conspiracy" with Bosnian Serb political leaders. It also found he was in "direct contact" with then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 shortly before the verdict in his own ICTY trial for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Mladic wasjudged to have played a decisive role in some of the most gruesome crimes committed on European soil since the Nazi Holocaust of World War Two.

The tribunal determined that Mladic was pivotal in the Srebrenica slaughter - which occurred in a UN-designated “safe area” for civilians -since he controlled both the military and police units involved.

Joint Statement by the High Representative Josep Borrell and Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi on the sentencing of Ratko Mladic for genocide

The final judgement in the case of Ratko Mladić by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) brings to an end a key trial in Europe’s recent history for war crimes, including genocide, which took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"Remembering those who lost their lives, our deepest sympathies are with their loved ones and those who survived. This judgement will contribute to the healing for all those who suffered.

"The EU expects all political actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Western Balkans to demonstrate full cooperation with international tribunals, respect their decisions and acknowledge their independence and impartiality.

"Genocide denial, revisionism and glorification of war criminals contradict the most fundamental European values. Today’s decision is an opportunity for leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region, in view of the facts, to lead the way in honouring victims and promote an environment conducive to reconciliation to overcome the legacies of the war and build lasting peace. 

"This is a prerequisite for the stability and security of the Bosnia and Herzegovina and fundamental for its EU path. It is also amongst the 14 key priorities of the Commission Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s EU membership application.

"International and domestic courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the neighbouring countries need to continue their mission to provide justice for all victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and their family members. There can be no impunity."

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