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Journey to nowhere: Migrants wait in the cold to be bussed from burnt Bosnia camp

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Hundreds of migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East waited in the cold on Tuesday (29 December) to be bussed out of a burned camp about to be dismantled in Western Bosnia, but there was no agreement where they should go, writes Ivana Sekularac.

Fire destroyed the camp in Lipa housing about 1,200 people last week. Police and UN officials have said the blaze was probably started by migrants unhappy at the temporary closure of the camp, scheduled for the same day.

On Tuesday, media quoted Bosnia’s security minister, Selmo Cikotic, as saying that the migrants would be moved to a military barracks in the town of Bradina, 320 km (200 miles) away. Finance Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda disputed that, saying that there had not been any agreement.

Bosnian media showed pictures of buses parked for migrants to board. Residents gathered in Bradina to protest against migrants moving there, the portal klix.ba reported.

About 10,000 migrants are stuck in Bosnia, hoping to reach wealthier countries in the European Union.

The Lipa camp, which was opened last spring as a temporary shelter for the summer months 25 km away from Bihac, was due to shut on Wednesday (30 December) for winter refurbishing.

The central government wanted the migrants to temporarily return to the Bira camp in Bihac, which was shut down in October, but local authorities disagreed saying that other parts of Bosnia should also share the burden of the migrant crisis.

The European Union, which had supported Bosnia with €60 million to manage the crisis and pledged €25m more, has repeatedly asked the authorities to find an alternative to the unsuitable Lipa camp, warning of an unfolding humanitarian crisis.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

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.

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.

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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.

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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'Please help us': Migrants, exposed to freezing Bosnia winter, await chance to reach EU

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Hundreds of migrants are taking shelter in abandoned buildings in and around the northwestern Bosnian town of Bihac, wrapping up as best they can against the snow and freezing weather and hoping eventually to reach EU member Croatia across the border, writes .
Bosnia has since early 2018 become part of a transit route for thousands of migrants from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa aiming to reach Europe’s wealthier countries.

But it has become increasingly difficult to cross EU borders and impoverished Bosnia has become a cul de sac with its ethnically divided government unable to cope, leaving hundreds of people without proper shelter.

Ali, 16, from Afghanistan, has been sleeping in an abandoned bus for almost six months after he left a Bihac camp.

“I’m in really a bad way, there’s no one to look after us here and the conditions are not safe here,” Ali told Reuters.

“People who are supposed to support us have been coming and taking things from us and then selling those things inside the camp or in other places. We have nothing here ...Please help us.”

There are about 8,000 migrants in Bosnia, some 6,500 in camps around the capital Sarajevo and in the northwestern corner of the country bordering Croatia.

On Monday (11 January), EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell talked by phone with Bosnia’s presidency Serb chairman Milorad Dodik, urging Bosnian authorities to improve dire humanitarian conditions of migrants and open centres more evenly distributed across the whole country.

The Serb and Croat-dominated parts of Bosnia refuse to accommodate any migrants, most of whom come from Muslim countries.

“Borrell stressed that failing to do so would have severe consequences for the reputation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” his office said in a statement.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is running the Bosnian camps, said its mobile teams are helping around 1,000 people squatting in houses that were deserted or destroyed during the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

“They don’t have the possibility of regular food distribution,” said IOM camp manager and co-ordinator Natasa Omerovic. “They can’t seek medical assistance.”

Until last week, an additional 900 people were left without shelter after the Lipa summer camp, some 26 km away, was set on fire just as the IOM decided to withdraw because it was not warm enough for winter.

Bosnian authorities, who for months ignored requests from the European Union to find an alternative location, have now provided heated military tents and beds.

On Sunday evening, a group which found shelter in an abandoned house in Bihac, ate a modest dinner cooked under torchlight on an improvised fire. They slept on the dirty concrete floor without water. Some wore only plastic slippers in the snow.

“Too hard life here,” said Shabaz Kan from Afghanistan.

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