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The Interior Ministry in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska, where Prijedor is located, told BIRN that the local police administration decided to limit the event to a gathering in a city square within a limited time period on Tuesday “in order to reduce the danger to the safety of people and property and the danger of disturbing public order and peace”.
But Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, said the police decision violated people’s rights.
“This is contrary to international human rights standards on peaceful assembly. Instead of restricting the space for civic expression, the authorities should facilitate it and counter the denial of war crimes,” Mijatovic said.
The US embassy in Sarajevo also condemned the decision, saying that the authorities in Prijedor have the responsibility to promote tolerance and respect for war victims.
“Limiting victims’ ability to commemorate their suffering erodes mutual trust and undercuts prospects for reconciliation, which is necessary to secure a peaceful and prosperous future for all [Bosnia and Herzegovina’s] citizens,” the embassy said in a statement on Twitter.
It added that the right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constitution.
After the march was banned, hundreds of people joined the commemorative gathering in Major Zoran Karlica Square in Prijedor on Tuesday. Participants tied white ribbons to fences and laid red roses in the square in tribute, as well as displaying banners with photographs of the victims.
One of the organisers of White Ribbon Day, Fikret Bacic, who represents families of children who were murdered during the war in Prijedor, said he didn’t understand the reason for the ban because marches have been allowed in previous years.
“It was banned with the explanation that it was because of the security situation. We don’t get that, because we did not have any incident for nine years,” said Bacic.
White Ribbon Day is named after a decree issued on May 31, 1992 by the Serb-led administration in the municipality of Prijedor at the start of the Bosnian war, ordering the non-Serb population of the area to wear white ribbons and mark their homes with white sheets “as a sign of loyalty to the Serb authorities”, according to Hague Tribunal verdicts.
Bosnian Serb forces then launched attacks on nearby villages, and many Bosniaks and Croat civilians were imprisoned in detention camps. It is estimated that more than 3,000 people were killed, including 102 children, in Prijedor during the Bosnian war.