BIRN

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22. April 2020.

<div class="btArticleExcerpt">The evidence suggests rates of domestic abuse are up since states in the Balkans began imposing strict limitations on movement in the fight against COVID-19.</div> <div class="btArticleBody portfolioBody btTextLeft"> <p class="wpml-ls-statics-post_translations wpml-ls"></p> <div class="post_teaser"> “Before the quarantine he would insult me, use slurs, tell me I’m a whore, that I’m kissing other men.


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2. April 2020.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s blanket bans on certain age groups from going outdoors during the pandemic are not only harsh, arbitrary and discriminatory – but also risk worsening public health outcomes.

Emina Cerimovic, Margaret Wurth and Bethany Brown

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not alone in using age as a determinant for developing guidance to particular populations, but has taken it to extremes by creating a punishable offence that only certain age groups can be charged with.

The rights group Human Rights Watch has received official data showing that between March 20 and 30, police in Republika Srpska issued 217 fines to older people, and that police in the Sarajevo Canton issued 20 such fines, some to children.

The spokesperson for the Interior Ministry in the Canton of Sarajevo said that older people who ask for permission to leave their homes in exceptional circumstances, for example, to visit a doctor, will not be fined. The spokesperson also clarified that the average fine was 500 Marks, or about 255 euros, which is higher the average monthly pension in either the Federation [less than 420 Marks] or Republika Srpska [less than 380 Marks].

International law permits restrictions on certain rights, and at times, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, more extensive restrictions may be justified. But they still have to be evidence-based and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory. And they also need to be limited in duration, subject to review, and necessary and proportionate to achieve the objective.

The orders in Bosnia and Herzegovina do not meet these criteria. First, singling out age as the sole determinant is problematic. While older people are among those at high risk of death from COVID-19, there are also increased risks for people of any age with certain underlying health conditions. These include heart and lung diseases, including asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver disease, diabetes, cancer and compromised immune systems, and likely current or recent pregnancy. Growing evidence globally shows that adults across all age groups may ultimately require hospitalization if they contract COVID-19.

If the objective of the order is to protect people at high risk, limiting it to people over 65 is arbitrary. There are effective ways to prevent exposure, such as social distancing and strict hygiene including hand washing and not touching your face. Banning people from going outside is not strictly necessary.

Research also suggests that children with COVID-19 have less severe symptoms and lower mortality rates than other age groups. There is little evidence that children play a significant role in asymptomatic transmission, and there is no need to restrict their right to go outdoors, if they adhere to the same social distancing restrictions as adults.

The order can also be a burden on parents and a challenge for children if they must stay confined for extended periods of time. One mother of two boys, aged three and 11, told us: “The kids have been confined to the house for 15 days now. The boys are restless and nervous. They are bored. They sleep less. The older one has tantrums and the younger one cries more often. …I’ve always been in favour of avoiding gatherings, playrooms and parks full of children during flu season, for example. But I don’t understand why now they cannot even go out a few meters from our apartment building, or get in and out of [the] car.”

Older people subject to such extreme social isolation may struggle to get food, health services and medicine, and their health and mental well-being may be harmed as a result. The daughter of a 72-year-old woman who lives alone in Zenica told us: “Fortunately, neighbours help out and make sure she has food…. [It’s] more the psychological impact. It is not easy to handle this isolation, especially for people who live alone.

“What really made me sad the other day was when mom told me: ‘If I could just go out to throw away the trash’ …How terrifying it is that it would mean something to her to be able to walk for 20 or 30 meters to the trash container!”

Many governments in Europe and beyond are taking extraordinary measures to protect public health during the pandemic. In some cases, it will be difficult to determine whether responses are proportionate and comply with international norms. But blanket measures that impose an undue burden on certain age groups, and may in fact create other risks for them, are neither strictly necessary nor based on the best evidence.

Indeed, they can undermine public health, not least by leading other people to believe that they face minimal or no risk, or undermining the important message of other more effective preventive measures. The authorities in both entities should immediately end the system of fines and misdemeanours, revoke the current orders and drop a criminal law approach.

Better to opt instead to require everyone to practice evidence-based measures, including social distancing, hand washing and isolation of those who become sick or who have been exposed. Such measures, which can be monitored and reviewed as the pandemic runs its course, will help protect the right to health and prevent disease transmission without discrimination.

Emina Cerimovic is a senior disability rights researcher; Margaret Wurth is a senior children’s rights researcher; and Bethany Brown is a researcher specializing in the rights of older people, all at Human Rights Watch.

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.


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17. March 2020.
Two Kosovo Serbs were recently charged with raping women during the war in 1999 – but their indictments highlighted how Kosovo’s courts have not managed to convict anyone of wartime sexual violence in two decades.

He used to be a police reservist in Vushtrri/Vucitrn, and was also a prison guard during the war, when he took part in the illegal detention of a large number of ethnic Albanian civilians at the nearby Smrekovnica detention centre from May to early June 1999.

During that period, the inmates were subjected to inhumane treatment, torture and beatings for which Vukotic was personally responsible.

In May 2018, he was sentenced to six-and-a-half years of prison for the mistreatment and torture of the civilians who were detained at Smrekovnica. The appeals court upheld the sentence in April the following year.

But this case involved no accusation of rape. However, Kosovo’s Prosecution Office found out in the meantime that Vukotic had raped a 16 years old female in the region of Mitrovica.

Drita Hajdari, the head of the War Crimes Department at Kosovo’s Special Prosecution Office and prosecutor in the case, said that “Vukotic intentionally and violently molested the victim”.

She said that the victim reported the case to the prosecution herself. “She knew the perpetrator even though the accused denied the charges. We asked the court to protect the victim’s identity so she will only be referred to by her nickname throughout the trial,” Hajdari told BIRN.

Hajdari explained the complexities that she had to cope with during her investigation – problems that are common in sensitive cases of sexual violence. “The victim is very fragile and I had to interview her in a special place in the presence of a psychologist,” she said.

Convicted men acquitted on appeal


Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman addresses the Kosovo Assembly about justice for sexual violence survivors. Photo courtesy of Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman.

The UN and EU missions that used to be responsible for prosecuting wartime crimes in Kosovo failed to secure any sustainable convictions for sexual violence.

Back in 2013, the Basic Court in Mitrovica sentenced Jovica Dejanovic, a former Serb policeman, to 12 years in prison, and Djordje Bojkovic to ten years for raping a teenage girl in April 1999.

But the Supreme Court reversed the first-instance verdict and released both Dejanovic and Bojkovic in 2014.

The victim in the case was Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman, who has since become one of the few survivors of wartime sexual violence in Kosovo to defy the social stigmatisation that is widespread in society and speak about her ordeal publicly.

Krasniqi Goodman told BIRN that she was more optimistic that the Vukotic case would result in a conviction.

“One of the failures [of the UN and EU missions] was my own case. Nevertheless, I think that this current case gives hope and an incentive to restore a sense of justice,” she said.

“Based on what I have been told, there are more cases on the way and I encourage and support other victims to step forward and demand justice,” she added.

Outside Kosovo, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague tried several cases in which the charges included rape alongside other wartime crimes.

Allegations of responsibility for sexual violence formed part of the ICTY indictments of six senior officials of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime – Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, Serbian Deputy Interior Minister Vlastimir Djordjevic, the Serbian Interior Ministry’s chief in Kosovo, Sreten Lukic, Yugoslav Third Army commander Nebojsa Pavkovic, the chief of the Yugoslav Army’s General Staff, Dragoljub Ojdanic, and the commander of the Yugoslav Army’s Pristina Corps, Vladimir Lazarevic.

Pavkovic was convicted, with the ICTY finding that, given his rank and command authority, could have been able to prevent incidents of sexual violence in the village of Beleg in the Decan/Decani municipality and Qirez/Cirez in the Drenas/Glogovac municipality. However, the Hague court cleared him of having responsibility for not preventing three other incidents in Pristina.

Lazarevic, Sainovic and Lukic were found guilty on appeal of bearing responsibility for incidents of sexual violence by troops in Beleg and Qirez/Cirez as part of a joint criminal enterprise in which they were involved.

Ojdanic and Lazarevic were both acquitted of responsibility for incidents of sexual violence in Kosovo, however.

Allegations of sexual violence were also part of the indictment in the case against former Kosovo Liberation Army commanders Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Ibrahimaj at the ICTY.

Balaj was accused of raping a Roma woman, but although the court found that the rape did happen, the victim could not identify Balaj as her attacker and he was acquitted of that count in the indictment.

Allegations have also be made at a showpiece trial in Serbia of former Yugoslav troops accused of war crimes including 100 killings in the villages of Qyshk/Cuska, Pavlan/Pavljan, Zahaq/Zahac and Lubeniq/Ljubenic near the town of Peja/Pec in April and May 1999.

At the trial in Belgrade, several members of the 177th Brigade of the Yugoslav Army, known as the Jackals, were convicted under a first-instance verdict in Belgrade in 2014 and sentenced to a total of 106 years in jail.

During the trial, Shehrije Balaj, a Roma woman from Kosovo, and two ethnic Albanian women testified that they were raped. However, the Serbian Appeals Court then dismissed the verdict and ordered a retrial.

‘Victims should shout about these crimes’


Drita Hajdari, the head of the War Crimes Department at Kosovo’s Special Prosecution Office. Photo: EULEX Kosovo

After the indictment of Zoran Vukotic, some details about a second wartime rape charge emerged last week when the authorities in Hungary arrested a Serbwho is wanted by the Kosovo judiciary.

The man is accused of hitting and raping a pregnant woman in the village of Videje/Vidanje in the Kline/Klina municipality in June 1999, the municipal court in Budapest announced. Kosovo prosecutors confirmed the arrest but declined to give further details about the case.

Drita Hajdari said that the prosecution has a specific investigative strategy for sexual crimes.

“I have decided that those cases should be handled by female prosecutors. Furthermore, we have to enhance the protection of victims,” Hajdari said.

Feride Rushiti, the head of Pristina-based Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors, which provides medical, legal and financial support to wartime rape survivors, assisted the victim in the Vukotic case during the investigation process.

Rushiti said she believes that the case will encourage others to seek justice.

“We are encouraging the victims to shout about these crimes that they were subjected to. These heinous crimes that were committed against them should be properly documented and thus exposed and subsequently punished so that there will not be any room for denials,” Rushiti told BIRN.

Maxine Marcus, the director of the US-based Transitional Justice Clinic and a former ICTY prosecutor, said that political support was needed and resources should be made available.

“There is a mountain of cases that the prosecution is working on to sort through the mess left by the international community and ultimately bring justice to many survivors in Kosovo,” Marcus told BIRN.

The EU’s rule-of-law mission EULEX handed over hundreds of unprosecuted war crime case files to the Kosovo judiciary at the end of 2018.

“The time is running out and there are only three [Special Prosecution] prosecutors who work on the war crime cases. At the same time, they still have to deal with other ordinary but demanding criminal cases,” she added.

Marcus argued that Kosovo needs a team of at least five full-time war crimes prosecutors.

“It can be done, even though not every incident will be prosecuted, but many can and will be, if the resources are available,” she said.

Krasniqi Goodman argued meanwhile that more than 20 years after the war ended, Kosovo should develop an effective strategy to prosecute sexual violence cases.

“It’s about time that Kosovo breathes life into its justice system which deals with war crimes,” she said.


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9. March 2020.

A court in the city of Split convicted two former Bosnian Croat fighters of committing war crimes against Bosniak civilians and prisoners of war who were held in detention camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993. Croatian media reported that Split county court found former Croatian Defence Council fighters Marinko Maric and Zeljko Rodin guilty of war crimes against Bosniak civilians and prisoners of war held at detention camps in the Western Herzegovina area from July to September 1993.



4. March 2020.
An appeals court in Belgrade upheld the verdict sentencing Nikola Vida Lujic, a former member of Serbia’s Red Berets special forces unit, to eight years in prison for raping a woman in Brcko in Bosnia in 1992.

Belgrade Appeals Court has confirmed a verdict sentencing Nikola Vida Lujic, a former member of the Special Operations Unit, an elite Serbian special forces unit also known as the Red Berets, to eight years in prison for raping a Bosnian women in Brcko on June 20, 1992.

The court said in an explanation of its ruling that eight years in prison was “necessary but also sufficient to achieve the purpose of punishment”.

It cited the ruling in the original trial, in which the court condemned Vida Lujic’s “particularly offensive and degrading treatment of the victim”.

The verdict also drew attention to “the intensity of the mental injuries and the continuous suffering that [the victim] experienced” and “the psychological traumas for which she is still being treated”.

Vida Lujic, together with two other unidentified fighters, entered a house in Brcko on the day of the assault, wearing a uniform and armed with a gun, the court found.

He pulled out the weapon, loaded it with bullets and put it back in his pocket in front of a women who was in the house.

After she handed over her money and jewellery, Vida Lujic took her into the bathroom and locked the door. He raped her twice in the bathroom and then took her into the bedroom and raped her again.

During the assault, the victim asked Vida Lujic to kill her, to which he replied he was “not in charge of that”, the original indictment said. While he was raping the woman, the two other soldiers broke everything in the house.

The Appeals Court delivered its verdict on January 31, but only published the ruling on its website on Monday.

Handing down the first-instance verdict in September 2019, judge Dejan Terzic said that Vida Lujic had been previously convicted of a similar crime.

“He used his dominance over the victim and her helplessness because she was already scared enough because her husband had been arrested,” Terzic added.

The indictment was originally issued by Brcko District Prosecutor’s Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina in January 2018. But because Vida Lujic is a Serbian citizen, the case was transferred to the Higher Court in Belgrade.


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26. February 2020.
Prosecutors in Belgrade charged Osman Osmanovic with committing war crimes against Serb civilians and prisoners of war held at the Rasadnik prison camp in Brcko in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992.

The Serbian War Crimes Prosecution told BIRN that it has charged Osman Osmanovic with committing war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war at the Rasadnik camp in Gornji Rahic in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Brcko area during the summer of 1992.

The indictment was issued on Friday and has yet to be confirmed by a court.

After he was arrested on the Serbia Bosnia border in November, the prosecution said that Osmanovic, “as a member of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), and later of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with several members of his unit, inflicted bodily injuries, tortured, abused and intimidated civilians and captured members of the Army of Republika Srpska [Bosnian Serb Army]”.

Osmanovic is a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has asked for his extradition. Belgrade Higher Court rejected the extradition request and Osmanovic remains in custody in Serbia.

Osmanovic’s lawyer, Mirsad Crnovrsanin, told BIRN in December that the Serbian War Crimes Prosecution had no basis for conducting an investigation into Osmanovic, as he is a Bosnian citizen and allegedly committed the crime in Bosnia, and that the only witness and victim also lives in Bosnia.

“The crime under investigation in Serbia is the same as the one investigated in Bosnia, so all conditions for referring the case against Osmanovic [to Bosnia] have been met,” Crnovrsanin said.

The Appeal Court in the Brcko District of Bosnia sentenced ex-fighters Galib Hadzic and Nijaz Hodzic to two years and ten months and one year in prison respectively in 2015 for torturing prisoners at the Rasadnik jail camp during wartime. Osmanovic was a witness at the trial.