Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.N. Human Rights Observer: Bosnian Muslims "Threatened with Extermination"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

U.N. Human Rights Observer: Bosnian Muslims "Threatened with Extermination"

Article excerpt

U.N. Human Rights Observer: Bosnian Muslims "Threatened With Extermination"

In late August and mid-October, a team headed by Special Rapporteur Tadeusz Mazowiecki of the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights made two visits to the former Yugoslavia. Mr. Mazowiecki's often mildly worded report belies the urgency of his message. He concludes that the Muslim population are the principal victims of the atrocities and "are virtually threatened with extermination."

An estimated 70,000 Muslims are reported to have fled from the region bordering Bosnia-Hercegovina. Not only are they facing extinction, but every vestige of their contribution to the region's culture is being systematically obliterated. Mosques have been bombed and pillaged and Islamic cultural centers razed.

The report provides the following example of the "system." Fleeing Muslims are forced to sign documents stating they will never return to their homes. No compensation is offered for their property or their personal belongings. Muslims who had fled to Travnik from Banja Luka told Mr. Mazowiecki's team that an "emigration agency" had been established to organize their displacement. Many of them had had to pay up to 300 Deutschemarks ($190) per person to be allowed to leave. They were driven toward the front line. Despite the fact that they had paid for transport to the border, en route they were beaten, robbed, and in some cases raped or shot. Then, several kilometers before they reached the border, they were told to get off the bus and to cross the combat zone as best they could. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) refuses to help the families cross the battle zones because they do not want to be seen to be aiding the policy of "ethnic cleansing."

During their second mission, the team visited different areas of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, and Serbia, including Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Sandjak. They paid special attention to the conditions in prisons and refugee centers. Mr. Mazowiecki stresses in his report that the "violations are being perpetuated at the very time the parties are entering into commitments at the negotiating table at Geneva."

Their treatment by Serbian authorities in the region of Banja Luka is a case in point. A few days before Mr. Mazowiecki and his team arrived in the region, in the village of Celinac 17 houses occupied by Muslim families were blown up in a single night. Because it was impossible to flee the region, approximately 650 Muslims took refuge in a school. When Mr. Mazowiecki and his team arrived, they learned that the ICRC had not yet been allowed to visit the school. ICRC officials told them they feared that the Muslims trapped in the school were in danger of starvation. When the U.N. rapporteur asked for permission to visit the school, local Serb authorities told him he would not be allowed to do so without the authorization of the village mayor who, they said, was away "visiting the battlefront." This was despite the fact that one of the Serbian authorities present was the president of the Regional Executive Council.

In another instance, they tried to visit the military camp known as Manjaca, near Banja Luka, which is said to be the largest detention camp on Bosnian territory under the control of ethnic Serbs. The officer in charge informed them that 3,000 prisoners of war were currently incarcerated there. However, when the team asked for permission to visit, the officer refused. He said the prisoners were "tired of being visited by international missions." Several weeks later the mission received information, including photographs, that showed many prisoners at the camp in poor health, including signs of malnutrition, and in some cases torture. Well-informed sources estimated that there was likely a much higher number of prisoners in the camp than the officials admitted. …

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