European governments are complicit in the systematic, unlawful and frequently violent "pushback" or collective expulsion of thousands of asylum-seekers to squalid and unsafe refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Amnesty International charges in a new report. Entitled Pushed to the Edge: Violence and Abuse Against Refugees and Migrants along Balkan Route, the report details how, by prioritizing border control over compliance with international law, European governments are not merely turning a blind eye to vicious assaults by the Croatian police, but actually funding such activities. In so doing, they are fueling a growing humanitarian crisis on the edge of the European Union.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Sept. 25 announced that the flow of refugees into Europe shows no signs of easing or stopping, as approximately 8,000 refugees a day seek to enter Europe. Amin Awad, the regional refugee coordinator for then UNHCR stated that problems now facing governments may turn out to be only the tip of the iceberg. Awad stated that the UN is planning for the potential displacement of 500,000 people from the Iraqi city of Mosul if Iraqi forces fight to recapture the city from Islamic State. Also that day, the UNHCR reported about the high number of migrants entering Europe along the Serbian-Croatian border. More than 50,000 migrants have entered through the town of Tovarnik, Croatia since mid-September.
At the July 11 ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic was chased off by stone-throwing protesters—the first violence at the annual commemoration. He later said he was hit in the face with a rock (although he was not injured) as the crowd chanted "Kill, kill" and "Allahu Akbar!" At issue is Serbia's official denialism on whether the massacre of more than 8,000 unarmed Bosnian Muslims after the town fell to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 constituted "genocide." Vucic wrote up a open letter for the ceremony that said: "Serbia clearly and unambiguously condemns this horrible crime and is disgusted with all those who took part in it and will continue to bring them to justice." But it (pointedly) did not use the word "genocide." The New York Times notes that Bosnian Muslims still recall Vucic's bloodthirty statement during the 1992-95 war that for every dead Serb, 100 Muslims should be killed. But much more to the point is that Serbia's government last week asked Russia to veto a UN Security Council resolution that would formally designate the Srebrenica massacre an act of genocide. (Jurist, July 5) On July 8, Russia obliged, with Moscow's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin calling the UK-drafted text "confrontational and politically-motivated." In Sarajevo, Munira Subasic, the head of Mothers of Srebrenica, told AFP that Russia's veto made "trust and reconciliation impossible." She added: "Russia is actually supporting criminals, those who killed our children. By deciding [to veto] Russia has left the door open for a new war." (Al Jazeera, July 9)
Protesters in Bosnia-Herzegovina set fire to government buildings Feb. 7, in the worst unrest the country has seen since the end of the 1992-95 war. Hundreds have been injured in three days of protests over unemployment and privatization of state industries. The presidency building in Sarajevo was set aflame, and riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in both the capital and the northern industrial hub of Tuzla. Angry demonstrations are also reported from Mostar, Zenica and Bihac. Elderly residents supported the protests by banging cooking pots on their windows and balconies. Four former state-owned companies, including furniture and detergent factories, employed most of the population of Tuzla, but filed for bankruptcy shortly after being privatized, throwing thousands out of work. The leader of the Tuzla region, Sead Causevic, told Bosnian state TV that the "rip-off privatization" had already taken place when his government took office, and called the workers' demands legitimate. Bosnia has the highest unemployment rate in the Balkans at roughly 40%. Privatization that followed the end of communism produced a handful of oligarchs, but almost wiped out the middle class and sent many workers into poverty. (BBC News, DW, Feb. 7)
Thousands of Bosnians again marched cross-country on July 11, along the path that refugees took when they fled the massacre at Srebrenica on that day in 1995. They arrived at the Potočari memorial cemetary outside the town for a ceremony where 409 more bodies were laid to rest. Among the interred remains were those of a baby girl who was born during the massacre; the mother took refuge at the Dutch-run UN "peacekeeping" camp outside the town, and gave birth there. She was told the baby was stillborn and would be buried; then the beseiging Serb forces overran the camp, meeting no resistance from the "peacekeepers." The baby ended up in a mass grave—one of several used to hide the bodies of more than 8,000 of Srebrenica's men and boys, summarily killed by the Serb rebel troops.
The Court of Cassation of Argentina, the highest criminal court, sentenced former president Carlos Menem to seven years on June 14 for illegal weapons sales to Croatia and Ecuador during his presidency. Now-senator Menem pleaded innocence, claiming that the weapons were intended for Panama and Venezuela but were stolen and sold to parties that violated the country's peace agreements (PDF) and UN embargoes. The lower court initially acquitted Menem and 17 other defendants last year on a series of charges. On appeal, however, the Court of Cassation sentenced 12 of those defendants to prison time and remanded the case in light of what is described as "overwhelming evidence." Menem, now 82, receives immunity as a public servant. The court urged his fellow representatives to strip him of this privilege, but recent scandals involving his colleagues may make it difficult for a majority of senators to establish that precedent. Furthermore, under Argentina law, all prisoners over 70 have the right to serve penal time at home. Thus, even if the senate does relinquish Menem's immunity, he will most likely never serve time behind bars.
The Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on Nov. 39 acquitted former Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) commanders Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Laji Brahimaj of all charges. Haradinaj (Kosova's former prime minister) was a commander of the KLA in the Dukagjin area of western Kosova; Balaj, a commander of a special operations unit known as the Black Eagles; and Brahimaj was deputy commander of the Dukagjin Operative Zone. In April 2008, the Trial Chamber originally acquitted Haradinaj of all charges, as was Balaj, but Brahimaj was convicted of mistreating a detainee and ordering the mistreatment of another, and was sentenced to six years. However, in July 2010, the ICTY Appeals Chamber reversed the judgments, finding that the Trial Chamber had failed to take sufficient steps to counter witness intimidation. The ICTY began the retrial in August 2011, with the prosecutor seeking a 20-year sentence for Haradinaj. However, the Trial Chamber rendered judgment in favor of the defendants, ordering for their immediate release.