Secretary of State
Department of State
As you review U.S. policy related to the Dayton Peace Accords, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urges you to stress the priority of ensuring that the provisions for press freedom and the free movement of journalists are vigorously enforced.
No election can be considered free and fair unless the news media can report openly to the entire electorate on the campaigns of all major contending parties, and all reporters are free to cover the news without hindrance or fear of reprisal.
This letter is an effort to highlight the typical difficulties of our colleagues and to suggest steps you can take to remedy them. We have consulted with a number of American journalists who have covered Bosnia, as well as local reporters in Bosnia, and have also received first-hand accounts from international observers in the field, notably the Media Experts Commission (MEC) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
With less than five months before municipal elections in Bosnia, we regret to report that persistent, widespread abuses of press freedom remain, notably in the Republika Srpska (Serb-controlled entity) and in Croat-controlled territory in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. With the stranglehold of the ruling parties on the news outlets, we have grave concerns about the future of the region's free media, so vital to democracy.
Under the Dayton Accords, "The Governments...will not subject journalists to detention, harassment or interference of any kind, in connection with the pursuit of their legitimate professional activities."Yet despite these guarantees, as well as separate agreements on accreditation procedures and the rights of journalists, most recently outlined in the rules and regulations of the Provisional Electoral Commission, local police routinely prevent journalists from doing their jobs and stand by when journalists are assaulted.
Local authorities, notably in Republika Srpska, citing laws established in the former Yugoslavia, continue to demand that television crews and photographers obtain prior authorization for filming public events or scenes. They also arbitrarily bar print reporters from conducting interviews. Movement across the inter-entity boundary line (IEBL), particularly in Serb- and Croat-controlled territories, is heavily restricted by local authorities. Many reporters fear to "run the gantlet." A journalist in Tuzla summarizes the experience of many in a letter sent to an American colleague: "Journalists from the Federation [the Croat-Muslim Federation] have no protection whatsoever in Srpska. They are beaten and mistreated...No one is guaranteeing the safety of Federation journalists who venture into Srpska."
We have compiled a list of cases, confirmed by the MEC, representative of the types of harassment of journalists in Bosnia. The common thread is obvious: Police are routinely detaining journalists, the Stabilization Force (SFOR) and the International Police Task Force (IPTF) are failing to intercede on journalists' behalf, and journalists' attackers are not being brought to justice:
Other incidents, while not attacks on the press per se, indicate the climate of ethnic violence and human rights abuse in which journalists must work:
- An armed man attacked the editor in chief of East Mostar television and his crew in the Hotel Ero, located in Mostar's neutral zone, where no weapons are allowed. Police witnessed the incident but failed to intervene.
- Ivica Milesic, a journalist and stringer for Radio Herze Bosna was attacked by an unidentified assailant with a knife outside his home on Feb. 13 in Zenica. Milesic has received a number of threatening phone calls and his car has been vandalized.
- An editor from Lilijan, a Sarajevo-based Bosnian Muslim newspaper, was arrested by West Mostar police and beaten before his release.
- On March 12 in Republika Srpska (RS) police unlawfully detained SFOR spokesman Maj. Tony White and a television crew from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for more than two hours, claiming they required prior permission for filming and demanding they turn over their equipment. An RS police escort was imposed upon the group when they were released, and when they stopped at an IPTF station to report the incident, the RS escort insisted they return to the RS police station.
- Photographer Leif Skoogfors, accompanied by SFOR soldiers, was blocked by RS police in Bijeljina and warned that photographs could not be taken without a permit. IPTF observers did not intervene.
- Two journalists from the German magazine Stern were detained for more than an hour at the police station in Vitez in Croat-controlled territory where they were informed that they required prior permission to conduct interviews and take photographs. Their notes and film were confiscated.
- RS police confiscated a television camera and equipment from a Tuzla television crew (RTV-TPK) on Feb. 12 at the IEBL. The camera was finally returned in May after repeated MEC intervention.
- Two journalists from Studio Pirej, based in Skopje, Macedonia, were detained for an hour by Federation police while filming in Jajce, in Federation territory, and informed that they required prior permission. Later the crew was stopped again in Drvar, also in Federation territory.
- In May, Serb civilians stoned a bus of Bosnian Muslims visiting Brcko, a town claimed by both entities. One journalist on the bus was knocked unconscious by a rock and another reporter suffered a hand injury. SFOR and IPTF soldiers were present and did not intervene.
- In April, the murder trial in Serb-controlled Zvornik of seven Bosnian Muslim survivors of the Srebenica massacre was closed to the press. An international community representative condemned the proceedings as a "kangaroo court," but failed to protest the lack of press access. While foreign news agencies were able to get the story from OSCE observers who were admitted to the courtroom, Bosnian Muslim journalists who wished to cover the trial were discouraged from even traveling to Zvornik because of numerous past incidents of Serb police obstruction.
The OSCE has not determined government involvement in every instance, but certain attacks are nevertheless indicative of a climate of criminality in which highly visible journalists are particularly vulnerable:
- The editor in chief and a journalist from Radio ISV in Sarajevo were beaten by a group of unidentified persons following a controversial broadcast in December 1996.
- The office of Dani, a leading magazine in Sarajevo, was broken into by a group of individuals linked to other crimes in the city, who beat the deputy editor and an administrative assistant.
Aware of the Clinton administration's intention to seek implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords, CPJ has a number of recommendations for maximizing the existing powers of the OSCE and SFOR:
1. Signal intention to enforce: In all public appearances in Bosnia, international community leaders should stress the importance of press freedom and the mobility of journalists, and signal their intent to protect the rights of the free media. Consistent efforts should be made to identify and bring to justice policemen who attack journalists and to ensure police compliance with press freedoms.
2. Urge universal license plates: Currently, motor vehicle license plates are issued by each entity and use symbols that identify their origin, a system that effectively prevents freedom of movement across ethnic boundaries. While negotiations to create a universal license plate have stalled over the parties' failure to agree on a common symbol, it is vital to continue to press for the licenses. These negotiations should be decoupled from other matters involving telecommunications, banking systems, and so on.
Until the adoption of universal license plates, OSCE should provide shuttle buses for journalists across entity boundaries, staffed with SFOR soldiers and OSCE personnel. Such transportation should be provided regularly between towns, not just to the press conferences or other events sponsored by the OSCE or OHR themselves.
3. Empower SFOR to act: SFOR soldiers have the authority not only to protect transmitters or buildings, but to protect journalists as well from physical assault by intervening forcefully with local police when necessary. They should use this authority, and not merely log complaints from journalists after the fact, but should actively defend journalists who are carrying out their professional duties.
4. MEC should be proactive: The Media Experts Commission should not merely record abuses of the Dayton Accords but look for opportunities to actively enforce Dayton guarantees, for example in providing transportation and security for journalists covering news events, such as the recent trial in Zvornik of Bosnian Muslim survivors of Srebenica, which was closed to the press; the return of refugees for voter registration; the exhumation of the victims of the massacres at Srebenica,etc. Election rules guarantee media access to campaign rallies and polling stations during elections, but ensuring this access requires the OSCE to actively assist with transportation and security.
5. Increase public education: The existing rules and rights of journalists should be made widely available to the press in a user-friendly format, including instructions for filing a complaint with the MEC. The existing program to distribute such literature to police should be continued and extended outside the major cities.
6. Adjudicate broadcast frequency allocation: Consideration should be given to establishing mechanisms for adjudicating the use of radio and television broadcasting frequencies. Currently SFOR has a mandate to manage radio frequencies and OBN (Open Broadcasting Network) television only to ensure that broadcasting is not interfering with SFOR communications and to bring all parties together to resolve disputes. Perhaps SFOR's good offices could be used to resolve such cases as that of Radio Zid, an independent Sarajevo station known for its relatively objective news coverage, whose signal has been drowned out by Radio Orthodox St. John in Pale, a station owned by the daughter of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. The SFOR mandate could be extended to include adjudication of all radio and broadcast frequency disputes.
7. Fund international broadcasting: Funding for the international community's television network, the Open Broadcasting Network, and radio station, FERN, should be sustained, but efforts should also be made to protect and develop local independent privately owned cantonal stations.
8. Extend the mandate: The mandate of the MEC should be extended well beyond the Sept. 14 elections and past the end of 1997.
9. Increase funding for transportation and staff: A proactive role for the MEC and OSCE will undoubtedly require increased funding for ground transportation and staff.
In its annual report for 1996, CPJ criticized OSCE's lack of response to severe abuses of press freedom. We are pleased to see that under the new leadership of David Foley, the OSCE spokesman and senior policy advisor, and Joseph Kazlas, senior advisor for media development in Bosnia, the Media Experts Commission (MEC) has become much more forceful, tracking complaints of journalists and following up on cases of concern to CPJ.
The international civilian and military staff in Bosnia-Herzegovina is capable of doing the job. But the political will must be present and the signals of intent to enforce Dayton must be clear from the leadership in Washington. We know you share our concerns for the protection of journalists and the emergence of a free press in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We are ready to work with you and your staff for our common goals.
Chairman of the Board
Hans Helvag Petersen
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