Despite “very impressive results” in solving almost all property disputes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, returning large numbers of displaced persons to rebuilt homes, and creating a safe environment for most returnees, several human rights obstacles must still be overcome, according to a senior United Nations rights official.
“The situation of displaced persons and minority returnees remains fragile,” Walter Kälin, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), said at the end of a visit to the country ravaged by an ethnic war between Serbs, Croats and Muslims from 1992 to 1995.
He called on national and local authorities to ensure a conducive environment by fulfilling their human rights obligations, and he urged the international community to provide additional means to address the plight of vulnerable groups so that they can fully enjoy their rights.
“Besides widespread unemployment affecting the whole population, returnees face specific difficulties that relate to a lack of respect for their human rights,” Mr. Kälin added.
These obstacles include discriminatory practices in giving minority returnees access to jobs in public service and private employment, infringements of the right to education in certain areas by maintaining segregated schools, and lack of uniform rules on pensions and health insurance.
“Provocative use of national and religious symbols by some local authorities adds to the fact that minority returnees do not feel welcomed,” Mr. Kälin said. Continuing impunity for crimes committed during or shortly after the war also creates difficulties for returnees, as do prolonged and unjustified delays in connecting reconstructed houses of minority returnees to water and electricity.
“Women, in particular female heads of household and traumatized victims of war crimes, tend to be in especially disadvantaged positions,” he added. “These problems are also an important reason why the rate of returns is slowing down and preventing persons still displaced to go back to their homes.”
During his visit from 9 to 15 June at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry, Mr. Kälin met with top government ministers, cantonal and municipal governments, international agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as displaced persons and returnees.