The Security Council this afternoon demanded that authorities in West Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, suspend and prosecute police officers involved in a 10 February violent assault against a group of civilians attempting to visit a graveyard in the presence of the International Police Task Force (IPTF), in which one person died and others were wounded.
In a statement read out by its President, Zbigniew Maria Wlosowicz (Poland), the Council, taking note of the announced suspension of some of the police officers identified in a IPTF report, expressed deep concern at the failure to date of the responsible authorities to take all the necessary steps to implement the conclusions drawn from that report. It strongly condemned attempts by those authorities to place conditions upon the arrest and prosecution of the police officers identified by the IPTF as having fired upon the group of civilians.
Further in the statement, the Council condemned the involvement of West Mostar police officers in the violent assault of 10 February, as well as the failure of local police to protect civilians subjected to inter-ethnic attacks which occurred before and after the incident, and stressed the importance it attaches to preventing such incidents in the future.
In the 10 February incident, described in documents before the Council, a procession of several hundred Bosniacs, led by religious and political leaders, travelled from East Mostar, across the former confrontation line, to visit a cemetery in West Mostar, in observance of the Bajram religious holiday. After briefly conversing with several West Mostar police, members of the procession continued towards the cemetery only to be attacked by West Mostar police wielding batons.
The meeting was called to order at 12:49 p.m. and adjourned at 12:52 p.m.
Text of Presidential Statement
The full text of the statement, to be released as document S/PRST/1997/12, reads as follows:
"The Security Council has considered the letter of 7 March 1997, and its annex, from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council concerning the incident on 10 February 1997 involving a violent assault against a group of civilians attempting to visit a graveyard in West Mostar in the presence of the United Nations-International Police Task Force (UN-IPTF), in which one person died and others were wounded (S/1997/201).
"The Security Council notes that the participants in the meeting on 12 February 1997 referred to in the letter from the Secretary-General agreed inter alia to request the United Nations-IPTF to conduct an investigation into that incident, to accept and endorse that report in full, and to draw the necessary conclusions concerning the arrest, bringing to trial and dismissal from office of those found responsible of instigating or participating in violent acts.
"The Security Council fully supports the conclusions drawn from the UN- IPTF report by the Office of the High Representative and fully supported by the UN-IPTF, the Commander of the Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the members of the Contact Group.
"The Security Council strongly condemns the involvement by West Mostar police officers in the violent assault on 10 February 1997 as referred to in the UN-IPTF report annexed to the letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council of 7 March 1997 (S/1997/204).
"The Security Council also condemns the failure of the local police to provide protection to civilians subject to inter-ethnic attacks which occurred throughout Mostar both before and after the incident on 10 February 1997, and stresses the importance it attaches to preventing such incidents in the future.
"The Security Council takes note of the announced suspension of some of the police officers identified in the UN-IPTF report but remains deeply concerned by the failure to date of the responsible authorities to take all the necessary steps to implement the conclusions drawn from that report. It strongly condemns attempts by those authorities to place conditions upon the arrest and prosecution of the police officers identified in the UN-IPTF report as having fired upon the group of civilians.
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"The Security Council demands that the responsible authorities, notably in West Mostar, immediately implement conclusions drawn from the UN-IPTF report, and in particular suspend all relevant police officers and arrest and prosecute them without further delay. It also calls upon the responsible authorities to investigate all police officers involved in the incident.
"The Security Council requests the Secretary-General to keep it informed of the situation. It will remain actively seized of the matter."
Letters before Council
A letter dated 7 March from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council (document S/1997/204) transmits an executive summary and key findings of a report prepared by the International Police Task Force (IPTF) pursuant to the "decisions on Mostar", as they were called when adopted in a meeting held on 12 February.
The executive summary describes a 10 February incident in which a procession of several hundred Bosniacs, led by religious and political leaders, travelled from East Mostar, across the former confrontation line, to visit a cemetery in West Mostar, in observance of the Bajram religious holiday. After briefly conversing with several West Mostar police, members of the procession continued towards the cemetery only to be attacked by West Mostar police wielding batons.
As the Bosniacs retreated in the direction from which they had come, a plain-clothes officer discharged a pistol in the air, according to the summary. At least two plain-clothes officers then fired into the retreating marchers, killing one and wounding 20. Two West Mostar police, Zeljko Planinic and Ivan Hrkac, the Deputy Chief of Police, were photographed firing into the crowd. As reports of the violence spread, sporadic attacks, against both Bosniacs and Croat civilians, took place in locations around the city.
The investigation of the IPTF revealed that the West Mostar police had received advance notification of the planned march, according to the summary. The use by law enforcement officers of excessive force in beating marchers, and of unnecessary and disproportionate lethal force, resulted in one death and numerous injuries. Such actions by law enforcement officials were criminal acts and constituted violations of internationally-recognized standards of law enforcement, of the European Convention on Human Rights, and of the Law on the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The summary states that there was a concerted effort from the highest level of the West Mostar police to hide the facts of the confrontation. The inaccuracy of information presented by the West Mostar police to the IPTF,
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including by the Chief of Police Marko Radic, reflects the absence of professional leadership in that force. The failure of both the East and West Mostar police to protect the potential victims of inter-ethnic attacks in the days following the incident illustrates the serious absence of professional police leadership throughout the area. In a series of key findings, the IPTF concluded that:
-- West Mostar police officers fired their weapons at the crowd as it was retreating, killing one and injuring 20; -- Uniformed and plain-clothes members of the West Mostar police physically assaulted members of the Bosniac procession; -- West Mostar police used excessive force, including unjustified lethal force, against the marchers; -- The West Mostar police, and its leadership, are responsible for the confrontation with the Bosniac marchers, which resulted in violence; -- West Mostar police officials attempted to cover up actions of their officers and created confusion among the public as to what actually occurred; -- The West Mostar police had been informed in advance of the Bosniac march to the cemetery; -- The general character of the procession was peaceful, even after the West Mostar police attempted to stop the cemetery visit; -- There was no contact or confrontation between the Bosniac marchers and Croats attending a nearby carnival; -- There is no evidence that members of the Bosniac procession carried weapons, or that they acted aggressively before the West Mostar police fired upon them; -- An IPTF monitor at the scene made a gesture that was interpreted as encouragement for the Bosniac procession to move forward; -- The West Mostar police attempted to cover up the facts concerning the events of 10 February, with support from the highest levels of the force; -- There were numerous attacks on civilians, both Bosnian Croat and Bosniac, in the aftermath of the event at the cemetery; and -- Police took little action to arrest the perpetrators or to protect innocent persons who were attacked. A letter dated 7 March from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council (document S/1997/201) transmits a letter from the Principal Deputy High Representative for the Implementation of the Peace Agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina addressed to him conveying a series of documents with regard to the situation in Mostar.
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Appendix I to the letter of the Principal Deputy High Representative is titled "decisions on Mostar of 12 February 1997". It conveys the conclusions of a 12 February meeting held in Sarajevo to address recent events in Mostar in which the following took part: President Izetbegovic, President Zubak, Co- Chairman Silajdzic, Vice-Chairman Tomic, Foreign Minister Prlic, Croation Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ), President Rajic, Democratic Action Party (SDA) Vice President and Prime Minister Bicakcic, Mostar Mayor Prskalo and Deputy Mayor Orucevic.
The participants decided to request the IPTF to conduct an independent investigation into the events of 10 February and to submit a report, which is summarized above. They committed themselves to ensuring that the IPTF would receive all available evidence in that regard, and that police forces would fully cooperate. They agreed that they would accept and endorse the report of the IPTF, arrest and bring to trial the perpetrators, and dismiss from office all office holders, including police, found responsible for violent acts. They decided that all citizens evicted from their homes in the course of recent events would be able to return, and appealed to the IPTF and to the Stabilization Force (SFOR) to maintain an increased presence in Mostar.
Appendix II contains a letter dated 24 February from the Principal Deputy High Representative to the Chair of the Presidency and the Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina transmitting an advance copy of the report of the IPTF. The letter stresses that the events of 10 February occurred after several weeks characterized by a sequence of incidents including grenade attacks on both sides of the city. The letter stresses that "Mostar must be addressed now". The Deputy High Representative states that the Federation as a whole is facing a "severe crisis". He urges the political leadership in Bosnia and Herzegovina to commit to speedy implementation of the Sarajevo Protocol, to adoption of the first Law and Municipal Reforms and to the building of Mostar institutions.
An enclosure to the letter notes that a Reinstatement Team composed of Mostar police, IPTF and SFOR had successfully allowed all persons illegally evicted in the wake of the 10 February events to return to their homes. It also states that the Sarajevo protocol must be implemented without delay. The necessary amendments of the Federation and Canton Constitutions should be adopted by the Assemblies by 14 March. On 15 March, the City Council should constitute itself, adopt the City Statute and elect the new Mayor of the City of Sarajevo.
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