The Security Council this afternoon called upon the Croatian Government to facilitate the return of Croatian Serbs to the former Sectors West, North and South -- the Western Slavonia and Krajina regions -- by improving conditions of personal and economic security, resolving the return-of-property issue and removing uncertainty about the implementation of the amnesty law.
In a statement read out by President Zbigniew Maria Wlosowicz (Poland), the Council called upon the Government to finalize without delay the list of war crime suspects in strict accordance with international law and to put an end to arbitrary arrests, particularly of Serbs returning to Croatia.
The Council, in expressing concern that the Croatian Government continued to withhold its full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, also called upon it to conduct investigations and the prosecution of persons accused of serious violations of international humanitarian law, especially those committed in the course of military operations in 1995 when Croatia recovered the formerly Serb-controlled areas.
Welcoming the improvement in living conditions for remaining Serbs in the region, the Council called upon the Government to assume fully its responsibilities to ensure that the social and economic situation of all inhabitants in the former Sectors improves. It expressed deep concern, however, that Croatian Serbs continued to live in conditions of serious insecurity throughout the former United Nations Protected Areas (UNPAs) and called on the Government to restore a climate of law and order.
The meeting, which began at 1:16 p.m., was adjourned at 1:23 p.m.
The full text of the presidential statement, which will be released as S/PRST/1997/15, is as follows:
"The Security Council has considered the report of the Secretary-General of 5 March 1997 (S/1997/195) on Croatia, submitted pursuant to Security Council resolutions 1009 (1995) and 1019 (1995). It also recalls the statement by its President of 20 December 1996 (S/PRST/1996/48). "The Security Council remains deeply concerned that, although the Government of Croatia maintains that it has deployed the necessary number of police officers, Croatian Serbs continue to live in conditions of serious insecurity throughout the areas which had been designated United Nations Protected Areas (UNPAs) and were known as Sectors West, North and South, particularly in the area of former Sector South around Knin. It calls upon the Government of Croatia to take further steps to restore a climate of law and order in those areas. "The Security Council welcomes the fact that difficult living conditions for remaining Serbs have been considerably eased during recent months by intensive humanitarian programmes conducted by international organizations. In this context, it calls upon the Government of Croatia to assume fully its responsibilities, in cooperation with all relevant international organizations, to ensure that the social and economic situation of all inhabitants in the former Sectors improves. "The Security Council expresses its concern that there continues to be little progress with regard to the return of Croatian Serb displaced persons and refugees to the areas. It calls upon the Government of Croatia to accelerate its efforts to improve conditions of personal and economic security, to remove bureaucratic obstacles to the rapid issue of documentation to all Serb families and to resolve promptly the property issue, by a return of property or a just compensation, in order to facilitate the return of Croatian Serbs to the former sectors. "The Security Council calls upon the Government of Croatia to remove uncertainty about the implementation of its amnesty law, in particular by finalizing without delay the list of war crime suspects on the basis of existing evidence and in strict accordance with international law, and to put an end to arbitrary arrests, particularly of Serbs returning to Croatia. "The Security Council recalls the obligations of Croatia arising from relevant universal human rights instruments to which it is a party. It welcomes the commitments undertaken by the Government of Croatia in relation to the Council of Europe, including its signature of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and expects that the Government of Croatia will implement those commitments fully.
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"The Security Council is concerned that the Government of Croatia continues to withhold its full cooperation with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. It underlines the obligation of the Government of Croatia in accordance with resolution 827 (1993) to respond promptly and in full to all requests from the International Tribunal. It also calls upon the Government of Croatia to conduct investigations into and the prosecution of persons accused of serious violations of international humanitarian law, especially those committed in the course of military operations in 1995. "The Security Council stresses the importance of the effective implementation of the measures outlined in the paragraphs above for promoting confidence and reconciliation in Croatia, as well as for the peaceful reintegration of the Region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium. In this context, the Council requests the Secretary-General to continue to keep it informed on a regular basis and to report again on the humanitarian and human rights situation in Croatia within his report to be submitted by 1 July 1997 as referred to in paragraph 6 of resolution 1079 (1996)."
Report of Secretary-General A report of the Secretary-General before the Council (document S/1997/195, of 5 March) provides an update on the human rights situation in the formerly Serb-controlled areas located in the Western Slavonia and Krajina regions of Croatia. Following Croatia's military recovery of control of those areas in 1995, the Council in its resolutions 1009 (1995) and 1019 (1995) demanded that the Government of Croatia fully respect the rights of the local Serb population in the former United Nations Protected Areas (UNPAs) -- also known as Sectors West, North and South. It demanded that the Government respect the right of the local Serbs to remain, leave or return in safety, and that it take urgent measures to put an end to all violations of international humanitarian law in the areas and investigate all reports of such violations so that those responsible could be judged and punished. In a presidential statement of 20 December 1996 (document S/PRST/1996/48), the Council acknowledged notable progress in the humanitarian situation in those regions, while expressing concern about acts of harassment, looting and physical attacks against Croatian Serbs. In his report, which covers the period from 5 November 1996 through late February, the Secretary-General states that security conditions for Croatian Serbs living in the former Sectors, most of whom are elderly, continue to be unsatisfactory, particularly in the area around Knin. The authorities, despite a significant police presence, have been ineffective in restoring a climate of law and order. Major crimes which occurred around the time of Croatia's 1995 military operations remain unresolved. Intensive humanitarian programmes have considerably eased living conditions for the remaining Serbs, and some services, including electricity, have been restored. In addition, nearly all of them have received necessary identity documents.
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According to the report, despite the August 1996 Agreement on Normalization of Relations between Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, there has been little progress on the return of younger relatives of elderly Croatian Serbs. Although the Agreement committed the parties to ensure to refugees and displaced persons the return of their property or a just compensation, the authorities have failed to resolve the property issue, thus leaving many Croatian Serbs without access to their homes. Consequently, less that a quarter of the 14,000 persons granted government permission have returned to the former sectors. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) programme to arrange return of younger relatives has made almost no progress, owing to the slow response of the Government. Meanwhile, the settlement in the region of tens of thousands of Croat settlers, mostly from Bosnia and Herzegovina, has changed the demography substantially.
Strong grounds for concern also remain, adds the Secretary-General, that the Croatian Government is withholding its full cooperation from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The Office of the Prosecutor reports that the Government has failed to provide requested assistance and information and no further arrests of accused persons have occurred.
In addition, the report points out that the application of the general amnesty law, which was approved by the Croatian Parliament and entered into force on 3 October 1996, continues to cause widespread concern among the Serb population. The Croatian Government was, at the time of the preparation of the current report, preparing a definitive list of persons believed by them to be in the region and who were not considered by the Ministry of Justice to be covered by the amnesty law. Appeals have been made to the Government to finalize the list, remove uncertainty and ensure that arbitrary arrests were not made among the Serbs returning to Croatia.
Overall, the report concludes that hostility continues to characterize inter-ethnic relations in the former Sectors and genuine improvement in that situation would depend upon continued efforts by both international and local organizations to promote confidence and reconciliation for the foreseeable future.
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