Liberia: Searching for Family

    MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — The faces of children peer down from posters on street corners all over this battle-scarred capital pleading with Liberians to help reunite families shattered by war.
    Passers-by scrutinize each child in crowded rows of hundreds of photographs on the posters under the sign “Where Are Our Parents?” The posters were taped up by aid workers.
    The Red Cross is tracking more than 1,800 Liberian children reported separated from their families during this west African country’s last, three-year civil war — a fraction of the millions displaced in the 14 years of conflict.
    About 800 other children have been reconnected with parents or other relatives, though the reunion, is not always picture-perfect.

    The tracing effort is the largest ever attempted by the Red Cross in West Africa, said Marcel Stoessel, part of the program.
    “We’d like to solve these cases as soon as possible,” Stoessel said.
    Most of the children being traced are now living in Guinea and Sierra Leone, Liberia’s northern and western neighbors. Other children are in Ivory Coast, Ghana, or in Liberia itself.
    The reunion campaign is one of many humanitarian programs getting under way as Gyude Bryant, a longtime civilian campaigner against Liberian warlords, settles into office. Bryant was sworn in Tuesday as chairman of a two-year interim administration to lead Liberia out of devastating factional power-struggles and into elections in 2005.
    Bryant took over a nation in ruins, just two months removed from war and with thousands of fighters still in arms.
    Warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor resigned in August ahead of the signing of a peace deal, and now lives in exile in Nigeria. More than 4,000 U.N. troops are in Liberia to keep the peace. It is a force that will grow to about 15,000 — the largest U.N. force in the world.
    Sieges in the 2 1/2 months before Taylor’s exit killed more than 1,000 civilians in the capital, capping nearly a decade and a half of conflict estimated to have left more than 150,000 dead.
    Warring groups in Liberia — allied with rebel factions or government forces — have been notorious for recruiting child soldiers.
    Stoessel acknowledged that a small number of the children being traced were fighters in the war. “But they are just like other children and need to find their families,” he said.
    Not all parent-child reunions are joyous ones.
    Robert Mayson, 42, was reunited with his 10-year-old son Richmond on Thursday — the first time they’d seen each other since May, when the boy ran away from home in Buchanan, Liberia’s second city.
    Mayson, who is separated from Richmond’s mother, rode in a Red Cross truck to a tin-roofed shack in the heart of Monrovia where his son had been living under the care of another family.
    “I didn’t throw you out of the house,” Mayson said to his son upon seeing him.
    The boy, dressed in torn jeans and an oversized black T-shirt, said nothing and stared at the ground.
    “I don’t know what your problem is,” said Mayson. “You are from a good family. Why must you suffer yourself.”

Slow democratization in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Five Years After Dayton: Mixed Balance of the OSCE

Marcel Stoessel*

The Dayton Agreement assigned the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe an important role in pacifying Bosnia, including preparation for elections, promoting democratic reconstruction and human rights, and military stabilization. After five years, the balance is mixed.

More than five years after the signing of the “General Framework Agreement on Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina” in December 1995, which brought the three-and-a-half-year Bosnian war to an end, that country still lacks many of the attributes of a sovereign state. While de jure it was left intact within its internationally recognized borders, de facto its territory – as well as ruling power – is divided up among the three major ethnic groups: Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Serbs and Croats.

Elections as a Credibility Test
There are still three separate armed forces; each ethnic group has the right of veto in joint governmental institutions, and so far all elections have resulted in a strengthening of the monolithic nationalist parties. The old wartime objective of partitioning Bosnia has by no means been abandoned by Serb and Croat nationalists. But the international community is trying to counteract that centrifugal tendency.

Dayton is far more than a classic peace treaty. It assigns the job of nation building to various international organizations. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is just one of them, but it was given crucial tasks which have allowed it to demonstrate its competence and ability to act. The most quickly assembled OSCE mission, and still the largest, had to first assess whether “credible elections” were possible under the given social circumstances in the two constituent segments, the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serbs’ Republika Srpska. The date of 14 September 1996, proposed in the Dayton Agreement, was not regarded as inviolable.

It was up to the acting chairman of the OSCE at the time, Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti, to make the final decision about the date. He warned that elections held without minimal prerequisites could degenerate into a “pseudo-democratic legitimation of extreme nationalist power structures and ethnic cleansing.” But Cotti saw no reasonable alternative, in part because of pressure from the USA and other members of the international Contact Group.

Nationalist Obstruction
The Provisional Election Commission, chaired by OSCE Mission Chief Robert Frowick, regulated every aspect of the election process. What turned out to be especially controversial were the rules regarding refugees and internally displaced persons. While the Dayton Agreement lays down a “ground rule” that those citizens should exercise their franchise in the municipalities in which they had their residence in 1991, the Election Commission gave them the option of registering to vote in other communities. Ultimately, widespread abuse of that ruling led to a postponement of the municipal elections scheduled for the same 1996 date. It proved impossible to guarantee a neutral political climate; the freedoms of opinion, assembly, movement and the press were seriously impaired. As a result, in its final report the large OSCE observer mission refrained from labeling the balloting as “free, fair and democratic.” Aside from technical difficulties, there was well-founded suspicion of election fraud. But something else was the decisive factor: a great majority of voters had cast their ballots for the three nationalist parties, the Serb SDS, the Croatian HDZ and the Bosniak SDA. The SDS and HDZ, in particular, made a continuous international presence essential by their systematic obstruction of the peace process.

The OSCE supervised five more rounds of voting: nationwide balloting in 1998 and 2000, municipal elections in 1997 and 2000, and special elections in the Republika Srpska in 1997. The only ones who showed a slight leaning toward politically moderate parties were the Bosniaks, for whom an unpartitioned state is the sole chance for survival. The OSCE made diverse use of its extensive authority: it struck unacceptable candidates from the lists, discharged elected politicians and entire municipal councils (implementing the results of the first municipal elections turned out to be extraordinarily difficult), imposed sanctions on rabble-rousing election slogans and even, in one instance, banned two smaller parties. But the hoped-for change of attitude never materialized; not even the democratic transition in Croatia and Yugoslavia led to greater cooperation within Bosnia.

Strengthening Multi-Ethnic Parties
Without elections there is no democracy, but democracy needs more than elections. Following the first elections, the OSCE intensified its efforts to nourish a democratic, civil society. Nongovernmental organizations, such as multi-ethnic associations for the return of the displaced, were systematically promoted as an alternative to nationalist groups. Political parties were also given financial and technical assistance, with preference going to those that were multi-ethnic and committed to the Dayton process. That made sense, because the three nationalist parties have their own large, informal networks – including their own intelligence units – which gave them strategic advantage over newer groups. The OSCE’s democratization strategy includes the training of municipal and justice officials, with emphasis on fighting the corruption which is still rampant today and on promoting the rule of law in government, which enjoys little credibility in Bosnia.

In the view of the OSCE, independent pluralistic media constitute a central element in a functioning civil society. For historic truth and current events are also ethnically divided in Bosnia. With Swiss aid, the first all-Bosnian radio station was established in 1996, but despite a high level of professionalism its listening audience remained disappointingly small in critical areas. An increasingly successful tool as a deterrent against hate-filled agitprop, however, were the daily evaluations of media reporting by an OSCE-affiliated commission of media experts established in 1998 to guarantee fairness and media access for all parties.

No fewer than 16 international human rights agreements – including the European Convention on Human Rights – were integrated into the Dayton Agreements and have the standing of national law in Bosnia. In reality, however, discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is commonplace, especially by the Serbs and Croats. While the return of formerly displaced locals accelerated somewhat last year, it continues to be seriously hampered. The OSCE has the largest human-rights presence in the field, with 30 human rights officers scattered across Bosnia. Their attention is focused particularly on property questions, which are of critical importance to the returnees, but their power is purely informal.

The same applies to the ombudswoman, who functions under the aegis of the OSCE but operates under national law. She hears individual complaints about human rights violations by government agencies, discusses them with the authorities and makes recommendations. The first ombudswoman, Gret Haller, a Swiss, was able in this way to help resolve a good number of individual cases without much fanfare. There are some indications that the recommendations of the ombudsperson now carry increasing weight.

In 1996, thanks to OSCE mediation, two military agreements were concluded among the former warring parties. One pact, concluded among Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Republika Srbska, deals with confidence- and security-building measures. In the course of its implementation, a large number of inspections have so far been carried out – though it should be noted that they were announced in advance, rather than being spot checks. In addition, the atmosphere among members of the three de facto ethnic armies has improved, with a marked relaxing of tensions over time. Among other things, that was reflected in a 1999 OSCE seminar on democratic control of the armed forces. The second military agreement involves subregional disarmament and covers Croatia and Yugoslavia as well. Its goal is a stable, balanced level of defense forces at the lowest levels that accord with each state’s security requirements. Initial cutbacks in heavy armaments have already been made.

Ethnic Cleansing Cemented?
With regard to elections, an area in which the OSCE has real power, there are some critical points worth noting. Non-fulfillment of the minimal conditions for the first elections helped give the ultranationalist parties additional legitimation. Far more serious, however, were the rules established by the Provisional Election Commission in 1996 and 1997, which made it too easy for displaced persons to vote in communities other than their hometowns. In those instances, the OSCE could hardly avoid the accusation of having insufficiently countered the cementing of the ethnic cleansing achieved during the war. And thirdly, there were loud complaints about partisanship, for the OSCE had clear preferences for social-democratic and liberal parties. But, for reasons cited earlier, that strategy would seem to have been justified.

Despite the media ruckus about the Bosnian elections, the OSCE has made a major contribution to democratization in the broadest sense. Of course, it remains to be seen whether a democratization which was imposed from the outside, and was to an extent itself “undemocratic,” will achieve success in the long run. But, working with the locals, the OSCE helped mightily in achieving progress toward a democratic civil society and respect for human rights. In these areas, drawing an interim balance appears premature even after five years. What is clear, however, is that since Dayton the OSCE has grown from a frequently derided paper tiger to an operational organization capable of action and decision-making.

* The author is a freelance journalist who wrote a study on the role of the OSCE in Bosnia-Herzegovina for the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.

2 March 2001 / Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 24/25 February 2001

History Lessons in Banja Luka

„Tudjman wanted to realize Greater Croatia, which has its Eastern borders close to Belgrade. Milosevic wanted to realize Greater Serbia, which has its Western borders close to Zagreb” – this is not a history lesson given by a University professor at 2 p.m. in Geneva. It is a history lesson given to me by a Bosnian Serb, who studied forestry (and – of course – fought in the war), at 4 a.m. on a public place in Banja Luka.

Yes, there is one!Today’s capital of the “Republika Srpska” is my last station on this very interesting trip, but I there are two things I got tired of in two months: war stories, and history lessons.
Everything in Bosnia is still divided according to ethnic lines, and that includes the historical truth.
Teenagers too young to have killed anyone in warSo at this particular night, after a nice evening in the bars and discos of Banja Luka, where I have danced with teenagers too young to have killed someone in the war, I don’t want to hear his story, but I have to. The beers do their part to loose my Swiss neutrality. “What about the Muslims?” I ask. “Oh, they want everything” the forestry-history expert in his 20ies says. “They will come to destroy our culture, you will see”. Where they will come from? “From Turkey, from everywhere!”
That snapshot was not received well by the people standing around me
Insisting that he only defended his country, he points out the Serb graveyards that no one sees and finally wants to know my own opinion. At 4.30 a.m., I want to go to sleep: “We [the West] have absolutely no reason to be a priori on the side of the Muslims. Our culture is much closer to the Catholic or the Orthodox Christians. But the fact of the matter is … ” We argue for a while, then I ask: “Can you go to an Orthodox Church in Sarajevo?” – “Yes, I can” – “Can a Muslim go to a Mosque in Banja Luka?”. He remains silent. All 16 Mosques, including the beautiful Ferhadija from 1580, were blown up by local Serbs during the war. “It was a mistake to destroy the Mosques”, he whispers as if he was telling me a secret. The Bosniaks didn’t blow up the Orthodox Church in Sarajevo just because they are masters of propaganda with the international media, he says. We go our own ways as friends.
Roma woman in Banja LukaThis part of the “Republika Srpska” is more moderate than the Eastern part. Serbs were also victims of the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Banja Luka and its surroundings are overcrowded with refugees from the Croatian Kraijna. I get to feel the precarious housing situation myself when I arrive at the bus station. The shitty hotels are as expensive as the international community is ready to pay expenses for their officials, private accommodation is scarce and impossible to find on a Sunday. When finally someone recommends me to go to the UNHCR (I am not a refugee!), I go for the cheapest hotel: 70 DM for a Stalinist-style room in a Stalinist-style building, with the noise of a major construction site just next to it, and the worst breakfast you’ve ever had. What makes you feel even nicer is that the price for a Serb is half of that. But later, a good friend (yes, a Bosnian Serb) gets me very good private accommodation.
Banja Luka is largely intact. My translator Rebecca points out some destroyed buildings: “That was a Muslim’s house”. The few remaining Croats have a hard life here. One of them is an old woman, a good friend of Rebecca’s, refused to leave when the ethnic cleansing went on elsewhere in Bosnia: “I just wanted to stay. This has always been my home”. The woman was forced out at gunpoint and had to go to a smaller flat, constantly feeling threatened.
This woman has to live with less than 100 DM pension a month
At the same time, another woman, about the same age, but Serb, felt threatened in Bihac (predominantly Muslim) on the border with Croatia. “I left my hometown only with a plastic bag full of my belongings” she says. That was the reasoning of ethnic cleansing: Everyone moves to “his” part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was very mixed before the war. Ethnic cleansing was the whole point of the war. Creating Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia.
I interviewed maybe 25 people in all parts of Bosnia, and talked with many more. Everyone, I asked one question in the end: “If you could go back to the time before the war – which included living together with other ethnic groups – would you want to go back?”
Everyone, even the most extreme of nationalists, said they would go back, also the Serb woman from Bihac. I want to know who is guilty then. “The nationalists”, she says, also expressing a view that I have heard all over this crazy country. “So the nationalists can’t count on your vote in the next election?” I ask. “I will have to consider it very thoroughly”. In fact, she meant the nationalists from the other ethnic groups.

One Day in Srebrenica

American SFOR vehicle on the way to SrebrenicaJournalists have a tendency to go to “bad places” where “bad news” is made. When two journalists in Bosnia team up, guess what’s happening. They hire a car, a driver, and a translator, and go to Srebrenica, the former U.N. safe haven that was – in 1995 – the most unsafe place on the face of the earth. Around 8’000 Muslim men were killed in the biggest single war crime since World War II.
Joop is a Dutch journalist writing for the biggest Amsterdam daily. He started as a sport reporter for that very same newspaper, and he has covered the 1984 Sarajevo Winter games, at a time when I didn’t even know what “Bosnia” or “Yugoslavia” means.

We are not stopped at the “border” between the Bosnian-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska. Edin (the translator) and Jasmin (the driver) are Muslims. But they can change accents because they used to live in the mixed town of Foça, a town I am told to absolutely avoid.
Welcome to Srebrenica!When, after a three hours drive, we pass the Cyril sign “Srebrenica”, Edin says: “We should stay no more than one hour in Srebrenica. It’s for your own security”. In reality, he was talking not about our security, but about his understandable fear in the village that is now populated by 100.0% Serbs.
The “black market” is the center of things in Srebrenica, and probably the nicest building is an Orthodox church… In a restaurant, a bored drunken policeman asks us to drink with him. He doesn’t care what we do here when he learns that we are neither journalists nor working for “Haag”, as the international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is called. When I take – under a pretext – a photo of two men (further down on this page), I ask if I can take two. “Make three”, the man in front jokes, “one for you, one for me, and one for ‘Haag'”.
We are clearly being observed.
Outside, next to Srebrenica’s disco, I start playing with small children. Finally, I take some photos of them.
When the policeman wants us to continue to drink with him (and we don’t), we say maybe later, go to the car and discuss the situation. Our two Bosniak friends clearly feel bad. A red Golf passes our car very closely and very slowly, with people looking out of the windows. “I think it’s time to go to Sarajevo”, Edin says. Jasmin agrees. Joop – the Dutch journalist – wants to follow our plan and interview some people. I am also afraid, because I had bad experiences with drunken policemen in the past (not in Bosnia). I suggest we ask some American SFOR troops and rely on their judgment.
Around 25 Marines sleep on the grass a little bit outside of town, waiting for a helicopter. The young lieutenant has no reservations about us going back. “Wanna go to Sreb? No problem!”. Today it’s talk, not shoot, he gives us to understand. Americans are known to be oversensitive about security, so we are heading back into “Sreb”.
 The children of Srebrenica
Right next to the “black market”, an old woman attacks me physically. All I understand from her war of words is: “Propaganda! Propaganda!”. She saw me taking pictures of the children, Edin translates, and she thinks we are doing propaganda against the Serb people. Joop and me make the sign of the Cross the Orthodox way (first right, then left) and explain that we are friends of the Serbs. She finally calms down.
In a cafe, Joop interviews a resident of Srebrenica who is still looking for his family since the war (in front of the picture). Every now and then, another man, sitting behind his beer (left on the picture), interrupts the translation. “Once, a Muslim woman came here”, the man in his forties says, “She must be happy that I was not there. If ever I see a Muslim in Srebrenica, I will take his kidneys out of his body with my own hands!”. Jasmin has a nervous twitching when he hears that remark, and also Edin is extremely uncomfortable. “Are you Muslims?” the Serb asks. “No, I would do exactly the same if I would see a Muslim here”, Edin responds. Somehow, we all feel it’s time to go back to Sarajevo.
After we pass the sign “Srebrenica” again, Jasmin asks me if I can imagine how he felt. No, I can’t. When we drive through another village, Edin – who will leave Bosnia forever in two weeks – says sarcastically: “This village used to be 100% Muslim. It’s now 100% Serb. That is Dayton”.
The international community has brought its absurdities to Srebrenica even after it has watched the massacre. First, the Muslims are forced out of Srebrenica or are killed while U.N. peacekeepers stand by. With Dayton, everyone has the right to return to his/her home and can vote for his/her town/village, no matter where he/she has sought refuge. 600’000 people still live in another house than their own in Bosnia. So a Muslim local council is elected for Srebrenica, because most residents live there illegally. The elected representatives of the local council can, for the sake for their security, not live in Srebrenica. So they have to be brought in by busses to hold their meetings. Probably SFOR makes sure they arrive safely. They debate, they decide, in the full knowledge that none of their decisions will be implemented. When they have to stay overnight, Serb policemen protect them. After the session, they go back to the Federation – either to the houses they occupy, or to refugee centers.
As Joop often said during our day in Srebrenica: “Bosnia is Kafka”.