Tuesday, December 2, 2008

#523 INTL - Crimes Committed by the Bosnian Government Against Bosnian Muslim Citizens

National Congress of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina


No. 523

November 26, 2007



1. Crimes Committed by the Bosnian Government Against Bosnian Muslim Citizens

2. NY Times: Here Comes Kosovo


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1. Crimes Committed by the Bosnian Government Against Bosnian Citizens

By Tarik Borogovac

Bensayah Belkacem, Boudella el Hajj, Lakhdar Boumediene, Sabir Mahfouz Lahmar, Mustafa Ait Idr and Mohammad Nechle are prisoners at the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Known as the Algerian six, these men are suing Bosnia and Herzegovina in the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) for turning them in to the U.S. military custody in violation of a Bosnian high court order not to do so.

We spoke with Rob Kirsch, their U.S. attorney. The last time he saw his clients was this fall. He says that "their condition was bad both physically and psychologically". They were among the first detainees in Guantanamo, having been transferred there from Bosnia in early 2002.

While the story of the six is too long to recount in detail here (a more detailed account by Mark Perelman can be found in "Mother Jones"
http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2007/12/gitmo-sarajevo-guantanamo-algerian-six.html , we give the basic facts in the case.

The six are all Algerian men, but most are Bosnian citizens. At the time of their arrest, they worked for Arabic humanitarian agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., the U.S. Embassy asked the Bosnian police to investigate Arabic charities operating in Bosnia. The Bosnian police found and arrested Mr. Belkacem, a man with a Bosnian wife and two Bosnian-born children, on suspicion of illegally entering Bosnia.

Provided with Mr. Belkacem's name, the U.S. Embassy requested to take custody of him, citing telephone records and wiretaps of conversations between him and people in Pakistan and Afganistan. The U.S. never produced those records, and the existence of such calls was disputed. We quote from the "Mother Jones" article linked above: "Rees, the former U.N. rights commissioner, said one of her aides had examined phone records of all the men's land lines and cell phones and found no trace of such calls." The U.S. also does not list the wiretaps on its unclassified charge sheet against Mr. Belkacem.

After the arrest of Mr. Belkacem, the U.S. embassy, requested that the Bosnian police arrest the other five men. The initial connection between Mr. Belkacem and the other five seems to be simply that they were all Algerian, and they knew each other. Mr. Lahmar is the only one of the others for whom specific terrorist activity (other than "associating" with Mr. Belkacem) has ever been alleged - that he intended to attack the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo.

That allegation seems to have been made simply from the fact that Mr. Lahmar's Bosnian father-in-law was the janitor at the U.S. embassy. The father-in-law was never arrested, or requested by the U.S. The U.S. did find someone to corroborate the embassy allegation - a small-time criminal named Ali Hamad, who is serving prison time in Bosnia, and who is also the brother of Mr. Lahmar's ex-wife. Mr. Kirsch, the lawyer for the six, says that he is in possession of correspondence between Ali Hamad and U.S. Gen. Virgil Packard, in which it is clear that the U.S. military does not consider Ali Hamad's statements to be credible! The U.S. military no longer alleges that the men were ever involved in a plot against the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo.

The complaint that Mr. Kirsch has brought before the ECHR is that Bosnia's government, and the Premier at the time, Mr. Zlatko Lagumdzija, violated the human rights of the six men, by handing them to U.S. military custody in violation of Bosnian High Court orders. The suit has two goals: to force Bosnia to request from the U.S. to return these men, and to compensate them for the damage that they have incurred as a result of the actions of the Bosnian government. The first goal is important because several countries have been able to secure the release of their nationals from Guantanamo through such requests. In our opinion Mr. Kirsch's approach of suing in order to force Bosnia to make such a request is the correct one. It is clear by now that Bosnia will never request its citizens back without external pressure. Mr. Kirsch has spoken with Bosnian politicians many times, with no results. All seem to sympathize, but they all say that their hands are tied.

To us, Mr. Kirsch's descriptions of the contacts with Mr. Lagumdzija are the most illustrative. The first time Mr. Lagumdzija met Mr. Kirsch, he was defensive. At a later meeting, Mr. Lagumdzija reversed tone, explaining to Mr. Kirsch that he was forced into handing over the six by threats of American diplomats against Bosnia. Later, Mr. Lagumdzija, probably due to Mr. Kirsch's prodding, sent into legislative procedure a proposal to make the formal request for the release of the six by the U.S. However, totally predictably, that request went nowhere because of the Serb ethnic veto.

We must note that in our conversation with Mr. Kirsch, he made it clear that he is satisfied with Mr. Lagumdzija's personal explanation that he was strong-armed by the U.S. into giving up the six, and that now his hands are tied by the Serb veto. We disagree with this characterization, only because we have seen this same act by Mr. Lagumdzija and other Bosniak politicians repeated many times. We have in the past written about many instances in which Bosniak politicians find some reason to allow a decision that works in the interest of Serb ultra-nationalists to be made, only to loudly lament it later, but cite the Serb veto for not being able to change it. Without going into the details, we can mention the election laws that discriminate by ethnicity, the citizenship law that will cause many Bosniak refugees to lose their citizenship in 2011, the dissolution of many Bosnian government institutions, creation of ethnic entity-level institutions, etc.

Therefore, despite the politicians' proclamations of sympathy, we would be surprised if any of them actually do anything that may help bring the six back to their homes and families. These men served their purpose to people like Mr. Lagumdzija and his bosses from "the Republic of the Serbs", who sought to portray Bosnia as a lair of Islamic terrorism, and it would not make much sense to now work to secure their return. The fact that Bosnia is currently violating the human rights of hundreds of other naturalized Bosnians from Islamic countries by taking their citizenships away and deporting them, testifies to the true intentions of the Bosnian government.

We are hopeful that pressure generated by this lawsuit will force Bosnia to act, not only for the sake of these men, our compatriots, who have gone through hell for seemingly no good reason. We can also hope that the details of this lawsuit will start public discussion which may help to clarify to many uninformed people that the stories about Islamic terrorism in Bosnia are false, and the real crimes are Bosnian politicians' many blatant violations of human and citizens' rights committed in the pursuit of the goal of full statehood for the ethnically cleansed "Republic of the Serbs".

Mr. Kirsch says that one day these men will be freed. While a request from Bosnia for their release would be helpful right now, they will be freed someday even without it. Hopefully, that will happen later this year, when the U.S. Supreme Court decides on "Boumediene vs. Bush". If the Supreme Court rules that these men should have their day in a real court, the U.S. military will likely release them in order to avoid the embarrassment of putting clearly innocent men on trial. Even then, we can expect that their troubles will continue, in no small part because Bosnia will likely refuse to give the men back their citizenship status, or allow them to return home.


2. NY Times: Here Comes Kosovo


Published: February 14, 2008

Europe will get a new state, Kosovo, on Sunday and the long, bloody unraveling of Yugoslavia will be concluded 17 years after the first war of its dissolution broke out in Slovenia. That is cause for celebration.

I say celebration although Serbia will rail against what its prime minister calls “this fictitious state on Serbian territory,” and the Russian bear will growl, and Balkan tensions will flare for a while, and lawyers will fret over precedent.

The fact is the independence of Kosovo is justified, unique and unavoidable. There is no other way. Serbia lost a nationalist gamble on Kosovo a long time ago; the differences stemming from it are unbridgeable. Further delay of the inescapable can only damage the region.

So, come Sunday, I am reliably told, Kosovo will proclaim independence and early next week major powers — including the United States, France, Britain and Germany — will recognize the new state.

European Union foreign ministers meet Monday and may agree on a “platform” statement saying conditions for recognition have been met. A clear majority of the 27 European Union members — certainly no less than 20 — are expected to recognize Kosovo rapidly.

Cyprus, with its Turkish-occupied northern third, will lead the holdouts. Other European Union states that are recognition-reluctant, some out of concern over separatist minorities, include Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Greece and Bulgaria.

Unanimity would be nice, but broad consensus is sufficient. Thanks largely to the work of Wolfgang Ischinger, the German ambassador to Britain, the European Union will be united enough. More important, the United States and Europe will march in step, not a frequent occurrence of late.

“This has been a common endeavor illustrating the way we and Europe ought to work together,” said Frank Wisner, the former U.S. ambassador to India who labored fruitlessly with Ischinger last year to bring Kosovo and Serbia closer. Wisner’s view: “There was never an attempt by anyone in Belgrade to reach out to a Kosovar Albanian.”

Reaching out to Kosovo had scarcely been the Serbian thing in recent decades. Slobodan Milosevic, the late dictator, set Serbia’s murderous nationalist tide in motion on April 24, 1987, when he went to Kosovo to declare that Serbian “ancestors would be defiled” if ethnic Albanians had their way.

Milosevic’s quashing of Kosovo’s autonomy was central to his conversion of Yugoslavia into “Serboslavia.” The revolt against his bullying brought independence to former Yugoslav republics from Croatia to Macedonia. Serbs will kick and scream, but Kosovo is just the last piece of a dead state to go its inevitable way.

Albanians accounting for about 95 percent of a Kosovo population of 2.1 million cannot be reconciled with a Serbia that suppressed, beat up, evicted and killed them until NATO’s 1999 intervention. Belgrade is no Berne: a Pristina inside Serbia would always be Pariahville.

But, Serbs protest in their blind pursuit of an untenable moral equivalency, the Kosovo Liberation Army were no kittens. Nor, once the Serbian genocide against Bosnian Muslims of April to September 1992 was completed, was the emergent Bosnian army. That’s right: persecute a people with enough savagery and they will in the end unite, rise up, fight and go their own way.

What will Serbia do now? Vojislav Kostunica, the nationalist prime minister, says he won’t allow “such a creation to exist for a minute.”

That’s been the nihilistic Serbian drumbeat ever since United Nations Resolution 1244 of 1999 made clear that a U.N.-overseen and NATO-protected autonomy in Kosovo would extend only until “a final settlement.” Belgrade never wanted to settle.

I expect Serbia to make modest trouble but stop short of violence and cutting off Kosovo’s electricity. Some of the 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo may hit the road. Serbs in the pocket north of Mitrovica may be encouraged to go for partition.

But the recent election of a pro-western Serbian president, Boris Tadic, will be a force for restraint. So will U.S. and European pressure on Albanians. Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, has been making gestures to Serbs: that’s positive.

Russia will call an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting. It will scream. But it’s backed the wrong horse. Europe is right to demonstrate that it will not cave to Moscow’s pressure. Ultimately, Serbia will want to move toward European Union membership.

Kosovo is not Transdniestria or Abkhazia or South Ossetia. It is an anachronistic remnant of a now defunct country, Yugoslavia, a province that has been under U.N. administration for eight years pending a final settlement impossible within Serbia. Milosevic rolled the dice of genocidal nationalism and lost.

In the long run, I believe this outcome will be positive for Serbia. Instead of dwelling on medieval battles, victory-in-defeat symbolism, shrinking borders and a poisonous culture of victimization, Serbia will begin to see what it wrought and look forward — to the West rather than the East.



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