Bosnian Authorities Forcibly Evict Romani Community

01 September 2003

On August 28, 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a letter to Mr Sabahudin Viso, Minister for Labour, Social Policy and Refugees in Zenica-Doboj Canton, Bosnia and Herzegovina, expressing concern that Bosnian authorities have failed to provide alternative accommodation to a group of Roma evicted from their homes at the beginning of August 2003. The ERRC also noted that another Romani community in the same town is now threatened with eviction. The ERRC urged Bosnian authorities to undertake measures to provide adequate housing to the already evicted Romani families and ensure security of tenure to all Roma on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The full text of the September 1 ERRC letter follows:

Honourable Minister Viso,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is alarmed by the recent eviction of, and failure to provide alternative accommodation to, over thirty Roma families, comprising at least one hundred and fifty people, from a municipally-owned building referred to as "Samacki dom" in the town of Zavidovici in the Zenica-Doboj Canton, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to the statements of Roma from the Samacki dom building interviewed by the ERRC on August 5, 2003, a female employee of the Zavidovici Municipality, accompanied by two police officers and several workers of the Public Utilities Company, visited the Samacki dom building on an unspecified date in late July and told the Roma that they had to leave the building by July 31, 2003, without stating any reason for eviction or offering alternative housing. After the municipal employee left, and apparently following her orders, the workers reportedly switched off electric and water supply in the building, and proceeded to demolish the flats, breaking glass panes, taking out window frames, etc. This activity reportedly continued throughout the day. Local Roma informed the ERRC that they were not presented with written eviction orders. As of August 5, 2003, the date of the ERRC visit, five Romani families still lived in the Samacki dom building, including a significant number of children aged eighteen months to fifteen years. According to local Roma, on August 8, 2003, the municipal employee visited the remaining families again, accompanied by several police officers, and the final eviction took place.

None of the Roma living in the building had legal permission to live in the Samacki dom building. Many were internally displaced persons, but not officially recognised as such, and many did not have personal documents. Mr Saban Frljanovic, who lived in the building with his wife and their six children, expressed concern to the ERRC that the Roma were ordered out of the Samacki dom building at the end of summer, with the coming of colder weather.

Ms Ajka Bajric, one of the evicted Roma, informed the ERRC that municipal authorities did not provide any of the more than thirty evicted families with alternative accommodation. Some persons, such as Ms Munevera Tahirovic, a 22-year-old woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy, her husband Mr Muharem Bajric and their three children, and Mr Frljanovic's family, moved into small, abandoned and dilapidated shacks without water supply. Others of the evicted Roma moved to the Novo naselje settlement of Zavidovici, where they lived as of August 25 in small and substandard pre-fabricated housing. Reportedly, many families share flats, as they cannot afford paying full rents. The most desperate of the Roma reportedly lived under tents. Others moved to other informal settlements, such as the Rupin Dol Romani settlement of Zavidovici, which has its own share of problems. Although it has existed for over a hundred years and numerous Roma from the settlement have legal ownership of their land, the Romani houses in this area are considered illegal because local authorities have zoned it as a forest, ignoring the existence of generations of Roma living in the settlement, according to local Roma.

Honourable Minister Viso, the ERRC is troubled by the fact that more than thirty Romani families were recently evicted in questionable circumstances, and that local authorities have failed to provide alternative accommodation to the majority of the evicted persons, leaving many in dire situations. The ERRC is further alarmed by indications that more Roma in Zavidovici may be forcibly evicted in the near future. Mr Asif Bajric, Secretary of the Romani Association of Zavidovici, recently informed the ERRC that another building, occupied mainly by Roma and home to ten Romani families, in the Radnicka street of Zavidovici, is also under threat of eviction. The Romani Association of Zavidovici suggested to the municipal authorities that the latter should arrange collective accommodation for all the evicted Roma in the Podubravlje area of Zavidovici. This idea was, however, met with strong resistance by their would-be neighbours, and non-Romani inhabitants of Podubravlje reportedly collected signatures against the coming of Roma, after which the authorities halted any progress on the initiative.

Honourable Minister Viso, forced evictions violate a number of international laws, listed as "Additional Human Rights Agreements To Be Applied In Bosnia And Herzegovina" in Annex 1 of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most significantly, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), states, at Article 11(1), "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right [...]". The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which monitors States compliance with the ICESCR, has stated in its General Comment 4, "instances of forced eviction are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant and can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances [...]". In its General Comment 7, the CESCR further stated, "Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights. Where those affected are unable to provide for themselves, the State party must take all appropriate measures, to the maximum of its available resources, to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land, as the case may be, is available." The ERRC considers that Bosnian authorities have failed to meet their legal obligations to the Roma evicted from the Samacki dom building. The ERRC also fears that the Roma facing eviction from their homes on Radnicka street of Zavidovici may soon face a similar fate.

The ERRC urges you to take all steps possible to provide the Romani families evicted from the Samacki dom building with adequate alternative housing and ensure security of tenure for them. The ERRC also urges you to ensure that the rights of the Roma facing eviction from their homes on Radnicka street in Zavidovici are not violated in the same manner. As a high number of Roma currently live in informal settlements and potentially face similar situations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ERRC also strongly recommends that Bosnian authorities take decisive steps to ensure legal security of tenure to all affected Roma, in accordance with General Comment 4 of the CESCR. We respectfully request to be informed of any measures undertaken by your office.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Mr Sabahudin Viso, Cantonal Minister for Labour, Social Policy and Refugees
Zenica-Doboj Canton
Kucukovici 2
75000 Zenica
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Fax: (+387) 32 415 340

Lord Paddy Ashdown
The UN High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Fax: +387 33 283 501

Ambassador Robert Beecroft
Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina
Fax: +387 33 442 479

Dr Ahmet Hadzipasic
Prime Minister, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Fax: +387 33 444 718

Mr Mirsad Kebo
Minister for Human Rights and Refugees, Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Fax: +387 33 206 140

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