Roma attacked in Bosnia

11 July 2000

On April 11, 2000, a group of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) attacked five Roma in the Novo Podgorje neighbourhood of the village of Savići, near Banovići, in the Tuzla-Podrinje Canton of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mr Nezir Mehić, president of the local Roma association Bahtalo Ilo, told the ERRC on June 17, 2000, that on the day of the incident he was passing a local shop where he noticed a group of five Bosniak men standing and talking. He approached them and heard that their conversation was about political parties and the April 8 municipal elections in Bosnia. At that point, Mr Nesib Tahirović, a 41-year-old Romani man from Novo Podgorje, approached the group to greet Mr Mehić, accompanied by his brother-in-law Mr Samir Tahirović from the nearby village of Svatovac, and another young Romani man known as "Sule". Without any warning, Mr R.B., one of the Bosniak men present, grabbed Mr Nesib Tahirović by the chest and neck, and asked him for whom he had voted. Mr Tahirović refused to reply, and Mr R.B. told him that it was widely known that all local Roma had voted for the non-nationalist Social-Democrat Party, and that "all Gypsies should be killed". He then pulled Mr Nesib Tahirović closer and head-butted him, after which the Romani man fell down unconscious. Mr Mehić intervened, pointing out that they all had the right to vote for whom they chose. In response, Mr R.B. punched him in the nose. At this point, Mr Mehić ran towards his car intending to go to the police. Mr R.B. threw stones at his car, smashing the lights. When Mr Nesib Tahirović regained consciousness shortly thereafter, he found Mr R.B. on top of him, trying to cut his throat with a knife, and Mr K.K., another man from the Bosniak group, also approaching him with a knife. Mr Tahirović shook the first attacker off and told the other Roma present to run away.

As Mr Nesib Tahirović tried to run away one of the Bosniak men hit him in the back of his head with a stone, and the Romani man lost consciousness again, for about ten minutes, according to an eyewitness. Mr K.K. reportedly tried to stab him again, but Mr Samir Tahirović found a knife under a table, and stabbed Mr K.K. in order to defend his brother-in-law. In the course of the fighting, Mr Samir Tahirović was stabbed six times, resulting in four serious wounds. When Mr Nesib Tahirović regained consciousness, he and his brother-in-law fled the scene. A man driving by stopped and took them to a local medical centre, after which they were sent to the University Clinic in Tuzla, where their wounds were stitched and they obtained medical certificates.

In the meantime, Mr Mehić reached the central police station in Banovići where he was told that the police could not intervene immediately as they had no officers available. Mr Mehić finally persuaded them to send someone. When two police officers and Mr Mehić arrived on the spot, they found Mr K.K., Mr R.B. and many villagers who had gathered there. When Mr Mehić tried to explain what had happened, one of the policemen abruptly told him to "shut up", and the other policeman told him that the local Roma "have to conform to the will of the [Bosniak] majority." In front of the police officers, Mr R.B. threatened to kill Mr Mehić. The police reportedly did not react. When Mr R.B. continued to threaten to kill all of the Roma in the village, the police took him away. Police criminal investigators and court investigators visited the village on the day of the fight, and in the next days the United Nations-related International Police Task Force (IPTF) also carried out an investigation. An initial hearing in the case was held on june 5, 2000. However, the investigation was still pending as of July 5, as Mr K.K. was still hospitalized.

In the week following this incident, a representative of the Sarajevo-based non-governmental organisation Center for the Protection of Minorities' Rights met with Roma representatives from Novo Podgorje and Tuzla in relation to the incident. According to the Romani activists present at the meeting, which took place in a local hotel, at least four police officers were present in the hotel during the meeting. According to the Center's press statement of April 25, the police followed the cars of the participants until they left Banovići.

Since the incident, Romani villagers in Savići reportedly live in fear of reprisal attacks by local Bosniaks. Mr Mehić told the ERRC that his family left their house for one month after the incident out of fear. Mr Nesib Tahirović heard a rumour that local non-Roma planned to throw a bomb into his house. This is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that according to ERRC field research in the same village in January 1999, in 1996 a bomb was thrown into the house of a Romani returnee to the village. The incident was reported to the police but allegedly never investigated.

(Center for the Protection of Minorities' Rights, ERRC)

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