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Representative of UN Secretary-General concerned about problems of displaced persons and returnees in Bosnia and Herzegovina

20 June 2008

Sarajevo and Geneva – “Although a majority of those who had to flee during the war have found a way to re-build their lives, it is distressing to see that thirteen years after the war, there are still too many citizens continuing to live in displacement or at returnee sites in miserable conditions, with insufficient assistance and with hardly any hope for their future. It is high time to make returns more sustainable and find durable solutions for the most vulnerable among the displaced who, like the elderly without family support, or persons suffering from traumas or disabilities, simply cannot return to their homes.” This is the main conclusion of Prof. Walter Kälin, Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons at the conclusion today of his week-long visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. He urged the Government and the international community to make it a priority to help the displaced and returnee populations find appropriate durable solutions in line with international human rights standards, including the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

In his meetings with the State and Entity authorities, the Representative welcomed the Government’s plan to adopt a revised strategy to implement Annex VII to the Dayton Agreement on Refugees and Displaced Persons as a real chance to solve the remaining problems related to forced displacement. “This is the opportunity to make sure that no one who is still displaced, including the most vulnerable ones, will be left alone, and that those who have returned will be able to stay, rebuild their homes and reintegrate into society.”

The Representative acknowledged the huge efforts made by the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina and by the international community to return almost all property to their rightful owners and to reconstruct the majority of destroyed houses. However, during his travels throughout the country, he saw that reconstruction was far from being achieved, and that despite positive examples, many returns were at risk of not being sustainable. “It is hard to believe that hundreds of families all over Bosnia who have had the courage to return to their remote villages continue to live in unfinished buildings, without electricity or running water and no economic opportunities after so many years,” the Representative remarked.

He observed that most returnees are struggling hard to make a living. Many even decided to leave again as they could not find a job in their places of origin, or lacked the necessary tools or start capital to generate an income for their families. Most of all, the Representative regretted that “widespread discrimination against minorities defies their right to proportionate access to employment in the public sector, and that no action plan exists to implement this right.” He was also concerned that other significant obstacles to sustainable return persist, including discrimination in the education sector, the hostile use of national and religious symbols, and serious complications resulting from the incompatibility of health and social schemes between the Entities infringing the rights to health and social security.

The Representative appreciated that local and national authorities were increasingly aware that return did not simply end when a person moves back to their former homes, but that their life in return areas must also be socially and economically sustainable. He welcomed that in a few municipalities, micro-credit and other small-scale support schemes were already in place, but stressed that the authorities need to assume more responsibility for targeted, needs-based financial or in-kind sustainability projects. He called on the international community to focus on supporting these projects.

Among those remaining in displacement, the Representative, while reaffirming their right to opt for return, found that a significant number will not be able to go back to their places of origin. These include elderly and infirm persons and female-headed households without family support, disabled and traumatized persons as well as those who never owned any property they could return to. These persons continue to have very serious humanitarian needs, and a solution must urgently be found for them. “They have already been victimized doubly – first they were forced from their homes and communities and now, instead of having these past injustices reversed, they live far below the poverty line at the margins of society.” In particular, the majority of displaced persons living in collective shelter have simply become too vulnerable to support themselves. The Representative expressed his hope that the local authorities, with the support of the State and Entity governments as well as the international community, would swiftly provide them with more stable alternatives to allow them a life in dignity.

While appreciating the work that has been accomplished by the international community and in particular the UN agencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Representative was concerned that funding for humanitarian assistance has been drastically reduced. He encouraged the international organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina to address persistent humanitarian needs of the displaced population, and the challenges of making return sustainable. He appealed to donors to provide the necessary funds, not least in the context of increased EU involvement following the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement.

Prof. Kälin met with the Chairman of the Presidency Haris Silajdzic, Prime Ministers Nedzad Brankovic and Milorad Dodik, the Ministers for refugees and displaced persons at the State and Entity levels, as well as representatives of international organizations and the diplomatic community. He visited collective centers, alternative accommodation sites and return areas in both entities, and spoke with local authorities, non-governmental organizations as well as displaced persons and returnees. This visit followed up his official mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2005.

Mr. Kälin assumed office in 2004 and is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to enter into dialogue with governments and international actors in order to enhance the protection of the human rights of internally displaced persons. In support of his mandate, he undertakes working visits and missions to countries affected by internal displacement, including most recently to Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya.

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