Sarajevo, 15 June 2005 - Full respect for and implementation of human rights is a necessary condition for making the return of persons displaced in Bosnia-Herzegovina sustainable. This is the key finding of the Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Human Rights of Internally-Displaced Persons, Prof. Dr. Walter Kälin, who just concluded an official visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina - from 9 to 15 June 2005 -- at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During his visit, the Representative met with the Prime Minister of the State of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the State Minister for Human Rights and Refugees, senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministers for Refugees and Displaced Persons of the two Entities, cantonal and municipal governments, international agencies and non-governmental organizations as well as displaced persons and returnees. Outside Sarajevo, he visited Tuzla, Zvornik, Bratunac, Srebrenica, Mostar, Stolac, Livno, Drvar, Prijedor and Banja Luka. The Representative was informed of the ongoing efforts to return displaced persons to their places of former residence and to facilitate the integration of returnees as well as the problems faced by such persons.
"Authorities and the international community have achieved very impressive results in solving almost all property disputes, returning large numbers of displaced persons to their reconstructed homes and creating a safe environment for most returnees" the Representative said. "However, the situation of displaced persons and minority returnees remains fragile and there are several obstacles to sustainable return that must be vigorously addressed. Besides widespread unemployment affecting the whole population, returnees face specific difficulties that relate to a lack of respect for their human rights". These obstacles include: discriminatory practices in giving minority returnees access to jobs in public service and private employment violating the right to work; infringements of the right to education in certain parts of the country by maintaining segregated schools; and the lack of uniform rules on pensions and health insurance as well as the lack of implementation of such laws in the two Entities infringing the rights to social security and to health. Provocative use of national and religious symbols by some local authorities adds to the fact that minority returnees do not feel welcomed. Lack of implementation of laws, the unwillingness of police authorities in some places to investigate incidents, a weak and overburdened judiciary and continuing impunity for crimes committed during or shortly after the war also create difficulties for returnees, as do prolonged and unjustified delays in connecting reconstructed houses of minority returnees to water and electricity. Women, in particular female heads of household and traumatized victims of war crimes tend to be in especially disadvantaged positions.
"These problems are also an important reason why the rate of returns is slowing down and preventing persons still displaced to go back to their homes" the Representative added. He also highlighted the deplorable situation of living conditions in collective shelters, especially those no longer supported by the Government or the international community and recommended starting systematic efforts to find durable solutions for particularly vulnerable groups such as traumatized or disabled persons, elderly without family support, female headed households, Roma and others who most probably will not be able to return to their former homes. Such persons also have problems in submitting documents required to request reconstruction of houses or to re-register as displaced persons.
The Representative called on national and local authorities to fulfil their obligations to ensure an environment conducive to sustainable return by fully respecting and implementing relevant human rights guarantees. He urged the international community to continue to support the on-going process of return and to provide additional means to address the plight of vulnerable groups among the displaced and returnees in order to enable them to fully enjoy their human rights.
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