The violent procedure of the special police units directed towards the villagers protesting against a construction of a hydropower plant on Kruscica river near the town of the same name has drawn an attention of the public advocates. The Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman will investigate the circumstances of the raid against about forty villagers, most of them women, during which more than the half of them had to be hospitalized. Non-governmental organizations call the EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, OSCE mission and the UN representation for their attention.
“At least 27 women and two men had to receive emergency medical services and even one pregnant woman was struck down,” Viktor Bjelic, speaker of The Coalition for Rivers Protection in Bosnia and Herzegovina, describes the scene of police arresting the peaceful crowd.
The concerned incident took place on Thursday August 24th around 5 a. m. in Kruscica village close to Vitez when the police decided to disperse the gathering of local residents. They were camping at the river bank for one month already dedicated to prevent the construction of a controversial hydropower plant. Although it received all necessary permits, locals object that their comments were not taken into account and the project will harm local communities, for example by seizing the drinking-water.
EU and UN addressed
“We are convinced that there was not a legal reason for the police applying the force against peaceful protesters. The state authorities were aware of the residents demonstrating at the river bank for whole month, so they had enough time for negotiations and attempts to resolve the conflict in nonviolent way,” Zuzana Vachunova of the Czech non-governmental organization Arnika says.
Arnika and Center for Environment, the local organization cooperating in The Coalition for Rivers Protection, jointly addressed the international institutions active in the country - the EU Special Representative, OSCE Mission and the UN representation. The letter appeals for facilitating of the case and pursues negotiation with the state authorities in a way to prevent possible similar attacks of the armed forces in the future.
Based on the allegations reported by the media based on the evidence given by the eyewitnesses, also the Institution of the Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina opened an ex officio investigation in order to examine all the circumstances of this case. In this respect, the Ombudsman will also review the procedure for obtaining permits for mini-hydropower plants from the point of view of environmental protection and the interest of the local population. There is a suspicion that the police action might violate the Law on Police Officers.
In reaction to police violent intervention more than a hundred locals have gathered on the spot of the Thursday's incident the very next day and have been protesting ever since. Meanwhile, the issued construction of the hydropower plant has started.
Remarks for editors
POLICE ACTION AGAINST THE PROTESTERS AT KRUSCICA
The local residents believed they have exhausted their administrative rights, the municipal and cantonal authorities ignored their comments and the decision was taken in contradiction to the interests of local community. Since August 2nd, hundreds of people were peacefully blocking a bridge in Kruscica in order to prevent entry of the machinery to the riverbed and thus to make it impossible to start the hydro power plant construction. At the same time, the protesters allowed private cars and other traffic not related to intended construction to pass by. In early morning, on August 24th - twenty-second day of the protest - police brutally attacked the group of 40 people, mostly women, being at the bridge at the moment. The protesters neither provoked nor resisted the police but were nevertheless forcibly removed in order to allow access over the bridge for construction equipment to pass. During the intervention police officers insulted the women, referred improper comments with sexual connotations, pulled clothes and traditional head scarves. After the police action, at least 27 women and two men had to receive emergency medical services due to obtained injuries, mostly bruising and contusions. They first looked for a medical service in the hospital of Vitez where they were refused and had to travel 15 km to the town of Travnik. They asked the medical service for a proof of injuries and were prepared to pay the obligatory fee of 50 BAM. However the medical service refused to issue the proof of injuries. More than 27 people were detained and interrogated for 7 hours at the police station in Vitez.
DETAILS ON KRUSCICA CASE: https://www.arnika.org/en/hotspots/bosnia/kruscica
OMBUDSPERSONS OPENED AN EX OFFICIO INVESTIGATION (Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina, press statement dated 25. 08. 2017)
Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina Related to the events that took place in Kruscica nearby Vitez on night 23/24 August, when according to the allegations reported by the media based on the evidence given by the eye-witnesses, members of the special police unit forces of the Ministry of Interior of Central Bosnia Canton hurt more women who placed blockades on the road intending to prevent the construction of a mini hydropower plant in the mentioned place. Ombudspersons of Bosnia and Herzegovina opened an ex officio investigation in order to examine all the circumstances of this case. In this respect, the Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina will also review the procedure for obtaining permits for mini-hydropower plants from the point of view of environmental protection and the interest of the local population. Pursuant to the Law on Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its Rules of Procedure, Ombudspersons will conduct an investigation and take measures in accordance with their competences in case that any violations of human rights are established.
English language: http://www.ombudsmen.gov.ba/Novost.aspx?newsid=779&lang=EN
Official languages of B&H: http://www.ombudsmen.gov.ba/Novost.aspx?newsid=779&lang=BS
NOTHING UNUSUAL, SAYS THE POLICE
The Ministry of Interior of Central Bosnian Canton claims that the raid was a planned action to clear the road since the protestors blocked the traffic. A fact rejected by the activists, saying they only hampered the trucks and excavators heading for the riverbed of the Kruscica river for starting a construction of a hydropower plant there.The Police also denied all the allegations regarding any baseless violence as well as any caused harm. “The police restrained the protesters without using any inadequate force and drove them to the station in Vitez,” the official released statement alleges and even further claims that “no injuries were caused by the police members during the whole intervention.”
Source: Ministry of Interior of Central Bosnia Canton, press statement (in official languages of B&H): https://www.mupsbk-ksb.gov.ba/index.php/informacija/1099-deblokada-javnog-puta-u-kruscici
ENSURING THE INVESTIGATION
Non-governmental organizations addressed the Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Czech Republic based Arnika and the Center for the Environment has appealed the Special Representative Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, OSCE, UN to watch closely the case and support non-violent solution of existing conflicts resulting from week access to environmental information and low involvement of the citizens in decision processes by the public authorities in the country.
Full text of an open letter to EU, OSCE and UN representatives: http://english.arnika.org/news/open-letter-to-eu-osce-and-un-representatives-regarding-the-police-violence-in-kruscica
DETAILS ON “SAVE THE RIVERS” CAMPAIGN: http://english.arnika.org/news/the-coalition-for-river-protection-in-bosnia-and-herzegovina-is-starting-the-campaign-against-hydropower-plants
LAW ON POLICE OFFICERS OF CENTRAL BOSNIAN CANTON (excerpts, non-official translation)
Article 27 (Conditions for the Use of Force)
(1) A police officer may use force only when absolutely necessary and only to the extent necessary to achieve a legitimate aim.
(2) Unless otherwise provided by this law, means of coercion, such as physical force, including martial arts, rods, binding agents, devices for the forcible arrest of persons or vehicles, chemical agents, firearms, official dogs, water cannons, special vehicles, special types of weapons and explosive devices, can be used when necessary to protect human lives, refuse attacks, overcome resistance, and prevent escape.
(3) Before using any means of coercion, a police officer will give a warning, unless this could jeopardize the security of a police officer or other person or would be manifestly inappropriate or meaningless in the circumstances;
(4) Detailed regulations on the use of force shall be made by the minister at the proposal of the police commissioner.
Article 28 (Exemption from the use of certain means of coercion)
(1) Physical force and rods are not used for children, the elderly and disabled persons, including those who are seriously ill, or towards women who are obviously pregnant, unless these persons directly endanger the life of a police officer, his life or the life of other people.
(2) Firearms and special weapons can not be used only for the purpose of preventing escape of persons, unless it is the only means of defense against direct attack or danger.
(3) Explosive devices can not be used to prevent escape of a person.