Economic and SocialDistr.
5 July 1995
Original: ENGLISH

Fifty­second session
Item 10 of the provisional agenda


Situation of human rights in the territory of the former Yugoslavia

Periodic report submitted by Mr. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, pursuant to paragraph 42 of Commission resolution 1995/89


1. The Special Rapporteur conducted a mission to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from 22 May to 3 June 1995, in accordance with the mandate given to him by the Commission on Human Rights. The mission coincided with a moment of great crisis in these territories. It took place shortly after the Croatian offensive in Western Slavonia and the following dramatic events unfolded while the mission was still under way:

The massacre of 71 civilians in Tuzla;

Increased shelling of Sarajevo leading to substantial civilian death and injury;

The taking of United Nations personnel as hostages;

The escalation of serious human rights violations in the Banja Luka region.

2. Because of various obstacles, the mission of the Special Rapporteur only covered Western Slavonia in Croatia, and central and south Bosnia and Herzegovina. The detailed programme of the mission is reproduced in the annex to the present report. This report presents the findings of the Special Rapporteur on the areas visited as well as information on important human rights developments in areas he was unable to visit owing to the security situation or denial of access, such as Sarajevo, other United Nations designated "safe areas" and Banja Luka.

3. The Special Rapporteur would like to emphasize at the outset that further investigation is necessary before a clear picture of events in Western Slavonia can be obtained. In particular, it is indispensable that testimonies are collected from Serbian refugees who are at present in territory controlled by de facto Bosnian Serb authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or in the territory of the so-called Republic of Serb Krajina ("RSK"). Neither the Special Rapporteur nor his field staff have been given access to these territories despite numerous requests.

4. The authorities in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina offered their cooperation in the conduct of the mission. The Special Rapporteur would like to express his gratitude to representatives of the local population and non­governmental organizations for their willingness to share relevant information and opinions.

5. The full cooperation provided to the Special Rapporteur in the implementation of his mandate by the United Nations Peace Forces (UNPF), and in particular the civilian component and the United Nations Civilian Police (Civpol) is welcomed and it is hoped that they will continue to play an active role in the field of human rights in the region.

I. CROATIA - Western Slavonia (Sector West)

A. Events occurring during the military operation

6. On 1 May 1995, the Republic of Croatia launched a major military operation in Western Slavonia, violating the cease-fire agreement of 29 March 1994. Western Slavonia (Sector West) had been defined as a United Nations Protected Area (UNPA), subject to United Nations protection and monitoring since 1992, pursuant to Security Council resolutions and United Nations­brokered cease-fire agreements, and constituted part of the so­called "Republic of Serb Krajina" ("RSK"). Croatian Army troops, supported by some 30 tanks, moved into the Sector on 1 May 1995 from three directions and pushed towards the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the south, taking most Serb-controlled territory within 36 hours and the entire Sector by 4 May 1995. United Nations forces in Sector West, comprised of battalions from four countries, took no action to deter the Croatian Army offensive. The Croatian Army blocked all access of international monitors throughout most of the area of the military operation for four days following its initiation, and in some areas for a full week.

1. Okucani area

7. The most intensive fighting in the Sector occurred in its southern half, mostly around the town of Okucani. As many as 10,000 people fled from this area into the Serb-held territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 1­2 May 1995, in a convoy which included many civilians along with a number of "RSK" soldiers and military vehicles. The road from Okucani to the crossing into this territory at the Sava River bridge sustained heavy shelling by Croatian forces during this period, and Croatian warplanes bombarded both sides of the river. To date it has not been possible to establish the exact number of civilians killed in the course of these events. According to Croatian government sources, some 20 "RSK" civilians were killed in the Sector during the entire operation; however, reports from refugees who succeeded in crossing the river indicate the number along the Okucani-Sava River road alone may have been considerably higher.

8. North of the Sava River bridge, United Nations troops withdrawing from their posts on 2 May 1995 reported seeing numerous bodies of civilians scattered along the road between the river and Novi Varos, south of Okucani, and as many as 30 dead civilians in vehicles clustered in a group at Novi Varos itself. Heavy automatic weapons fire was heard in the area at the time, and the dead appeared not to have been victims of artillery impacts. In a similar incident further north on the same road, two different sources recounted to the Special Rapporteur's field staff the alleged killing by Croatian machine-gun fire of as many as 10 intending refugees aboard a truck at Benkovac on the night of 1-2 May 1995.

9. Serbs who lived further from the road to the border had little chance to flee to the Serb-held territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina and thus faced the Croatian military as it swept into the Sector. According to reports received by the Special Rapporteur, including one from an eyewitness, Croatian Army troops entering the village of Paklenica from Novska on 1 May 1995 appear to have fired indiscriminately at civilians and homes, despite encountering no resistance, and may have killed as many as 10 civilians at that location. One source reported witnessing Croatian Army soldiers dumping the bodies of two women into a well. On 2 May 1995, United Nations personnel fleeing Okucani westwards, through Paklenica in the direction of Novska, reported seeing some 50 bodies along the road, including those of civilians. Near Paklenica, the Croatian Army also reportedly detained a group of 15 Serb civilians fleeing towards Okucani along a path in the woods. The men were separated from the women and children and beaten severely, and all the members of the group were forced to hand over their money and valuables.

10. It is alleged that 16 civilians were killed in the villages of Medari and Trnovo on 2 May 1995 by Croatian army soldiers and then buried in a mass grave near the cemetery. The case will require further investigation as there are indications that the victims were killed in an area where there was no specific military combat taking place.

11. Croatian Army soldiers entering the village of Gornja Sumetlica on 4 May reportedly opened fire on a group of some 15 civilians attempting to flee the area, killing two of them. The Special Rapporteur`s field staff observed two fresh gravesites at the location during a visit on 11 May.

12. Between 2 and 4 May 1995, the Croatian military reportedly conducted an intensive clean-up operation in the areas around Okucani, west towards Novska and south towards the Sava River bridge. A chemical disinfectant machine was reported in the area, bodies were seen being loaded into trucks and, according to one reliable account, a convoy of refrigerator trucks was seen on 3 May 1995 heading west from Okucani along the main highway towards Zagreb. By the time international observers were permitted entry to the area after 4 May 1995, no signs of possible breaches of humanitarian law were visible.

2. Pakrac area

13. In Gavrinica, a suburb of Pakrac (the main town in the north of Serb­controlled area of Sector West), fighting was suspended on 3 May 1995 after a "demobilization" brokered in part by the local United Nations Argentine Battalion was tentatively accepted by both sides. The agreement would have allowed some 600 "RSK" fighters gathered in Gavrinica and their families to obtain safe passage to Bosnia, after gradually surrendering their weaponry (with the exception of side­arms) to the United Nations over the course of five days.

14. At 2 p.m. on 4 May 1995, one hour before discussions on the demobilization were to resume, the Croatian military commenced an intense artillery barrage of the area in Gavrinica in which the "RSK" soldiers were gathered. Purportedly the attack was launched in response to fire from "RSK" positions, although international observers at the scene deny such fire occurred. A number of civilians, including two girls, were reportedly killed in the shelling assault, and others were wounded. The Croatian Army demanded and received unconditional surrender from the "RSK" fighters in Gavrinica at about 4 p.m. that afternoon.

3. General Remarks

15. On 4 May 1995, during remarks in the Parliament, the Croatian Minister of Defence stated that between 350 and 450 "RSK" soldiers had been killed and 1,200 wounded during the operation by Croatian forces, which themselves suffered 37 fatalities and some 150 wounded. No figure was given for the number of civilian dead. However, Croatian government figures released on 22 May 1995 set the number of Serb dead at 188, of which 20 and possibly a total of 54 were claimed to have been civilians. Burial sites were observed by the Special Rapporteur's field staff on 16 May 1995 at Vrbovljani and Okucani which bore the appearance of possible mass graves. The sites were later significantly altered, with individual mounds created and marked with crosses near the end of May. The Government of Croatia has stated that the 188 bodies, of which 127 have been identified, are now located in 13 cemeteries around the area. The Government, however, refuses to release data on the identities of most of the war dead.

16. At the same time, the Government claimed to have treated only 10 wounded individuals from "RSK" in Croatian hospitals. The United Nations has estimated that about 500 wounded persons from the "RSK" fled into the Serb-held territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the retreating Serbian population during the first two days of the military operation.­   ­­      ­ ­­  17. Over 100 houses were destroyed during the military offensive in Western Slavonia. According to a reliable report received by the Special Rapporteur, the new chief of police in Okucani acknowledged that some houses in Vrbovljani, Covac and Okucani were intentionally blown up after the initial fighting because "these villages were well-known for terrorist activities in the past". There were also numerous incidents of looting by the advancing Croatian forces and, to a lesser extent, by those of the retreating "RSK". The field staff of the Special Rapporteur viewed extensive damage in more than 50 dwellings throughout the sector.4. "RSK" attacks on civilians in Croatia outside the area of the military operation18. In response to Croatia's offensive in Western Slavonia, the "RSK" authorities ordered a series of artillery and rocket attacks on several Croatian cities, including Karlovac and Sisak, which were carried out on 23May 1995. More than 10Orkan rockets packed with cluster bombs were fired during the mid-day hours into the Croatian capital of Zagreb, killing 6civilians and wounding more than 100 others. One rocket struck a children's hospital in the city centre. B. Mass detention19. Following their recovery of control over Western Slavonia, the Croatian authorities immediately detained virtually all males, particularly from the area around Pakrac (Gavrinica). A total of 1,494 men, including youths and some elderly men, were taken into custody in three community centres in the towns of Bjelovar, Pozega and Varazdin.20. In the temporary detention facilities, prisoners were interviewed in a process described by Croatian authorities as an attempt to identify possible "war criminals"; it was announced that all other detainees were to be released unconditionally under the terms of an "abolition" law exempting them from possible prosecution for activities on behalf of the "RSK". The centres were opened to international inspection and dozens of officials and press representatives were permitted inside to observe the detainees, who were gathered on blankets on gymnasium floors. 21. According to international observers, detainees appeared to have suffered no major mistreatment during this initial stage. However, the Special Rapporteur has received several credible reports of abuse of prisoners committed some days after the detention programme commenced. Several accounts were received of beatings occurring at the Varazdin facility, and the Government of Croatia has informed the Special Rapporteur that one policeman posted there has been released from employment and may be prosecuted. An elderly former detainee interviewed by the Special Rapporteur's field staff while receiving medical treatment for his injuries stated that rooms out of view of international monitors were used at Varazdin for the beating of prisoners.22. Other former detainees reported being beaten and verbally abused, some after transfer from the community centre in Pozega to the Pozega prison, and others while in bus transit (which took place after midnight) from the Bjelovar prison to release in Pakrac. The latter incident allegedly concerned some 25 prisoners and occurred at the hands of a military policeman in a bus on the night of 16 May 1995.23. Most of the 1,494 prisoners were released by the Government of Croatia within a few days, and some after about two weeks. However, none of these individuals received written notice of their protection from future prosecution under the "abolition" law. According to information received uptil the end of June, the authorities are continuing to hold for further investigation some 186 men in standard prison facilities in the cities of Zagreb, Osijek, Bjelovar and Pozega, as well as 19 al