Prosecutor Launches Probe after Watching BIRN TV Report

Following a report in an episode of BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ‘TV Justice’ programme, the Bosnian state prosecution opened an investigation into the rape of a 15-year-old during the war.

A state prosecutor opened an investigation into the rape of the 15-year old after watching a ‘TV Justice’ episode in which the injured party told BIRN BiH about what she had gone through in Bratunac in 1992.

In the November 2014 episode of ‘TV Justice’, the victim, who identified herself by the initials K.E., said she was taken from Srebrenica to Bratunac, as a 15-year-old, and raped several times in abandoned houses. You can watch the full story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPvPA8_UK9Y

Her emotional testimony caused the prosecutor to seek her out, initiate an investigation and, ultimately, file an indictment against Sasa Cvetkovic, whose trial at the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina began on July 11.

The indictment alleges that at the beginning of June 1992, Cvetkovic hit and brutally raped K.E. in an abandoned house in Bratunac.

It further alleges that K.E. was brought, along with two other girls, to the house earlier that day from the Sase Zinc and Lead Mine, where Bosniak civilians were being held in detention.

Pressure Rises on Journalists in the Balkans

Weakening EU and US influence in the Balkans and increased Russian influence, as well as growing political and economic pressures on journalists, have created a harsher environment for Balkan media, BIRN’s biennial meeting heard.

At the biennial meeting of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network on Saturday, Ana Petruseva, director of BIRN Macedonia, said the situation facing the media in the Balkans “seems to be going from bad to worse”.

In addition to the usual political and financial pressures, she said, the media is seeing new types of pressure – the labelling of reporters and media outlets as spies and foreign mercenaries, as well as the opening of a large number of fake news websites.

Petruseva said the flood of fake news was “creating a media noise” in which it is becoming difficult for the public to distinguish between real and fake information, as a result of which confidence in the media in general is declining.

“People are losing trust in the media, and start to see everything as propaganda and promotion,” Petruseva said at the BIRN meeting on Saturday in Kopaonik, Serbia, referring to the new challenges facing the Balkan media.

Wolfgang Petritsch, a BIRN Board member and the president of the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation, warned the Balkan countries not to always count on EU support, as many in Brussels saw “stability as the priority” over reforms.

“The EU position has weakened owing to its internal problems. As long as it does not finish the process of internal reforms, there will be no strong EU role in the region,” he said, noting that while the promise of EU enlargement is fading, authoritarian regimes in the region are strengthening.

“Since no system has been established of how to handle enlargement, the situation will remain in the ‘twilight zone’,” Petritsch said.

Political analyst for The Economist and Balkan expert Tim Judah said the policy of “stabilitocracy”, whereby the EU and the US appear to tolerate authoritarian Balkan leaders who deliver stability, is essentially a pragmatic response.

“It means dealing with the leaders that we have, and dealing with the Balkans in the way that they are,” he said.

Judah said that while Western influence had decreased, Russian influence had grown, but that Moscow saw setbacks in recent months – giving the example of Macedonia, where Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has been ousted, and Montenegro, which joined NATO on June 5 despite Russian opposition.

“What is Russia’s interest? It is simple, they want to create within the region pro-Russian or neutral territories,” Judah said.

BIRN Board member and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe Stefan Lehne said the Balkan countries could move closer towards EU membership in different ways.

“Parallel to the very, very slow and very boring and complicated enlargement process there could be some process of horizontal enlargement. The Balkans countries should not join only country by country, but policy by policy,” Lehne said, listing Balkan countries’ participation in the Energy Community as an example of this.

BIRN board member and media expert Robert Bierman spoke of the recent experience of the media in the United States, where the administration of President Donald Trump has been targeting the press.

“Any weakness in the media will be pointed at. It doesn’t matter if two things are wrong and 98 are right, those two things become the most important in the world. It doesn’t matter that the administration is doing 98 things wrong and two things right,” Bierman said.

However, he added more optimistically that Americans appear more ready now to pay for editorial content, adding that the media are also continuing to do their job.

Before the panel, BIRN Regional Director Gordana Igric presented the results of the BIRN network’s projects in the last year, noting that the network had directly reached over five million people.

“In the past year, this number increased by over half a million people,” Igric said, adding that milestone stories had tackled such major issues as corruption, problems with public procurements and concessions. As a result of these investigations, officials have been removed and criminal charges filed.

Igric said that BIRN currently operates 16 websites in various languages, and has produced over 100 TV reports and films and held 50 training courses during the past year.

According to Igric, BIRN’s articles have been republished or cited in many respected foreign media, including The Guardian, the BBC, and Bloomberg. BIRN has also been very active in advocating the prosecution of war crimes and in participative budgeting activities.

The biennial BIRN network meeting continues until June 10 on Mount Kopaonik in Serbia.

Sarajevo Panel: Transitional Justice is a Global Challenge

The implementation of transitional justice mechanisms represents the only way to secure stability and respect for human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in other places around the world, concluded participants in a panel discussion held as part of the WARM Festival in Sarajevo on June 29.

The discussion on ‘Conventional and unconventional approaches to transitional justice’ dealt with lessons from the Balkan region and their implementation in areas throughout the world where attempts are being made to deal with the consequences of conflicts.

Denis Dzidic, editor at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovivna, said Bosnia’s biggest failure was in the field of compensation for victims, adding that there was also still no law governing the rights of torture victims.

“We, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region, have never gone through an institutional reform,” Dzidic said, adding that the country’s Transitional Justice Strategy was an excellent document, but it had not been implemented.

Tanya Domi of Columbia University in New York said the key issue was how to involve victims in reconciliation processes, how to give them a voice and ensure that they are satisfied with the process of justice.

Myles Wallingford of the Post-Conflict Research Center said his organisation focused on making sure that victims have access to justice and that it uses multimedia projects for memoralisation processes.

Samantha Owens of the Art Works Projects Chicago said her project attempted to expand the lessons learned in Bosnia, Congo and Columbia to the United States, where the racial gap was getting more pronounced.

Speaking on behalf of the Sarajevo Film Festival, Masa Markovic said that last year’s festival presented a programme on ‘Coming to terms with the past’.

She said she wanted films from the region that cover conflict-related topics to reach a broader audience.

BIRN BiH Addresses ICTY Legacy Event in Sarajevo

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BIH) editor Erna Mackic was one of the speakers at a side event at a three-day conference reflecting on the legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and how others can build upon its achievements.

Mackic spoke at an event called “How NGOs use ICTY findings and document”.

She reminded the audience about the problems that the Bosnian public have with the State Court and Prosecutor’s Office, not being able to receive indictments and convictions, and explained how they could be more open in their work.

“The situation in BiH is very specific and very often the facts established by the Hague Tribunal have been denied, both by state institutions and the public”, Mackic said.

She also spoke about the importance of ICTY Outreach program:

“We had the opportunity to organise the training of journalists who were at the Hague Tribunal and got acquainted with its work. In different ways we were trying to help ordinary citizens to learn more about the work of the Hague Tribunal,” she said.

More than 300 people attend the ICTY conference in Sarajevo from June 22-24, including judges and staff of the ICTY, stakeholders at the local level, as well as international experts and scholars.

A significant number of the participants were from the former Yugoslavia, including associations of victims, youth, lawyers, politicians, NGOs, academics, media representatives and the general public.

Media against Hate Workshop in Poland

Mirna Buljugic, executive director of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, took part in a Media Literacy Training session organized by the Community Media Forum Europe, CMFE, at the University of Warmia and Mazury, in Olsztyn, Poland, from June 7th to 9th.

The focus was on freedom of expression and respect of human rights, specifically of Muslims, in the media, including discussing the portrayal of Muslims in the European media and highlighting the main issues and recommendations for improvement.

At several workshops, journalists learned more about how to recognize hate speech and become aware of the legitimate boundaries between freedom of expression and human rights.

Buljugic shared her own experience in the Bosnian media, talking about biased news coverage in which reporting still reflects national and religious identity.

A growing problem in BiH, she noted, is hatred that is spread via the online media, especially in the comments sections of online news portals, since no adequate mechanisms exist either to prevent or sanction such abuses from occurring.

Elameri Škrgić-Mikulić

Elameri began her professional career in journalism in 2000. She initially worked for daily newspaper Dnevni Avaz, reporting on social issues, and was also the editor-in-chief of Azra magazine for nine years.

She holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Sarajevo.

Haris Rovčanin

Haris has worked with BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina since September 2016.

He started working as a journalist in 2006. He worked for daily newspaper Oslobodjenje for three years before joining Dnevni List, where he worked for seven years, reporting on local crimes and the work of the judiciary in the field of organised crime, terrorism, corruption and, partially, war crimes.

Semir Mujkić

Semir is an investigative journalist who joined BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina in April 2017.

He has worked as a journalist since 2006. He began his career with START BiH Magazine. In 2009 he joined Zurnal online magazine, where he mainly focused on researching corruption in the health and energy sectors and public procurement.

He graduated in journalism from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Sarajevo.

Semir has attended advanced training courses in journalism, Reuters’ training of trainers and a one-month training course on economic and political reporting in London and Berlin, as well as the BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting.

He was awarded a UNICEF prize for journalistic contribution for the protection and promotion of child rights in print media in 2016.

Admir Muslimović

Admir is an investigative journalist who joined BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina in April 2017 after being involved in daily news reporting for 16 years.

He got his first journalistic experience working for the Tuzla-based TV station TVT in 2001. A year later he joined the then top-circulation daily newspaper Dnevni Avaz, where he focused on investigating corruption, crime and other political and social topics.

When daily newspaper Faktor and its website opened, he became its correspondent from Tuzla, reporting on similar topics. He was the editor-in-chief of a news site called bportal.

He graduated in journalism from the Department of Journalism of the Faculty of Philosophy at Tuzla University in 2005.

He has attended numerous training courses for journalists organised by UNICEF, Save the Children and BIRN.

Association of Prosecutors of FBIH

ASSOCIATE
The Association of Prosecutors of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a non-profit association established under Bosnian law for the purpose of providing support and education for the prosecutors of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, FBiH, and protecting their interests.

The Association is member of the Justice Network developed under the USAID JSDP II project.

The Association of Prosecutors of FBiH provides professional support to BIRN’s advocacy efforts for its Transparency of Judiciary and Responsibility of Media project.