Workshop in Bosnia on Humanitarian Approaches to Reporting on Missing Persons

With the aim of improving media reporting on missing persons with a focus on a humanitarian approach, as well as on war crimes and transitional justice, a six-day training for journalists and journalism students from all parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina was held in Sarajevo from Friday 12 November till Wednesday 17 November 2021.

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, and the UN Development Programme, UNDP, held the training for 15 journalists and journalism students.

During the first part, editors and journalists from BIRN BiH,  and ICRC representatives discussed with participants taking a humanitarian approach to reporting on missing persons, as well as on how to interview families of the missing and report on the subject in a professional and ethical manner.

Representatives of the ICRC, the Missing Persons Institute of BiH and International Commission on Missing Persons familiarized the participants with the work of those institutions, providing insight into information and ways of collaboration with a view to achieving a better quality of investigations into the missing.

Journalists were informed about BIRN standards in reporting on the missing persons, and on experiences and challenges in the field, with a special emphasis on the way the COVID pandemic has further delayed the finding of missing persons.

The participants also talked to some families of missing persons, learn how to report on war crimes from courtrooms and what topics they could cover during their work.

Representatives of the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as attorneys representing war crime defendants before state and local courts, spoke about the role of parties to the proceedings and the right to defence.Research on “How the Media in BiH Report on Missing Persons” was also presented.

As part of the training, the journalists also visited the state court to follow war crime trials and apply in practice what they had learnt during the workshop.

The first part of the workshop covering reporting on missing persons with a special focus on a humanitarian approach was organised with the help of the ICRC while UNDP helped organize the training on war-crimes reporting.

 

 

Sarajevo Exhibition Documents Perils of Wartime ‘Sniper Alley’

Photographer Paul Lowe is presenting a BIRN-backed multimedia exhibition entitled ‘Watch Out, Sniper’, documenting the experiences of people who endured the dangers of Sarajevo’s so-called Sniper Alley during the 1992-95 siege.

‘Watch Out, Sniper’, a multimedia exhibition documenting the wartime siege of the Bosnian capital through photographs, research into Hague Tribunal archive material, witness testimonies and 3D modelling, opens at the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo on Thursday evening.

The exhibition is based on research carried out by Paul Lowe, an award-winning Sarajevo-based photographer who reported the Bosnian war and whose work has been published by Time, Newsweek, Life and The Sunday Times Magazine, among others.

The exhibition historically and geographically reconstructs the area in Sarajevo known during the 1992-95 siege as Sniper Alley – the informal name for Zmaja od Bosne Street and Mesa Selimovic Boulevard, the main boulevard in Sarajevo, which during the Bosnian war was lined with snipers’ posts, making it dangerous for civilians to traverse.

The mountains surrounding the city were also used for sniper positions by the Bosnian Serb Army.

“Paul Lowe photographed the Yugoslav wars from the beginning, he was here in Sarajevo during the siege and saw first-hand what was happening, not just in Sniper Alley, but in Bosnia and Herzegovina in general. He stayed on afterwards and saw the consequences of the war too,” said BIRN’s regional director, Marija Ristic.

The exhibition will not only feature Lowe’s work, but also images by other photographers such as Ron Haviv, Enric Marti, Rikard Larma and Gervasio Sanchez.

“Lowe has used his photography and pictures by others, but also documents, artistic installations and technology to create a compelling narrative of events. Through this combination of journalism, court findings, witness testimonies, 3D modelling and art we hope to bring new techniques of storytelling to the public, not just in Sarajevo, but elsewhere in the region too,” Ristic said.

The exhibition is opening on November 18 to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Nermin Divic, a boy killed by a sniper on the same day in 1994.

It is being organised as part of BIRN’s Balkan Transitional Justice granting scheme, which aims to encourage professionals in various fields to explore the archives of courts that dealt with war crime trials in the Balkans.

It is also supported by the Photography and the Archive Research Centre, University of the Arts London and Foundation VII.

‘Watch Out, Sniper’ will be on display at the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo until spring next year.

 

 

Requests to Remove Online Content ‘Mustn’t Fuel Censorship’, Debate Told

A debate about online freedom of expression entitled ‘New Trends or a Method of Suppressing Independent Journalism?’ was held in Sarajevo on November 12 by the Center for Investigative Journalism and BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Participants at the debate argued that requests for removal of online content about perpetrators of criminal offences can amount to pressure on the media.

Due to insufficiently defined or selectively interpreted laws, the right to reply to or request the removal of an article can limit freedom of expression and serve as a tool of censorship, participants said.

Participants also argued that the publication of responses by people accused in media articles of wrongdoing should not provide a platform for their personal opinions.

Journalists and editors from media outlets in Bosnia and Herzegovina, journalism professors, legal experts and representatives of international organisations and embassies took part in the discussion.

The round-table discussion’s panellists included Nedim Ademovic, a lawyer and constitutional law expert, and Lejla Turcilo, a professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Sarajevo.

Turcilo pointed out that media are obliged to publish someone’s reply to an article if it corrects an error and contributes to impartiality. The decision is up to editorial teams, while the individuals submitting responses have the right to address a court if it has not been published.

Professional and responsible media outlets will not refuse to publish these responses if they correct an error, because this will provide the public with better quality information, she said.

However, polemics about a published article that insult or threaten a journalist or the media outlet shouldn’t be published as responses, Turcilo said.

She argued that this often represents an attempt to censor media content and threatens the freedom of journalists to report “about everyone and everything”.

Ademovic said that nobody has the right to ask media to publish their personal stance on a certain topic in the form of a response, but they have the right to correct an error, particularly if the journalist did not contact that person when preparing the article.

“One has the right to mitigate the damage through a denial correcting the key false allegations,” Ademovic said.

In some cases in Bosnia, people have the right to ask for specific verdicts to be deleted from their criminal records. The individual concerned then often ask media to articles mentioning their verdicts because they believe that such information, which can easily be found through a simple search on the internet, damages their reputation.

The panellists and discussion participants agreed that such requests do not have a legal basis and that media have no obligation to comply, particularly when it comes to checked and correct information.

“So these requests for the removal of articles about perpetrators of criminal offences following their removal from the criminal records actually represent a type of belated censorship or pressure on the media,” Turcilo said.

She said that those who have had falsehoods published about them should use defamation legislation.

Ademovic explained that there is no statutory right to request the removal of published articles. “The removal and elimination of the legal consequences of someone’s criminal status doesn’t imply the right to delete that something happened,” he said.

The panel’s participants agreed a court decision to remove someone from the criminal records doesn’t imply an obligation to remove media content about the criminal offence.

 

BIRN Launches COVID Crisis Tech Response Livefeed Page

COVID Crisis Tech Response Livefeed, a new focus page on BIRN’s flagship Balkan Insight website, will deliver regular updates on digital and tech solutions that are being introduced during the coronavirus pandemic.

While monitoring pandemic-related incidents and activities in the digital environment, BIRN noticed the increased use of technology and digital solutions, both positive and negative, that were being offered to people in Central and South-East Europe by states and companies.

BIRN’s monitoring also showed that ordinary citizens have been the main victims of digital abuses and information warfare, while states, major companies and online platforms have neglected their responsibilities to protect people.

The COVID Crisis Tech Response Livefeed page aims to update readers on a wide range of technological innovations and solutions that have been developed as part of the response to the pandemic in the Central and South-East Europe region.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been using all kinds of tech and digital solutions to keep our lives going. With this page, BIRN is mapping all the solutions that are being used in order to examine all the aspects of the various uses of technology that have been presented as the best and fastest solution to every problem during the pandemic,” said Sofija Todorovic, BIRN Project Manager.

The goal is to highlight trends and connections that would otherwise remain hidden in order to help civil society organisations and media respond more quickly and efficiently to future crises, but also to reveal misuses of tech solutions.

“We know that fast technology solutions can’t solve complex issues for society and it’s crucial to know what is happening with our data,” said Todorovic.

Digital and tech solutions being offered by private companies will be covered as well as state-designed tools.

Among the main issues that will be followed on the new page will be the introduction of apps for digital contact tracing, the implementation of online platforms and remote applications to map the spread of COVID-19, and the increasing use of online education.

The page will also examine how tech solutions have caused a rise in cases of unauthorised access to online platforms, sensitive data violations and banking scams, as well as the boom in disinformation and misrepresentation by scam websites.

 

 

CEI SEEMO Investigative Awards Judges Praise BIRN Journalist

Nermina Kuloglija, a BIRN journalist from Bosnia and Herzegovina, was given a special mention by the judges of the CEI SEEMO journalism awards for outstanding merits in investigative journalism.

The judges at the CEI SEEMO journalism awards ceremony in Belgrade on Wednesday praised BIRN’s Nermina Kuloglija for her dedicated work on monitoring public procurement during the coronavirus pandemic.

From March 2020 until the end of the year, Kuloglija followed all public expenditures in Bosnia and Herzegovina that were part of the authorities’ counter-pandemic efforts through a special database. She registered the expenditures totalling more than 30 million euros and published several stories about the issue.

“Nermina was praised for the database she produced during the pandemic that collated public procurements across the country related to medical equipment, which also allowed her to reveal some notable corruption stories,” a member of this year’s jury, Sasa Lekovic, said while presenting the award.

The jury also gave a special mention to Vlad Odobescu, a freelance journalist who works for the Romanian Investigative Journalism Centre.

The award for outstanding investigative journalism was given to Sadeta Bajrovic, a journalist with the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Sarajevo, in the ‘professional journalists’ category. The jury has praised her stories focusing on vulnerable and ordinary people during the pandemic.

The award for ‘young journalist’ was given to Milica Vujanovic, a journalist who works for the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and KRIK investigative media outlet in Serbia, for her stories about organised crime.

The CEI SEEMO awards aim to honour the work carried out by investigative journalists and their contribution to investigative reporting despite the difficult conditions under which they have to operate. Thay are organised by the Central European Initiative, CEI, in cooperation with the South East Europe Media Organisation, SEEMO.

The 2021 awards were intended to bring public attention to journalists who reported on the social and economic influence of the pandemic on people’s lives, investigating stories focusing on gender, youth, minorities and people with disabilities.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina Journalist Shortlisted for International Award

Haris Rovcanin, a journalist with BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been shortlisted for the Fetisov Journalism Awards in the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Peace’ category.

Four articles written by Haris Rovcanin for BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina, two of which were co-written by Albina Sorguc, have been shortlisted in the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Peace’ category of this year’s Fetisov Journalism Awards.

The articles include two investigative pieces, Bosnian Serb Military Police Chiefs Never Charged with Srebrenica Killings and Serb Chetniks’ Links to War Criminals and Extremists Uncovered.

They also include a feature, 28 Years on, Families still Searching for Missing Bosnian Soldiers and an analysis piece, BIRN Fact Check: Is the Bosnian Serb Report on the Sarajevo Siege Accurate?

The annual Fetisov Journalism Awards aim to promote “universal human values such as honesty, justice, courage and nobility through the example of outstanding journalists from all over the world”.

Other nominees in the same category as Rovcanin include Swedish-Syrian duo Ali Al Ibrahim and Khalifa Al Khuder’s story ‘Syria’s Sinister Yet Lucrative Trade in Dead Bodies’, Nigerian journalist Kalopo Olapojua’s series of stories ‘Conflict in a Pandemic’, Spanish journalist Marga Zambrana’s article ‘Uyghur Refugees Speak Out Against Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity’ and Olatunji Ololade from Nigeria for the piece ‘The Boys Who Swapped Football for Bullets’.

The ‘Outstanding Contribution to Peace’ category recognises publications on anti-war topics that have made an important contribution to peace-making.

The three other categories in the awards are ‘Contribution to Civil Rights’, ‘Outstanding Investigative Reporting’ and ‘Excellence in Environmental Journalism’. This year, just under 400 entries from 80 countries were submitted.

Three winners will be announced in each of the categories in February, while the awards ceremony will take place in Switzerland in April

Former BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina journalist Sorguc was also shortlisted alongside Emina Dizdarevic for the Fetisov awards in 2019 in the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Peace category with a series of articles on war crimes and transitional justice.

 

 

BIRN BiH Leads Petition for More Transparency in Bosnia’s Judiciary

Through a campaign to collect citizens’ signatures, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, wants to draw public attention to the problem of inaccessible corruption indictments and verdicts, asking judicial institutions to increase the transparency of their work.

BIRN BiH will hand over the signatures alongside an analysis on the (non)transparency of the judiciary and recommendations for improvements to the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, HJPC, demanding a revision of recommendations for publication of prosecutorial acts, in particular the public availability of corruption indictments.

Through its project, “Transparency against Corruption in Judiciary,” BIRN BiH wants to encourage citizens to take a proactive role and seek necessary changes in the judiciary, as well as raise awareness on the need to standardize document publication practices with the focus on corruption indictments and point to bad practices in the Bosnian judiciary in terms of transparency.

This campaign is being carried out as part of the “Transparency against Corruption in Judiciary” project with financial support from the US Agency for International Development, USAID.

It forms part of a broader project, “Assistance to Citizens in the Fight against Corruption,” which is being implemented by the Centers for Civic Initiatives as the leading partner.

Petition can be signed here bit.ly/3hRLhWX

Video for the campaign https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsrLO30-3DU

Memorial Center and BIRN BiH to Hold Oral History Conference

On July 7, the Memorial Center in Srebrenica and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, will hold a conference in Potocari on “The Role of Oral History in Countering Revisionist Narratives”.

They will present a joint project here titled, “The Lives behind the Fields of Death”, within which a special methodology for collecting oral history from surviving genocide witnesses has been developed.

During the conference in Potocari, the Memorial Center’s director, Emir Suljagic, and BIRN BiH’s executive director, Denis Dzidic, will speak about their experiences in recording oral history.

Suljagic pointed out that through this project the Srebrenica Memorial Center has made a pioneering undertaking of documenting Bosnian history by filming not only the experiences of the July 1995 genocide survivors but also their pre-war lives. “The Lives behind the Fields of Death” records the habits, tradition and spirit of Srebrenica as it was before the events of 1995.

Researchers, as well as the broader public, will have a chance to see the faces and hear the stories, while not having to create an image of the Srebrenica genocide only in terms of the numbers of casualties – which are being denied constantly.

“The idea of this conference is to see how our common history and memories and all our knowledge can find a way to young people in this country both through formal and informal mechanisms. I am particularly glad that the Memorial Center will be the venue for a discussion on this topic,” Suljagic said.

Dzidic said it was shocking that nearly 30 years after the genocide, many young people are still unfamiliar with what happened in Srebrenica in July 1995, and during the entire war. Young people, he noted, are now exposed to denial of genocide and other crimes, as well as the open glorification of convicted war criminals.

“Through this project we have enabled a serious debate about revisionism and the ways to counter it. Following so many verdicts by both international and domestic courts, crimes and genocide are still being denied. It is of extreme importance to start countering that within the educational system,” Dzidic said.

During one of the conference panels, the participants will discuss how oral history can be used to counter revisionism and war crime denial, while international and domestic experts will also discuss how to include oral history in the formal and informal educational systems.

During the conference, videos from “The Lives behind the Fields of Death” will be premiered alongside a video presentation of an exhibition room from “The Lives behind the Fields of Death” project, which will be open to visitors by the end of 2021.

Since October last year, 100 testimonies of genocide survivors have been filmed within the “The Lives behind the Fields of Death” project using, for the first time, a special oral history methodology designed by the Memorial Center.

Through this project financed by the government of the Netherlands, the Memorial Center and BIRN BiH wanted to link individual testimonies with items in the museum collection of the Memorial Center, which survivors have donated. They have also collected new artefacts and testimonies. In future the Center will work on developing the methodology further in cooperation with the De Montfort University from Leicester in England.

 

Mirza Mršo

Mirza joined BIRN BiH in March 2021. He has been a cameraman for 15 years in TV companies in Bosnia.

He has experience in making documentaries and feature TV series and in daily monitoring significant events. Before starting at BIRN BiH, Mirza worked for the Federation of BiH’s Public Service Radio and Television.

Aida Mahmutović

Aida joined BIRN BiH Detektor.ba team in April 2021. She is based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Aida began her career as an intern for the Center for e-Governance Development in Ljubljana, Slovenia in 2011. In 2012 she was promoted to project coordinator. Her primary fields of experience are related to Internet governance and human rights. She was programme manager at One World Platform (OWP) and led Internet rights and women’s rights projects. This included international projects by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), such as “End violence: Women Rights and Safety Online”, “Local Actions to Secure Internet Rights”, and the global “Take Back The Tech” campaign.

She worked as an external consultant for DotSensei (Bulgaria), collaborated on the protestos.org project by Article19 and TecticalTech, and was a digital copywriter for Greenpeace. In 2017, she started the Balkan School on Internet Governance. Since 2016, she has worked on Geneva Internet Platform’s Digital Watch Observatory as a content co-creator and curator covering global developments on privacy and data protection and cultural diversity, and later gender rights online and migration and technology. Since 2012, she has actively participated in the United Nations’ Internet Governance Forum.

In 2014, she was selected by the UN Secretary General to serve a three-year term on the UN’s Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) of the Internet Governance Forum. She served as executive committee member of the South Eastern European Dialogue on Internet Governance (SEEDIG) and as a member of the organising committee for the Regional Internet Forum.

Aida co-authored the GisWatch BiH country report (2014) on digital surveillance, “End Violence: Women’s Rights and Safety Online (2015.)” and “Cybersecurity Governance and Gender in the Western Balkans” for Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF) (2021).

Aida is a DiploFoundation alumni. She speaks four foreign languages: English, Spanish, French, and Slovenian.