BIRN Bosnia Holds Discussion on Terrorism Prevention Strategy

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina held a round-table discussion on February 26 about the implementation of the state strategy for preventing and combatting terrorism and the challenges remaining for Bosnia and Herzegovina prior to the adoption of a new strategy.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has managed to stop people going abroad to fight in foreign conflicts, participants in the round-table discussion were told during the presentation of an analysis of the implementation of the state strategy, which was based on answers from institutions and interviews with those involved in its implementation.

There have been no terrorist attacks in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past several years, and work on the implementation of the strategy in the period between 2015 and 2020 focused more on combating terrorism than prevention.

Reinout Vos, ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which supports BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s project, pointed out that combating terrorism and violent extremism was one of the priorities for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also for the Netherlands and the European Union.

“It is very important for Bosnia and Herzegovina to continue working on improving its future strategy for combating terrorism and combating violent radicalism and extremism and I consider that experts and participants who were present in this meeting and who showed big enthusiasm for working in this field, as well as the fact that we have new people at the Ministry of Security, will give a new shift to working in this field in the right way,” Vos said.

At a press conference held after the round-table discussion, which was closed to public, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s director Denis Dzidic said the idea of the event was to present the results of a project in which BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina followed and reported on the implementation of the state strategy, especially the prevention part, so past experiences and challenges can be used when preparing the new strategy.

He added that the focus was on organising a discussion with participation of everyone who should have been involved in the strategy implementation – representatives of the Bosnian Ministry of Security, which is responsible for implementation of the Strategy, members of the Monitoring Body composed of officials from security agencies, social work centres, the Communications Regulatory Authority and others, “all of whom have certain competencies in the implementation of that strategy”.

According to BIRN’s research, which was presented by journalist Nermina Kuloglija, a clear and comprehensive system of terrorism prevention has not been established in all local communities in the country. Kuloglija said that over the past two years, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina has done two extensive analyses of the implementation of the strategy over a one-year period.

“Some of the key findings we have reached indicate that the strategy has not been implemented at all levels, and no money has been allocated in the state budget for its implementation. Unlike Brcko District and Republika Srpska, the government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has still not adopted an action plan and we are already talking about the final year of this strategy,” Kuloglija explained.

During the last year of implementation of the existing strategy, Bosnia and Herzegovina will prepare a new one, whose implementation should begin next year. The aim of the discussion was to talk about challenges faced by institutions during the strategy implementation and how to overcome them in the new strategy.

“What our interlocutors said during the preparation of these analyses is that work with returnees from foreign battlefronts will be included in the new strategy, but it has still not been decided how and in what form,” Kuloglija said.

In addition to reporting from all hearings in terrorism cases, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina has produced four episodes of ‘TV Justice’ on the subject – How Islamic Extremism Destroyed a Bosnian Family, Lack of Prisons Response to Radicalization Problem, Bosnia Nervously Awaits ISIS Women and Children’s Return, and Prevention Remains Biggest Challenge to Anti-Terrorism Strategy.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina has published a number of analyses and news on terrorism and radicalism issues over the past few years.

The round table for representatives of international institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and relevant domestic institutions for combating terrorism was organised by BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of its project ‘Contributing to Bosnian Efforts to Combat Radicalisation’, supported through the Fund for Regional Partnership of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

BIRN Bosnia and Serbia’s Ana Curic up for Sigma Awards

A database of Bosnian government official vehicles, a project of the Balkans Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been shortlisted for the 2020 Sigma Awards for data journalism. The BIRN BiH project was shortlisted in the Open Data category. Ana Curic, a BIRN journalist from Serbia, has been shortlisted in the Young Journalist category for her overall work in 2019.

The Open Data category shortlists those projects that best “reflect a commitment to making data open, accessible and relevant to other journalists, researchers and general public”.

Fourteen projects were shortlisted in all, including some by media outlets such as ProPublica, the BBC, AFP, Aljazeera, Yahoo News, Pulitzer Center and HuffPost.

The database of official vehicles in Bosnia contains all tenders for the procurement of official limos from 2018 onwards, as well as data on the vehicle fleets of hundreds of institutions and public companies.

It is regularly updated and contains the technical specifications of the vehicles obtained from tender documents, which are otherwise not available to the public in Bosnia during the bidding procedures.

BIRN BiH entered the competition with its article published in January 2019 concerning the costs of procurement of official vehicles during the previous year.

The database is unique, and is often quoted by the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region.

BIRN Serbia journalist Ana Curic, who is shortlisted for the 2020 awards in the Young Journalist category, has been nominated for her whole work in 2019.

She investigated a network of companies connected to the Serbian and Hungarian governments that won almost all street lighting tenders in towns and cities across Serbia.

She also worked on a data-driven story about money laundering in Serbia, based on data from hundreds of verdicts and on information from the prosecution and courts.

In 2019, she became a contributor to a global investigation of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ, called the Implant Files, after collecting and analysing 137 documents about problematic implants used in Serbia, which became part of the International Medical Devices Database.

The Sigma awards are given to best work in the field of data journalism all over the world. Prizes are given for best data-driven reporting, best visualisation, innovation, for best young journalist, open data and for best news application.

There were 510 entries from 66 countries for this year’s awards. The jury of ten international experts picked the best in each category – 82 projects from 31 countries.

The president of the jury this year is Simon Rogers, an award-winning journalist and data journalism teacher at Medill-Northwestern University, in San Francisco and data editor on the News Lab Team at Google.

The Sigma award was instituted by DataJournalism.com, a project of the European Journalism Centre, an international organisation of journalists established in Brussels, with sponsorship provided by Google News Initiative.

The Sigma award winners will be announced by the end of February 2020.

BIRN Bosnia Launches ‘Forgotten Victims’ Campaign

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina is launching a campaign entitled ‘Forgotten Victims’, aimed at highlighting the victims of war crimes for which no one has yet been convicted under final verdicts.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday begins its ‘Forgotten Victims’ campaign, which intends to enable victims of unprosecuted war crimes and their families to speak about what they went through and draw public and judicial attention to violations that have still not been prosecuted.
The project is intended to encourage the opening of investigations and the filing of indictments against suspects.
Denis Dzidic, the director of BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that there have been fewer and fewer war crimes cases launched in the country in recent years.
“The number of war crimes indictments filed at the state level is in decline each year and witnesses to those events are dying, so it is important to draw attention to crimes for which nobody has been tried as yet, particularly to cases in which suspects live outside Bosnia and Herzegovina and are unavailable to prosecutorial authorities,” Dzidic said.
As part of the project, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina will publish ten reports about unprosecuted crimes in ten communities.
A photograph of a war victim and their relatives will also be published each Monday over the course of the next ten months, conveying their personal story and calling on judicial institutions to take action.
Although nearly 25 years have passed since the end of the Bosnian war, many victims have still not had an opportunity to testify in court about what they went through and contribute to bringing those responsible to justice.
So far, around 850 people have been sentenced at the state level in Bosnia and Herzegovina to a total of 2,750 years in prison for wartime crimes.
But the state prosecution still has around 500 pending war crimes cases involving identified perpetrators and as many cases against unidentified ones.
The Forgotten Victims project is supported by the government of the United Kingdom and is being implemented by the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, as part of its Regional War Crimes Project.

BIRN Database Shows Bosnia Pays Dear for Officials’ Limos

Unique database compiled over months shows how the cash-strapped country spends millions of euros a year on pricey limousines for government officials.

Over 10.6 million KM – equal to 5 million euros – was spent on purchasing 329 official limousines in Bosnia in 2018 whose price averaged 32,000 KM, or about 16,000 euros, a BIRN database reveals. In total, it recorded tenders to procure 1,666 official vehicles, worth about 46 million euros, in 2018.

The BIRN database, which has proved a talking point for the public in Bosnia, shows how Bosnian politicians enjoy overpriced luxury vehicles on a scale without comparison in Europe. It also shows that most of the tenders for the vehicles also had only one bidder, indicating corruption, besides the issue of a serious lack of control of budget spending on cars.

BIRN has meanwhile published dozens of articles of specific cases that have highlighted two important things: first, that there are numerous examples of such overspending, but secondly that stories soon begin to repeat and look the same to the audience, lowering their impact.

By late 2017, BIRN Bosnia was already collecting all tenders related to cars from the public procurement website, the centralized Bosnian government portal where institutions and public companies are obliged to published their tenders. It then published analysis in December showing that around 5 million euros was spent on vehicles in 2017.

After reporting about various violations of public procurement practices, several institutions amended their tender specifications. BIRN then decided it would be more effective to make a complete database, with every tender related to official cars.

It took around six months to work with an IT company to develop the database structure and manually input hundreds of tenders for car purchases and data on more than 3,000 cars into our car registry – where BIRN publish data on existing cars owned by institutions.

In mid-2018, BIRN published the database and the data for first half of that year. After wrapping up the database for whole year, the final figure of more than 93 million Bosnian marks, or more than 46 million euros of total tenders for car purchases in 2018, was a surprise.

The data showed that there is no competition in tenders to buy cars for officials; the vast majority of tenders had only one bidder. It also showed who bought the most expensive cars and how they did it, as well as the preferences in terms of models and brands.

The database also contains a register of vehicles already owned by institutions and public companies, which shows that the average cost per vehicle is around 25,000 euros.

Another important part of the database was a car registry, that now has more than 3,500 cars from numerous government institutions. It is a unique database in Bosnia, as no official data is available in the country on which institutions own what cars, and how much they are worth.

BIRN Bosnia Given Special Recognition in Journalism Awards

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina was honoured with a special plaque at this year’s Srdjan Aleksic Journalist Award, the Helsinki Parliament of Citizens of Banja Luka, an NGO, announced on Friday.

The judges said that BIRN was being rewarded for its continuous professional reporting over many years on the most sensitive issues, such as war crime trials at the state court and the rights of marginalised groups.

The winners of the Srdjan Aleksic Journalist Award for Professional Reporting 2019 were Tahir Zustra from Nova BH Television and Gordana Vila from Radio Television of Republika Srpska, RTRS.

The Srdjan Aleksic Journalist Award is given each year for coverage of marginalised and vulnerable groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina and for the development of socially responsible journalism.

It is presented by the Helsinki Parliament and the Peacebuilding Network with the support of Civil Right Defenders.

The judges said that Tahir Zustra from Nova BH reported objectively about marginalised and vulnerable groups, while Gordana Vila or RTRS highlighted obstacles facing parents of children with development disabilities.

Amir Puric (Deutsche Welle) and Natasa Tadic (N1 TV) were also awarded special plaques.

Puric was honoured for his work on refugees’ experiences in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Tadic was honoured for her positive stories about the integration of people with disabilities into society.

The Srdjan Aleksic Journalist Award was established in 2010 by three NGOs – the Helsinki Parliament of Citizens of Banja Luka, the Cure Foundation from Sarajevo and the Association of Young Journalists of Republika Srpska. In 2013, the award became part of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Peacebuilding Network.

BIRN BiH Journalists Nominated for Fetisov Awards

Two BIRN Bosnia journalists have each been nominated for a series of articles looking at the legacy of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Journalists Albina Sorguc and Emina Dizdarevic of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, have been shortlisted for a Fetisov Journalism Award for their reporting on war crimes and transitional justice for BIRN BiH’s Detektor and BIRN’s regional publication Balkan Insight.

Sorguc and Dizdarevic are among four journalists nominated for the Outstanding Contribution to Peace award, one of four Fetisov award categories for 2019.

The specific award recognises “publications that have made an important contribution to the peacemaking process and to spreading the concept of human life as the highest value.”

Sorguc has been nominated for a series of articles – ‘Sarajevo to Pay €358,000 for War Crime Suspects’ Defence’; ‘‘We Were Just Like Them’ – in Bosnia, Past Meets Present’; ‘Bosnian War Rape Suspect Avoids Prosecution in Sweden’ and ‘Bosnian Serbs’ War Commissions: Fact-Seeking or Truth-Distorting?’

Dizdarevic has been nominated for the stories ‘Bosnian Judiciary Restricts Information on War Crime Cases’, ‘Croatia Cuts Bosnian Croat’s Jail Term, Causing Political Storm’ and ‘Bosnia’s Updated War Crimes Strategy Languishes in Limbo’.

In the same category, Italian journalist Francesca Mannocchi has been nominated for her reporting on Libya’s Tripoli, while Egyptian journalist Mohamed Aboelgheit has been nominated for an article on the arming of Islamic State in Yemen.

Founded by the Russian businessman, producer and philanthropist Gleb Fetisov, the Fetisov Journalism Awards says its mission is to “promote universal human values such as honesty, justice, courage and nobility through the example of outstanding journalists from all over the world as their dedicated service and commitment contribute to changing the world for the better.”

This year’s jury includes Aidan White, Ricardo Gutierrez, Christophe Deloire, Barbara Trionfi, Guy Mettan, Deborah Bergamini, Oliver Vujovic and Eva Merkacheva.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held in Luzern, Switzerland, on January 22, 2020.

Azra Husaric

Detektor Journalist/Court MonitorAzra Husaric joined BIRN BiH team in October 2019 as a journalist and works as a court reporter.

She graduated with a degree in Journalism at the University of Tuzla, where she is currently doing her MA. Azra is an author of a documentary movie about the situation in journalism titled „The Worst in the World“.

Bosnia Journalists Condemn HJPC ‘Gestapo’ Slur About BIRN

The Steering Board of the BH Journalists Association has sent a strong letter of protest to Bosnia’s High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, HJPC, after its Vice-President on social media likened the work of BIRN BiH to “the Gestapo”.

The association accused Ruzica Jukic of “unprofessional and institutionally unacceptable communication with journalists and the media in BiH, including personal comments from HJPC members via social networks on journalistic questions about events of public concern”.

After BIRN BiH reported that Jukic had attacked foreign embassies and institutions on her Facebook profile without presenting any evidence for her claims, Jukic commented on BIRN BiH’s work on her profile with the headline “When Journalists do Gestapo work,” in which she singled out the work of the journalist Admir Muslimovic.

Following Wednesday’s session of the HJPC, she also told reporters that she would no longer make press statements but would only communicate via social networks.

The BH Journalists’ Steering Board said it was “inadmissible to withhold information from journalists after yesterday’s session of the HJPC, at which two deputy chief prosecutors were appointed and decisions of public interest were reached”.

It said such conduct was “a direct violation of social and legal norms on the transparent operation of the HJPC and timely informing the public about the work of this institution”.

It added that, “withholding information from the media is an inadmissible demonstration of institutional and judicial power undertaken to restrict the right to freedom of expression and impede access to public information held by the HJPC”.

The Steering Board also said its members “remain caught up by the vocabulary, qualifications and insults that Ruzica Jukic, Vice President, and Milan Tegeltija, President of the HJPC, have spoken about journalists and media through social networks”, adding that “BIRN journalists have recently been targeted by key HJPC officials, as earlier were journalists of Zurnal and Oslobodjenje, FTV, as well as numerous other media”.

The letter urged the HJPC to maintain professional and decent communication with the media in order to “keep the public informed on issues relevant to the work of the HJPC in a timely manner”, asking it also to avoid “the language of the street that has no place in serious public communication”.

“You, members of the HJPC, and above all Vice President Jukic and President Tegeltija, are urged to remove such content, and to resolve your own misunderstandings or professional objections to the media through the legitimate legal means at your disposal,” the letter concluded.

Nermina Kuloglija

Nermina joined BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina in August 2019.

She has worked as a journalist since 2017. She began her career with Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo, first as an intern, then a journalist, where she mainly focused on researching corruption and organised crime.

She graduated in 2017, earning the title Bachelor in Journalism and Mass Communication at the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Sarajevo.

Nermina attended BIRN Summer School of Investigative Reporting in 2018.

Winners of EU Investigative Awards in Bosnia and Herzegovina Announced

The three winners of the EU prize in Bosnia and Herzegovina received their awards on Wednesday at the EU Info Center in Sarajevo.

Amarildo Gutic won the first prize for best investigative story in 2018 in Bosnia and Herzegovina for his documentary The State against David, which reconstructs the last hours of the life of David Dragicevic whose unresolved death sparked major tension in the country.

In its summary of the award decision, the jury underlined that the author “transforms one personal and family tragedy into a story which convincingly speaks about pathology of institutions and the entire government”.

Speaking about the challenges of investigative journalism in Bosnia, Gutic said: “The most important thing is that you accept that this is what you are doing and have a newsroom where you can work independently but also as a team.”

Second prize went to Semir Mujkic for his investigative series Corruption in Public Procurements.

“The significance of Mujkic’s investigative series is that it documents the misuse of public procurement through publicly available information,” the jury noted.

Third prize went to Renata Radic Dragic and Mubarek Asani for their piece Veterans against Veterans’ Associations.

The jury, including Davor Glavas, as head of the jury, and members Vildana Selimbegović and Milka Tadic Mijovic, had a hard task evaluating the shortlisted applications.

Khaldoun Sinno, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, referred to the freedom of media and well informed public upon which every democratic society depends.

“Freedom of expression and freedom of media are part of fundamental values of the European Union which has been reflected throughout the recently published EC Opinion on BiH’s application for membership. This is a crucial element of BiH’s progress towards the EU and will be closely monitored on a daily basis as BiH progresses towards the EU”, said Sinno adding that only with strong, independent media and protected journalists BiH can progress towards the EU.

Selimbegovic, a prominent Bosnian journalist, emphasized that investigative journalism was especially difficult in Bosnia, as few media outlets could afford that kind of reporting.

“It takes a lot of time and resources for journalist to be dedicated to an investigative story,” Selimbegovic said.

Following the awards ceremony, a panel discussion on investigative journalism took place including Selimbegovic, from Oslobodjenje, journalist Leila Bicakcic, from CIN, Jamila Milovic Halilovic, Head of Communications of EUD/EUSR, and winner of the Best investigative story for 2018 Amarildo Gutic from Zurnal.

The panel discussed the obstacles and challenges of investigative journalism, the lack of resources in news rooms, building cases and finding evidence in the complicated political climate in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and how political pressure affects journalists.

The EU awards have the overall goal of celebrating and promoting outstanding investigative journalism in the Western Balkan countries and Turkey, as well as improving the visibility of quality investigative journalism in these countries among the public.

“As confirmed during the Western Balkans Media Days held in Podgorica from 2 to 4 September, the EU is aware of all the challenges that WB media sector faces and is firmly committed to continue supporting the creation of environment enabling free and democratic societies to fully flourish in this region”, noted Milovic-Halilovic.

The EU award for investigative journalism is awarded through the EU-funded project “Strengthening Quality News and Independent Journalism in the Western Balkans and Turkey” in 2019, 2020, and 2021 in the following EU candidate and potential candidate countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. It is for investigative stories published between 2018 and 2020. In total, 63 awards will be awarded over the three-year period.

The awards in Bosnia and Herzegovina are coordinated by BIRN Hub, and the regional consortium is led also by the Balkan Investigative Regional Reporting Network, the BIRN Hub.