BIRN Wins European Press Prize for Justice Reporting

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina has won the prestigious European Press Prize for its reporting on war crimes trials, transitional justice issues and the problems faced by victims of the 1990s conflict.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina was given the European Press Prize Special Award for 2020 on Thursday for its groundbreaking work in covering transitional justice topics.

“The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network’s work ensures a unique archive of all war crime trials, as well as many personal stories of survivors, documentary films about the victims of sexual violence and families of the missing, and numerous other research and analytical stories,” the European Press Prize judges said in a statement.

The judges noted that BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina “was founded in 2005 to provide people in Bosnia and Herzegovina with accurate and timely information about the rule of law in the country and wider region”.

The European Press Prize Special Award is given for excellence in European journalism and has previously been won by the editor of The Guardian for the publication of stories based on the Edward Snowden files, and last year by the Forbidden Stories team “for their mission to continue and publish the work of journalists facing threats, prison or murder”, the judges said.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina’s executive director Denis Dzidic said the award is important for journalists in the media outlet’s newsroom, but that it also belongs to the survivors of the Bosnian war.

“This award means an indescribable amount to all of us who have spent days, weeks and months writing about war crimes and reporting daily from courtrooms to record the testimony of every victim who has come to tell their story,” Dzidic said.

“This award also belongs to the victims, because our work would be worthless if it were not for the surviving women and men who gathered the courage to share with us the most horrible things they experienced, showing courage, patience and strength that we cannot comprehend,” he added.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina is part of the BIRN regional network, which uses the same methods of covering war crime trials and transitional justice processes across the whole of the former Yugoslavia.

BIRN’s regional director Marija Ristic said that covering war crime trials and transitional justice issues has been one of the core topics for network’s journalists for 15 years.

“BIRN’s first ever news report in 2005 was from a war crime trial. Years later, we continue with the same passion and dedication to providing accurate and balanced reporting and bringing uncompromising stories from a region that is still battling with revisionism and the denial of war crimes,” Ristic said.

One of the members of the European Press Prize judging panel, Alexandra Föderl-Schmid from Süddeutsche Zeitung, said that “the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network… really supports investigative journalism in Bosnia and that is really a difficult task there”.

The managing editor of BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina, Semir Mujkic, said that receiving the European Press Prize Special Award is a great honour from the best European journalists.

“The daily commitment of our journalists to writing investigative stories and the perseverance in conveying sensitive and relevant stories has now received recognition and new encouragement,” Mujkic said.

The European Press Prize is one of most prestigious European journalistic awards and is given to journalists and media from 47 Council of Europe countries.

“Never did we have such a diverse list of entrants, nominees and winners,” Thomas van Neerbos, executive director of the European Press Prize, said of the 2020 awards.

“From the newsrooms in Norway to the brave offices of BIRN and DoR [Romanian media outlet Decât o Revistă], from taking on China’s surveillance state, via sexism in sports to a personal account of euthanasia, this is the true scope of European journalism, these are the topics that we ought to debate,” van Neerbos added.

The winner of the 2020 Investigative Reporting Award was ‘Trigger Warning’ by Annemarte Moland, Even Kjølleberg and Ruben Solvang, published by NRK from Norway.

The winner of the Distinguished Reporting Award was ‘The Uyghur Women Fighting China’s Surveillance State’ by Isobel Cockerell, published by Coda Story from Georgia.

The winner of the Opinion Award was ‘How We Stopped Being Comrades’ by Beata Balogová, published by SME in Slovakia.

The winner of the Innovation Award was ‘How DoR Organised an All-Team Pop-Up Newsroom in Transylvania’ by Decât o Revistă from Romania.

BIRN Bosnia Gives Archive Material to Tuzla Memorial Centre

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina handed over a documentary film and an archive of articles about the shelling of Tuzla in May 1995 and the trial of the commander who ordered the attack to the new Kapija Memorial Centre in Tuzla.

The director of the BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denis Dzidic, presented the mayor of Tuzla, Jasmin Imamovic, with archive material and a documentary film on Friday that will become part of a display at the new Kapija Memorial Centre, which should be ready to open by May 25, the anniversary of the shelling of the Kapija area of the city.

The material includes articles on texts on the shelling and reports from the trial of Bosnian Serb Army commander Novak Djukic, who was convicted of ordering the attack.

Dzidic stated that BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina was the only media outlet that has monitored all war crimes trials in the country since the state court started operating, including the proceedings against Djukic in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Serbia.

“We are really happy about this opportunity to give our archive to the city of Tuzla and about the fact that it will be forever available to the citizens of Tuzla and all visitors to the Memorial Centre who want to get information about the search for justice and the killings of civilians at Kapija in 1995,” said Dzidic.

Mayor Imamovic said the BIRN archive material would be an important part of the installation as the case against Djukic is significant for the city because the attack was the biggest tragedy that it has endured.

“Here you have a 25-minute film and complete documentation about the trial of Novak Djukic. Everything that they [BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina] worked on, followed and documented, and that they handed over to us for our Memorial Centre, is a precious gift,” said Imamovic.

The Kapija Memorial Centre will be ready by May 25, but will only open when deemed safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bosnian state court found Novak Djukic, commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Ozren Tactical Group, guilty of ordering an artillery platoon to shell Tuzla on May 25, 1995, causing the deaths of more than 70 people.

He was released from prison in February 2014 after the state Constitutional Court overturned the verdict sentencing him to 25 years in prison.

In June 2014, the state court reduced Djukic’s sentence to 20 years, but he had already left the country for Serbia.

A warrant was issued for Djukic in October 2014 because he did not respond to a summons to serve his sentence. Serbia was then asked to take over the enforcement of the verdict.

However, Belgrade Higher Court has postponed hearings to discuss the case several times, and Djukic remains free.

BIRN Wins Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Award

To mark World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, campaign group Reporters Without Borders Austria awarded the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network with its annual Press Freedom Award – A Signal for Europe.

The Vienna office of the Reporters Without Borders announced that the BIRN Network has been awarded for its courageous investigative journalism in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, and for its dedication to the fight for human rights, democracy and justice for the victims of war crimes.

The award also honours BIRN’s founder, Gordana Igric, who served as the organisation’s regional director until May 2018, for her pioneering work in establishing the network.

“We are honoured by this acknowledgment from our Austrian colleagues. It comes at a critical time for our region, where media are often hampered by political or business influences and lack the resources to report beyond their own country’s borders,” said BIRN’s network director, Marija Ristic.

“The award gives us more motivation to continue with our uncompromising reporting despite continuous attacks on our journalists,” Ristic added.

“We are also thankful for the honour given to our founder, Gordana Igric, who had a vision of a free regional media network and paved the way for a new generation of journalists and editors who continue to champion the values of human rights and democracy,” she said.

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network was established in 2004 as a network of organisations across the Balkans promoting freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values.

BIRN has country-based organisations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. It also works editorially in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.

BIRN’s structure has the advantage of combining local expertise with unique regional cooperation.

The Press Freedom Award – A Signal for Europe is given every year by the Austrian branch of Reporters Without Borders, a leading international non-profit and non-governmental organisation that safeguards the right to freedom of information. Its mandate is to promote free, independent and pluralistic journalism and to defend media workers.

Bosnian Procurement Agency Launches Case After BIRN Article

The Public Procurement Agency has initiated a case related to the construction of an isolation facility in Srebrenik in Bosnia and Herzegovina after BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina published an article entitled “Construction of Isolation Facility in Srebrenik Entrusted to Town Councillor’s Company”.

BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina revealed that the Crisis Committee in the town of Srebrenik recently made a decision to refurbish an isolation facility and triage centre for treating citizens infected with the coronavirus within the Adult Education Centre in Srebrenik.

The refurbishment job was entrusted to Fenix AS Company, which is co-owned by Srebrenik town councillor Fadil Smajic.

During his interview with a BIRN journalist, Fadil Smajic said he was not the owner of the company.

“I am not the owner, but my son is. Does being a councillor mean I should not work and live?” Smajic asked.

Djenan Salcin, director of the Public Procurement Agency, said the case was initiated after BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina published the article, adding that in his opinion, there is a suspected conflict of interest.

Salcin explained that elected officials who have a significant share in companies may not participate in public procurement procedures.

From the onset of the coronavirus crisis, BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina has paid special attention to monitoring public procurement implementation in order to identify and report on possible abuses and malpractices as soon as possible.

Seid Hrncic

Seid joined BIRN in November 2019 after 11 years of working experience in the business sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Before BIRN Seid worked as a marketing manager, and later as a director of marketing and finance for RTV SLON in Tuzla. After ten years in private media, he went into the business sector and started to work as a marketing manager for Sarajevo brewery, where he worked since 2008. He graduated at the University of Tuzla, at the Faculty of Economics.

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, 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.