Tuesday 14 December

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

DORDJE UMICEVIC, the Mayor of Banja Luka, the capital and the biggest
town in the Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was removed from his
office by the power of the High Commissioner, WOLFGANG PETRITSCH,
on 29 November 1999. This power was invested in the High Commissioner by
the Dayton/Paris peace accords.

The formal statement accuses Mr Umicevic of �serious and persistent
obstruction with regard to all issues involving implementation� of the Dayton
Agreement. Specifically, �inflammatory statements creating a non-conducive
environment on returns and responsibility for non-implementation of Human
Rights Chamber decisions�.

When asked what this really meant, ALEXANDRA STIGLMAYER,
spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner (OHC), told Keston
News Service: �In its session on 11 June 1999 the Human Rights Chamber
(HRC) in the case of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina
against the Republika Srpska ordered that the city of Banja Luka approved sites
for re-building of seven (previously destroyed) mosques. The decision was that
they should be built on the same sites they were before, and even with the same
material as far as possible. In addition to the seven destroyed, the HRC ordered
the building of eight additional mosques. HRC decisions are final and
obligatory and are one of the primary conditions for Bosnia and Herzegovina to
enter the Council of Europe. HRC is founded in order to support and protect
various conventions for the protection of human rights in a newly established

�Mr Umicevic was against this ruling, indicating that the mosques represented
symbols of Turkish oppression (Bosnia and Herzegovina were for about 400
years under the rule of the Ottoman Empire). He used inflammatory language
in several instances. Of one of the old destroyed mosques, �Ferhadija�, he even
said that it represented a �hell machine�. Mr Umicevic also said that the
building of mosques hurt the feelings of the Serbian population in Banja Luka.�

When Keston asked Ms Stiglmayer about the rebuilding of Serbian Orthodox
churches in the Croat-Muslim Federation, she answered that to her knowledge
one of the oldest churches in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Serbian Orthodox
church in Sarajevo, was substantially repaired. She was not able to give other
examples of Serbian Orthodox churches being restored to their pre-war

In April 1998, arguing against the rebuilding of mosques in Banja Luka, Mayor
Umicevic wrote open letters to the OHC and other high officials in Bosnia and
Herzegovina stating that �Ferhadija� was a �monument of the Turkish
occupation� and thus could not be understood as a national monument of the
Bosniak people. Mr Umicevic had offered another location to the Islamic
community for the building of the �Ferhadija�mosque, but this had not been
accepted. The Islamic community brought the case before the HRC in
November last year, when they accused the leadership of the city of Banja
Luka of religious persecution during the war in Bosnia, and also of obstructing
the religious rights of the Muslim believers during and after the war.

The Islamic Community brought charges against the municipal bodies of Banja
Luka that they had �destroyed and removed remains of the mosques, desecrated
adjoining graveyards - or allowed these acts to happen - and failed to take
certain action requested for the protection of the rights of its members. In
particular, the municipality has refused the Islamic Community permission to
rebuild destroyed mosques. These actions, in addition to violating its property
rights and the freedom of religion of its members, have discriminated against it
on the grounds of the religion and national origin of its members,� (Quotation
from the court papers.)

�In addition to the case of mosque buildings, Mr Umicevic is directly
responsible for the low number of Croat (Roman Catholic) and Bosniak
(Muslim background) refugees returning to Banja Luka,� Ms Stiglmayer added.
�He is also responsible for not implementing the �Banja Luka Declaration� that
refers to the so called �floating cases�: people staying with friends, or
constantly on the move, because they cannot return to their previous homes. Of
over three hundred cases, a decision has been reached in only 70.�

As the Banja Luka municipality did not implement the HRC decision within
the 3-month deadline they were given (by 11 September 1999), the Human
Rights Chamber approached the Office of the High Representative (OHR) with
the request to support the implementation. The Office ruled that Mr Umicevic
was responsible and issued the removal order.

�Our lawyers have researched the legal situation as to which body needs to
issue which decisions so that this can happen. (The legal situation is quite
complicated because the Banja Luka Assembly passed decisions in 1994 and
1997, prohibiting any construction on the sites of the mosques, and there are
also Republika Srpska laws referring to religious and historic buildings, etc.)
At the moment, we are conducting talks with the responsible bodies, requesting
them to take the steps necessary so that the requested reconstruction of seven
mosques in Banja Luka can go ahead. As I said, HRC Decisions are final and
binding under the Dayton Peace Agreement, and we insist that they are
implemented,� Ms Stiglmayer concluded for Keston News Service.

The reactions to the OHC and OSCE decisions from the Republika Srpska are
very cautious, and there are almost no commentaries on the ruling. Mr
Umicevic has not issued a public statement yet. It is not clear what is going to
happen in the local municipality. In one of the rare reactions about this case the
Serbian Unity Congress emphasised on 1 December 1999: �The dismissal of
democratically elected politicians (especially by a non-elected official such as
Mr Petritsch) is not compatible with the normal workings of democracy and
should be used only in the most exceptional circumstances. In this case, the
elections that brought these officials into office were certified as free and fair.
Mr Petritsch has failed to present a convincing case for overturning the results.
The reasons he has adduced of non-compliance with the Dayton agreement are
nebulous at best.�

Another 21 municipal officials in various parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina
were also removed by the same decision, and they are also banned from
running in the April 2000 municipal elections and from working in any
executive office. The reasons for their dismissal are various: �persistent
obstruction, failure to implement agreements, administrative delays, failure to
cooperate, widespread opposition to minority returns, etc.� It seems clear that
the timing and applicability of the ruling are crucial so that the OHC is not
perceived as protecting the interests of only one community. Nine of the
dismissed officials are Serbs, seven are Muslims and six are Croats. �These
officials have failed the voters who elected them by pursuing anti-Dayton, anti-
peace, anti-reconciliation and extra-legal agendas - especially at the local level
where their obstructionism hurts the very people they should be helping,� the
verdict states.

Mr Umicevic peacefully left the post of Banja Luka Mayor on Friday 10
December. The vice-Mayor will hold the post until his party decides who will
replace him. (END)

Tuesday 14 December

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service

Russia's Duma has adjourned for the last time in 1999 without bringing to a
vote a bill designed to remove a threat to the rights of thousands of religious
organisations and supported both by the Moscow Patriarchate and by the
national Ministry of Justice. The bill, which would have amended the
controversial 1997 law on religion to extend the deadline for reregistration of
religious organisations, had been prepared by the Duma's committee on
religion chaired by Deputy VIKTOR ZORKALTSEV. With only a few weeks
remaining before the 31 December deadline set by the 1997 law, the secular
authorities have yet to complete reregistration procedures for as many as 50 per
cent of all religious organisations in some provinces.

LEV LEVINSON, assistant to the deputy chairman of the Committee,
VALERI BORSHCHOV, told Keston News Service that Zorkaltsev had been
unable to convince his colleagues 'that an extension of the deadline for
religious organisations had any significance'. Preoccupied with matters such as
the war in Chechnya, the budget for the year 2000 and especially the upcoming
parliamentary elections, the deputies did not consider the proposed amendment
to the religion law a matter of high priority.

As soon as the new Duma convenes, however, it will be able to consider the
amendment already drafted by Zorkaltsev's committee - especially if he
remains as the committee's chair. Even if the committee has a new head, few
doubt that the amendment will be passed by February or March. According to
Levinson, 'the interests of the Moscow Patriarchate as the main client will
force the Duma to take its wishes into account'. Thousands of Russian
Orthodox parishes have yet to be reregistered.

As ALEKSANDR KUDRYAVTSEV, head of the department for registration
of religious organisations at the Ministry of Justice, put it to Keston: 'The
situation is not good, but all is not lost - as soon as the new parliament begins
its work this question will be one of the first items on its agenda'.

What will the registering authorities do when the deadline expires in three
weeks? Kudrayvtsev told Keston that 'in view of the fact that a draft
amendment exists, has been approved and is awaiting consideration by
parliament the authorities will not go so far as to deny registration'. He said
that the Ministry of Justice had enough work on its hands with documents that
had already been submitted and that its work-load had been increasing as the
end of the year approached: 'every day many new documents are being
received and there is enough work to keep us busy for the whole
of January'.

Levinson took a somewhat more pessimistic view. 'In Moscow and St
Petersburg they are unlikely to liquidate parishes', he told Keston, 'but they
might do so in Karachayevo-Cherkessiya or Tatarstan; that is why the
Patriarchate is keen to see the amendment passed as soon as possible'. Local
departments of justice have indeed sometimes ignored the orders of the Federal
Ministry. Keston has already reported on the difficulties with registration in
the province of Samara on the lower Volga. Kudryavtsev promised on this
point that local authorities 'would be directed' from the centre, although he
complained that sometimes provincial governors had a firmer grasp of the
situation than his federal ministry.

Some religious organisations have interpreted the decision of the Constitutional
Court as removing the requirement that they must be reregistered by the secular
authorities. Asked by Keston to comment on this, Kudryavtsev emphasised
that the Constitutional Court had considered only the specific complaint
brought before it and that this did not have any bearing on the general
requirement of reregistration. 'All organisations must undergo reregistration',
he said. (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 1999