Whose interests does the police protect while beating up women?

Sediva fotografie/ Arnika

It’s the end of August. The twenty-second day of a mass protest on Kruscica river in Central Bosnia. After a sleepless night local villagers camping by the mountain river are enjoying the first sunbeams of the day and the heartwarming feeling of common success - together they have been preventing the nature devastating construction of a hydropower plant. Everything seems to go swell so far. Little they know that at the very moment a cordon of heavily armed members of special force unit is heading their way…

A recent special force units raid that got out of control and earned much more attention than its planners intended

“The hydropower plant boom” is a serious issue all over the Balkans. A horrifying number of local mountain rivers are being dammed up by the private investors blinded by the greed. This foolish approach resolves in irreversible environmental changes destroying these uniquely clear streams. No wonder a loud resistance has risen from local communities in order to save Europe’s last wild rivers. But none was so heavily oppressed as the one on Kruscica.

The special units have reached the bridge occupied by the determined yet unaware residents of Kruscica village with the break of dawn at five o’clock in the morning. Out of forty protesters the vast majority were women, at the moment of the unexpected visit already alarmed and ready sitting on the bridge over the river. To remain seated, that was the plan. No defiance, zero provocation, only a peaceful protest and guarding the natural heritage.Ten minutes later everything went wrong.

“They threw themselves at us with such determination and rage...”

Seeing no other option in fulfilling their task the men panoplied with shields and batons have decided to vacate the access to the riverbed by any means necessary. Regardless their overbalance in strength and in numbers they started to drag the women away from the rest, insulting them using sexual connotations, tearing their clothes or traditional headscarves and even physically injuring more than a half of the nonresisting women.

When facing the crude policemen, leaving the site was for sure an easy and obvious way how to save themselves from unnecessary abusive behaviour and beating. So why didn’t the women just walk away?

The police was not alone

The reason why the women refused to obey police orders, step aside and clear the passage was much more intriguing and at the same time far more disturbing than one might expect. Right on the tail of the police vehicles a several truck and excavators were aligned waiting for the “law defenders” to do the dirty work.

“The purpose of the police units is for them to protect the people from crime.
Instead, they often protect the criminals and cash up in return.”

About thirty protesters were captured and taken to Vitez police station for seven hours long questioning. After being released the women accompanied by two men had to seek for a medical help only to be send away from the nearest hospital without any explanation and having to travel to the neighbouring city of Travnik.

But not everything went perfect there either. “In Travnik hospital we were fortunately taken care of,” one of the hurt women stated. “Nevertheless, when asked for the list of injuries the medical service refused to provide it. Of course we were prepared to pay the obligatory fee of 50 BAM. I really don’t know what to think about this,” she refered about the power of money or possibly fear.

The violence investigation in progress

The police denied basically all the above given allegations, named the intervention a “previously prepared plan”, falsely accused the Kruscicians of illegal blockade of a public road for all the traffic and stated that “the police restrained the protesters without using any inadequate force” and that “there were no injured people during the conduct of the aforementioned police activities”.

Without any doubt on this early morning a number of civil rights have been violated, particularly the European Convention on Human Rights and the Aarhus Convention. The Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina have opened an ex officio investigation. On top of that the case have been addressed to relevant representatives in the EU, UN and OSCE by the non-governmental organizations Arnika and Center for the Environment.

“We would like to kindly ask you to watch described case of violence closely and
help you to enforce the principles embedded in international conventions.”

The result is following: the construction of a hydropower plant on Kruscica river enforced by the police has begun and yet more and more people arrive to the construction site to demonstrate - now not only against the environment exploitation, but for human and civic rights and against the police brutality also.

The future will decide the end of the Kruscica story in which both the nature and the people get hurt and suffer.

Further reading:

ENG The river: reportage photography

ENG Kruscica: What's going on there (Arnika)

ENG 18/12/2018 Kruščica celebrates! The cantonal court cancelled permits for two planned hydropower plants

ENG 19/06/2018 Small victory of the Balkan village: the hydro-power plants permit cancelled

ENG 24/08/2017 Riot police forcibly remove residents defending river against hydropower (Arnika)

ENG 25/08/2017 Ombudspersons Opened an Ex Officio Investigation (Ombudsmen of B&H)

BOS 25/08/2017 Ombudspersons Opened an Ex Officio Investigation (Ombudsmen of B&H)

BOS 25/08/2017 Accessing the public road near Kruscica (Ministry of Inferior SBK/KSB)

ENG 31/08/2017 Open letter to EU, OSCE and UN representatives regarding the police violence in Kruscica (Arnika)

ENG 31/08/2017 The police violence in Kruscica investigated by the ombudsmen of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Arnika)