Whose interests do the police protect when they are beating up women?

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA/2017
PHOTO: Šediva fotografie/ Arnika

It’s the end of August. The twenty-second day of a mass protest on the 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 shared success – together they have been preventing the construction of a hydropower plant that would devastate the natural environment. Everything seems to be going just fine so far. Little do they know that at that very moment a cordon of heavily armed members of a special forces unit is heading their way…

A recent special forces unit raid that got out of hand and attracted 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 by private investors blinded by greed. This foolish approach results in irreversible environmental changes that destroy these uniquely clear streams. No wonder loud resistance has risen from local communities in order to save Europe’s last wild rivers. But none was repressed in such a heavy-handed way as the one on the Kruscica.

The special units reached the bridge occupied by the determined yet unaware residents of the village of Kruscica with the break of dawn at five o’clock in the morning. Out of forty protesters the vast majority were women, and at the moment of the unexpected visit they were already alert 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 had gone wrong.

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

Seeing no other way of fulfilling their task the men, laden with shields and batons, decided to open up access to the riverbed by any means necessary. Regardless of their overbearing strength and in numbers, they started to drag the women away from the rest of the protesters, insulting them using sexually-loaded language, tearing their clothes or traditional headscarves and even physically injuring more than half of the women, who were not resisting them.

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

The police were not alone

The reason why the women refused to obey the 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, several trucks and excavators were lined up, waiting for the “custodians of the law” to do the dirty work.

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

About thirty protesters were rounded up and taken to the Vitez police station for questioning, which lasted seven hours. After being released, the women, accompanied by two men, had to seek medical help, only to be turned away from the nearest hospital without any explanation and having to travel to the neighbouring town of Travnik.

But not everything went perfectly there either. “At the Travnik hospital we were fortunately taken care of,” one of the injured 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 said, referring to the power of money, or possibly fear.

The investigation into the violence in progress

The police basically denied all the above allegations and named the intervention a “previously prepared plan”, falsely accused the villagers of illegally blockading a public road and denying passage to all traffic, and stated that “the police restrained the protesters without using any inappropriate force” and that “no people were injured during the aforementioned police activities”.

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

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

The result is the following: the construction of a hydropower plant on the Kruscica River, enforced by the police, has begun and more and more people are arriving at the construction site to demonstrate – now not only against the exploitation of the environment, but for human and civic rights and against police brutality too.

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


Further reading:

ENG The river: reportage photography (Arnika)

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)