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Bosnia and Herzegovina 2013 Crime and Safety Report

Europe > Bosnia and Herzegovina > Sarajevo

Overall Crime and Safety Situation 

The overall crime rate in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BIH) remains high, with the greatest concentration of incidents in Sarajevo and other urban areas.  

The vast majority of crimes that affect the American and international communities are non-violent street crime: theft and opportunistic burglary. Residential break-ins are common in the international community, particularly late night burglaries with occupants absent or, on occasion, present and asleep. Reports of home invasion-type confrontations associated with burglaries are very rare. Petty thieves and pickpockets are rife in the Sarajevo area, focusing primarily on tourist areas and public transportation.  

Violent crime (murder, car-jacking, rape, and mugging) not associated with organized crime groups is not a significant concern in Sarajevo and BIH as a whole. Outside of Sarajevo, a slightly more lawless atmosphere persists, with the ratio of violent to non-violent crime being higher than in Sarajevo. To date, the American and international communities have not been the targets of violent crime.

There is also a significant organized crime element in BIH, with numerous criminal gangs involved in smuggling, trafficking, and other transnational crime. Violence among members of these groups or their affiliates is quite common. As a result of the 1992-1995 war, military grade weapons and munitions are abundant. Consequently, violent crimes are often committed with war-era munitions, such as machine-guns, rockets, and grenades. The expatriate community is not specifically targeted, although members could become victims due to circumstance or proximity.

Although crime statistics are not available for the entirety of BIH, in Sarajevo (population 450,000) the following numbers were reported for 2012: five murders, three rapes, 232 domestic violence calls, 5,142 property crimes (of which 1,103 were residential burglaries), 789 car thefts, 16 explosions, 47 shootings, and 9,877 traffic accidents, in which 1,046 persons were injured and 21 were killed.

Overall Road Safety Situation 

Poor road conditions, inclement weather, poorly-maintained vehicles, incautious pedestrians, and inattentive drivers can make Sarajevo and BIH a challenging place to operate a motor vehicle. Vehicle accidents are a major concern for all Americans. Local traffic laws are poorly enforced; drivers speed and drive recklessly, including passing in no passing zones and on blind curves. Depending on the location, emergency medical care may not be readily available to treat victims.

The vast majority of roads are two-lane and in poor condition. BIH has approximately 56 kilometers of paved four-lane highway. Intercity roads tend to be narrow and without guardrails, which is particularly dangerous given the country’s mountainous topography. These dangers are compounded by BIH's adverse and unpredictable weather, which often includes heavy fog, rain, ice, and snow. Night-time driving presents additional hazards, as most roads outside of city limits are unlit and have poorly-marked obstructions. Extreme caution should be exercised while driving vehicles, particularly at night and during the winter months.

Political, Economic, Religious and Ethnic Violence

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

During the 1992-1995 war, a large number of Islamic fighters traveled to BIH to aid the Bosnian Muslim war effort. Several hundred of those fighters remained, a significant number of whom are active in Islamic fundamentalist congregations and organizations. These foreign elements have contributed to the gradual radicalization of certain segments of the Bosnian Muslim community. In October 2005, a small group of individuals with extremist affiliations was arrested on suspicion of planning terrorist acts. In April 2010, members of a radical Wahhabist movement detonated a bomb, killing one police officer and injuring six, at a police station in Bugojno, located 70 kilometers southwest of Sarajevo. The most recent terrorist attack took place in October 2011, when a gunman affiliated with a local Wahhabist movement shot over 100 high-velocity rounds at the U.S. Embassy, damaging the building and injuring one police officer. 

Organized criminal groups exist, and there have been incidences of public murders and violent attacks in public places that have been attributed to organized crime. 

BIH is not without elements willing to participate in the support and financing of terrorist organizations. Although international terrorist networks have not conducted direct terrorist attacks against Western interests in BIH, extremist groups, which may have ties to terrorist support structure and financing, do exist.    

Civil Unrest

Organized, yet generally peaceful, demonstrations are relatively common. Only in rare cases have they been directed toward U.S. diplomatic facilities. Following Kosovo's declaration of independence in February 2008, protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy's branch office in Banja Luka over several days. The branch office was closed for business, and it sustained minor damage. In April 2010, between 5,000-6,000 war veterans demonstrated violently against a proposed reduction of their benefits at a government building next to the then-Embassy compound. Numerous police and protestors were injured. Most protests are directed at wage or pension issues; since 2010, all have remained moderate.

Elements of BIH's Muslim community organized modest protests in public venues during Israel's November 2012 military actions in Gaza. These protests remained peaceful and were not directed toward, or in the vicinity of, the U.S. Embassy. Similarly, the 2012 releases of films and cartoons perceived as being disrespectful to Islam elicited minimal response; a few gatherings occurred in the areas of mosques but did not approach or target U.S. interests. No protests this year numbered more than 500 demonstrators, and none were violent.  

Religious or Ethnic Violence 

Since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords more than 15 years ago, the political environment has been relatively calm; municipal elections held in October 2012 occurred without incident. However, there has been a recent increase in nationalist rhetoric. All three of BIH's constituent peoples have laid out different visions for the future of the state, contributing to rising political tension. The leadership of Republika Srpska (RS) continues to challenge the authorities of the state government, and RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has made statements suggesting that he would support a referendum on secession. A political or military crisis in Kosovo or Serbia is likely to cause demonstrations in Republika Srpska, and the United States could be a target. Incidents of inter-ethnic violence among the Bosniak (Muslim), Croats (Catholic), and Serbs (Orthodox Christian) appear to remain low but may remain under-reported; political, ethnic, and religious motivations are difficult to disentwine. Due to the ethnically aligned administrative structure of the country, even economic issues have a nationalist bent.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards 

There have been 16 recorded earthquakes ranging in scale from 2.3 to 4.0 since August 2012. The most recent occurred on February 3, 2013 approximately 40 miles southeast of Sarajevo, and registered 4.0 on the Richter scale. Two 4.5-scale earthquakes were recorded in Zenica, approximately 40 kilometers northwest of Sarajevo, in the last week of July 2012. In the past 125 years, there have been four earthquakes of 6.0 or greater magnitude along the Sarajevo Fault, which cuts across Bosnia from northwest to southeast (1888, 1935, 1969, and 1981). The 1969 quake, which registered 6.0, left 15 people dead, over 1,000 people injured, and 36,000 residences damaged in the Banja Luka area. 

BIH is also subject to seasonal disasters such as floods, mud slides, forest fires, droughts, and (infrequently) paralyzing snowfall.

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

BIH has a significant presence of landmines as a result of the conflict in the 1990s. Approximately 591 people have been killed by landmines since 1996. In 2012, there were eight landmine accidents that injured three and killed eight persons, including a six-year old boy. There are an estimated 200,000 landmines in approximately 10,500 known minefields. Several mountains around Sarajevo contain known or suspected minefields, which mark former lines of confrontation or munitions depots with unexploded ordinances. Most minefields are marked, though some mine-danger signs and ribbon have shifted or disappeared over time due to weather or theft. 

Police Response

Police are very responsive to requests for assistance from the U.S. Embassy. However, they generally suffer from a shortage of manpower and resources, both of which limits their ability to provide a comprehensive level of law enforcement support to the general public.  

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment 

Local police are generally helpful to the international community but have limited resources, minimal English (or other foreign language capability), and insufficient capability to deter and/or detect crime. The complicated political and law enforcement structures degrade effective coordination of police investigations, especially at higher levels. 

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

Crimes should be reported directly to police: 122. American citizens are also advised to contact the U.S. Embassy Consular Section at 387-(0) 33-704-000, if arrested/detained or a victim of crime.

Medical Emergencies

In the event of a medical emergency, dialing 124 from any landline or mobile phone in the country will connect callers to an ambulance service. Medical care is limited, especially outside Sarajevo. Many European-made prescription and over-the-counter drugs are available in Sarajevo and other major towns, but supply problems are common. Americans should seek routine medical treatment and fill prescriptions prior to arriving in country.

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

Hospital contact numbers in Sarajevo are: Kosevo Hospital +387 33-297-000 (switchboard). The urgent-care center at Kosevo hospital, KUM, can be reached at +387 33 297 708 or +387 33 297 189. There is no guarantee that hospital staff will speak English. Nakas State Hospital can be reached at 387-33-285-102 (non-emergency only until 1600 hrs) and 387-033-285-100 (switchboard after 1600 hrs). The Nakas hospital emergency department is at +387 33 285 261. 

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

There is no air ambulance service. For an emergency air evacuation, an air ambulance must be brought from another country or arrangements must be made (at a very high level) for a government helicopter to transfer an acutely ill patient to another country. This is very rarely accomplished.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

For additional health guidance, visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/bosnia-and-herzegovina.htm.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Unique Crime/Scams

Begging, pickpocketing, and the related issues (such as exploitation of children in these activities) are prevalent.

Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices

Most neighborhoods in Sarajevo experience a relatively equal amount of crime, but within them criminals focus on the more affluent, including members of the American and international community. Crime is generally non-violent but may occur anywhere at any time of the day or night. Situational awareness is the best defense against non-violent crime. 

All Americans should be aware of their surroundings and maintain control of their belongings at all times. Individuals opting to use public transportation should be wary of pickpockets and impostor ticket controllers. Taxicabs are plentiful, inexpensive, and generally safe in Sarajevo; look for a functional meter and for the letters “TA” on the vehicle license plate. 

Local and international news should be monitored for events that may affect the local security situation.

Quality locks and vigilant alarm use have proven the best deterrent for burglaries.  

De-mining experts recommend that people remain on paved or hard-packed surfaces. Outdoor activities should be done in officially cleared areas or with reputable guide companies.

U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information

Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation 

The U.S. Embassy is located at Alipasina 43, Sarajevo.

U.S. Citizen Services is open Monday to Friday: 2:00-3:30 p.m.; Wednesday and Friday: 8:00-11:30 a.m.

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers

U.S. Embassy American Citizen Services (ACS) can be contacted at the Consular Section through the main Embassy number 387-(0) 33-704-000 (Switchboard/Operator). The following offices can be reached through the same number: Regional Security Office, Medical Office, Consular Section, Political Section, Economic Section, and Marine Post One.

OSAC Country Council Information

For information on the OSAC Country Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, contact Deputy Regional Security Officer Kevin Murphy at  387-(0) 33-704-000.