This report is based on statements given to the Humanitarian Law Center in June and July 1995, in Eastern Slavonia, by Croatian Serbs expelled from Western Slavonia.
Aware of the measures taken by state agencies since the change of government in October 2000, the Humanitarian Law Center (“HLC”) nonetheless considers them inadequate to ensure effective application in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“Convention”), in particular its Articles 2, 4, 11, 12, 13, and 14. The HLC believes that the 27th session of the Committee against Torture will help to identify the most important problems in the observance of the Convention in this country, which still give rise to serious concern.
Otpor (Resistance) was initiated as a student movement in October 1998 by a group of Belgrade University students dissatisfied with the work of existing academic organizations and the failure of protests against Serbia’s repressive University Law.
The movement gained support at other universities in Serbia and its activists began publicly to put forward the demand for democratic changes summed up as ‘free and fair elections, a free and depoliticized University, and a free and independent media’. The movement spread rapidly to many cities and towns in Serbia. Comprising small groups of students at first, Otpor grew into a mass movement of political opponents to the government. Otpor’s symbol, a clenched fist, came to be recognized among the citizens as a symbol of personal courage and determination to install democratic values in Serbia. The Serbian government responded first by launching a media campaign portraying Otpor as an enemy organization, then by mounting a sweeping police action against its activists in May 2000. The election campaign in Serbia took place amid daily detention of Otpor activists.
Between the beginning of May and the middle of September 2000, the police arrested more than 2,000 Otpor activists, some 400 members of opposition political parties and about 100 activists of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). An investigation by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), comprising interviews with victims of unlawful police actions and written evidence, shows that the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) launched early in May a broad campaign against young people in Serbia in general and against Otpor activists in particular. The majority of detained people were up to twenty-five years of age, including some 200 between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Some 300 Otpor activists were detained five or more times. On a number of separate occasions the police also detained thirty mothers who had taken part in Otpor actions. An analysis indicates that the police were employed in an organized and synchronized action with clear orders, instructions and objectives. Although the action was carried out throughout Serbia, its focus was clearly in Vojvodina. The uniform procedure employed in all the cases shows that the policemen acted on specific orders, deliberately and grossly violating the law and the Constitution. The determination with which members of the police force broke the law bore out their conviction that they would be exempted from any disciplinary or criminal action.
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OTPOR Movement was founded in 1998 and later it evolved into a mass youth movement against Slobodan Milošević’s regime. During 1999 and 2000, members of the Serbian Ministry of Interior unlawfully detained for interrogation more than 2,000 members of OTPOR, during which they were often tortured.
At least 932 non-Albanians disappeared or were abducted in the period from the deployment of the international peacekeeping force (KFOR) in Kosovo on 12 June 1999 up to 31 December 2000. Field research by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) brought out that Serbs, Roma, Montenegrins and Bosniacs went missing on a daily basis from 12 June to 1 September 1999, in which period 835 non-Albanians were abducted or disappeared. The whereabouts of 593 remain unknown. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) released 141 persons, 24 were able to escape from KLA prisons, 13 were set free by KFOR, and 62 were killed after being abducted.
The Humanitarian Law Center points out that the District Court in Niš sentenced two Kosovo Albanians to long terms of imprisonment in spite of the lack of any incriminating evidence against them. After a trial which lasted a year, the five-man panel of the District Court on 18 April 2001 unanimously found Luan and Bekim Mazreku from Mališevo guilty of terrorism under Article 125 of the federal Criminal Code (CC) and, pursuant to Article 139 (2) of the CC, sentenced them both to 20 years, the maximum term envisaged by law. The Court ordered the Mazrekus to be remanded to custody until the sentence became final.
The stepped-up violence by the Serbian and FR Yugoslavia authorities against political opponents following the calling of the presidential and federal elections threatened fundamental human rights and liberties. The election campaign in Serbia is marked by daily arrests of activists of the Otpor (Resistance) movement, non-governmental organizations, and members of opposition political parties.
Research by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) brought out that about 2,500 persons were detained by police from early May to mid-September, of whom 2,000 Otpor activists, 400 opposition party members, and 100 activists of non-governmental organizations. The majority were up to 25 years old and included about 200 minors between the ages of 16 and 18. Some 300 Otpor activists were detained five or more times. Information gathered by the HLC indicates that police took in about 20 Otpor activists and other active participants in the election campaign every day from 1-15 September. Cases of police brutality against Otpor activists and others were also registered; 19 persons were physically abused in this period alone. Police raided Otpor offices and non-governmental organizations, seizing computers, address books, and lists of associates. The number of physical assaults by private citizens on Otpor activists and others involved in the election campaign of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), Otpor’s campaign “He’s Finished,” and the “It’s Time” campaign of non-governmental organizations also rose noticeably.
The formal reasons for the massive police action against Otpor were the 2 May incident in Požarevac when three Otpor activists were arrested for allegedly attempting to murder a member of the Yugoslav Left (JUL) party, and the murder of Boško Perošević, the President of the Executive Council of Vojvodina and ranking official of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), in Novi Sad on 13 May. Without any grounds, the police used the murder of Perošević as an excuse to detain Otpor activists and opposition party members in great number and to search their homes. The police action against Otpor activists further intensified on 9 June when the Federal Ministry of Justice refused to enter Otpor in the Register of Associations, in contravention of the constitutional principles and guarantees of fundamental human rights and liberties. With this decision, the authorities demonstrated their readiness to eliminate an entire generation of young people from social and political life. Described as a group which acts against national security interests, these young people were consigned to the police to deal with.
Three activists of the Resistance (Otpor) movement who were arrested in Pozarevac were held in police detention for five days before being taken before the investigating judge, in contravention of the Yugoslav Criminal Procedure Code which stipulates that suspects may be held for 72 hours at the most, after which they must either be released or brought before the competent investigating judge.
On 2 May, the day the activists were arrested, the Serbian Internal Affairs Ministry and the Yugoslav Left party (JUL) issued separate press releases in which they claimed the Resistance activists had attempted to murder two JUL members. They thus violated the principle of presumption of innocence until proved guilty in a court of law, which is guaranteed by the Yugoslav Constitution and nation legislation, and international standards of a fair trial.
Following the activists’ arrest, the government daily Politika disclosed medical information on the treatment of one of them, Veljkovic, in psychiatric institutions whereby it grossly violated the right to privacy guaranteed both by national legislation and the Internationl Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On 27 May, witness Zoran Milosavljevic was taken in to the police station and held for 12 hours. He was given no explanation for his detention. The police thus seriously jeopardized the right and obligation of witnesses to give testimony freely. Witnesses questioned
On 30 and 31 May, the Pozarevac District Court heard the testimony of nine witnesses: Dragan Milanovic, Milan and Sasa Lazic, Zoran Vidosavljevic, Miodrag Bolic, Boris Crnogorac, Zoran Milosavljevic, Bojan Tadic and Miroslav Milosic. Also present in the courtroom were Investigating Judge Milan Bojic, Deputy District Prosecutor Dragan Petrovic and the three defendants’ defense counsel: Borivoje Borovic, Ivana Primovic and Ruzica Lekic, lawyers of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Gradimir Nalic of the Yugoslav Lawyers Committee, Igor Olujic of the Humanitarian Law Center, and attorneys Milica Djurkovic and Nikola Barovic.
Dragan Milanovic (“Toza”) started his testimony with a description of an 28 April event when he and some friends were outside the Dobro Jutro Cafe in Pozarevac. A grey Mercedes car driven by Zoran Ivanovic pulled up in front of the cafe at 10.30 p.m. From the car, Ivanovic asked the group if one of them was nicknamed “Toza.” When Milanovic replied that this was his nickname, Ivanovic asked him to come up to the car and, using offensive language, said he would make Milanovic paint and lick clean the whole town because of the clenched hand symbols he had stencilled on walls. Ivanovic attempted to hit Milanovic who managed to evade the blow. Soon afterwards Milanovic went to see a friend, Zoran Milivojevic, and asked him for helping in informing the media about the incident. Together they wrote a statement and sent it to the BETA news agency.
On the night of 2 May, Milanovic was sitting on a bench in a park in downtown Pozarevac with four young men and two girls. Half an hour after midnight, Zoran Ivanovic, the Lazic brothers and Bojan Tadic approached them. Ivanovic asked Milanovic why he was making false statements and hit him about the head with his hands. He and his group then dragged Milanovic over the town’s main street to the Pasaz Cafe. Ivanovic repeatedly struck Milanovic on the head as he was being pulled along. In the cafe, Ivanovic ordered Milanovic to sit down at a table and handed him a copy of the Frankfurtske Vesti newspaper, which had printed Milanovic’s statement. Ivanovic and company continued harassing and insulting Milanovic. Sasa Lazic threatened several times: “We’ll skin you alive”, “We’ll ruin you”, and “Do you know that your life hangs by a thread?” After pouring a pitcher of water over Milanovic’s head, Ivanovic ordered him to come back to the cafe at 6.30 that evening with a paper showing that he had quit the Resistance movement, and said he would then try to get him into the Socialist Party of Serbia. Milanovic was then allowed to leave. He received two threatening calls on his mobile phone during the night.
Milanovic came to the Resistance headquarters in Belgrade about 9 a.m. that day, said he was under pressure to resign from the movement and asked for an appropriate certificate. Since no such document is envisaged, Milanovic took a blank membership form and filled it out, intending to hand it to Ivanovic. He said he feared the consequences if he failed to do so. Milanovic returned to Pozarevac at about 5 p.m. and, taking the advice of Zoran Milivojevic, went to the police station to report the threats and seek help. He spoke with duty officer Gajic who told him to keep the appointment with Ivanovic and said he would send two police patrols to prevent any incidents.
At 6.30 Milanovic went to the Pasaz and gave Ivanovic the form. Ivanovic took it and left the cafe. Milan Lazic immediately came up and sat down at the table. Though Lazic was friendly enough, Milanovic was scared to leave. Milanovic’s friend Lukovic approached them and courteously asked Lazic to let Milanovic go. Lazic told him to “get lost.” Lukovic left but quickly came back with Veljkovic and they both asked Lazic to let Milanovic leave the cafe. At that moment, a BMW with Montenegrin licence plates stopped outside the cafe. Lazic’s elder brother, Sasa, got out, tucked his mobile phone into his belt, pulled out a pistol, pointed it into the air and came toward the tables on the sidewalk. He reached the table at which Milanovic, Lukovic and Milan Lazic were sitting, struck Veljkovic twice on the head with the pistol and then pointed it at his head. Veljkovic tried to push the gun away and grappled with Sasa Lazic. The next moment, Milanovic saw the pistol in Veljkovic’s hand and Milan Lazic hitting out at Lukovic over the table. Lukovic fled toward the Cybernet Cafe on the opposite side of the street. Milanovic saw the ammunition clip fall from the pistol, after which Veljkovic threw the gun down. Bojan Tadic came out of the Cybernet and started to hit Lukovic viciously. In the meantime, Veljkovic managed to run away from the Pasaz but the Lazic brothers caught up with him some 30 meters down the street and began to punch and kick him. Milanovic, too scared to move, stayed in the cafe. When he saw Lukovic lying in a pool of blood on the other side of the street, he went toward him but was stopped by Ivanovic who said, “The man’s dead; people will read his name on the death notice.” Milanovic then fled the scene.
Milan Lazic (“Mali Laza”) told the court he arrived at the Pasaz just before 7 p.m. on 2 May to meet his brother with whom he was to go jogging. He saw Milanovic, whom he know only by sight, and joined him at the sidewalk table. They talked, mostly about their school days. Lukovic came up and threatened Milan Lazic that he and his brother would be strung up on a lamppost. Lukovic then left but came back immediately with Veljkovic and a third man who stood some five to 10 meters away, came up close to Milan Lazic and was making threatening gestures when Sasa Lazic arrived. Lukovic struck Milan Lazic on the head twice and Milan fought back. As Lukovic started running away, Milan turned around and saw his brother lying on the ground with blood on his head and Veljkovic standing over him with a pistol in his hand. Milan Lazic did not see how Veljkovic got rid of the pistol but saw him trying to escape toward the town center. He also saw Lukovic running across the street and falling down. Milan helped his brother to get up and drove him to the hospital. He told the court he had no knowledge of the injuries sustained by Lukovic, Veljkovic and Sokolovic, whom he did not even know, or of any conflict between Milanovic and Zoran Ivanovic.
Sasa Lazic (“Debeli Laza”), stated that he was driving about town on the day in question. Passing by the Pasaz Cafe, he saw Veljkovic and Lukovic harassing his brother. He also saw Milanovic at one of the sidewalk tables. He got out of his car with the intent of separating his brother from Veljkovic and Lukovic. When he reached the table, Veljkovic hit him on the head with the butt of a pistol, pointed it at him and pulled the trigger twice. The pistol did not fire. Owing to the blow, Sasa Lazic lost consciousness for about 30 seconds. He remembers that his brother helped him to his feet, after which he went to his car and drove himself to the hospital. As he was going to the car, he saw a short fat man running toward him (HLC note: Sokolovic). As soon as he got close, this man started insulting him. Lazic pushed him away and, since he was still dizzy, could not remember if he also struck him. Lazic stated that he had no knowledge of the injuries sustained by Lukovic and Veljkovic or of the clash with Milanovic in the cafe. Zoran Vidosavljevic, who was cited by the Pozarevac Police Department as an eyewitness of the incident, stated that he was driving back from the Mladi Radnik soccer field in the company of Miodrag Colic. In the town center, they stopped outside the Pasaz Cafe to have a cup of coffee. When he got out of the car, he saw the fight going on and immediately said to Colic: “Let’s get out of here; we could get killed.” They got back into the car and drove away. Vidosavljevic was unable to recognize any of the participants in the fight.
Miodrag Colic’s testimony was identical to the one given by Zoran Vidosavljevic. Boris Crnogorac, a former member of the Pozarevac police force, said he was going home from work on the day in question and saw Lukovic, Veljkovic and the Lazic brothers fighting as he passed the Pasaz Cafe. He also saw Veljkovic hit Sasa Lazic on the head with the butt of a pistol.
Zoran Milosavljevic gave testimony on 31 May. He corroborated Dragan Milanovic’s statement regarding the writing of the press statement on 28 April. Speaking about the incident of 2 May, Milosavljevic said Milanovic had called him about 5 p.m., told him what had happened the day before and said he had to be at the Pasaz Cafe in an hour and a half. Milosavljevic advised him to report the whole case to the police and spoke with duty officer Gajic who promised to send two patrols to the cafe. At the time Milanovic was to be at the cafe, Milosavljevic was at the Serbian Renewal Movement offices. Some 10 minutes later, he made his way to the cafe and saw that something was going on there. He saw when Sasa Lazic hit Veljkovic on the head with the pistol, after which Veljkovic grabbed the gun and fled down the street. He saw the ammunition clip fall out and Veljkovic throwing the gun down. He was unable to say what happened with the pistol after that. He then saw the Lazic brothers catch up with Veljkovic and start beating him. He saw Lukovic running toward the Cybernet Cafe and Bojan Tadic and another young man come out and beat Lukovic savagely. Milosavljevic said he was afraid to go to the help of the injured because Ivanovic and his friends together with Marko Milosevic had earlier threatened him several times and, on 7 March this year, beat him up at the Madona Cafe, after which Milosavljevic filed a criminal complaint. He saw Ivanovic step on Lukovic’s head as the latter was lying on the ground and then grind down hard with his foot. When matters had calmed down somewhat, Milosavljevic went up to Lukovic who was still lying face down, turned him over and saw that “his eyes were as big as tennis balls.” Bojan Tadic, employed at the Cybernet Cafe, said he was doing the accounts when Igor Stankovic, a fellow employee came in and shouted several times: “A brawl, a brawl.” Tadic then ran out and saw Sasa Lazic with blood on his head. He saw nothing else, returned to the cafe and called the police and an ambulance. When he re-emerged, the police had already arrived. He did not see who struck Lazic, Lukovic and Veljkovic.
Miroslav Milosic (“Mile fotograf”) said he was walking down the street in which the Pasaz Cafe is situated when Lukovic, whom he knew from before, told him to call the police. He went to the police station on foot and passing by Zoran Milosavljevic, heard him yelling, “A fight, a fight.” Scared, Milosic left the scene but soon came back to see what was going on. Some 30 meters from the cafe, he saw Sasa Lazic pick up a pistol from the ground. Then two youths ran towards him, one of whom he thinks was Milan Bajic, who shouted that they would finish him off too. Milosic fled and does not know what happened afterwards. Although summoned as witnesses, Zoran Ivanovic and Milan Bajic failed to appear in court.
After the witnesses gave testimony, defense counsel moved that the court release their clients because there were no legal grounds for their continued detention, that the public prosecutor be notified that the court considered there were no grounds for a judicial investigation into them, and to issue orders for the witnesses who failed to appear to be brought to the court. The investigating judge did not comment on the defense motions or investigations he planned to conduct. While the witnesses were giving testimony on 30 May, a judicial intern kept leaving and re-entering the courtroom, in defiance of the rules. According to eyewitnesses, she told those who had not yet given testimony what preceding witnesses had said in their statements. Before the court reconvened on 31 May, defense counsel informed the judge about the intern’s behavior. The judge, obviously embarassed, said there would be no repetition. However, at a moment when defense counsel asked Bojan Tadic a question to which he was unable to give a valid reply, the intern demonstratively walked out of the courtroom and was followed by the investigating judge, who gave no explanation for his action. From the courtroom, they went directly to the chambers of the court president. Some five minutes later, the investigating judge returned and the proceedings continued.
Violations of Due Process
The investigating judge failed to correctly dicate into the record the statements made by the witnesses. When witnesses spoke of the innocence of the accused and the accountability of the injured parties, the judge endeavored to cast doubt on their statements by constantly interrupting them with questions. When the injured parties were on the stand, the judge instructed them how to answer his questions and the questions of defense counsel. He thus violated Artcile 232(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code under which leading questions are deemed improper. Furthermore, the court failed to establish in full the facts of the 2 May incident, thereby violating Article 15 of the CPC which states that courts are bound to establish all facts which have a bearing on judicial decisions.