Committee Against Torture: Serbia violated Convention Against Torture

The UN Committee Against Torture (”the Committee”) has considered the case of violence and racial abuse against a Roma man and as of May 8th 2009 has issued a decision finding Serbia to have been in violation of a number of provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (‘CAT’).

Besim Osmani was jointly represented by the Humanitarian Law Center (”HLC”), Minority Rights Center (”MRC”) and the European Roma Rights Centre (”ERRC”) in a complaint submitted to the Committee in December 2004, relating to an incident on June 8th 2000.  Mr Osmani was beaten and verbally abused by what were believed to be plain-clothed police officers (in the presence of uniformed officers) during a forced eviction and demolition operation at the ”Antena” settlement in New Belgrade, the home of some 107 Roma.  During the incident Mr Osmani’s four-year-old son was also hit and, following his eviction and destruction of his property, Mr Osmani was forced to live in the basement of his place of work with his wife and three young children.

The Committee found that Mr Osmani had been subjected to ”cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” noting in its decision that the “infliction of physical and mental suffering [was] aggravated by the complainant’s particular vulnerability, due to his Roma ethnic origin and unavoidable association with a minority historically subjected to discrimination and prejudice.”  Whether or not plain-clothes policemen abused Mr Osmani, the Committee pointed to the fact that “the State party’s authorities who witnessed the events and failed to intervene to prevent the abuse have at the very least ‘consented or acquiesced’ to it.”  Serbia was found to be in violation of Article 16 of CAT.

Mr Osmani and several other people at the scene made detailed statements about the incident and the identity of those who used violence and verbal abuse.  With the assistance of the HLC, Mr Osmani tried to assert his rights within the Serbian criminal justice system, but to no avail.  Against this background, the Committee found that Serbia was in breach of its obligations: to bring a criminal investigation (Article 12); to ensure that Mr Osmani had the right to complain to, and to have his case promptly and impartially investigated by, the competent authorities (Article 13); and to enable Mr Osmani to obtain redress and to provide him with fair and adequate compensation (Article 16).

The Committee urges Serbia to:
•    Conduct a proper investigation into the acts that occurred on June 8th 2000
•    Prosecute and punish the persons responsible for those acts
•    Provide Mr Osmani with redress, including fair and adequate compensation
•    Inform the Committee within 90 days of the relevant steps it has taken.

The HLC, the MRC and the ERRC have contacted the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice asking that these matters be addressed.

For further background information on this case, see: