First Municipal Court’s Decision: Republic of Serbia ordered to pay RSD 160.000 for torture of Bosniaks in Prijedor in 1993

The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) believes that the First Municipal Court’s Decision ordering Republic of Serbia (RS) to pay RSD 160.000 to Sead Rovčanin for torture suffered in 1993 is an insult and does not constitute proper satisfaction for the ordeal Rovčanin was subjected to.

HLC received the Decision handed down by the First Municipal Court in Belgrade on May 11th 2010 which orders the Republic of Serbia to pay RSD 160.000 to Sead Rovčanin, a Bosniak from the village of Gračanica, Prijepolje municipality on the grounds of its responsibility for the torture committed against him by members of the Prijepolje Internal Affairs Secretariat (SUP) in October 1993.

HLC filed a compensation lawsuit against the Republic of Serbia on July 30th 2007 as part of its program that offers victims of human rights violations committed in the past the opportunity to claim their right to reparation.

The Trial Chamber presided by Justice Nada Šajić established in its Decision that in October 1993 members of the Ministry of the Interior (MUP) of the Republic of Serbia tortured Sead Rovčanin in order to force him to confess to illegal possession of firearms which resulted in a prolonged serious psychological trauma preventing his normal everyday activities. The Court found the RS responsible for the criminal act of torture committed by MUP members and ordered it to pay RSD 160.000 in compensation to Sead Rovčanin.

HLC believes that the amount of compensation awarded is disproportionate to the crime in question and inadequate with respect to a permanent damage inflicted upon the health of Sead Rovčanin, who will have to endure the consequences of the brutal act committed in 1993 for as long as he lives. Further, HLC believes that by awarding such an insignificant amount of compensation to a victim of torture, the Trial Chamber minimized the responsibility of the state and those who acted on its behalf while committing this crime which violated the victim’s fundamental human rights.

HCL lawyers will file a complaint to the Appellate Court in a timely manner.

Facts of the case:

In the course of a police operation conducted on October 27th 1992 aimed at finding illegal weapons owned by the Bosniak population, members of the OUP Prijepolje police force searched the Složna Braća tavern in the village of Gračanica on which occasion they arrested Sead Rovčanin, his father Kadrija, and his uncles Abid and Salih Rovčanin and took them to the Prijepolje police station. In the meantime, OUP Prijepolje police searched Sead’s house in Gračanica but did not find any weapons. While he was in the police station, Sead was interviewed by Mileta Novaković, a police officer who introduced himself as “the boss”. He told Sead that “by this time tomorrow he would tell them everything they wanted to know”. Around 6:00 a.m. the following morning, Mileta Novaković took Sead to another office where inspectors Stanko Bezarević and Dušan Maričić where waiting for him. Mileta Novaković asked Sead Rovčanin to tell them where he was hiding his firearm and surrender it to the police. Sead kept repeating that he did not have any firearms. During the interrogation, inspector Mileta Novaković hit Sead several times in the stomach with his police truncheon. Then he ordered him to take off his shoes and his socks and kneel by the chair, and Dušan Maričić started hitting him on the soles with his police truncheon. This beating went on for half an hour and it was interrupted by the entrance of a police officer knick-named “Grbo”. When they stopped beating him, Sead was given a dish with cold water to soak his feet. After that, fearing that the beating might continue, Sead signed a statement presented to him in writing by inspector Stanko Bezarević. It took him half an hour to be able to get back on his feet and start walking. Two or three hours later he was taken before an investigative judge of the Municipal Court of Prijepolje. The Municipal Court in Prijepolje sentenced Sead Rovčanin in December 1994 for a criminal act of illegal acquisition and possession of firearms, on the grounds of, among other things, the statement he signed at the police station on October 27th 1993.

In the period 1992-1995, in police operations aimed at locating illegal firearms in Sandžak, MUP Serbia members searched Muslim houses on which occasion they illegally arrested several hundred Bosniaks. All of them where suspected of possessing illegal firearms or taking part in “activities aimed against the State” yet only a handful did possess illegal firearms which were found during these operations. Most of these persons testified about brutal acts of torture which they were subjected to by members of the State Security Service (SDB) and local police in order to make them confess to possession of illegal weapons. These events have never been investigated and according to the information gathered by the HLC, police officers who took part in the torture of Sandžak Bosniaks are still employed by the Serbian MUP. HLC has a number of statements of victims testifying about the participation of Mileta Novaković in the acts of torture aimed to force the detainees to sign false statements confirming they owned illegal weapons. For that reason, on June 26th 2006 HLC sent a request to the then Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia Vojislav Koštunica and the Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Serbia Dragan Jočić asking them to initiate an investigation in order to establish the facts concerning the responsibility of Mileta Novaković in violating basic human rights of Sandžak Muslims. HLC has never received a response to this request.