The Court Denies the Right to Compensation for Former Prisoners at Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje Detention Camps

On July 20, 2011, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) received a decision rendered by the First Basic Court in Belgrade rejecting the complaint filed against the Republic of Serbia by the HLC in December 2007 on behalf of Ahmet Kamenica and Selim Nuhanović, former prisoners at Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje detention camps for the responsibility of the state for the torture they had been exposed to while being held prisoners in those camps.

This decision is yet another confirmation of a judicial practice in Serbia to deny victims of gross human rights abuses committed by members of the Serbian Army and police at the time of the rule of Slobodan Milošević the right to satisfaction and financial compensation which is in direct violation of international conventions and human rights standards.

The first-instance court justified its decision to reject the complaint against the Republic of Serbia by the fact that the compensation claim was subject to the statute of limitations invoking the position of the Supreme Court of Serbia from 2004 that the statute of limitations (the time frame applied only when the damage is a direct result of a criminal act) only applies with respect to the perpetrator of the war crime and not with respect to the state which, according to provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia and in cases determined by the law, is responsible for the damage committed by those who act on behalf of the state.

The decision of the First Basic Court in Belgrade and the above quoted position of the Supreme Court of Serbia are in contradiction with various international documents and adopted human rights standards. In the Final Commentary of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (Committee) with respect to the Report on the Implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Serbia (March/April 2011), the Committee expressed concern over the difficulties experienced by individuals trying to obtain compensation for the human rights abuses, especially war crimes, committed by those acting on behalf of the state, and over the fact that the statute of limitations time frame is only five years for such crimes. The Committee stressed that it is the responsibility of the state to conduct a thorough investigation of all cases of alleged human rights abuses committed in the 1990s and bring perpetrators to justice and that it is also the responsibility of the state to secure that victims of such human rights abuses and their family members are properly compensated. In the Final Commentary of the United Nations Committee against Torture with respect to the implementation of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Serbia in the period 1992 – 2003, it is stressed that the Republic of Serbia did not provide adequate programs to help victims of torture and inhuman treatment exercise their right to compensation. At the same time, Serbia was advised to spare no effort in terms of helping victims obtain compensation and rehabilitation so that victims of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are offered just and proper compensation that includes all steps leading to a full rehabilitation.

The Facts of the Case:

At the beginning of August 1995, Ahmet Kamenica and Selim Nuhanović, member of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a group of Bosnjaks, following the fall of the Žepa enclave [July 30, 1995], in an attempt to flee from members of the Army of Republika Srpska, swam across the River Drina. Once they reached the Serbian side of the River Drina, they were arrested by border patrol members of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and taken to a nearby village named Jagoštica.

Members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia (MUP Serbia) were also present in Jagoštica where approximately 110 Bošnjaks were held. Members of the VJ, together with members of the police, beat Ahmet, Selim, and other Bosnjaks with sticks and gun butts, forced them to kneel down and look at the floor so that they could hit them, verbally abuse them, and humiliate them. One of the soldiers slashed Ahmet’s forehead and inflicted knife injuries to his legs. The torture and beating lasted until 8 p.m. that day. They spent the night at the village with no food or water.

They were taken to different camps in military trucks – Ahmet was taken to Šljivovica and Selim was taken to Mitrovo Polje. During the trip to the camps, Bosniak prisoners were beaten by rifle butts through the roll-up truck cover.

In Šljivovica, Ahmet was separated from his son and he was placed in the so-called isolation barracks. During his three-month long stay at the camp, Ahmet was constantly tortured. In Šljivovica, members of the MUP Serbia took prisoners out for beating every night. Ahmet and other prisoners were beaten with pluming tubes, electric cables, and some were even sexually abused. There was not enough food and sanitary conditions were humiliating.

During his stay at the Mitrovo Polje detention camp, Selim and other Bosniaks were taken out of the barracks every day for beating and they were beaten with sticks and rubber hoses. Selim was taken for questioning 15 times and he was beaten and pulled by the hair almost every time they interrogated him. He was bruised all the time from repeated beating. The prisoners did not get enough food and they were deprived of basic sanitary facilities. Selim and other Bosniaks were constantly humiliated by the members of the MUP Serbia.

Following an intervention of the International Red Cross Committee (IRCC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ahmet and Selim were released from the camp on April 10, 1996. Ahmet chose to go to Finland and Selim returned to Bosnia. Both Ahmet and Selim continue to suffer from health problems caused by the torture and the conditions in the Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje detention camps, including numerous traumas and psychological problems such as nightmares and phobias. They continue to be treated for those conditions.

Contact person: Damjan Brković, HLC lawyer