Serbian Courts Award Derisory Compensation to Non-Serb Victims

The First Primary Court in Belgrade delivered a judgment obliging the Republic of Serbia to pay the amount of 1.3 million Serbian Dinars (RSD) in damages to five Kosovo Albanians in compensation for their unlawful detention lasting from eight to 17 months, and for torture inflicted on them by members of the Serbian Ministry of Interior and the Yugoslav Army. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) believes that courts in the Republic of Serbia continue to award derisory, humiliating and unjust material compensation for past human rights abuses. The HLC will file an appeal against this judgment on behalf of the five, and will demand that the new Government establishes a level of just compensation for past human rights violations, which will abolish the de facto discrimination against non-Serb victims.

The court properly established that members of the Serbian Ministry of Interior and the Yugoslav Army arrested Tahir Bytyqi, Smajl Gashi, Rrahman Elshani, Hysni Podrmiçaku and Bekim Istogu without legal grounds and that during their detention they were submitted to torture, occasioning permanent damage to their health. The court also established that members of the Serbian Ministry of Interior failed to inform the victims’ families about the arrests, thus violating Article 147 of the then Criminal Procedure Code.

On behalf of the aforementioned victims of human rights violations, the HLC initiated a compensation lawsuit on April 26th, 2010. The court held six main hearing sessions. During the proceedings, Bytyqi, Gashi, Elshani, Podrmiçaku and Istogu gave evidence and underwent an examination by a team of medical experts for the purpose of establishing the consequences of torture and unlawful detention. They established that the victims had suffered serious damage to their health.


Factual background:

In late 1998, Serb forces drove Tahir Bytyqi, his family, and other citizens away from their village of Đurđica/Gjergjica. They went to the village of Obrinje/Abri in the municipality of Glogovac/Gllogoc. Tahir stayed there with his family for six months. In May 1999, the Yugoslav Army shelled Obrinje/Abri. Tahir ran away with his family to Novo Čikatovo/Çikatove e rë. They stayed at a farming cooperative. On May 27th, 1999, the police entered the village and rounded up all of the people from the cooperative. They separated men from women and took the men to the police station in Glogovac/Gllogoc. They interrogated Tahir in the police station about the KLA. One police officer stabbed him in the stomach during the examination. Tahir was taken to hospital in Priština/Prishtinë. After receiving medical care, he was transferred to the prison in Lipljan/Lipjan. He spent 10 days there. He was placed in the gym together with 400 other prisoners. After the Kumanovo Agreement was signed on June 10th, 1999, Kosovo Albanian prisoners from Lipljan/Lipjan and other prisons in Kosovo were transferred to prisons in Serbia. Tahir spent two months in solitary confinement in the prison in Požarevac. All this time, his health was poor and he received no medical care. He was released from prison on March 23rd, 2000 following the intervention of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). No proceedings have ever been initiated against him and he was never interviewed during his time in prison.

In May 1998, Smajl Gashi and his family ran away from the village of Lapušnik/Llapushnik to Novo Čikatovo/Çikatove e rë. The police arrested him in this village on April 24th, 1999 when they separated him and other men from their families and took the men first to the prison in Priština/Prishtinë and then to the prison in Lipljan/Lipjan. The prison guards beat him every day and forced him to confess that he had helped the KLA. On June 10th, 1999, police transferred Smajl together with other prisoners from the prison in Lipljan/Lipjan to the prison in Požarevac. He was charged with the committing acts of terrorism. The trial lasted for seven months. In July 2000, the District Court in Niš acquitted him of all charges, after which he was released from prison.

Rrahman Elshani was arrested in May 1999 in the village of Štrbulovo/Shtrbullovë where he took refuge with his family after he was forced to leave his village of Krajkovo/Krajkove. He was taken to the police station in Glogovac/Gllogoc. Police officers gave him a paper to sign and when Rrahman asked to read it, they beat him up. Two days later, the police transferred Rrahman to the prison in Lipljan/Lipjan where he spent some ten days. He was transferred to Serbia on June 10th,1999 along with other Kosovo Albanian prisoners. During his stay in the prison in Požarevac, Rrahman was never  interviewed and no proceedings were initiated against him. Rrahman was released on April 22nd, 2000 following the intervention of the ICRC.

Hysni Podrmiçaku was also arrested in the village of Štrbulovo/Shtrubullovë. He was subjected to beatings in the prison in Priština/Prishtinë, and then he was transferred to the prison in Lipljan/Lipjan. Prison guards beat Hysni on a daily basis, causing him a serious head injury. From June 10th, 1999 he was detained in the prison in Sremska Mitrovica. He was charged with committing acts of terrorism. He was tried before the District Court in Niš. The trial began on December 5th, 1999 and lasted for seven months. He was acquitted of all charges on July 5th, 2000.

The police arrested sixteen-year-old Bekim Istogu on April 30th, 1999 while he was running away with his family from the village of Vrbovac/Verbovc. The army and the police stopped the fleeing column of civilians and separated the men from women. Even though, the victim was a juvenile, Bekim was taken with the men. Police officers beat them throughout day. More soldiers and police officers came in the morning. They hit the prisoners and threw stones at them. After some time, a truck arrived. Bekim and others were ordered to climb up into the truck and as they were doing so, the police officers and soldiers beat them. Because of the beating he received at this point, Bekim still has a scar on his forehead. Bekim and the others were transported to the prison in Priština/Prishitnë. Bekim was taken alone to a room where one police officer beat him with a baton. During his stay in the prison in Priština/Prishitinë, police officers interviewed him. There was no interpreter and Bekim did not understand Serbian. After being transferred to Serbia, Bekim was placed in the prison in Sremska Mitrovica. There were about 90 people in his cell block. There were no beds. They all slept on the concrete floor one next to another. The sanitary conditions and hygiene were poor. No criminal proceedings have ever been initiated against Bekim. He was released in October 2000 following the intervention of the ICRC.