380,000 Serbian Dinars in Damages for 480 Days of Torture and Inhuman Treatment
The First Basic Court in Belgrade delivered a judgment declaring the Republic of Serbia responsible for torture and inhuman treatment committed by members of the Serbian Ministry of interior (Serbian MUP against Mustafa Kolgeci, a Kosovo Albanian from Suva Reka/Suhareke while he was in detention between September 1998 and January 2000. The Court ordered the Republic of Serbia to pay 380,000 Serbian Dinars in non-material damages but rejected his compensation claim for unlawful detention, noting that it was invalid because of the statute of limitations. The HLC believes that the court decision is unjust and inappropriate when compared to the suffering that Kolgeci was continuously exposed to during the 16 months he was in detention and is a continuation of the Serbian courts’ practice of putting the interests of the government and its budget ahead of justice for victims of serious human rights violations committed during 1990’s by Serbian troops.
The Court established that members of the Serbian MUP arrested Mustafa Kolgeci on September 28th 1998 in his home village, Vranić/Vraniq in the Suva Reka/Suhareke Municipality. He was detained in the Suva Reka/Suhareke police station on suspicion of unauthorized possession of weapons. Later, an indictment was filed, charging him with the commission of the criminal act of terrorism. The District Court in Požarevac acquitted Kolgeci in January 2000 after the Prosecutor dropped the charges. The Court concluded that Kolgeci had been physically and mentally tortured by police officers on a daily basis, during the 16 months of his detention.
The HLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mustafa Kolgeci for compensation for non-material damages on January 24th, 2008. Six main court sessions were held, during which Mustafa Kolgeci was heard. New proceedings were started on September 7th, 2010 following changes to the court panel, and completion of a reappointment process for the judges. Seven further main sessions were held during the new proceedings and Mustafa Kolgeci was examined again by the court. During the proceedings, medical evidence was examined. An expert witness established that the torture and inhuman treatment that Mustafa Kolgeci had endured during his detention, had seriously affected his physical and mental health and had permanently reduced his ability to cope with his everyday life.
In its explanation of the judgment with regard to the amount of compensation, the Court stated that 380,000 dinars was “adequate” given the level of mental consequences caused by the torture he had endured, which the court assessed as “permanent changes in personality, and a decreased ability to cope both socially and domestically”) and that awarding a greater amount would “exceed the limits of the principle of just compensation”. The HLC underlined that courts in Serbia have an unacceptably restrictive interpretation of the principle of just compensation for victims of serious human rights violations committed by the Serbian army and police during 1990’s, when compared to all other cases of claims against the state. For example, in compensation lawsuits for unlawful detention during the ‘Sabre’ military operation, the courts awarded damages up to ten times higher. Among other cases, the former Head of the Military Security Directorate, Aco Tomić, received six million dinars in damages following 100 days in unlawful detention, former Belgrade District Court judge, Života Đoinčević, received four million dinars in damages for 74 days of unlawful detention and attorney, Miodrag Gligorijević, received 630,000 dinars for 62 days of detention.
The HLC will file an appeal against this decision with the Appeal Court in Belgrade both relating to the compensation amount awarded and to the court’s decision on the statute of limitations with regard to the compensation claim for unlawful detention.
Mustafa Kolgeci, born in 1944, was the President of the Municipal Court and the Mayor of the Municipality of Suva Reka/Suhareke during 1970’s.
On September 28th, 1998, Kolgeci was arrested in front of his house in the village of Vranić/Vraniq, in the Suva Reka/Suhareke Municipality. The police detained him in the Firefighters’ Association building in Prizren along with another 40 Albanian men. The same evening, the police took all of them to the prison in Prizren. There, they were first told to stand against the wall and then they were ordered to be detained. The police put him in a room without a bed, mattress, blanket or any other cover, together with the other 40 persons. Police officers came to this room every day and beat Kolgeci and other detainees with batons.
Seven months later, he was transferred to the Dubrava/Dubravë Prison in the Istok/Istog Municipality. During the prisoners’ detention in Dubrava/Dubravë, NATO bombed the prison on May 19th and 21st, 1999. The prison guards ran away from the prison leaving Kolgeci and other prisoners locked up. Twenty three prisoners were killed either in the bombings or because they did not receive medical attention. On May 22nd, the police gathered all prisoners together in the yard. While prisoners were lined up, the police opened fire at them with machine guns from the guard towers and threw grenades from the other side of the prison wall. On that day and the following day, police officers killed 87 ethnic Albanian prisoners inside the prison premises. Kolgeci survived this by hiding along with other prisoners.
Two days later, the police transferred the remaining prisoners including Kolgeci to Lipljan/Lipjan. Conditions in the prison in Lipljan/Lipjan were very poor. The prisoners did not have beds, food was poor with three prisoners sharing each meal, and they received only one litre of water per person for several days. They were held in this prison until June 10th, 1999 when they were taken to Niš by ‘Niš ekspres’ buses. The conditions in prison in Niš were somewhat better compared to the earlier prisons, but the prison guards tortured the ethnic Albanian prisoners on daily basis. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited the prison in Niš on July 19th, 1999. They made a list of prisoners and on the following day they brought them letters from their families. This was the first contact that Mustafa had with his wife for four months.
The District Prosecutor in Požarevac filed the indictment against Mustafa Kolgeci for the alleged criminal offence, 19 hours after he was arrested. The trial conducted before the District Court in Požarevac began on December 7th, 1999. On January 11th, 2000, the Public Prosecutor dropped the charges and Mustafa Kolgeci was released soon afterwards, after 16 months of unlawful detention. During his detention Mustafa Kolgeci lost 60 kilograms. After being released, he was unable to walk and very soon afterwards he suffered kidney failure.