Kidnapped Residents of Sjeverin not Recognised as Victims by the State of Serbia

The Municipal Administration in Priboj has dismissed the requests of three families of kidnapped residents of Sjeverin to be officially recognized as families of civilian victims of war in Serbia. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the families of the kidnapped Sjeverin residents, filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, Employment, and Social Policy on October 17th, 2012 against the Administration’s decision, noting that it was in violation of the Constitution, laws, and international conventions protecting human rights and pointing out that claims filed by family members of the war crime victims from Sjeverin had been dismissed on the basis of criteria that are not applied in cases of victims of Serbian nationality. The HLC filed its complaints with the Ombudsman, Saša Janković.

Between July 3rd and September 14th, 2012, the HLC initiated lawsuits on behalf of Rasim Pecikoza (father of the missing Sead Pecikoza), Dževad Koldžić (son of the missing Mevlida Koldžić), Ramiz and Safija Ćatović (parents of the missing Ramahudin and Sabahudin Ćatović), and Azra Bihorac and Ramiza Oparnica (sisters of the missing Ramahudin and Sabahudin Ćatović). The lawsuits are based on the Law on the Rights of Civilian Victims of War (hereinafter referred to as the Law), which prescribes that a civilian victim of war is a person who was killed by the enemy during the war, war operations, wartime military equipment or enemy sabotage i.e. terrorist actions. According to the same law, family members of civilian victims of war have, among other things, the right to a monthly pension.


The reasoning of the decision dismissing the claims of family members of the missing citizens of Sjeverin alleges that whilst it is beyond dispute that Sead Pecikoza, Mevlida Kodlžić and Ramahudin Ćatović were killed, the Law on the Civilian Victims of War is a ‘republic law’, which can be applied only to cases “occurring on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, which did not happen in this case”. The decision dismissing the claims of Ćatović family to be recognized as family of a civilian victim of war following the forcible disappearance of their second son Sabahudin, was arrived at because it was claimed that a civilian victim of war is a person who was killed or otherwise died, a fact which can be determined “only on the basis of the written evidence from the time the person died”.


The HLC points to the fact that the Law does not prescribe the condition that the critical event happened on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. This has been confirmed by the practice of administrative authorities throughout Serbia. On the basis of data received using the Law on the Access to Information of Public Importance, the HLC has information proving that there have been a number of cases in which relevant authorities have recognized the claims of civilian victims of war and persons disabled as a consequence of war, who sustained their injuries during the armed conflict on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, despite the fact that they were citizens of those countries. In all of the cases for which HLC obtained comprehensive information, the victims were of Serbian nationality.


The decision to deny the status of  civilian victim of war to Sabahudin Ćatović is particularly upsetting and offensive for all families of missing persons because he is a clear victim of enforced disappearance. Despite recognising the indictment of the District Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade, the lists of missing persons compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Commission on Missing Persons, the decision alleges that they nevertheless do not represent adequate evidence. This decision also violates the Convention for the Protection of All Persons From Enforced Disappearances ratified by Serbia in 2011, which explicitly prescribes that the state is obliged to provide social protection and financial assistance to the families of missing persons.


Factual Background:

On the morning of October 22nd, 1992, a number of residents of Sjeverin were on their way to Priboj to run their everyday errands. They took a bus on the regular Rudo-Priboj line from the bus station in Sjeverin.


At the village of Mioče, where the road to Priboj crossed through the territory of the Republika Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina), members of a Serb formation known as the Avengers, under the command of Milan Lukić, intercepted the bus, asked the passengers to show their identification documents and ordered the Muslims from the bus. Sixteen residents of Sjeverin – 15 men and one woman- were taken from the bus. They were taken by truck to Višegrad, to the Vilina Vlas Motel, where they were brutally tortured and then taken to the banks of the River Drina in Višegrad, where they were executed. The body of Medredin Hodžić was recovered from Lake Perućac in the Summer of 2010. The bodies of the other victims are still missing.


The following residents of Sjeverin were killed: Mehmed Šebo, Zafer Hadžić, Medo Hadžić, Medredin Hodžić, Ramiz Begović, Derviš Softić, Medhad Softić, Mujo Alihodžić, Alija Mandal, Sead Pecikoza, Mustafa Bajramović, Hajrudin Sajtarević, Esad Džihić, Ramahudin Ćatović, Idriz Gibović, and Mevlida Koldžić.


The District Court in Belgrade convicted Milan Lukić and Oliver Krsmanović (both tried in absentia) sentencing them to 20 years of imprisonment each, and Dragutin Dragićević and Đorđe Šević, to 15 years of imprisonment each, for the commission of this crime.


A day prior to the kidnapping of the 16, on October 21st, unidentified persons abducted Sabahudin Ćatović from in front of his house in Sjeverin. His whereabouts remain unknown.