Kosovar Albanian awarded compensation for torture suffered in 1999
The Court of Appeals in Belgrade has delivered a judgement ordering the Republic of Serbia to pay 200,000 RSD to Sylejman Bajgora from Podujevo/Podujevë, in compensation for torture he endured in 1999 at the hands of members of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Serbia (the MUP of the RS). In the same judgment, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court judgment turning down the compensation claim by Ekrem Nebihu from Glogogovac/Glogoc.
On 25 June 2007, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), on behalf of Sylejman Bajgora and Ekrem Nebihu, filed a civil complaint with the First Municipal Court in Belgrade with a request for damages against the Republic of Serbia for violations of freedom and human rights, the unlawful detention of Bajgora and Nebihu and the impairment of their life activities as a consequence of exposure to torture. Initially, this case had been tried by the First Municipal Court in Belgrade; following the reversal of the trial court judgement, the case was assigned to the First Basic Court in Belgrade.
This court found that members of the MUP of the RS arrested Bajgora and Nebihu without reason and that the two men were held in custody for more than four and five months respectively, during which time they were repeatedly abused, both physically and mentally. On the basis of the findings of psychiatric experts, the court established that Sylejman Bajgora suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the torture endured, owing to which his everyday life activities had been permanently diminished/impaired. Ekrem Nebihu’s compensation claim was rejected because a psychiatric expert witness found that the torture had not had long term effects on his health. Following the initial trial (before the First Municipal Court), the compensation claim filed on behalf of Bajgora and Nebihu for violations of freedom and human rights was dismissed as being barred by statute.
The HLC notes that the case of Sylejman Bajgora and Ekrem Nebihu is an example which illustrates the treatment by Serbian institutions of the victims of human rights abuses committed by members of the Serbian police and military during the 1990s. The sums awarded by the courts in such cases are inadequate, given the gravity of the human right abuses suffered by the victims, and several times lower than those paid out to the victims of human rights violations committed outside the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. For example, the compensations awarded to individuals who were unlawfully detained during the Police Operation Saber amounted to several millions of RSD. Moreover, the courts interpret the law very rigidly and to the detriment of the victims, particularly with regard to the statutory time limit for filing compensation claims. Such a restrictive interpretation of the provisions relating to the statute of limitations has been applied since 2004, when courts began to receive an increasing number of compensation claims against the state for human rights abuses which had occurred during the 1990s.
Serbia’s obligation to ensure that victims of human rights abuses obtain just compensation is laid down in numerous international conventions and human rights standards. Several international treaty bodies that monitor the human rights situation in Serbia (the UN Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture, and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights) pointed out in their reports that Serbian institutions fail to comply with their obligations to compensate fully the victims of human rights abuses.
On 24 March 1999, Sylejman Bajgora (born in 1957) fled the village of Hrtica/Hertice [Podujevo/Podujevë municipality] with his family and sought shelter in the town of Podujevo/Podujevë. After receiving permission to leave Podujevo/Podujevë on 1 June 1999 from the Civil Defence Headquarters in Podujevo/Podujevë, Bajgora went to Prishtina/Prishtinë to purchase medications for his sick mother. He spent the night at his uncle’s house and the next morning he went to purchase the medications. In the Ulpijana borough he encountered a friend and his wife. The three of them were then approached by two policemen, who asked to see their identification documents. Bajgora handed them his ID and his freedom of movement permit, after which one of the police officers started to curse him, tore up his permit, and kept his ID. Afterwards, Bajgora was transported in a police vehicle to the police station in Bolničko naselje. On his arrival there, the officers started hitting him. One officer pressed a knife against Bajgora’s neck, and another stuck a gun in his ear. They threatened to kill him. After being tortured for a couple of hours, Bajgora was handcuffed to a radiator. An hour later, he was put into a car and driven to the police station in the Muhadžer Mahala settlement. There, the police officers wrote a statement and ordered Bajgora to sign it, which he refused.
The next morning, at about 8:00 hours, Bajgora was transported to the prison in Prishtina/Prishtinë and stripped of all his belongings. During his seven days in prison, police officers physically abused him, although he was already in bad shape. On 10 June, Bajgora and another 25 Albanian men were transferred to the Sremska Mitrovica prison. On entering the prison, the detainees had to walk through a gauntlet of police officers. The conditions in the prison were very bad, and food was scarce. In early August, Bajgora spent five days in solitary confinement. He was released on 4 October 1999, as a result of ICRC mediation. On his discharge, the police took away a decision on detention, the only document he had been given following the arrest.
In early 1998, Ekrem Nebihu, who was 16 at the time, fled the village of Damanek [Glogovac/Gllogoc municipality] and went to his uncle’s house in the village of Štrbulovo/Shtrbullove. Ekrem stayed at his uncle’s until 28 May 1999, when he and other men were arrested by Serbian police and transported to the centre of Glogovac/Gllogoc. The police locked them in a shop and kept them there all night. Around noon the following day, police officers transported them by buses to the prison in Lipljan/Lipjan. Ekrem and another 300 Albanian detainees were placed in a hall. They slept on the bare floor. The food was insufficient and inmates were allowed to use the toilet only twice a day. On the morning of 10 June, guards and police officers entered the hall and divided the inmates into groups of 50. They tied their hands with a nylon rope and loaded them onto buses which carried them to Niš. As the Niš prison was full, they continued on to Požarevac. When they arrived in the Požarevac prison, the police officers and guards allocated them to the cells (five detainees per cell ). They logged all the detainees without giving them any kind of document. The conditions in Požarevac prison were harsh. Ekrem was once beaten by guards simply because he did not know that sitting on a bed during the daytime was not allowed. Ekrem was never questioned nor was he given any document on detention. He was released on 19 November 1999 and transported with a group of fellow inmates to Merdare.