Constitutional Complaint because of Failure to Investigate Crimes Committed against Bosniaks at the Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje Camps

On 4 April 2013, the Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) filed a Constitutional Complaint to the Serbian Constitutional Court (USS) on behalf of 78 Bosniaks, former inmates of the Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje camps, and the families of those killed in these camps, after the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia (TRZ) failed to carry out an adequate investigation into war crimes committed at these camps in 1995 and 1996. By omitting to do so, the rights of those concerned, guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia – the right to life, the right to inviolability of their mental and physical integrity, the right to equal protection before the law and the right to legal remedy – have been violated.

On 6 September 2011, the HLC filed a criminal complaint with the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office against 52 members of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior (MUP) and the Yugoslav Army (VJ) for war crimes committed in 1995 and 1996 against Bosniak prisoners of war who fled to Serbia after the fall of Žepa in August 1995 and were then imprisoned in the Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje camps. The criminal complaint, based on statements from surviving camp inmates, describe in detail dozens of incidences of abuse of the Bosniak prisoners (some of whom died immediately of their injuries), inhuman and degrading treatment by members of the MUP and VJ, and the murder of two young men at the time of their capture. Together with the criminal complaint, the HLC also submitted statements from over 70 former camp inmates who survived the torture and cruel treatment, recommending that the TRZ should hear them as witnesses.

On 8 March 2013, the TRZ informed the HLC that it had decided „that there is no case for criminal prosecution of the accused, as it emerges from the submission itself and all subsequent information and actions taken, that their acts contained none of the elements of the criminal offence of a war crime against prisoners of war, nor of any other crime under the jurisdiction of this Prosecutor’s Office.”

The HLC subsequently ascertained that the TRZ did not contact any of the proposed witnesses.  Failure to question victims and eye-witnesses of the war crimes listed in the criminal complaint raises serious doubt that the TRZ in this case conducted a comprehensive, independent and effective investigation, as it is bound to do under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Constitution and Serbian law.

In the Constitutional Complaint, HLC requested from the Serbian Constitutional Court to find that the state of Serbia has violated the constitutionally guaranteed right to life, inviolability of physical and mental integrity and the right to equal protection before the law, in that it failed to fulfil its constitutional duty to carry out an adequate investigation into cases of killing and others which provide ample evidence of physical and mental abuse. The duty of the state to conduct an effective investigation stems from the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, according to which the states parties are obliged to examine all events in which individuals have been under the exclusive control of the state authorities and to provide a reasonable explanation for any injuries suffered by people under the control of these authorities.

The Complaint also requests the Constitutional Court to set aside the TRZ decision, order the conduct of an effective investigation and for the state to pay 234 million dinars in damages to the victims.

Having taken Srebrenica on 11 July 1995, forces of the Army of the Republic of Srpska (VRS) attacked Žepa, another UN safe area in eastern Bosnia. When Žepa fell on 30 August 1995, over 800 Bosniak males, both civilians and soldiers, fled in fear of their lives across the Drina into Serbia. On arriving on the Serbian bank, they were arrested by border guards of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and escorted in groups to the school playground in the village of Jagoštica (Bajina Bašta municipality) where they were listed. During this procedure, soldiers, police and civilians beat the prisoners.  From Jagoštica, the captured Bosniaks were taken in military trucks to Šljivovica (Čajetina municipality) and Mitrovo Polje (Aleksandrovac municipality). As many as fifty men were loaded onto trucks in which there was room for no more than fifteen. People fainted from the heat and lack of air. A young man from Žepa, Edhem Torlak, suffocated. His body was removed from the truck only after it arrived in Šljivovica.

The Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje camps were guarded by members of the MUP. On arrival at the camps, the prisoners were made to run the gauntlet. The rooms in which they were placed were overcrowded. During the night, the police would call prisoners out or come into the rooms looking for them, take them out and beat them with truncheons, wooden laths and electric cables. Some of the police extinguished cigarettes on their bodies or made them drink water into which they had poured motor oil. Several inmates were sexually abused. Physical and mental ill-treatment of prisoners by the police took place on a daily basis. Inmates were ordered to beat each other, to carry large stones from one place to another, to run all night around the camp perimeter, to do push-ups, to stand in the yard looking up at the sun until they fainted. Four inmates, Ahmo Krlić, Meho Jahić, Šećan Dizdarević and Nazif Krlić died as a result of ill-treatment. Police inspectors and inspectors of the State Security (DB) interrogated inmates on their part in the war, during which they would beat them and force them to admit that they had participated in crimes against Serbs. Men who were known to be members of the Bosnian (BiH) Army or worked in the Žepa administration were treated with particular cruelty.

In mid-August 1995, ICRC representatives entered the camps and took the names of most of the inmates. In early December 1995, representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees visited the camps and arranged for the departure of the inmates to third countries. This took place in the first months of 1996.