Serbian Courts ‘Failing’ Wartime Torture Victims

The compensation granted to torture and abuse victims from the 1990s war is meagre, while trials are long and the state is attempting to cover up its role in the conflict, says a new report.

There is a lack of will from both the Serbian government and courts to stage prosecutions and compensate the victims of torture, said Sandra Orlovic, director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, at the launch of its annual report on torture cases on Wednesday.

“This question is not on the agenda of any of the political parties. Additionally, courts which should be places where people seek justice are the epicentre of deep misunderstanding of the concept of human rights,” Orlovic said.

Eighteen cases went before the Serbian courts in 2012 related to the abuses and torture that took place in the 1990s in Serbia. Of these, only six resulted in rulings in favour of the victims.

One of the victims, Senad Jusufbegovic, spoke about his experiences of wartime abuse at the report’s launch.

“After Bosnian Serb forces took over Zepa and Srebrenica, I tried, with my father, to swim the River Drina and escape to Serbia. As soon as I reached the border I got arrested by the Serbian army and transferred to the Sljivovica prison camp… From there, after few days, they transferred me to a prison camp in Mitrovopolje, where I was imprisoned for eight months,” Jusufbegovic said.

“We were beaten regularly; you couldn’t go to the toilet in case someone beat you,” he added.

Jusufbegovic, together with four other prisoners, filed a lawsuit in 2007 asking Serbia for 6.5 million dinars (57,000 euro) in compensation but his claim was dismissed in 2012.

Tanja Drobnjak, a lawyer with wide experience of representing victims in such cases, claimed that the courts are on the side of the state.

“Courts usually deliver verdicts which say that those who suffered should ask the reparations from the direct perpetrators and not from the state. And since the perpetrators are unknown, this doesn’t leave the option to the victims to ever receive justice,” Drobnjak said.

Petar Zmak, a lawyer who runs compensation cases for the Humanitarian Law Centre, says that they have three main characteristics.

“One is the attitude of judges towards the victims – they are usually very harsh which additionally traumatises the victims. Secondly, the cases are long, on average they last five years. And thirdly, the money given is usually very small,” Zmak said.