Letter to the Prime Minister Ivica Dačić
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
We write to you with regard to the decision recently taken by the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Policy (hereinafter referred to as the Ministry) to revoke the status of civilian victims of war for a number of victims of serious human rights violations committed outside the territory of the Republic of Serbia, and for members of their families. The decision of the Ministry was preceded by the letter sent by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) to the municipal authorities in Priboj with the request to grant the status of victims’ family members to family members of the victims of the war crime committed in Sjeverin (the Municipality of Priboj), pursuant to the Law on Civilian Victims of War (Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia 52/96). These are the families of 16 Bosniaks from Sjeverin, who were kidnapped in October 1992 in the place known as Mioče (BiH) while travelling to work in Priboj. They were kidnapped and subsequently murdered by the notorious Bosnian Serb unit known as the “Avengers”, under the command of Milan Lukić. The bodies of 15 of these victims have not yet been found.
The municipal authorities in Priboj dismissed the requests of victims’ families from Sjeverin in three cases, with the explanation that the kidnapping occurred on the territory of another country and that the Law is being applied only to crimes which happened on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. Because of such decisions by the municipal authorities, HLC attorneys filed a complaint with the Ministry authorized to decide in the second instance. In our complaints, we pointed out that the status of civilian war victims/family members of civilian war victims in the Republic of Serbia has been acknowledged and granted in the cases of a certain limited number of persons in relation to the events which happened on the territory of the Republic of Croatia and BiH at a time when these persons did not even have citizenship of the Republic of Serbia, but that because of the principle of equal protection of rights and prohibition of discrimination, the Ministry is obliged to grant the same status to the family members of victims from Sjeverin. However, the Ministry rendered a ruling (580-02-01025/2012-11) dismissing the complaint filed by the HLC attorneys on behalf of Dževad Koldžić, the son of the kidnapped Mevlida Koldžić, with an explanation that the Law is only being applied to cases which happened on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. The Ministry informed us that, after the aforementioned complaint of the HLC was filed, they initiated a procedure of official control by the respective Ministry, which resulted in the abolition of all decisions granting the status of civilian victims of war in cases which happened outside the territory of the Republic of Serbia.
In addition to all the statements made in the text above, we would like to point out the following:
- From the perspective of human rights and solidarity with victims of the most serious crimes committed during the nineteen-nineties, the revocation of the rights of a number of civilian victims of war, i.e. family members of civilian war victims on territory outside of the Republic of Serbia by reference to the principle of the territorial application of a law, represents a sort of punishment of victims unprecedented in the countries on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. This is a matter of acquired rights, which not only represent the major income for these people, but are also the only acknowledgment of the injustice done to them.
- The institutional actors, who participate in the drafting and enforcement of this type of law, should be more sensitive to the problems and needs of victims. In this particular case, the Ministry officials have demonstrated a lack of basic compassion and understanding for the victims, despite the fact that they are working in the one Ministry which is particularly tasked with the wellbeing and improvement of the position of victims. As a matter of fact, if the territorial application of laws is an unbridgeable obstacle for the recognition of the status of civilian victims of war/ family members of civilian war victims, it would be perfectly natural for the Ministry to find an adequate support model for these persons, who are without a doubt our most vulnerable fellow citizens. Instead, the Ministry has rendered a decision by which these victims are eliminated in the most brutal manner from the state support system.
- The fact that the Ministry misused the facts stated by the HLC in its complaint on behalf of victims’ family members from Sjeverin is particularly disturbing. Namely, the HLC pointed out other cases in which the Ministry established the good practice of recognizing specific circumstances in certain cases and the importance of equity for victims of serious violations of human rights. However, the Ministry used this information to initiate the procedure of official control, which resulted in the abolition of the only income that the victims of the most serious crimes could draw on. These victims whose status of civilian victims of war has been revoked by the decision of the Ministry include G.T, who was a 13-year-old girl when she lost her eyesight after Croat soldiers shot at her during Operation Storm, and D. N, a woman with a severe disability which is the consequence of the torture she experienced in the Dretelj Camp (BiH) controlled by members of the Bosnian Croat Army.
In the conviction that, in a state which publicly and most commendably declares that it seeks to promote the values of social justice and care for its most vulnerable citizens, rigid legal principles cannot be treated as the priority as against the human dignity and wellbeing of victims of serious crimes, we hereby ask you to use your authority to help find a proper solution for restoring the status of civilian victims of war to the persons whose status has been revoked in the aforementioned procedures of official control by the Ministry, and to recognize the status of family members of civilian war victims for families of the kidnapped citizens of Sjeverin.
In conclusion, we would like to mention that we sent an almost identical letter exactly two months ago to the competent Minister in this affair, Dr. Jovan Krkobabić. However, we have not yet managed to obtain any information as to whether the letter has been taken into consideration, despite the fact that we have made more than a dozen telephone calls to the Office of the Minister and state secretaries in the Ministry.
HLC Executive Director