The Court of Appeals in Belgrade: Serbia is responsible for the torture and inhumane treatment of Bosniaks in the Šljivovica concentration camp

The Court of Appeals in Belgrade: Serbia is responsible for the torture and inhumane treatment of Bosniaks in the Šljivovica concentration camp

Logo_FHPThe Court of Appeals in Belgrade (Court of Appeals) amended the judgment of the First Basic Court in Belgrade and rendered a final judgment stating that Serbia is responsible for the torture and inhumane treatment of the Bosniaks Enes Bogilović and Mušan Džebo from Žepa, committed by members of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI). Bogilović and Džebo were detained in the concentration camp Šljivovica (municipality Čajetina) in 1995 and 1996. The Court of Appeals also obliged the State to pay them compensation to the amount of 600,000 RSD. Although the amount awarded may not constitute fair compensation for the victims, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) points out that the final court assessment of the treatment of captured Bosniaks in the camp Šljivovica by members of the MOI represents the first institutional recognition of the atrocities committed against Bosniaks in the concentration camps at Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje.

The Court of Appeals found that Enes Bogilović and Mušan Džebo, with a group of Bosniaks, crossed the River Drina into Serbia in August 1995, where they surrendered themselves to members of the Yugoslav Army (YA). All the Bosniaks were divided into two groups, and Bogilović and Džebo were taken to the "center", which was established on August 1, 1995 and located in Braneško Polje (Šljivovica), in the workers’ barracks of the “Planum” construction company. According to the records of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which the court accepted as evidence, Bogilović was released on January 29, 1996 and Džebo was released on December 6, 1995. While in the concentration camp, they were subjected to torture and inhumane treatment by members of MOI. The officers beat them with sticks, branches and rubber tubes, and stubbed out cigarettes on their bodies. The Court of Appeals states that, "according to the petitioners, but also to other persons who resided there, the behavior of the guards at the Centre in Braneško Polje can hardly be considered behaviour that any individual could deserve to be subjected to."

The HLC filed a compensation lawsuit against the Republic of Serbia in November 2007 for compensation of non-pecuniary damages in the name of Bogilović and Džebo. The first Instance judgment which dismissed these claims was rendered in 2010, after 10 hearing sessions being held. On the basis of the appeal filed by the HLC, the Court of Appeals sent the case back for retrial in order for the evidentiary hearing to be supplemented. The First Basic Court issued an identical ruling in June 2012, after conducting a procedure which did not comply with the orders issued by the Court of Appeals. The HLC filed an appeal against this judgment. Due to the errors committed by the First Instance Court during the repeated trial, the Panel of the Court of Appeals, presided over by Judge Ivan Negić, held two hearings, one in December 2013 and one in June 2014.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals pointed out in its reasoning that the First Instance Court arbitrarily gave credence to the testimony of the witnesses proposed by the State (guards at the concentration camp, a nurse and the head of emergencies in Užice) who only had indirect knowledge of conditions in the concentration camp or were only occasionally present in the camp. The Court of Appeals gave credence to the testimony of Bogilović and Džebo, as well as to witness Ćamil Durmišević who testified about the daily abuse and poor conditions in the camp. The court expert found that surviving torture in the concentration camp had had lasting consequences on the health of both Bogilović and Džebo. The Court of Appeals based the factual findings about the conditions in the camp on the report by the Delegation of the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who visited the Šljivovica camp in April 1996.

The Court of Appeals rejected the part of the claim relating to compensation for damages caused by the physical pain, fear and mental pain suffered due to the violations of the freedom and rights of personality, due to expiry of statue of limitation. The HLC will file a constitutional complaint with the Constitutional Court of Serbia on behalf of Bogilović and Džebo with regard to these types of compensation.

The Republic’s Office of the Attorney-General lodged a request with the Supreme Court of Cassation for a review of this decision.

The HLC urges the state organs of the Republic of Serbia to implement a comprehensive and effective investigation into atrocities committed in the concentration camps of Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje in 1995 and 1996, and also urges them to ensure fair compensation to victims in accordance with international standards for the protection of victims of gross violations of human rights.

Concentration Camps Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje

After the fall of the protected zone of Žepa in July 1995, more than 800 Bosniak men escaped across the River Drina into Serbia owing to the fear of reprisals by the Army of the Republic of Srpska. After crossing the border, they were arrested by YA guards and escorted, in groups, to the school playground in the village of Jagoštica, where they were registered. The captured Bosniaks were transported in military trucks to Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje (Municipality of Aleksandrovac). Soldiers and policemen led fifty men into a truck into which no more than fifteen people could fit. Due to the heat and lack of air, some persons lost consciousness, and Edhem Torlak, a young man from Žepa, suffocated to death. His body was taken out of the truck just after arrival at Šljivovica. The concentration camps at Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje were guarded by members of the MOI. On arrival at the camp, prisoners were forced to “run the gauntlet". The rooms in which they were located were overcrowded. During the night, policemen were calling out camp prisoners or picking them out from their rooms, and leading them out and beating them with batons, rods and cables. Several prisoners were sexually abused. The guards humiliated the prisoners on a daily basis, requiring them to represent themselves with Serbian names, to carry stones from one place to another, and so on. As a consequence of the abuse and inhumane treatment in the camps, four prisoners died: Ahmo Krlić, Meho Jahić, Šećan Dizdarević and Nazif Krlić.

The HLC would like to remind the public that the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor (OWCP), in September 2011, filed a criminal complaint against more than 50 members of the Police, State Security and YA for war crimes against prisoners of war committed in Šljivovica and Mitrovo Polje. On account of the failure to implement an adequate investigation, the HLC filed a constitutional complaint with the Constitutional Court of Serbia (CCS) in April 2013.