Director of the Office for Human and Minority Rights Offends Victims of Torture in Sandžak
In an interview for the daily newspaper Večernje novosti, published on September 6, 2014 under the title “Ugljanin inventing Torture”, Suzana Paunović, the Director of the Office for Human and Minority Rights of Serbia, said that the claim made by the former Minister without portfolio, Sulejman Ugljanin, which stated that Bosniaks in Sandžak were victims of systematic torture, is inappropriate and unfounded.
The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) and the Sandžak Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms (Sandžak Committee) point out that the statement made by Director Paunović is an expression of ultimate disrespect for the thousands of people who suffered illegal detention and torture during the 1990s in Sandžak, thus grossly neglecting the role which the institution led by her should perform.
The abuse of Sandžak Bosniaks is documented in reports produced by the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights in the former Yugoslavia, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, from November 1993 (E/CN.4/1994/110), February 1994 (E/CN.4/1994/47) and November 1994 (A/49/64-S/1994/1252). Thus, in a report dated February 1994, the Special Rapporteur stated: "A substantial amount of information is related to the kidnapping, destruction of the homes by ignition or use of explosives, and general harassment of Muslims, including beatings by the police and randomized searches of homes for weapons.” It is also stated that Muslims were often called for "informative talks" at the police station where they were “questioned for hours and often bullied."
The report of the Committee against Torture (UN Doc No.44 (A/54/44) submitted to the UN General Assembly in 1999 expressed serious concern about the widespread practice of police torture against Bosniaks in Sandžak, and concern about the lack of criminal investigation into the perpetrators of torture. Thus, the Committee against Torture stated: "In view of the situation in Yugoslavia, the Committee expresses its deepest concern at the numerous allegations of police torture received from non-governmental organizations. Reliable information received by the Committee includes descriptions of police brutality and torture, especially in Kosovo and Sandžak. Torture carried out by the police, particularly its special units, includes beating with wooden and metal sticks on the head, kidneys and soles of the feet, all of which lead to mutilation, and in some cases even death. There have been cases when electroshock was administered. The Committee is particularly concerned owing to the fact that the courts accept these confessions obtained under duress […] The Committee is concerned about the government’s failure to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of these acts, as well as the inappropriate reaction of the state to the allegations of torture leading to de facto impunity for these crimes. "
It was noted in the conclusions of the Assembly of the Municipalities of Tutin and Sjenica in 2002 and 2003 that systematic repression against Bosniaks was enforced on the territory of these municipalities during the 1990s. That repression included torture, which was preceded by unfounded allegations that the arrested possessed illegal weapons. In these conclusions, officers who committed the abuse were appointed, and the state authorities were required to institute proceedings against the responsible members of the MOI.
The Sandžak Committee published the report, "Testimonies from Sandžak" in 2002, which contained 56 testimonies of torture victims from Novi Pazar, Sjenica, Tutin and Prijepolje. The HLC in 1997 published the report, "Human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1995: Sandžak, police repression."
Up till now, the institutions of the Republic of Serbia have not shown any responsibility or respect for the victims of torture and of other human rights violations committed in Sandžak during the 1990s. Restoration of victims’ confidence in institutions that implemented systemic repression over them is prevented by the fact that the perpetrators and those who have tolerated the aforementioned acts continue to work in those institutions.
The HLC and the Sandžak Committee invite the Director of the Office of Human Rights to visit Novi Pazar, Sjenica, Tutin and Prijepolje with her associates and, instead of just apologizing, to meet with the victims and hear their first-hand testimonies; then to call upon the state authorities to establish the criminal responsibility of the perpetrators of the tortures, and begin with their removal from the Ministry of the Interior; and then to initiate the procedure for the granting of dignified satisfaction to victims in accordance with international human rights standards, for the application of which the Office for Human and Minority Rights should be responsible.