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ERRC/HLC Letter to Montenegrin Prime Minister

8 May 2003

Joint European Roma Rights Center/Humanitarian Law Center Letter to Mr. Milo Djukanovic, Prime Minister of the Republic of Montenegro

On May 8, 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organization which monitors the human rights situation of Roma in Europe and provides legal defense in cases of human rights abuse, and the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), a major regional human rights organization, sent a letter to Mr. Milo Djukanovic, Prime Minister of the Republic of Montenegro, expressing concern about the continuing absence of redress in a 1995 case of mob violence against Roma in the town of Danilovgrad. On 21 November 2002 the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UN CAT) adopted a decision in relation to the incident, expressly finding Montenegrin authorities in violation of several provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. UN CAT requested that Montenegrin authorities conduct a comprehensive investigation into the incident, prosecute and punish those responsible, and provide fair and adequate compensation to the victims of the pogrom. Details of the case and the decision of the UN Committee Against Torture are available at: ERRC: UN Committee against Torture Finds Montenegrin Authorities in Flagrant Breach of Human Rights Standards

The text of the ERRC/HLC May 8 letter follows:

Honorable Prime Minister Djukanovic,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organization which monitors the human rights situation of Roma across Europe and provides legal defense in cases of human rights abuse, and the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), a major regional non-governmental organization with a human rights mandate, are concerned about the continuing absence of redress in the Danilovgrad Roma mob violence case - notwithstanding the 21 November 2002 decision of the United Nations Committee Against Torture (Committee) adopted in relation to this very incident. The Committee's decision expressly found the Montenegrin authorities in violation of several provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and requested that they conduct a comprehensive investigation into the incident, prosecute and punish those responsible, afford fair and adequate compensation to the victims, and inform the Committee, within 90 days, of the steps taken to comply with these requirements. (Hajrizi Dzemajl et al. v. Yugoslavia, CAT/C/29/D/161/2000)

The Committee ruled on the basis of an application submitted jointly by the ERRC, HLC, and attorney Dragan Prelevic, on behalf of 65 Romani men, women and children, in relation to a 1995 incident concerning the total destruction of an entire Romani settlement in the town of Danilovgrad, Montenegro.

On 14 and 15 April 1995 several hundred non-Roma gathered and, with the acquiescence of the municipal authorities and the police, proceeded to destroy the Romani settlement in Bozova Glavica, Danilovgrad. The police simply stood by and did nothing as the pogrom unfolded. The Roma were able to flee but their homes and other belongings were ultimately burned or otherwise destroyed. Several days following the incident, the debris of the Roma settlement was cleared away by heavy construction machines of the Public Utility Company, thus obliterating all traces of the existence of Roma in Danilovgrad. In fear for their lives, the Danilovgrad Roma fled the town and moved to the outskirts of Podgorica where most still live under terrible conditions and in abject poverty. Moreover, in the aftermath of the incident, several Roma were fired from the jobs they held in Danilovgrad, under the excuse that they had stopped coming to work. The fact that they had to leave the town in mortal fear was clearly not taken into account by their employers. With regard to the pogrom itself, despite a preliminary investigation, no one was ever indicted. Similarly, the labor dispute for wrongful termination of employment and the civil case for damages, both filed by Danilovgrad Roma, are still pending.

In its written response to the Committee, dated 19 March 2003, the Montenegrin Government, inter alia, states that it will recommend expedition of the proceedings in the labor case to the judiciary and will consider a just settlement in the civil case for damages. The Government then goes on to explain that as regards criminal redress no charges can be brought against any of the perpetrators at this stage, due to either prescription of criminal prosecution, passage of time, or the absence of incriminating evidence.

While the ERRC and the HLC welcome the Montenegrin Government's commitment to expedite the proceedings in the wrongful termination of employment case as well as its willingness to consider a just civil damages settlement, we note that both proceedings have already been delayed for an unacceptably long period of time. In addition, a just settlement must be based on respect for human rights reflecting both the immense moral and material damage suffered by the victims and making it possible for them to resume their lives with dignity and a sense of vindication. Moreover, while acknowledging the difficulty in pressing charges against the perpetrators many years following the incident, we also note, as did the Committee, that there is ample evidence collected by the police immediately following the incident to warrant, at the very least, a profound reassessment of this issue. Indeed, the prescription of criminal prosecution does not seem to relate to all of the crimes applicable.

In view of the above, we respectfully urge you Prime Minster, taking into account that it is now eight years following the Danilovgrad tragedy and that the Romani victims themselves are yet to receive any redress, to take this opportunity and personally ensure, by taking measures within your legal competence, that the Committee's decision is urgently complied with, the victims provided with adequate remedies, international justice served, and consequently Montenegro's standing in the family of democratic nations fully restored.

Sincerely,

Gloria Jean Garland
Legal Director
European Roma Rights Center

Natasa Kandic
Executive Director
Humanitarian Law Center

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:
Mr. Milo Djukanovic
Prime Minister
Republic of Montenegro
Fax: +381 81 242 329

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