Police Violence against Roma in Macedonia
7 November 2002
The ERRC has received information from the Romani non-governmental organisations Roma Rights Forum Arka (ARKA) and Roma Community Center Drom (DROM) in Kumanovo, and from the Stip-based Association for Human Rights Protection of Roma (Zdruzenie za pravata na Romite - ARRP), the ERRC's local partner in Macedonia, that unidentified police officers physically abused and otherwise humiliated three Romani men at the police station in Prilep, south western Macedonia, on February 8, 2003. According to the information received by the ERRC, Mr Jašar Ramadan, a 28-year-old Romani man from Bitola, Mr Senad Ristemovski, a 21-year-old Romani man from Prilep, and Mr Ejvaz Serifovski, a 19-year-old Romani man from Prilep, were walking in the centre of Prilep around noon on February 8, when they were stopped by two police officers who asked them to show their identification documents. After the Roma replied that they did not have their identification documents with them, the officers brought them to the Prilep police station, and took them to an office where the men were joined by a second group of police officers, altogether totalling fifteen persons. Without any explanation, the officers present - reportedly with the exception of two officers of supposed ethnic Albanian origin - took turns beating the Romani youngsters. For at least five minutes, the officers beat the Roma with rubber truncheons on their hands. One of the officers occasionally hit them on their bodies with a wooden club. After this, the officers interrogated the Roma in relation to the whereabouts of an elderly man whom the Roma had allegedly beaten up. As the Roma denied knowing about this, the physical abuse continued. After some time, the officers questioned the Roma about an elderly woman and some money that had allegedly been stolen from her. When this crime was also denied, more violence followed.
As the officers also searched the young men, they found the mobile phone of Mr Ristemovski, which he stated had been given to him by his sister. However, the officers did not accept this explanation and tried to coerce Mr Ristemovski to confess that he had stolen the telephone. Reportedly, at this point the beating made the young men feel so weak that they could no longer stand on their feet. When one of the officers asked the detainees what they studied, Mr Ristemovski replied that they were Muslims and that they studied the Quran. After this, one of the officers ordered the Roma to pray in the Muslim way. Initially, the Romani men refused to obey, after which the police officers reportedly physically abused them again and forced the Roma to pray. The officers then told the Roma to sing a Muslim prayer song, an order which was also enforced by violence. The three men were released from the police station at around 4:30 PM. Reportedly, the officers made the men sign a statement that the latter had no complaints regarding the treatment they had undergone at the police station. Following their release, they were diagnosed by medical practitioners as having sustained light bodily injuries. According to the parents of the young men, they were invited to the police station and threatened that their children would not be released before the parents signed statements that they would not press charges in relation to the case, and they eventually did so. The ERRC/ARRP is in possession of comprehensive documentation on the case, including photographs of injuries and medical protocols documenting injuries.
A second documented case pertains to an incident of physical abuse by police of two Romani men in Kumanovo, northern Macedonia, 26-year-old Mr Skender Sadiković and 25-year-old Mr Memet Dalipovski, on February 7, 2003. According to information provided to the ERRC by local Romani organisations ARKA and Drom, in the early afternoon of February 7, two police officers arrived to the house of Mr Dalipovski and searched his house without showing a warrant, reportedly looking for a safe stolen from a local church, purportedly containing around 500,000 Macedonian denars (around 8,300 Euro). The officers then took Mr Dalipovski with them and continued to the house of Mr Sadiković in another Romani settlement of Kumanovo. The officers searched the house of Mr Sadiković with the same explanation, again without showing an appropriate warrant. According to the statements of the victim and eyewitnesses, the officers also beat Mr Sadiković with their hands, in the view of his family and neighbours. After both the men were taken together to the Kumanovo police station around 1:00 PM, they were taken to separate offices. In the course of the physical abuse that ensued, a group of five police officers, including two officers who brought Mr Sadiković to the police station, put him in a chair and handcuffed him. The officers then beat him with instruments including the handles of axes, particularly on the lower part of his back. Under coercion, Mr Sadiković confessed that the safe was at his home. This was not, however, true, and Mr Sadiković later reportedly told representatives of local non-governmental organisations that the sole reason for his confession had been to secure release from the duress to which he was subjected by police officers. Separately, two police officers beat Mr Dalipovski by punching him in the head until he fell to the floor. At that point the officers were joined by three other colleagues and they all continued kicking Mr Dalipovski with their feet as he lay on the floor, particularly on his ribs. In the course of the physical abuse, the officers also cursed the Romani men's ethnicity. It is reported that at a later point the police officers brought the Romani men together and forced them to fight each other, apparently to make it seem as if the injuries caused by the officers were caused by the men themselves. Mr Sadiković was held at the police station for around six hours, after which the police officers told him that the real culprits had been identified, and they reportedly apologised to him. Mr Dalipovski was held at the police station for approximately twenty-six hours, during which time officers again physically abused him. He was then released with the same explanation. Officers reportedly warned him not to report his physical abuse.
With the assistance of Arka, both Romani men underwent medical examinations, during which their injuries were documented. The doctors emphasised the need of further hospital treatment, which Mr Sadiković and Mr Dalipovski could not do as they did not have medical insurance and could not afford the hospital expenses. Reportedly, several days after the abuse took place, the officers contacted the Romani men and offered to cover the medical expenses in exchange for an agreement whereby the men would not pursue complaints. When the Romani men refused the offer, the officers reportedly made unspecified threats. According to the Skopje-based daily newspaper Dnevnik of February 28, 2003, the officers had been disciplined with fines amounting to the Macedonian denar equivalent of a mere 15 Euro per person. The fines were not, however, levied on grounds of physical abuse, but rather reportedly for the inadequate conduct of the investigation. Officials at the Macedonian Ministry of Interior have reportedly stated that the Ministry is conducting an investigation into the case.
On March 6, 2003, the ERRC sent a letter of concern to the Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski expressing concern that the reactions of the Macedonian authorities with the regards to recent reported cases of police abuse of Roma have been inadequate. The ERRC urged the Prime Minister to undertake measures to ensure that these reports of police abuse against Roma are thoroughly and impartially investigated, and that any and all persons guilty of crimes in connection with the cases are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, with any and all harmed parties receiving due just remedy, including all relevant damages. The full text of the letter can be viewed at: ERRC Letter of Concern to Macedonian Prime Minister Concerning Recent Roma Rights Abuses in Macedonia. As of April 30, 2003, the ERRC had received no response to its letter.
Also on March 6, 2003, a group of Macedonian activists and non-governmental human rights organisations published a declaration against police abuse in relation to the cases described above. The declaration condemned the misconduct of police officers, called for the dismissal of the heads of the Prilep and Kumanovo police, asked the Ministry of Interior for a public apology to victims, reminded the Ministry of its duty to respect the presumption of innocence and encouraged the Macedonian media to report on cases of police abuse. The declaration was signed by one hundred and fifty-two individuals and organisations.
Earlier, on September 18, 2002, Mr Zija Dalipov, a 38-year-old Romani man, reportedly was beaten by three police officers in Stip, central Macedonia. According to testimony provided to the ERRC and partner organisation Association for Human Rights Protection of Roma (Zdruzenie za pravata na Romite - ARRP) on September 19, 2002, at around 5:00 AM, Mr Dalipov brought his wife, Ms Amdije Vejselova, to the hospital in Stip for treatment. After Mr Dalipov told the doctor that Ms Vejselova, who had taken a mixture of nerve medication and alcohol, had cut him with a knife and he had grabbed the knife from her and cut her in reflex, the doctor notified the police. Mr Dalipov stated that three officers came to the hospital - one of whom he identified as Officer D.A. and the two unknown officers - handcuffed him and repeatedly hit and kicked him for around fifteen minutes, in the hallway of the hospital. Mr Dalipov was then taken to the Ĺ tip Police Station. According to Mr Dalipov, at the station, he was forced to face a wall and was tied to a radiator, at which time officers, whom he could not see, proceeded to beat him for approximately half an hour. After about two hours, the three officers took Mr Dalipov to his home to find the knife. At his home, Mr Dalipov testified, the officers beat him until he fell to the ground, in the presence of his mother, Ms Ramize Mustafova, and his uncle, Mr Bejzat Mustafov. Mr Dalipov was then pushed back into the police vehicle and taken back to the police station where he was kept for three hours before being released. Ms Mustafova notified the ERRC/ARRP of the incident. On the same day, Mr Dalipov was treated at the Stip Medical Centre surgical division, however, he did not get a medical certificate for his injuries because he did not have medical insurance and could not afford to pay for one. As of February 28, 2003, the ERRC/ARRP had written a criminal complaint at Mr Dalipov's request, but it had not been filed because Mr Dalipov had moved away from Stip.
In other news, on September 4, 2002, around twenty-five police officers attacked a group of approximately one hundred and fifty Roma and ethnic Macedonians, after the officers were called to the scene of a conflict between two Roma and five ethnic Macedonians in Kočani, eastern Macedonia, according to the testimony of Mr Erhan Hadzimintas, a 29-year-old Romani man, given to the ERRC/ARRP on September 5, 2002. According to Mr Hadzimintas, his taxicab was parked in an area for taxicabs in front of the market in Kočani when an ethnic Macedonian man identified as "Čarli" parked his car behind his taxicab. Mr Hadzimintas stated that he told Čarli that the area was not for private cars, but that Čarli ignored him, so he told him again. Čarli then reportedly got out of his car and punched Mr Hadzimintas. According to Mr Hadzimintas, he hit Čarli back in self-defence and they began to fight. Four ethnic Macedonians, one of whom was later found to be a friend of Čarli's, sitting in the Stole café on the other side of the parking zone, saw the fight and reportedly left the café and began beating Mr Hadzimintas. Mr Hadzimintas told the ERRC/ARRP that, after a few minutes, his 21-year-old brother Mirsad arrived at the scene and was hit hard on his head when he tried to rescue him. After approximately fifteen minutes, four or five police officers arrived. Mr Hadzimintas testified that one of the officers attacked him and Mirsad and attempted to arrest them without having first performed any investigation into the incident. However, at this time, around one hundred and fifty Roma and ethnic Macedonians had gathered at the scene and reportedly told the officers that Mr Hadzimintas and his brother had not started the fight, but had been provoked by Čarli. The gathered people then reportedly began chanting "Where are the rights of Roma? Why don't you protect Roma?" They also reportedly threw sticks at the officers, at which point, the police officers called for backup. According to Mr Hadzimintas, five minutes later another twenty police officers appeared. The officers began hitting people in the crowd with truncheons, causing injury to some them. At this time, 44-year-old Mr Veli Hadzimintas and 43-year-old Ms Mazlimsha Hadzimintas, Mr Hadzimintas' parents arrived at the scene. Mr Veli Hadzimintas informed the ERRC/ARRP that he entered the Stole café to get information on the fight in which his sons had been involved, and when he came back outside, he found his wife lying on the ground. Mr Veli Hadzimintas stated that Mazlimsha told him that a police officer had hit and pushed her, causing her to fall to the ground. Mr Veli Hadzimintas witnessed the police punching, kicking and hitting people in the crowd with truncheons. Among the injured parties were 18-year-old Mr Bajram Akiov, 30-year-old Mr Bahirat Akiov, 15-year-old Gokman Akiov, 31-year-old Mr Majer Gerchen, Ms Mazlimsha Hadzimintas and 28-year-old Mr Ferus Jusufov, all Romani. Bajram and Bahirat Akiov obtained medical certificates of their injuries, which were listed as light injuries, including abrasions on their backs, bruises and head pain. According to the police, three officers were injured during the incident. Mr Veli Hadzimintas, Mr Bahirat Akiov and Mr Jusufov were subsequently charged under Article 383 (2) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Macedonia, for attacking a law enforcement official. The trial, which commenced on November 21, 2002, was pending as of April 30, 2003, and the ERRC/ARRP was unaware of any legal actions undertaken against Čarli or the police officers involved in the incident.
On January 16, 2003, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe published its report on "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". While stating that the physical ill-treatment of persons detained by the state's law enforcement agencies remains "a serious problem", the Committee also added that "there is no guarantee that an effective investigation will be carried out, when it comes to the attention of judges and prosecutors, that a person may have sustained injuries while in police custody". The ERRC to date has filed two applications at the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Romani victims of police abuse in Macedonia. The cases are currently pending. For further information on violent and discriminatory actions against Roma in Macedonia, see the ERRC's Internet website at: www.errc.org.
(ARKA, ARRP, Dnevnik, ERRC)