Roma held in detention without charges for over one year in Kosovo

On October 21, 2000, Mr Agim Gashi, Mr Lulzim Gashi, and Mr Bajram Gashi were released from detention when the Prizren District Court finally determined, after twelve and a half months, that there was insufficient evidence to indict them. The Gashi brothers were arrested on October 7, 1999, suspected of war crimes and murder on numerous counts. They were held in the Prizren Detention Center until it was determined that conditions in the Prizren center were unsafe for minority detainees. They were subsequently moved to the Mitrovica Detention Center. In Mitrovica, they waited without information from the court while an investigating judge was charged with raising an indictment. On October 7, 2000, their detention became incontestably illegal when it exceeded the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo's (UNMIK) extended one-year limit on pre-indictment detention. After an international prosecutor in Prizren obtained a translated copy of their case, a release was granted and put into effect on October 21. The Gashi family happened to be visiting the Mitrovica Detention Center on that day, and the brothers went with them to Belgrade.

The year-long limit on pre-indictment detention is intended to be used only under exceptional circumstances. The Yugoslav Criminal Code, applicable in Kosovo except where UNMIK regulations override its provisions, allows only six months' detention before indictment. Evidence suggests that the judge investigating the Gashi brothers' cases requested an extension at the end of each three-month detention period without a serious review, and that, in turn, rather than reviewing the facts of their case, the panel in charge of extensions simply approved these requests. A recent OSCE review of Kosovo's criminal justice system confirms that extension of the detention period of pre-indictment detainees is standard practice. During the period under review, each of 71 requests to extend pre-indictment detention made by investigating judges were granted. OSCE notes that this practice of requesting extensions is frequently used for cases involving members of minority groups.

In other Roma-related news from Kosovo, a car with two adults and seven Romani children was stopped by Kosovo Force (KFOR) soldiers at a check point in western Kosovo on September 24, 2000, according to a KFOR press release of September 25. UNMIK police and Italian Military Police arrested the two adults on charges of kidnapping. The Romani children were later returned to their parents in Djakovica, in south-western Kosovo, by a KFOR patrol. The ERRC has been unable to obtain information as to whether anyone was charged with crimes in connection with the incident.

(ERRC, KFOR, OSCE, UNMIK)

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