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ERRC/HLC/MRC Legal Action in Serbian Forced Eviction Case - Serbian Police Abuse Roma in the Course of Large-Scale Forced Eviction in Belgrade

17 December 2004

Today, 17 December 2004, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) together with Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) and Minority Rights Center (MRC) filed a joint communication with the United Nations Committee against Torture against Serbia and Montenegro relating to the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Mr. Besim Osmani by police officers during a forced eviction and demolition operation in 2000. The demotion operation resulted in the destruction of an entire Romani settlement.

Mr. Osmani was one of 107 Romani inhabitants of the "Antena" settlement, located on the outskirts of Belgrade. On 6 June 2000, the inhabitants of the settlement were notified in writing by local authorities that their dwellings were to be demolished and they were given until the end of the following day to move out. The inhabitants lived in poverty, and they could not find another place to live on such short notice.

On 8 June 2000, representatives of the municipality and around ten uniformed police officers came to the settlement to evict the inhabitants and demolish the buildings. Mr. Osmani and other Roma tried to persuade the police officers to wait until they had gathered their personal belongings. However, the authorities started to demolish the settlement with bulldozers. Soon thereafter, a group of five or six plainclothes policemen arrived and started beating the Roma while the uniformed officers stood by and shouted racist slurs. One of the plainclothes police officers slapped and hit Mr. Osmani several times in his abdomen while he was holding his four-year-old son. The child was also struck but fortunately did not sustain serious injuries. Subsequently, Mr. Osmani obtained a medical certificate confirming that he had sustained a hematome under his left arm and was advised to see a specialist for an examination of his abdomen.

As a result of this police operation, Mr. Osmani's home and personal belongings, including a minivan, were destroyed, and he and his wife and three small children were left homeless. For the first six months after the incident, Mr. Osmani and his family lived in a tent on the site of the destroyed settlement. Since 2002, they have lived in the basement of the building where Mr. Osmani works.

On 12 August 2000, the HLC filed a criminal complaint on behalf of Mr. Osmani. Fifteen months later and with no substantive action taken by the investigative authorities, the complaint was rejected. Since May 2001, Mr. Osmani has urged the Fourth Municipal Court in Belgrade on four occasions to conduct a thorough investigation. However, more than three years later and in spite of the existing evidence incriminating several police officers who abused the victim and sufficient information to identify them, no officer has been charged with a crime or indeed formally identified by the investigative authorities. As a result, Mr. Osmani was denied the right to a criminal remedy as well as to just compensation for the abuse suffered.

The communication to the Committee asserts that Serbia and Montenegro, as a State Party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, has violated Article 16(1) enshrining the protection from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and Articles 12, 13 and 14 taken together with Article 16(1) providing for the victim's right to a prompt and impartial investigation into his allegations of ill-treatment, comprehensive redress for the violations suffered and just compensation. 

For more details regarding this case, please contact Ioana Banu, ERRC Staff attorney (e-mail: ioana@errc.org, phone: +361 413 2200), Dragan Lalosevic, HLC Human Rights Project Coordinator (e-mail: draganl@hlc.org.yu, phone: +38111 344 4313) and/or Petar Antic, MRC Executive Director, (phone: +38111 644 206). 

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