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UN Torture Committee Again Rules Against Police Abuse of Roma in Serbia and Montenegro

16 November 2005

Government Instructed to Undertake Urgent Investigation

On 16 November 2005, the United Nations Committee against Torture ("Committee") determined that Serbia and Montenegro violated the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment ("Convention"). The Committee concluded that Mr. Danilo Dimitrijevic, a Romani citizen of Serbia and Montenegro, was subjected to acts of torture as defined by the Article 1 of the Convention. Mr. Dimitrijevic was jointly represented by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), Belgrade, and European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), Budapest.

On 14 November 1997, around 12:00, Mr. Dimitrijevic was arrested at his home in Novi Sad and taken to the Police Station on Marka Kraljevica Street. He was presented no arrest warrant, nor did he receive any explanation as to why he was being taken into custody. Since a criminal case was pending against him at the time, Mr. Dimitrijevic did not question the arrest. Upon arrival at the police station, he was locked in a room where, around half an hour later, an unidentified man in civilian clothes entered the office and ordered him to strip to his underwear, handcuffed him to a metal bar attached to a wall, and proceeded to beat him with a police truncheon for over an hour. He sustained numerous injuries, in particular on his thighs and back.

Mr. Dimitrijevic spent the next three days tied to the metal pole in the same room, and was denied food and water, as well as the possibility to use the lavatory. Although he requested medical attention, and his injuries visibly required such attention, Mr. Dimitrijević was not provided with any.

He was brought before a judge only three days latter, for a hearing on the charges of larceny against him. When the judge saw Mr. Dimitrijevic's condition, he ordered the police officers to take him immediately to a forensic specialist to establish the nature and severity of the injuries. However, police officers disregarded the judge's instructions and presented Mr. Dimitrijevic with a release order, which incorrectly stated that he was arrested on 14 November 1997 at 23:00, although he had been taken into custody eleven hours earlier.

Upon his release, Mr. Dimitrijevic, shocked and frightened by the experience, did not immediately seek medical attention. However, he did have photographs taken of his injuries.

On 24 November 1997, and having consulted a lawyer, Mr. Dimitrijevic went to the Clinical Centre of the Novi Sad Forensic Medicine Institute, to determine the nature and severity of the wounds. The medical report, however, has never been provided to Mr. Dimitrijevic, nor has his lawyer ever seen it in the case files.

On 24 November 1997, Mr. Dimitrijevic filed a criminal complaint with the Municipal Public Prosecutor's Office in Novi Sad. He gave a detailed account of the incident and claimed that the following crimes had been committed: "extraction of statements, civil injury and slight bodily harm". Despite many inquiries as to the status of his complaint, he received no response from the authorities. Consequently, in August 2000, the ERRC and the HLC jointly filed a communication with the Committee on behalf of Mr. Dimitrijevic.

On 16 November 2005, eight years after the incident at issue took place, the Committee found that the police brutality to which Mr. Dimitrijevic had been subjected amounted to torture. It characterized his beatings as "severe pain or suffering intentionally inflicted by public officials". The Committee also found Serbia and Montenegro in violation of its obligation to carry out a prompt and impartial investigation of the victim's complaint of torture and in addition held that by failing to investigate the criminal complaint, the State had in effect also deprived Mr. Dimitrijevic of the possibility of filing a successful civil suit for compensation. In conclusion, the Committee established violations of Article 2 taken together with Articles 1, 12, 13 and 14 of the Convention and requested that the authorities conduct a proper investigation into the abuses of Mr. Dimitrijevic, and to inform the Committee of progress made within 90 days.

This is the third ruling by this body in less than a year to address the same issue in the same country. In Serbia and Montenegro, police impunity is still widespread and Roma continue to suffer disproportionately from such abuse.

For additional details regarding this decision, please contact Dianne Post, ERRC Legal Director (e-mail: dianne.post@errc.org, phone:+361 413 2200) and/or Sandra Orlovic, HLC Human Rights Project Coordinator (e-mail: humanrights@hlc.org.yu, phone: +38111 344 4313).

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