Montenegrin Government Agrees to Pay 985,000 Euro in Compensation to Pogrom Victims
In among the most significant Roma rights victories to date, the Montenegrin Government agreed on 19 June 2003 to pay in compensation 985 000 Euro to 74 Romani victims of the Danilovgrad tragedy - a notorious 1995 pogrom involving mob-violence and the total destruction of an entire Romani neighborhood. The award follows a decision adopted by the United Nations Committee against Torture (Committee) on 21 November 2002 expressly finding the Montenegrin authorities in violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and requesting that they provide the victims with comprehensive redress, including fair and adequate compensation (Hajrizi Dzemajl et al. v. Yugoslavia, CAT/C/29/D/161/2000). In the proceedings before the Committee, the victims were represented jointly by the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) and Dragan Prelevic, an attorney from Podgorica.
On 14 and 15 April 1995, following an alleged rape of a non-Romani girl by two Romani youths, several hundred non-Roma gathered and, with the acquiescence of the municipal authorities and the police, destroyed 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 Romani 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. (For further details of the case, please see ERRC: UN Committee Against Torture Finds Montenegrin Authorities in Flagrant Breach of Human Rights Standards.
On 19 March 2003, in a written response to the Committee, the Montenegrin Government expressed its willingness to consider a civil damages settlement. On 8 May 2003, the ERRC and the HLC sent a joint letter to Mr. Milo Djukanovic, Prime Minister of the Republic of Montenegro, expressing concern about the continuing absence of redress and stressing that a just civil damages settlement must take into account the gravity of the violations at issue and be based on genuine respect for human rights. On 19 June 2003, the Montenegrin Government adopted a decision to pay 985 000 Euro in compensation, including costs, to the 74 Romani victims of the Danilovgrad pogrom.
The ERRC and the HLC welcome this decision and recognize in it an affirmation of the Government's commitment to justice and the rule of law. According to ERRC Senior Staff Attorney Branimir Plese, who was involved in the litigation, "The decision restores dignity of the victims of this terrible crime. In addition, this case must also serve as an example to other countries in the region where numerous Romani victims are yet to obtain redress for abuse suffered".