ERRC and HLC Win Key UN Torture Case
09 December 2004
United Nations Committee against Torture Grants Redress to a Romani Man Abused in Police Custody in Serbia and Montenegro
On 24 November 2004, the Geneva-based United Nations Committee against Torture ("Committee") found Serbia and Montenegro in violation of several provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ("Convention"). The Committee made a finding of "torture" on the basis of a communication submitted jointly by the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) on behalf of Mr. Dragan Dimitrijevic, a Serbian citizen of Romani origin. Mr. Dimitrijevic was a victim of police brutality in an incident dating from 1999 but which has remained without a legal remedy to date, more than four years following the demise of the Milosevic regime in 2000.
On 27 October 1999, Mr. Dimitrijevic was arrested in his home in Kragujevac, Serbia, in connection with a criminal investigation. Upon his arrival at the local police station, Mr. Dimitrijevic was handcuffed to a radiator and beaten up by several police officers, some of whom he knew by name. The police officers kicked and punched Mr. Dimitrijevic all over his body while insulting his ethnic origins and cursing his "Gypsy mother". One of the officers struck Mr. Dimitrijevic with a large metal bar. Some time later, the officers unfastened Mr. Dimitrijevic from the radiator and handcuffed him to a bicycle. The officers then resumed punching and beating Mr. Dimitrijevic with their nightsticks and the metal bar. The beatings continued even when Mr. Dimitrijevic began bleeding from his ears. He was finally released some four and a half hours after his arrest. These acts, which caused Mr. Dimitrijevic great physical and mental suffering, were perpetrated for the ostensible purpose of extracting a confession. Ultimately, however, the authorities pressed no charges against Mr. Dimitrijevic.
As a result of his ill treatment, Mr. Dimitrijevic was bed-ridden for several days. He sustained injuries to both arms and legs and to his back, and an open wound on his head. His ears bled for many days and his eyes and lips were swollen. Fearing reprisals from the police, Mr. Dimitrijevic dared not go to the hospital to seek medical treatment.
In January 2000, Mr. Dimitrijevic filed a criminal complaint with respect to this ill treatment. Six months later, when he had received no response from the authorities, he inquired and requested an update. Still, the local prosecutors did not respond. Consequently, in December 2001, the ERRC and the HLC jointly filed a communication with the Committee on behalf of Mr. Dimitrijevic.
On 24 November 2004, 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 Mr. Dimitrijevic's abuse, and inform the Committee of progress made within 90 days.
The ERRC and the HLC consider this ruling important for all victims of police brutality in Serbia and Montenegro, where police impunity is still widespread and where Roma continue to suffer disproportionately from such abuse. In addition, the Committee's decision shows clearly that a state's inaction in the face of reasonable allegations of ill-treatment and/or torture is a violation of its legal obligations and will lead to international censure.
For additional details regarding this decision, please contact Branimir Plese, ERRC Legal Director (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone:+361 413 2200) and/or Dragan Lalosevic, HLC Human Rights Project Coordinator (e-mail: email@example.com, phone: +38111 344 4313).