UN Committee against Torture Finds Montenegrin Authorities in Flagrant Breach of Human Rights Standards

23 January 2003

January 22, 2003, Podgorica, Montenegro: The Geneva-based United Nations Committee against Torture has found the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in violation of several provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) announced today in Podgorica. The Committee did so on the basis of an application submitted jointly by the ERRC, HLC, and attorney Dragan Prelevic, on behalf of 65 Romani men, women and children, and in relation to a 1995 incident concerning the total destruction of an entire Romani settlement in the town of Danilovgrad, Montenegro. (Hajrizi Dzemajl et al. v. the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, CAT/C/29/D/161/2000).

On April 14 and 15, 1995, following an alleged rape of a local non-Romani girl by two Romani youngsters, several hundred non-Roma gathered and, with the acquiescence of the municipal authorities and the police proceeded to destroy the Romani settlement in Bozova Glavica, Danilovgrad. 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.

According to newspaper reports, the day after the pogrom the then President of the Danilovgrad Municipal Assembly went out of his way to praise those who took part in the anti-Roma violence, declaring publicly that the citizens of Danilovgrad "know how to punish when their honor and dignity are at stake". Several days following the incident, the debris of the Roma 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 the Roma had to leave the town in mortal fear was clearly not taken into account by their employers.

With regard to the pogrom itself, and despite a preliminary investigation, no one was ever indicted. Similarly, the labor dispute for wrongful termination of employment and the civil case for damages, both filed by Danilovgrad Roma, are still pending. Hence, more then seven years following the incident, the Romani victims of the Danilovgrad tragedy have yet to receive any redress whatsoever.

On November 11, 1999, on behalf of 65 Romani victims of the Danilovgrad Pogrom, the ERRC, HLC, and attorney Dragan Prelevic jointly filed an application with the UN Committee against Torture. On November 21, 2002, the Committee rendered its decision, finding that -- the burning and destruction of houses constitute -- acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment -- [as well as that] -- the nature of these acts is further aggravated by the fact that some of the complainants were still hidden in the settlement when the houses were burnt and destroyed, the particular vulnerability of the alleged victims and the fact that the acts were committed with a significant level of racial motivation".

In addition, the Committee found that the police, although they were aware of the danger and were present at the scene of the events, did not take any steps to protect the complainants, thus implying their acquiescence with the pogrom that ensued. The Committee reiterated its concerns about "inaction by police and law-enforcement officials who fail to provide adequate protection against racially motivated attacks when such groups have been threatened".

The Committee stressed that, despite the participation of several hundred non-Roma in the events and the presence of a number of police officers, no participant or police officer was ever brought to trial. It requested that authorities conduct a proper investigation into the incident, prosecute and punish those responsible, and provide redress to the victims. The authorities are to inform the Committee within 90 days of the steps taken to comply with its decision.

This landmark ruling, described by Gloria Jean Garland, ERRC Legal Director, as the single most important decision ever adopted by the UN Committee against Torture, is of particular significance to Roma but is also of more general relevance to all other victims of human right abuse. On this occasion, the Committee made clear that torture, inhuman and/or degrading treatment or punishment has to be seen in a positive obligations context. States have a duty not only to refrain from such acts themselves, but also to prevent and suppress human rights violations between private individuals as well as to provide redress to victims of abuse perpetrated by non-state actors.

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