Legal Action in Romani Cases in Serbia and Montenegro
16 December 2004
On August 6, 2004, the ERRC, together with its Belgrade-based partner organisations humanitarian Law Center (HLC) and Minority Rights Center (MRC), filed a criminal complaint against six residents of the GEOGRAPHY village of Lužane, accusing them of expelling thirty-six Roma from the village, and against two police officers for failing to take appropriate action during and after the ethnically motivated incident.
The Halić family, Muslim Roma, lived in Lužane until August 9, 2003, when they were forced to leave their homes and move to another village. Soon after the cessation of NATO bombing in 1999, the family became the target of threats and slurs against their ethnicity and religious affiliation by non-Romani neighbours. During the afternoon of August 9, several non-Roma, including R.Đ., M.Đ., G.Đ., and Z.M., began throwing stones and bricks at the houses of the Roma and entered their compound. After a brief argument, the assailants began to disperse but, according to an eyewitness, one of the attackers, Ž.S., urged them to stay, saying “Where are you going? It’s now or never! Here are sticks and metal bars. Kill them! Set fires! Let’s get it over with finally!” He began tearing up fence posts and gave one man a metal bar. The assailants went back into the compound and indiscriminately beat everyone with whom they came into contact. One of the Romani women called the Aleksinac Police Station and was told that police would soon arrive. However, by the time the police came to Lužane, only one of the attackers, B.V., was still at the scene. The police wrote an incomplete and inaccurate report according to which the whole incident took place on the road. It is not mentioned in the police report that B.V. was in the compound when the police arrived nor the role played by Ž.S. While the police were writing their report, several of the attackers returned and continued to insult the Roma. One of the women pointed this out to an officer, who replied, “Of course he’s insulting you when you’re just standing there. Get away from here!” The Roma asked for police protection because of the threat to burn their homes down, to which one of the officers said, “Don’t worry. We have a fire brigade. If you’re scared, move in with your fellow Roma in Tešica.” Afraid and understanding that they would receive no protection from the police, all thirty-six members of the Halić family left their homes and property. The village of Lužane is now without any Romani residents.
Earlier, on August 3, 2004, the ERRC/HLC/MRC filed a criminal complaint against two police officers for abusing a Romani man and insulting him on ethnic grounds. On February 24, 2004, Bekim Šaini and his relatives Saša Ilijevski, Šami Haškaj, and Sebastijan Šaini went to a shopping centre in the Novi Beograd district of Belgrade. Mr Ilijevski, who had a large sum of money with him, parted from the rest, but did not return at the agreed time. Mr B. Šaini, Mr Haškaj and Mr S. Šaini began looking for him, running through the mall, shouting his name. A police officer stopped them and, after checking their identity cards, asked Mr B. Šaini where he had stolen the jeans he had just purchased. Mr B. Šaini told the officer he had paid for the jeans and, using slang, asked to go so he could continue looking for Mr Ilijevski. Considering Mr B. Šaini’s use of slang offensive, the officer led him into a store where there was another police officer. Mr B. Šaini was taken to the centre’s security office where one of the officers hit him on the head, causing him to fall down. The officer used abusive language and cursed Šaini’s “Gypsy mother”. Mr B. Šaini asked why he was being mistreated and the officer accused him of cursing his mother. When he denied doing so, the officer tried to push him into the toilet but Mr B. Šaini resisted. Mr B. Šaini was then released and told never to enter in the shopping centre again. On February 25, Mr B. Šaini filed a complaint against the two officers with the Belgrade Police Department. He later learned that a disciplinary hearing had been conducted at the Novi Beograd Police Station.
(ERRC, HLC, MRC)