Police abuse of Roma in Yugoslavia
10 April 2001
The Belgrade-based non-governmental organisation, Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) has reported that on March 5, 2001, an eighteen-year old Romani youth, Miroslav Milić, was arrested and physically abused by police officers in Belgrade. Mr Milić was arrested at his apartment at around noon by a plainclothes officer and taken to a local police station for the alleged theft of valuables from his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. The officer threatened Mr Milić, telling him that it would be better if he confessed, and also reportedly verbally abused his ethnicity. Another two plainclothes police officers entered the interrogation room and all three threatened Mr Milić.
According to reports, when Mr Milić refused to confess to the theft, the first officer ordered him to stand and place his hands on the desk and then struck him several times on the buttocks with a thick stick. A second officer then beat him a number of times, ultimately knocking him to the floor and kicking and punching him. A fourth officer entered the room as Mr Milić lay on the floor and struck him on the head with a pistol. The beating continued and Mr Milić was released at about 5:00 PM, approximately five hours after his arrest. Mr Milić was examined at the Belgrade Medical Center the next day and received a certificate attesting to the injuries he received. The HLC has filed a criminal complaint against the four unidentified police officers on Mr Milić’s behalf.
In another case, police officers in the town of Leskovac, southern Serbia, brutally abused eight Romani men — Mr Miroslav Ajdarević, Mr Trajče Bakić, Mr Miodrag Bakterović, Mr Sadrija Kurtić, Mr Srdjan Kurtić, Mr Sava Remić, Mr Daka Zekić, and Mr Dragiša Zekić — from the village of Vinarac, near Leskovac, on January 28 and 29, 2001, according to the Belgrade daily newspaper Danas of February 23, 2001. It was reported that the police arrested the group on January 28 during a raid in which they searched for illegal weapons. According to the Leskovac-based non-governmental organisations Human Rights Committee (Odbor za ljudska prava), and the Yugoslav Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (Jugoslovenski komitet pravnika za ljudska prava), which reported the case to the press, the police committed several irregularities during the raid, including entering and searching through private apartments without warrants. The men were detained and held for two days at a local police station, during which time the policemen beat the Roma, did not give them food or water, and left them handcuffed. Also, officers reportedly did not allow some members of the group to use the toilet. Mr Daka Zekić, a 76-year-old member of the group, was held at the police station from around 10 AM on January 27, until approximately 1 PM on January 29. During this period, a police inspector and several uniformed policemen slapped Mr Zekić in the face, punched and kicked him and hit him with their truncheons in the back. When returning Mr Zekić home, the police searched his flat once more, again without a warrant. The police arrested Mr Trajče Bakić on January 27 around 10:30 AM and held him until 9:30 PM on the same day, without water, food, or toilet facilities. The inspector and an uniformed policeman reportedly took turns punching Mr Bakić in his head and back, as well as beating him with their truncheons on his palms and wrists. When Mr Bakić fell to the floor with pain, the police allegedly continued to kick him. The inspector reportedly insulted Mr Bakić’s ethnicity.
Only one member of the Romani group, Mr Miroslav Ajdarević, obtained a medical certificate, but reportedly with a twenty-day delay, as the doctors allegedly told him they were afraid of the police. The police arrested Mr Ajdarević on January 28 around 8 AM and held him until 11:30 AM on January 29. The police inspector in question beat Mr Ajda-rević with his fists and a truncheon in order to extort a confession, while Mr Ajdarević was handcuffed to a closet, according to the evidence of the victim. The certificate that Mr Ajdarević eventually received, however, reportedly states that Mr Ajdarević received only light injuries caused by a blunt object.
According to the newspaper, the lawyers of the Human Rights Committee and the Yugoslav Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights filed criminal charges against the Leskovac police officers for illegally obtaining a confession, unlawful search, and unlawful arrest. The police officers have reportedly threatened the Roma since the incident, but the Roma have decided to press on with their complaints. Additionally, according to Danas of February 26, the police of Leskovac have claimed that there was no abuse of the Roma arrested. The same source reported that an internal investigation is taking place within the Leskovac police force.
In other news, the Belgrade-based non-governmental organisation the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) reported that on December 14, 2000, at about 10:00 AM, three Romani men were arrested in their hometown of Zrenjanin and taken to the local police station. They were interrogated individually about the alleged theft of a drill machine, some cables and a bicycle. Mr Bastri Demović, Mr Milovan Biber-ković and Mr Elvis Demović all told the HLC that they were threatened with violence in order to make them confess, and that when they refused, officers beat them with truncheons. Mr Biber-ković stated that he was made to do press-ups and to kneel on a chair with his hands on a filling cabinet as two officers beat his back and buttocks. The three men were released at around 3:00 PM without charge.
The HLC has also reported that at the beginning of September 2000, Mr Dragan Durmić, a 21-year-old Romani man, was stopped in Belgrade, arrested by the police at 3:00 AM and taken to a police station, also in Belgrade. Mr Durmić told the HLC that he was put into a cell and left there for nine hours before the police came to question him. Officers then handcuffed him and attempted to force him to confess that his claim to be a member of the Yugoslav national kick-boxing team was a lie and that he was a criminal. When he refused, one of the two officers slapped and kicked him. Officers also tortured him with a device that administered electric shocks, which they used on his face and head. One officer also beat him about the head with a truncheon. Mr Durmić was released after an hour without being charged with any offence. The HLC has detailed a series of police abuses of Roma in the period August to December 2000, comprising both physical and verbal abuse and death threats. According to HLC, in the period, there were nine incidents of police violence in addition to the cases detailed above and two of verbal harassment and threats.
(Danas, ERRC, HLC, Human Rights Committee, Yugoslav Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights)