Romani Boy Tortured, Burned to Death in Albania

12 October 1996

At 9:00 PM on Wednesday July 17, 1996, Fatmir Haxhiu, a 15-year old Romani boy from Yzberisht, was covered by benzine and burnt by four young ethnic Albanians in Tirana. Following the attack, 55% of his body was covered in 3rd degree burns. He died from his wounds in hospital several days later.

According to a statement made to the ERRC by the victim 31 hours before his death, Fatmir, his 13-year old brother, Lulezim and a friend of theirs, Flamur Hida, were going to meet a friend to try out a motorcycle before buying it. Fatmir was carrying 1,5 liter of benzine in a plastic bottle and 2000 leks (around 22 USD).

After walking into a narrow street near the railway station, a beige van with the yellow license plates of a public institution blocked their way. When Fatmir saw the car stopping, he threw away his purse and the plastic bottle of benzine. Three young Albanian men, armed with meat cleavers and scythes got out of the car and demanded money from Fatmir and the two younger boys. When Fatmir said that they did not have money, the three men forced them to get into the car and started to drive. One or more of the men beat the three boys. After about 5 minutes, they arrived at a field where the boys were forced out of the car. Two of the men held the smaller brother and his friend while the third man put the scythe around the neck of Fatmir and said „give me your money". He swore at him several times, calling him „dirty Gypsy". The men then forced Fatmir to undress and took his clothes to humiliate him. They took the shirts of the smaller boys as well.

Another car arrived somewhat later and a fourth man joined the three attackers. He had with him the same bottle of benzine which the boys had thrown away. When the attackers learned that the bottle contained benzine, they accused Fatmir of wanting to burn houses in the neighborhood. The torture of Fatmir and his friends lasted approximately three hours, during which time the boys were also threatened with being shot by a gun the men claimed they were carrying in the car.

Finally, one of the men then poured benzine on Fatmir's head and set him on fire. The men then fled the scene of the crime. Fatmir burned for several minutes before he and the other boys managed to douse the flames. A person from a local printing house brought the three boys to the hospital. The hospital notified the police.

Fatmir Haxhiu died in the hospital at 4:00 AM on July 21 as a result of his wounds. The local daily newspaper Gazeta Shqiptare initially reported that two men had been arrested in connection with the case. Albanian General Prosecutor Alush Draghoshi, responding to a letter of concern by the ERRC, informed us on September 2, 1996, that this was not true. According to Mr. Draghoshi, an investigation was in progress and one of the perpetrators, Mr. Fatos Cobani, had been arrested. The ERRC has requested that it be kept informed of developments in the case. We have since learned that Mr. Cobani has been charged with premeditated murder under Article 88 of the Albanian Penal Code, a crime punishable by 3–10 years in prison.


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