UN CAT Rules Serbia and Montenegro in Violation of Convention Against Torture
01 February 2006
On June 29, 2005, the United Nations Committee Against Torture ruled that Serbia and Montenegro (successors to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia against which the original complaint was filed) violated the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The decision involves the arbitrary detention and extreme physical abuse of Mr. Jovica Dimitrov, a Romani man, as well as the failure by Serbian authorities to provide justice in the case.
In the early morning hours of February 5, 1996, Mr. Jovica Dimitrov, a Romani man, was arrested at his home in Stanka Paunovica Street 15, Novi Sad, and taken to the police station in Kraljevica Marka Street. The arresting officer presented no arrest warrant nor did he inform Mr. Dimitrov as to why he was being taken into custody.
Upon arrival at the police station, Mr. Dimitrov was taken to the Homicide Division. During the ensuing interrogation, the arresting officer struck Dimitrov repeatedly with a baseball bat and a steel cable, and kicked and punched him all over his body. At times Dimitrov lost consciousness. With brief breaks on several occasions, the abuse lasted from 6:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M., leaving Dimitrov with numerous injuries on his buttocks and left shoulder. Sometime after 7:30 P.M., he was released, again without being given an arrest warrant or a release order, or being told of the reason for his arrest and detention.
On November 7, 1996, Mr. Dimitrov filed a criminal complaint with the Novi Sad Municipal Public Prosecutor's Office, alleging that in the incident at issue an unidentified police officer had committed the violence. It was only on September 17, 1999, more than three and a half years (43 months) following the incident at issue, and 34 months since the criminal complaint was filed, that the Novi Sad Municipal Public Prosecutors Office requested the investigating judge of the Novi Sad Municipal Court to undertake certain preliminary "investigatory actions".
The investigating judge of the Novi Sad Municipal Court accepted the public prosecutor's request and opened a separate case file (Ki 393/99). However, eleven months after the investigating judge opened the case file, and four and a half years after the original incident occurred, the local authorities still had not identified the perpetrators. The European Roma Rights Centre and the Humanitarian Law Centre therefore brought the case to the UN Committee Against Torture on August 29, 2000.
In its decision, the Committee held that the allegations constitute torture within the meaning of Article 1 of the Convention. The Committee also found that the State party violated Articles 12 and 13 in failing to carry out a prompt and impartial criminal investigation and ensuring that the applicant has a right to complaint and his allegations promptly examined by competent authorities. Mr. Dimitrov was also prevented from any possibility of filing a civil suit for compensation, which violates Article 14. The State party was urged to conduct a proper investigation and to inform the Committee within 90 days of the decision and next steps.