Failure of state protection in Yugoslavia

07 December 1999

The ERRC has recently received several reports of attacks on Roma by skinheads or other private actors, followed by inadequate measures by police. On November 8, 1999, a sixteen year old Romani girl was reportedly raped in the northern Yugoslav city of Novi Sad while walking to a nearby hair salon where she was an apprentice, according to the Novi Sad-based non-governmental organisation Roma Music. The girl, Ms F.A., told her older brother what had happened and he called the police. The police took her brother's statement and then allegedly advised him not to take her to the hospital until they had questioned her. The police then failed to take Ms F.A.'s statement until November 10, 1999, two days after the alleged assault. Ms F.A. attempted subsequently to commit suicide. According to Rroma Music, police have no record of the case

Police also failed to properly investigate the case of an assault on a Romani teacher on October 21, 1999. On that day, an unidentified man assaulted Ms Vesna Acković, a Romani teacher at a primary school in the Kaludjerica district of Belgrade, as she was leaving the school building. Ms Acković told the ERRC that as she left the school building at approximately 8:10 p.m., she was punched in the back. The force of the blow caused her to fall to the ground. Her attacker wore a hood over his head and he ran away immediately following the attack. As colleagues of Ms Acković were helping her get up, a group of skinheads standing nearby verbally abused her and insulted her ethnicity.

Ms Acković went back into the school building and reported the incident to school authorities, who immediately called the police. Although the nearest police station is very close to the school building, a police patrol reportedly did not arrive for almost an hour. Upon arrival at the scene, police told Ms Acković that they had caught three skinheads in the school yard, and asked her to identify the attacker. She was unable to do so, as she had not seen his face.

The following day, her husband, Mr Dragoljub Acković, a prominent Romani intellectual and president of the Roma Congress Party, contacted the local police station to get information on the development of the case. Police reportedly told him that, according to the testimony on record, his wife was only "pushed" from behind. Also, police reportedly told Mr Acković that they had no record of either a group of skinheads or racist abuse in the written statement of Ms Acković. When Ms Acković requested to see the written transcript of her testimony, police allegedly refused. They did, however, provide her with the name of the suspect.

On Saturday, October 23, the Belgrade daily Blic reported that Belgrade police had stated that they had identified 16-year-old P.P. as the attacker. According to the police statement, Ms Acković was pushed accidentally in a crowded school yard, by a student who was running to catch a bus. In the statement, police insisted that P.P. was not a skinhead, denied racial motivation in the attack, and accused Ms Acković of "sensationalism". Witnesses to the attack state that the schoolyard was nearly empty when the incident occurred, as it was after eight o'clock at night.

The harassment of Ms Acković has continued. According to her statement to the ERRC, in the evening of October 25, she was again verbally harassed by three skinheads on her way home from school.

ERRC research in Serbia has documented numerous skinhead attacks against Roma, the most publicised case being the killing of fourteen-year-old Dušan Jovanović in October 1997 (see "Notebook", Roma Rights, Spring 1998). In most cases, Serbian authorities have attempted to downplay the extent and the nature of racially motivated attacks, and most cases remain without adequate legal remedy. On October 28, the ERRC sent a letter of concern to Mr Vlajko Stojiljković, Serbian Minister of Interior, urging his office to ensure that the attacks on Ms Acković, as well as all other reported racially motivated attacks, are thoroughly investigated and perpetrators prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. According to the Belgrade-based Roma Information and Documentation Center (RDIC), the Roma Congress Party sent an open letter to Minister Stojiljković on November 16, protesting the lack of protection of Roma against skinhead attacks, and noting that five such incidents had taken place since October 20. Among them is the attack on Nikola Jovanović, a Romani boy from the village of Mali Mokri Lug near Belgrade. After a skinhead attacked Nikola, the skinhead's father also allegedly threatened Nikola's parents. In consequence, Nikola's parents withdrew the boy, who attended eighth grade, from school. Out of fear of skinhead attacks, the parents of several other Romani children decided not to let their children attend school, according to the RDIC.

(Blic, ERRC, RDIC, Rroma Music)


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