Recently, on January 24th, the Government of Serbia, contrary to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights on temporary ban on extradition, extradited to the Kingdom of Bahrein its citizen Ali Ahmed Jaffar Mohammed. With such an action, which is inadmissible from the standpoint of minimum legal standards, it has undoubtedly seriously embarrassed itself and our country.
And since Serbia is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and the decisions of the Strasbourg court are binding for it, the government inevitably faced a request from the court to explain its scandalous act. And they did not miss the opportunity to embarrass us even more with the content of the statement they submitted to the European Court of Human Rights through the State Attorney’s Office.
Although it sounds almost unbelievable, practically every point in the Government’s response to the European Court is unacceptable. Some because they are, to put it mildly, completely ridiculous, some because they are inaccurate. Together they are embarrassing for the Government which sends such an answer and, inevitably, for the state that that Government represents.
This is primarily true for the main explanation that the citizen of Bahrain was extradited because Serbia received the court’s decision too late, and that the failure to act on the court’s decision was due to the short time between delivery of the decision and extradition. It is indisputable that the competent authorities of Serbia received the court’s decision on the temporary ban on extradition on January 21, and that they carried out the extradition on January 24. That is why this answer is completely unconvincing. In the 21st century, the so-called age of electronics, are three days not enough for the Government to get acquainted with the decision of the court? Especially since this government always brags about its achievements in the field of electronic communication. The government should be aware that such an answer, even if someone is ready to accept it, presents Serbia’s ability to fulfill its obligations in a tragicomic and humiliating light.
Secondly, it is common knowledge that court decisions on interim measures are made in order to prevent the occurrence of damage that could be irreparable. In this specific case, it was made evident that such damage could be reflected in the inhuman and degrading treatment and torture of the extradited. As an opponent of the ruling autocratic regime, he has been detained and tortured before. He suffered severe bodily injuries in 2011 when the army and police brutally broke up peaceful protests in the Bahraini capital, killing and wounding large numbers of people. And in his absence, in two separate trials conducted in 2013 and 2015, he has been sentenced to life in prison. In such circumstances, the extradition carried out contrary to the decision of the European Court is truly shameful. This is all the more so because our Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection (Article 6, paragraph 3) explicitly stipulates that even when formal conditions for extradition exist, “no one may be returned against his or her will to a territory where there is a risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” and our Law on International Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters (Article 33, paragraph 2) instructs the Minister of Justice to issue a decision not allowing extradition “if the trial in absence of said person didn’t guarantee conditions for a fair trial.”
In the end, it is not only untrue, but also cynical that the Government’s statement says that the extradited person didn’t even submit a request for asylum, even though this is not relevant in the presence of a temporary court measure. There is written evidence in the documentation of the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, which provided him with assistance since the beginning, that the extradited person applied for asylum and failed to submit a formal request simply because the authorities did not allow him access to the asylum procedure. In fact, this means that the authorities, in addition to ignoring the decision of the European Court, also more or less directly violated and circumvented the constitutional guarantees on the right to asylum, the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection and the Law on International Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters.
An open and gross violation of international legal obligations, even if it’s just a single individual case, is always and everywhere a hint of the future or, more likely, a confirmation of an already present, less conspicuous but even more gross violation of such obligations, as well as national constitution and laws. This is even more true if it keeps happening, which is the case with the Government of Serbia (the UN Committee against Torture condemned Serbia for the scandalous extradition of the Kurdish political activist Xhevdet Ajaz to Turkey). This is extremely dangerous even for a country with a severely collapsed legal order, on both an international and a domestic level. Internationally, because it embarrasses the country and destroys what is left of its reputation, and internally because it further relativizes the great and growing legal uncertainty. That is why this case should concern all of us, even though it does not seem so to the majority of the citizens overwhelmed by other everyday problems.
Translated by Marijana Simic