It seems that the citizens who voted for the leader at the last elections are somewhat stunned by his decision to offer hospitality to two former inmates of the US military prison Guantanamo. The impression is that the initial explanation of the technical prime minister and prime minister-designate that this practice is normal and usual wasn’t enough to appease his electorate. In his usual manner, he asked a rhetorical question about whether we’re part of the world or not and said that he’s dying of laughter. His minister of labor further explained that, among other things, that’s our contribution to the closing of this torture chamber.
So, one could say that this act is our humble contribution to the global efforts to eradicate torture and salve, as much as possible, its consequences. If this is the case, one could legitimately question the honesty and expediency of this act. Namely, if a country is determined to contribute to the eradication of torture in the world, it makes sense for it to start locally, i.e. to prevent or at least reduce to a minimum the psychological and physical violence practiced by its own officials and start punishing violators and rehabilitating the victims, if such violence happens. This is its international and moral obligation.
What is the present situation regarding this issue in Serbia? Acting on individual appeals, the UN Committee against torture found that Serbia is responsible for violations of the Convention against torture in six cases, three of which were characterized as torture (deliberate affliction of pain and suffering by police officials in order to extort a confession). In all three cases, the victims were Serbian citizens of Roma origin. European court of human rights has also established similar violations in three cases. The first international institution dealing with torture prevention which visited Serbia was the UN Committee against torture in 2002. They visited several prisons and police stations, talked to the victims of torture, state officials and civil society representatives and established that the torture was used systematically prior to 2000, while after 2000 the use of torture hasn’t been systematic. According to the committee against torture, the systematic character of torture is reflected in the fact that its use is common, wide spread and intentional. Still, this mission also found many allegations of torture after 2000. The European committee for prevention of torture, an institution established within the Council of Europe, authorized to make unannounced visits to places holding persons deprived of freedom (police stations, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, etc.), has visited Serbia regularly since 2004. In their field visit reports in 2004, 2007, 2011, and 2015, they made consistent conclusions based on immediate insights and conversations with inmates, suggesting that torture is used in prisons and police stations. Also during these visits, the members of the Committee found so-called nonstandard objects (baseball bats, metal rods, knives, etc.) in police station interrogation rooms.
A report on the visit made in 2015 is particularly striking:
“A significant number of statements of physical abuse of suspects in criminal proceedings by the police were recorded. Alleged torture included, most of all, slaps, kicks, hits with nightsticks, but also hits with nonstandard objects, prolonged use of handcuffs in stress positions, placing plastic bags over suspects’ heads in order to cause suffocation, electroshocks and so-called falaca”.1
For those who don’t know, falaca is an ancient method of physical torture which includes hits against a person’s naked feet.
A significant number of allegations of unduly force are recorded in prisons where inmates claimed that disobedient inmates are slapped, kicked, and hit with nightsticks.
A situation which happened a couple of months ago should be added to this: a beneficiary of the “Veternik” home for children and youth with mental disorders burnt to death in a locked room where he was held illegally.
Not only are these things happening in Serbia in 2016, but their perpetrators remain unpunished.
It’s interesting that torture methods used in Serbian institutions resemble interrogation techniques used by the CIA in Guantanamo, the American prison whose closing the prime minister and his labor minister are supposedly enabling. Still, the basic paradox is the fact that the state hosting the victims of torture by another state’s officials is doing nothing to prevent or eliminate the consequences of torture by its own officials.
Given all this, I think it most appropriate to paraphrase Dusko Radovic (Before you change the world, fix the faucet in your apartment): Before you start working on closing Guantanamo in Cuba, close the torture chambers in your own country.
Translated by Marijana Simic
- All reports of the Committee for prevention of torture are available at http://www.cpt.coe.int/en/states/srb.htm