The UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment, stayed in Serbia and Kosovo during the period from November 13th to November 24th, and visited several institutions housing persons deprived of freedom. On that occasion, he visited institutions for the enforcement of criminal sanctions, police stations, social welfare institutions housing persons with intellectual and/or psychological difficulties, as well as temporary refugee centers. The first available report of the Special Rapporteur1 indicates that persons in police custody in Serbia are at the highest risk of mistreatment. He further states:
“It is with great concern that I note that my team and I have received numerous and consistent allegations of abuse by the police, in particular as a means of extorting confessions during a detention hearing. The detainees said they were slapped, beaten with fists and batons, kicked and threatened with firearms … I received a few allegations about detainees who claimed to have been forced to sign confessions they weren’t allowed to read beforehand, sometimes not only of the acts they were arrested for, but for other crimes that were left unresolved, despite having no connection to them. On the basis of these confessions, they said that they were offered plea agreements allowing them to avoid or reduce their prison sentences or turn them into fines.
According to these allegations, if the detainees reported the abuse and physical injuries inflicted on them to a judge or prosecutor, the police officers’ claims that they were acting in self-defence would be accepted at face value without any forensic medical examination, leaving the victims of the abuse without an effective legal remedy. Based on interviews with health workers in institutions for the enforcement of criminal sanctions, and based on their own analysis of individual medical records, the forensic expert who accompanied my mission found that it was unlikely that the injuries, which were consistent with the defendants’ allegations, could have occurred in self-defence. After having collected and evaluated these allegations to the best of my abilities, I conclude that there are credible indications of frequent, but not systematic or widespread, abuse taking place in police custody in Serbia, as well as an absence of effective independent oversight and insufficient expertise of medical personnel in examining, documenting, and interpreting physical and psychological signs of torture and other ill-treatment.”
The Special Rapporteur also found that detention of suspects in certain detention facilities at police stations may constitute cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment and should be suspended without delay. In addition, he said that some prisons in Serbia are still overcrowded, and that people with intellectual and/or psychological difficulties are accommodated in social welfare institutions, where they are often left for the rest of their lives, without the possibility of challenging their detainment before a court.
The forced return of asylum seekers from Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade to countries where they are threatened with abuse based solely on the “personal impression” of the members of the border police, in the opinion of the Rapporteur, constitutes a risk of arbitrariness and can lead to violation of the principle of prohibition of deportation of refugees to situations in which their life or freedom would be at risk. The complaint mechanisms regarding the conduct of the police, administration for the execution of criminal sanctions and commissariats for refugees available to citizens are not independent, while the perpetrators of abuse almost always remain unpunished.
These findings are not a novelty and such practices have been written about before, among others, on Pescanik.2 What deserves attention is the fact that the Republic of Serbia and its law and order enforcement organs have been suffering from the same chronic illness for years. From the 1990s to the present, indications of abuse, primarily by the police, inadequate legal framework, absence or inefficacy of basic protection measures (access to an attorney at an early stage of detainment and during the hearing, the right to a medical examination, etc.), as well as a number of other omissions appear regularly in the documents of various bodies for the protection of human rights addressed to the current proud candidate for membership in the European Union.
Suffocation using plastic bags, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, beatings on the body and soles, slapping, and threatening with firearms are just some of the “operational tactical measures” that the Ministry of the Interior has resorted to in order to solve crimes. All this depicts a dark image of a state body whose basic duty is to protect the safety of all citizens, an image that the media and the public rarely deal with.
Since the Rapporteur’s findings for Kosovo are almost identical, it turns out that Serbia and Kosovo, or as we say in Newspeak, Belgrade and Pristina, have much more in common than they are willing to admit. First, the entire politics of all governments in both countries is completely subordinate to the interests of the majority. The interests of ethnic, religious, or any other minority groups are marginally represented, if they exist in the official politics at all.
Furthermore, in addition to solidarity with their own war criminals, belief that a joint enterprise can be criminal only when implemented by the other side, the links between politics, crime, and capital, a democracy which is reduced to the summation of ballots, corruption that permeates the whole society, and the efforts of the majority of normal people to move abroad as soon as possible, Serbia and Kosovo share something else.
It is, of course, the routine recourse to violence to extort confessions or other information from suspected perpetrators of crimes, neglecting the rights of persons deprived of freedom, and the impossibility of establishing any form of independent institutions and mechanisms. Therefore, these two countries have much more in common than they have differences, and the statement that Kosovo is Serbia or Serbia is Kosovo, however you prefer it, can rightly be deemed true.
Translated by Marijana Simic