MINELRES: ERRC: Roma Rights Victory in Yugoslav Torture Case

European Roma Rights Center minelres@lists.delfi.lv
Tue Jan 28 13:51:01 2003


UN Committee against Torture Finds Montenegrin Authorities in Flagrant
Breach of Human Rights Standards

January 22, 2003, Podgorica, Montenegro:

The Geneva-based United Nations Committee against Torture has found the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in violation of
several provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel,
Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the European Roma Rights
Center (ERRC) and the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) announced today in
Podgorica. The Committee did so on the basis of an application
submitted jointly by the ERRC, HLC, and attorney Dragan Prelevic, on
behalf of 65 Romani men, women and children, and in relation to a 1995
incident concerning the total destruction of an entire Romani settlement
in the town of Danilovgrad, Montenegro. (Hajrizi Dzemajl et al. v. the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, CAT/C/29/D/161/2000)

On April 14 and 15, 1995, following an alleged rape of a local
non-Romani girl by two Romani youngsters, several hundred non-Roma
gathered and, with the acquiescence of the municipal authorities and the
police proceeded to destroy the Romani settlement in Bozova Glavica,
Danilovgrad. Police simply stood by and did nothing as the pogrom
unfolded. The Roma were able to flee but their homes and other
belongings were ultimately burned or otherwise destroyed.

According to newspaper reports, the day after the pogrom the then
President of the Danilovgrad Municipal Assembly went out of his way to
praise those who took part in the anti-Roma violence, declaring publicly
that the citizens of Danilovgrad "know how to punish when their honor
and dignity are at stake”. Several days following the incident, the
debris of the Roma settlement was cleared away by heavy construction
machines of the Public Utility Company, thus obliterating all traces of
the existence of Roma in Danilovgrad.

In fear for their lives, the Danilovgrad Roma fled the town and moved to
the outskirts of Podgorica where most still live under terrible
conditions and in abject poverty. Moreover, in the aftermath of the
incident, several Roma were fired from the jobs they held in
Danilovgrad, under the excuse that they had stopped coming to work. The
fact that the Roma had to leave the town in mortal fear was clearly not
taken into account by their employers.

With regard to the pogrom itself, and despite a preliminary
investigation, no one was ever indicted. Similarly, the labor dispute
for wrongful termination of employment and the civil case for damages,
both filed by Danilovgrad Roma, are still pending. Hence, more then
seven years following the incident, the Romani victims of the
Danilovgrad tragedy have yet to receive any redress whatsoever.

On November 11, 1999, on behalf of 65 Romani victims of the Danilovgrad
Pogrom, the ERRC, HLC, and attorney Dragan Prelevic jointly filed an
application with the UN Committee against Torture. On November 21, 2002,
the Committee rendered its decision, finding that “the burning and
destruction of houses constitute … acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment … [as well as that] … the nature of these acts
is further aggravated by the fact that some of the complainants were
still hidden in the settlement when the houses were burnt and destroyed,
the particular vulnerability of the alleged victims and the fact that
the acts were committed with a significant level of racial motivation”.

In addition, the Committee found that the police, although they were
aware of the danger and were present at the scene of the events, did not
take any steps to protect the complainants, thus implying their
acquiescence with the pogrom that ensued. The Committee reiterated its
concerns about “inaction by police and law-enforcement officials who
fail to provide adequate protection against racially motivated attacks
when such groups have been threatened”.

The Committee stressed that, despite the participation of several
hundred non-Roma in the events and the presence of a number of police
officers, no participant or police officer was ever brought to trial. It
requested that authorities conduct a proper investigation into the
incident, prosecute and punish those responsible, and provide redress to
the victims. The authorities are to inform the Committee within 90 days
of the steps taken to comply with its decision.

This landmark ruling, described by Gloria Jean Garland, ERRC Legal
Director, as the single most important decision ever adopted by the UN
Committee against Torture, is of particular significance to Roma but is
also of more general relevance to all other victims of human right
abuse. On this occasion, the Committee made clear that torture, inhuman
and/or degrading treatment or punishment has to be seen in a positive
obligations context. States have a duty not only to refrain from such
acts themselves, but also to prevent and suppress human rights
violations between private individuals as well as to provide redress to
victims of abuse perpetrated by non-state actors.

_____________________________________________

The European Roma Rights Center is an international public interest law
organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal defence
in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the European
Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC on the web at http://www.errc.org.

European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Hungary


Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax:   +36 1 4132201

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