Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 07:45 GMT

Serbia and Montenegro: Police abuse (2003-January 2005)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 15 February 2005
Citation / Document Symbol SCG43320.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Serbia and Montenegro: Police abuse (2003-January 2005), 15 February 2005, SCG43320.E, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Amnesty International (AI) reports that "[t]orture and ill-treatment by police officers continued to be widespread, especially in connection with 'Operation Sabre,' a crackdown on organized crime launched in the wake of the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic" in 2003 (Oct. 2003). Freedom House states that government action and police response during the state of emergency period that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic "drew criticism from human rights groups," and that there were "serious reports" of detainees who suffered "torture and other forms of police abuse" (Freedom House 15 Sept. 2004). The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) has gathered "testimony which points to the use of torture and other forms of mistreatment against detained suspects" during the state of emergency period (4 June 2003). According to sources, at least 10 000 people were arrested during this operation (AI 4 Sept. 2003; ibid. Oct. 2003; Freedom House 15 Sept. 2004).

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) conducted a mission to Serbia and Montenegro to assess the human rights situation during the state of emergency which lasted from 12 March to 22 April 2003 (United Nations 2 June 2003, 29). The mission observed that measures Serbian-Montenegrin had taken included the granting of "greater powers to police for surveillance, search, seizure and arrests without normal safeguards" (ibid.). Extra-judicial detention was used extensively, even beyond the emergency state period (ibid.).

Country Reports 2003 stated that "[b]eating and other physical abuse by police most often occurred during the arrest or initial detention period" (25 Feb. 2004; see also IWPR 4 June 2003) and that beatings were used "to coerce confessions" (Country Reports 200325 Feb. 2004). One source reported that once suspects are charged and transferred from police custody to a prison they had to be seen by a doctor "who's required to document injuries" (IWPR 4 June 2003).

A report by the Organisation Mondiale contre la Torture (OMCT) states that "the greatest threat to human rights in Serbia" comes from the fact that the Special Police Forces – active during the recent years of conflict and organized on a military basis – "remain a part of the police" (OMCT 25 June 2004).

Two specific occurrences of alleged torture by police officers to force confessions, on 14 March 2003 and in June 2003, are described in an AI report (2004). Furthermore, detailed allegations of torture include "asphyxiation by taping plastic or other material bags over the head, beatings, electric shocks to the head and body, and mock executions" (AI 4 Sept. 2003; see also AI 2004; IWPR 4 June 2003). The IWPR adds that detainees report other abusive treatments, such as sleep deprivation and isolation for long periods (4 June 2003). The police forces allegedly continued to resort to "excessive force during identity checks, arrests, detention in police stations, and investigatory interrogations" (OMCT 25 June 2004).

AI mentions that the many cases it has documented are "illustrative of the widespread use of torture by the police, especially in cases of people perceived as relatively low-level criminals ... unlikely to have their allegations widely publicized" (4 Sept. 2003; see also Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004).

The Human Rights Committee in Leskovac reported more than 100 cases of alleged police abuse in this town in 2002 (Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004).

During the first proceedings against organized crime following the state of emergency, the defendant claimed that he was tortured (IHFHR 23 June 2004, 4). According to the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHFHR), the only investigation conducted on allegations of torture was "semi-official" (ibid.). In a press release, the government denied that torture had been used in the case of former republican public prosecutor Milan Sarajlic (ibid.).

Country Reports 2003 mentions that institutional oversight of the police forces' behaviour is limited (25 Feb. 2004). An Inspector General post was created within the Ministry of Internal Affairs without convincing results and "little ability to conduct investigations" (Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004). By the end of 2002, a hotline established in April 2002 by the government of Serbia and Montenegro had received more than 2,000 calls and was, however, the only form of assistance for citizens who wished to complain about police behaviour (ibid.).

The IHFHR stated that establishing proper civilian control over the police was "hindered" by the failure to adopt new laws on police and national security (IHFHR 23 June 2004, 26). Nonetheless there were fewer cases of police abuse in 2003, as compared to 2002, while earlier cases were still pending (ibid.). In its World Report 2005, Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that cases of police abuse and complicity in committing violent acts "are still under investigation" (Jan. 2005).

As indicated by Country Reports 2003, the fact that "citizens could seek redress through the courts" against police abuse has led to a few cases in which the courts have ordered the government to compensate victims (25 Feb. 2004). Ministry of Internal Affairs statistics showed that "762 disciplinary proceedings result[ed] in 17 arrests of policemen, 271 criminal complaints filed against 158 officers, and 123 suspensions" between January and June 2002 (Country Reports 2003 25 Feb. 2004). No sanctions were imposed in relation to the new code of ethics for police, which had been implemented in 2002 (ibid.).

The IHFHR predicts that in the future, "[v]ictims will probably turn to the European Court of Human Rights," since Serbia and Montenegro ratified the European Convention on Human Rights on 3 April 2003 and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on 26 December 2003 (IHFHR 23 June 2004, 5).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International (AI). 2004. "Serbia and Montengro. "Amnesty International Report 2004. [Accessed 17 Jan. 2005]
_____. October 2003. "Serbia and Montenegro: Alleged Torture During 'Operation Sabre'." [Accessed 8 Feb. 2005]
_____. 4 September 2003. "Serbia and Montenegro: Alleged Torture During 'Operation Sabre'." (EUR 70/019/2003) [Accessed 7 Feb. 2005]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003. 25 February 2004. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 10 Feb. 2005]

Freedom House. 15 September 2004. "Serbia and Montenegro." Freedom in The World 2004. [Accessed 17 Jan. 2005]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). January 2005. "Human Rights Overview: Serbia and Montenegro." World Report 2005. [Accessed 17 Jan. 2005]

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). 4 June 2003. Dragana Nikolic-Solomon and Gordana Igric. "Serbia: Detainees Allege Torture." (Balkan Crisis Report No. 434). [Accessed 7 Feb. 2005]

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHFHR). 23 June 2004. Human Rights in the OSCE Region: Europe, Central Asia and North America, Report 2004 (Events of 2003). [Accessed 18 Jan. 2005]

Organisation Mondiale contre la Torture (OMCT). 25 June 2004. "State Violence in Serbia and Montenegro: An Alternative Report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee." [Accessed 15 Feb. 2005]

United Nations (UN). 2 June 2003. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Human Rights Field Operation: Serbia and Montenegro (& Kosovo). Quarterly Report (Period Covered: February – May 2003)." [Accessed 7 Feb. 2005]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Le Courrier des Balkans, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, WNC.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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