Some 160 people, almost all ethnic Albanians, were sentenced to up to eight years' imprisonment on political charges. They were convicted after trials which violated their right to fair trial; some were possible prisoners of conscience. Prisoners of conscience included at least 30 ethnic Albanians who were summarily sentenced to up to 60 days' imprisonment on political charges. Other prisoners of conscience included conscientious objectors to military service, the majority of them ethnic Albanians. Several thousand ethnic Albanians were briefly detained for questioning about their political activities or alleged possession of arms. There were widespread reports of torture and ill-treatment by police and at least five men died after torture or ill-treatment in police custody. Seven ethnic Albanians were shot dead by members of the security forces in disputed circumstances. At least five men were sentenced to death for murder, but no executions were reported. The authorities forcibly returned many thousands of male Serbian refugees to Serbian-held areas of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina for forcible conscription into Bosnian Serb forces.

In May and August the Croatian Army attacked and recovered Serb-held areas of Croatia in western Slavonia and the Krajina region, leading to the mass exodus of Serbs from these areas to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. By the end of the year the total number of refugees was over 400,000. In November the UN Security Council suspended economic sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro after the Presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia reached a peace agreement in Dayton, Ohio, USA. In December the President of Montenegro pardoned and released 50 political prisoners, including 21 Slav Muslims convicted in December 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995).

Ethnic tensions remained high in Kosovo province, where ethnic Albanians, the majority population, continued to call for the province's secession.

Some 160 people, almost all ethnic Albanians, were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment on political charges following trials which violated international fair trial standards. They included 139 men, almost all ethnic Albanian former police employees, who were tried between April and September. They were found guilty of preparing to set up a clandestine police force and were convicted of having sought to jeopardize Yugoslavia's territorial integrity by force of arms, under Articles 116 and 136 of the Yugoslav Criminal Code. They received prison sentences of up to eight years. Most were released pending appeal, but 22 remained in detention. The defendants were among some 4,000 ethnic Albanian police employees who were dismissed or resigned from their posts after refusing to recognize measures introduced by the Serbian government in 1990 which effectively abolished the province's autonomy. At their trial, the defendants denied the charges against them and argued that their activities had consisted of trade union work. Almost all of them alleged that following their arrest in November and December 1994 (see Amnesty International Report 1995), police officers tortured or otherwise ill-treated them in order to extract false "confessions". In July a court in Priština convicted 69 defendants. Among them was Avdi Mehmedoviqi, a former police chief, who told the court that police beat him until he lost consciousness five or six times. Proceedings at the trial of another 44 defendants before a court in Prizren were repeatedly adjourned because of the ill-health of defendants which their lawyers said had been caused, or severely aggravated, by torture. Defendants at other trials in Peç and Gnjilane made similar allegations. Lawyers at these trials complained that their access to the defendants and to court files had been restricted or delayed, thus undermining their right to defence. They also complained that the investigations had been largely carried out by police officers, rather than by the investigating judge, as required by law.

Prisoners of conscience included over 30 ethnic Albanians who were sentenced to up to 60 days' imprisonment for holding "illegal meetings". In most cases the defendants were teachers who had held classes for ethnic Albanian students who reject the curricula and education in the Serbian language required in official state schools. They included Qazim Azemi, director of a high school in Vuzitrn, who in March was sent to serve a 20-day prison sentence. He received similar sentences on two further occasions during the year.

Most ethnic Albanian men of draft age were unwilling, on political grounds, to serve in the Yugoslav armed forces. An unknown number were sentenced to imprisonment for draft evasion or for desertion from the (former) Yugoslav National Army, including Sabit Veliqi who was sentenced by the Military Court of Niš to four months' imprisonment in March for draft evasion. He began his sentence in October. The right to perform civilian service for those refusing military service on conscientious grounds was introduced in 1994, but the length of service, 24 months, was twice the length of military service and the right to perform civilian service did not apply retroactively.

Several thousand ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province were detained for up to three days in police custody for questioning about their political activities or alleged possession of weapons. Many were prisoners of conscience. Approximately 2,000 families were searched for arms.

There were daily reports that ethnic Albanians had been tortured or ill-treated in custody or during arms searches at their homes. The victims of ill-treatment were often political activists or teachers. Children were also among the victims. Many victims sustained serous injuries which required medical treatment; some were hospitalized. They included Miradie Selmani who was briefly detained in February by police in Gnjilane who said they were investigating forged passports. She was beaten and threatened with rape. In June Rifat Morina complained that on 30 May he had been detained for 12 hours by police in Prizren and repeatedly beaten until he lost consciousness. He said that since mid-February he had been summoned to the police station some 15 times and had been beaten on almost every occasion. Police officers had repeatedly demanded that he hand over a gun and, when they found he did not have one, tried to force him to give the names of men who did. In June Isak Maxhuni, an activist of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the main political party representing ethnic Albanians, was threatened and ill-treated by police who searched his house for weapons. His brother, Gani Maxhuni, was beaten until he lost consciousness. He was taken to hospital where he remained for some 10 days. In November, two police officers forced Fejzullah Fejzullahu, an LDK activist from Gnjilane, into a car, put a gun to his head, blindfolded him and threatened to kill him unless he gave them information about alleged paramilitary activity in the area. They drove him to a police station in a nearby town. There he was beaten and held till the following day, when he was driven back to Gnjilane, beaten at the police station there and released without charge.

There were also reports that police had beaten and ill-treated Slav Muslims in the Sandzak region. In September Husno Bihorac, an activist of the Democratic Action Party, representing Sandzak Muslims, was arrested in Novi Pazar by police who searched his home for guns; none were found. He was beaten at police stations in Novi Pazar, Raška and Kraljevo before being released the same day. His injuries included a damaged ear-drum and severe bruising to the soles of his feet.

Serbs and Montenegrins were also ill-treated. In March Dušan Lukiç was arrested in Belgrade by police who suspected he was about to steal a car. He was transferred to hospital two days later, reportedly suffering from brain injuries, damaged kidneys and broken ribs. He died three weeks later in hospital. His family filed a complaint against named police officers, but by the end of the year no charges had been brought.

Torture in police custody appeared to have also caused, or contributed to, the death of four ethnic Albanians. Among them was Shefki Latifi, an LDK activist, who was arrested in July together with a friend. They were both beaten at Podujevo police station and then released. Shefki Latifi died a few hours later, after suffering a heart attack. A photograph of his body showed marks of heavy bruising on his back and buttocks. A medical certificate recorded his death as natural and no police officer was charged with ill-treating him. Earlier, in April, Abedin Ahmeti died after a severe beating in Kosovska Mitrovica police station. A police officer was subsequently arrested and sentenced to five years' imprisonment for his murder.

Seven ethnic Albanians were shot dead by members of the security forces in disputed circumstances. In June a soldier of the Yugoslav Army shot dead a 10-year-old ethnic Albanian boy, Isa Berisha, in the compound of a military barracks in Djeneral Jankoviç on the border with Macedonia. Military sources reportedly claimed that the boy had entered the compound to steal cigarettes; his family claimed he was pursuing a stray goat. A military prosecutor in Niš initiated proceedings against a soldier for "violating patrol duties" in connection with the boy's death, but no charges appeared to have been brought by the end of the year.

Five men were sentenced to death for multiple murder. They included Novica Stošiç, convicted in February by a court in Montenegro, and Dejan Andjelkoviç and Zlatan Zakiç, convicted in April by a court in Prizren. No executions were reported.

Following Croatia's retaking of Serb-held areas of Croatia and subsequent military gains in western and northwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina, many thousands of Serbs from these areas fled to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. However, not all were allowed into the country. In May several thousand Serbian refugees from Croatia, who had fled western Slavonia after it had been retaken by the Croatian Army, were kept waiting at the border and then forced, under police escort, to pass through Serbia into Serbian-held eastern Croatia (eastern Slavonia). In June, July and August, thousands of male Serbian refugees of military age were forcibly returned to Serb-controlled areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia to be mobilized into Serbian armed forces there. In June an estimated 4,000 were returned. In August even larger numbers were reportedly arrested by Serbian police, often directly from refugee reception centres, and sent to a military training base in Erdut or to Bijeljina (Serbian-held areas of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina respectively). Although considerable numbers of Bosnian Muslims found refuge in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, others were arrested and handed over to Bosnian Serb leaders. In July Rašid Haliloviç, a wounded Bosnian Muslim from Srebrenica who reached Serbian territory and was treated at a hospital in Loznica, was reportedly arrested by Serbian police and handed over to the Bosnian Serb de facto authorities. Later in July an estimated 50 to 60 Bosnian Muslim refugees from Ûepa who tried to flee to Serbia were reportedly arrested by the Yugoslav Army at the border and forcibly returned.

Amnesty International called for the release of prisoners of conscience and for other political prisoners to receive fair trials. It urged the authorities to institute independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. In July an Amnesty International delegate attempted to observe part of the proceedings against 44 ethnic Albanian former police employees before a court in Prizren, but the court session was almost immediately adjourned. In June and August the organization wrote to the authorities calling for an end to the forcible return of refugees and urging that those already sent back be enabled to return to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the earliest opportunity. No response had been received from the Yugoslav authorities raised by the end of the year.

This 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.