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INFO   :::  Human Rights > Legal Aid > Legal Assistance Report (1 July 2000 - 30 September 2000)


Legal Assistance Report
(1 July 2000 - 30 September 2000)

08/17/2002, Source: Legal Assistance Report (1 Jul - 30 Sep 2000), Author: HCHRS


The entire reported period was marked by the pre and post-elections-related developments. Most inquiries we dealt with had to do with the manner of possible power take-over. Many refugees obviously feared a violent post-election outcome.

Under the circumstances of across-the board poverty and everyday repression it was even difficult to envisage the holding of truly fair and democratic elections. It bears stressing anew that the media situation conditioned a biased and one-party (pro-SPS) pre-election campaign. This was simultaneously the most aggressive campaign since the inception of multi-party elections. The media campaign mostly focused on the NATO-led intervention and reconstruction of the country. But as the electoral results had shown, that campaign totally backfired. Namely the citizens placed their trust in the second political camp.

Miloševic's regime left behind a host of unresolved questions, and above all spiritual and financial poverty, dissatisfaction, near hunger and humiliation.

Refugees still face many unresolved issues. The return of refugees and their subsequent re-integration into the original domicile countries depends largely on the current authorities goodwill. Still unresolved are the issues of missing, imprisoned, social cases, pensions, disability benefits, tenancy rights.

The new authorities are burdened with the negative heritage of the previous regime. They should re-establish a legal state, re-build its institutions, amend many laws and acts, notably the Public Information Law and the University Act, establish a sort of civilian administration. Once the legal framework is put in place, the tackling of problems of refugees and minority groups shall commence.

Serbia is faced with a daunting task of privatisation of socially and state-owned property. This shall not be an easy process having in mind the fact that a part of the social property has been covertly or rather illegally privatised. Revision or annulment of such privatisation cases is needed. Take-over of some companies by so-called crisis headquarters, or by the very workers, is under way. But such illegal take-over is often rife with elements of anarchy.

Success of recent changes is burdened by many difficulties, notably by corruption. Moreover the entire Serb society is crime-ridden. Hence it is important to strengthen the civilian sector through a socially corrective action much needed in the corruption-ridden societies undergoing transition. Also needed is a comprehensive education of the entire civilian society, consolidation of legal status of the management bodies, and training of the Serbian police and the judicial bodies. The latter should be taught to observe the individual rights and stop abusing their professional functions. Personnel changes must be accompanied by major changes of old habits, and a stricter law-abiding procedures.

In the reported period several hundred people turned to us for legal assistance. We advised most of them on their rights.

Refugees also had their queries about the return possibilities; reconstruction of destroyed property and exchange of prisoners. Both the host states and the domicile states face major refugee-related problems. Tenancy rights are a central issue to most Croatian refugees cum potential returnees. In other words if they are stripped of those rights they cannot return to their places of residence.

Comprehensive legal protection was rendered to forty persons. Our cases, depending on their structure, fall into several categories:

(a) The FRY citizens- prisons (six cases), problems with the judicial proceedings (four cases), documents (three cases), visas for the third countries (2 cases), issues of citizenry, torture, social rights, property transformation, trade-unions, places of residence.

(b) Refugees from the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija. Issues of documents, relocation, arrests, and reconstruction of returnees' property.

(c) Legal assistance within the framework of "I want to go home" project (return to the Republic of Croatia). We rendered 305 legal advice in our office, 320 by phone and 85 via the power of attorney. Hence we dealt with a total of 710 legal documents. As regards the processing and obtaining of travel documents, without which the return is not feasible, in the reported period 775 of them were finalised.

Problems related to travel documents are exacerbated whenever they are to be obtained for persons without the Croation citizenship certificate, or in case of persons with dual citizenship, for example the FRY one. In fact travel documents are not issued to such persons and they are advised to resort to a costlier variant, the one of obtaining of passport along with the mandatory FRY citizenship.

The Helsinki Committee Lawyers are representing cases currently heard by the Yugoslav courts. Our lawyers have also taken on several new cases.

The HC lawyers are involved in damage compensation lawsuits handled by the first and second-instance courts. Those cases are related to damages incurred during the unlawful mobilisation of refugees in the aftermath of the 1995 "Storm" operation. In view of the current political context in Serbia it can be maintained that such cases shall be treated as "political ones" and that their resolution shall be delayed until a political deal is made and an equal-amount compensation agreed to. Intense work on the defence of Flora Brovina and Dušan Vukotic (that case is in the middle of the appellate proceedings) is under way. Case 145 related to Albanians in Niš is also being heard.



In view of the uncertain situation in the FRY refugees have opted for silence and by and large they are trying to solve their problems without attracting the public attention. Most of them have opted for the return, but that problem is coupled with others problems, for example the reconstruction which unfolds in line with the protectionist principle and favouring of the local and newly-arrived Croats. Faced with the reconstruction problem and the one of tenancy rights, many refugees have decided to postpone their return. Moreover there are also issues of the military service and its recognition. In recent times a large number of returnees have been arrested in Croatia, due to the unresolved question of prisoners exchange and precarious terms of legal resettlement. Arrests and detentions of such returnees additionally discourage and thwart the return of other refugees.

Emigration trend continues unabated. It demonstrates the refugees' conviction that the simplest solution to all their problems is - a new life in the third countries. It bears stressing that the social status of refugees is in poor condition. They can no longer count on major international humanitarian assistance and even less so on the financial support of the host country, that is, the FRY.

a) Arrests of returnees

The largest number of male returnees face possible judicial proceedings or some kind of prosecution in their former places of residence. But it is difficult to access such information. The UNHCR office in Belgrade which co-operates with the relevant state bodies in Croatia can get the requested information, albeit the unreliable one. It usually contacts the Croatian Ministry for Displaced Persons and Refugees which then obtains the requested info on possible prosecution of returnees from the Croatian Justice Ministry. Some refugees, who after obtaining relevant information ventured into Croatia were immediately arrested. But a vast majority of returnees have encountered no problems. Nonetheless cases of several returnees who faced proceedings after their return have discouraged the return of other potential returnees.

After his homecoming Dušan Jokic from Obrovac was arrested. He went to Croatia in an UNHCR-arranged visit to his house and relatives. Info on possible judicial proceeding had been previously requested from the UNHCR.

We have no further information about Jokic.

As regards the arrests of returnees interpretations by competent jurists and legal experts in Croatia should be sought in view of a still unresolved issue of prisoner exchange. Such exchanges were effected during the war and in it immediate aftermath. But the imponderables are sentences delivered to those persons and their current status.

Konjevic Mile from Sisak, born in 1934, was tried by a regular court in Croatia in 1990. He was then sentenced to 13 years in prison for the first-degree murder. While serving his sentence in 1992 he was exchanged with another prisoner. He first lived in the FRY and later in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where a part of his family still resides. On 1 August 2000 he went to Sisak to settle some property issues. While crossing the border he was arrested as 'an escaped convict.' But, no certificates on prisoner exchange or any legal act attesting to the suspension of criminal proceedings or granted pardon have ever been issued.

We shall try together with the Croatian Helsinki Committee to renew proceedings before relevant courts. But we shall also ask for the competent legal opinion on such situations or cases, for more of them are realistically expected to emerge.

The following case exemplifies the above:

Zoran Požar from village Kilanc, municipality of Petrinja, citizen of the Republic of Croatia, currently a refugee in the SFRY. On 13 July 1991, at the beginning of armed conflicts, was serving his regular military service. He was then mobilised by the then Yugoslav People's Army. He was captured by the Croatian Army and taken to the Sisak District Court. He was remanded on custody for 124 days on charges of the armed insurrection. During his stay in Sisak and in other prisons in Croatia he was tortured. As a consequence of such maltreatment he became permanently deaf. This young man would like to go back to his native town since he has not committed any major offence against the state and the Amnesty Law had covered that the offence he had been charged with. He still has not decided to return, as he fears possible repercussions of such a decision. We are trying jointly with the Sisak office of the Norwegian Committee for Refuges to learn if he might be prosecuted on other grounds.

b) Documents

The issue of obtaining documents in the Republic of Croatia is by an large easy to solve. One of the stumbling blocks is the manner of obtaining document from destroyed or usurped birth registers. Kistanja is one of the places in which birth registers have disappeared. Hence refugees from that locality cannot obtain their documents and subsequently exercise their rights.

Sava Lalic from Kistanja is a person without any relevant documents. After consulting the competent bodies of the Republic of Croatia, we advised him to wait, for his case was prioritised. The case is pending, but many important personalities have shown personal interest in this matter.

Persons who have lost their refugee status in the host country cannot obtain necessary documents in a regular and pre-set procedure. Hence they are treated like apatrides, or persons without citizenship. Such cases will have to be resolved in the near future.

Marija Šušnjar, from Vinkovci, citizen of the Republic of Croatia, came as refugees to Yugoslavia in 1991. In the FRY her refugee status has been recognised. But she lost if after she started receiving financial assistance from other sources. She cannot apply for the Yugoslav citizenship, for only refugees status provided her with the ground for such an application. On the other hand, without the refugee status she cannot even apply for the Croatian travel documents. Hence she cannot even solve the issue of her status in Croatia.

c) Social status and rights

Refugees are compelled to accept any jobs in order to survive, in view of their ever-deteriorating financial position and rapidly decreasing humanitarian assistance. Most of them even engage in petty crimes, but this does not justify their inhumane treatment at the hands of the police. Many refugees in their struggle for survival depend on the ruling establishment and some criminals.

Božidar Momcilovic from Podravska Slatina, now lives in New Belgrade. He subsists by selling newspapers in the streets of Belgrade. During the police raid on the street sellers of foreign currency he was also arrested. An amount of foreign currency, which he saved for some house repair work, was found on him. That money was seized and Božidar shall soon face a hearing by the magistrate. Helsinki Committee has assigned a lawyer to him.

Some of our clients have several difficult problems. In this sense, the most conspicuous is Bjelanovic case. Milan Bjelanovic of Sisak came as a refugee to the FRY in 1991. Until the end of the war his full-time labour contract in so-called Republika Srpska, was valid. But he is no position to endorse those, war-time years of service. Family house was sold by his brother, who became the house trustee three months before the death of their father. Milan is trying to void the trusteeship contract. He is a temp in Belgrade, would like to emigrate abroad, but does not even have the FRY citizenship.



Corruption and repression are the key words in this period of time. Both negative phenomena are accelerating in view of an imminent denouement of the political situation in Serbia. Added to that a renowned, former politician and former president of the Republic of Serbia, Ivan Stambolic, was abducted. His whereabouts are still not known.

In parallel organisations engaging in the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms have stepped up their activities. The student movement "Otpor" has been staging a host of non-violent actions and launching appeals to citizens to bring about changes in Serbia. The ruling clique irritated by such campaign continues to arrest "Otpor" members during their leaflet-distributing or graffitti-spraying actions. After elections for the FRY President, federal assembly and local administrative bodies were officially called, citizens at large became more hopeful. They are exasperated with the level of corruption and lawlessness. Added to that courts of law just rubber-stamp the regime's decisions and judges act as mere stooges of the regime. Prosecutors' offices blatantly disregard serious cases and major criminal offences. Lack of scruples of the ruling elite brought population at large to the brink of poverty and caused major psychological stresses. Population at large is faced with social problems, low salaries, pensions in arrears, all forms of violence, threats, intimidation.

But the main characteristics of the reported period are anarchy, fear and total paralysis of legal institutions.

Missing (Serbs and Albanians)

Nothing has improved with respect to the issue of missing since our last report. Fate of convicts or prisoners probably depends on future political deals and certain acts, which shall probably cover the length of their detention. Extra-legal treatment of detained, or abducted merits attention as obviously all of them have been remanded in custody for over a year and a half. Not a single Albanian or Serb was released in the meantime. Authorities of both sides are obviously unwilling to make a conciliatory move which the tenor of the times requires, or at lest start tackling this important problem.

Repression - 'enforcement' of lawlessness

There is no limit to the use of widespread. Serbia today represents a mixture of different repressive systems and it is difficult to predict in which direction the violence shall escalate. Shall it take the shape of open violence or of its more 'muted' variants? Repression is mostly 'enforced' through unlawful detentions; disappearances or abductions of people, abuses of authority by the police.

Davor Colarevic from Priština was arrested in Niš by members of the Priština corps. According to his father, Stanislav Colarevic, the corps was stationed in Niška Banja. Davor Colarevic was arrested upon his return from Kosovo and Metohija (He was the UNMIK employee). He was charged with the criminal offence of espionage. Helsinki Committee has assigned a lawyer to Davor. The lawyer is engaged in monitoring the investigation and shall be probably active in the future judicial proceedings.

Showdown between the ruling elite and its former collaborators and the unlike-minded is aimed at instilling fear in citizenry. To wholly discredit its opponents the regime resorts to stage-managed trails, trumped-up charges, abductions, open threats and intimidation.

Vladimir Nikolic, former head of the Analytical Service of the State Security, denizen of Belgrade, was abducted. In fact he was ordered by the traffic police to leave his car, then tied up, hooded, and taken by the official car to a cellar. He was interrogated for three days, during which time he was not given water, food and was not allowed to sleep. What characterised the whole case was the lack of any procedure, or possession of evidence indicating Nikolic's possible offence- disclosure of state secrets. Besides, Nikolic was detained for five days and then 'handed over' to the magistrate. The latter also constituted an unlawful act.

His family was not told about his arrest, Nikolic'c family flat was unlawfully searched without warrant and in absence of the indictee. Nikolic was never given a decision on detention.

On 3 march 2000 judge Pavle Vukašinovic found Nikolic guilty of the criminal offence of disclosure of state secrets and sentenced him to 22 months in prison. After the pronouncement, Nikolic was to be remanded in detention until the sentence became final.

Balša Govedarica, President of the Supreme Court of Serbia, unofficially stated that Nikolic was remanded in custody because of threats to his security.

Nikolic lawyers appealed the decision of the District Court, but a decision of the Supreme Court is still pending. Activists of the International Red Cross were banned from visiting the convict.

The authorities not only arbitrarily resort to detention, but also blatantly breach the right to labour and the right to free association. The right to free opinion has long been absent from Serbia.

The Federal Justice ministry took a scandalous decision to strike off the register of social organizations the New Health Trade Union from Belgrade. In reasoned opinion in writing it was stated that the trade union statute spelled out that the organization would fight for protection of political interests of its membership and would politically engage in order to attain that goal (the latter is not allowed under the Act on Trade Unions of Serbia.)


Unresolved problems which emerged after the SFRY disintegration are multiplying.

The most salient problem is the one of resolution of years of service gained in other republics and obtaining of documents on the length of service and the amount of pensions paid so far.

The issue of pensions needs to be urgently solved in all the former SFRY republics.

Those who planned to retire, having reached the right age, have encountered insurmountable difficulties which compelled them to delay such a decision.

Ljubodrag Vulovic from Ivanjica, citizen of the FRY, that is of the republic of Serbia, cannot exercise his right to pension, to which he is entitled under the FRY laws, because he has worked in several formber republics, Slovenia, Macedonia and Serbia an 'gained' years of service in all of them. In fact he worked only several years in Serbia in which he lives and has a permanent residence permit. He has been in vain searching for the so-called form M4.

Such legally interesting matter can be solved only when the former SFRY republics recognise each other and when inter-state agreements on social benefits and insurance are reached.

Mile Ivaniševic from Belgrade, passed his driver's exam in Zagreb (where he doing his military service), but before a civilian body. He cannot obtain a copy of that certificate, which he needs to submit in order to be issued the corresponding license in the FRY.

Problems encountered in obtaining of documents from the former republics are not resolved in an adequate way, that is through competent state bodies decisions. They are in fact handled on a case- by- case basis. As the former republics are not duty-bound to submit certain acts, they do it arbitrarily and sporadically.

Citizenships of the former Yugoslav republics are once again very much in demand. Many are interested in obtaining the invaluable passport of the Republic of Croatia, as many foreign countries do not require visas for Croatian citizens. Citizens of the Republic of Serbia, meeting the criteria for entry into the Croatian citizenship, fall into two ethnically-based categories. Members of the majority Croat people can easily obtain that precious document, while members of the minority Serb people, under equal administrative conditions, have trouble obtaining that document.

At this moment of time Helsinki Committee is awaiting three passport-related decisions. But applicants in question are not members of the Croat people.

Lawyers' assistance

As most of our legal assistance cases are still pending we can only mention the current phase of proceedings.

- hearings related to damage compensations lawsuits against the state of Serbia and competent bodies. Lawsuits were brought by the Croatian refugees forcibly and unlawfully mobilised after their massive exodus to the FRY in the middle of the "Storm" offensive. Complaints lodged against the FRY on grounds of death of family members during so-called military service.

In July only two cases against the Serbian Ministry of Interior were heard, and in September, 28 of them. In latter cases plaintiffs were refugees from the Republic of Croatia. Also pending are two lawsuits against the FRY involving damages for deceased persons.

- on 25 July 2000 trial against Miroslav Filipovic, charged with the criminal offence of espionage was observed. The trial was held before the Niš Military Court.

- pre-trial proceedings before the Priština District Court (with a temporary seat in Niš) were held on 7 September 2000- Damir Colaric was charged with the criminal offence of espionage.

- Appeal is still pending in case of Dušan Vukovic. New decision shall be soon taken.

- Case of Flora Brovina- criminal proceedings before the Niš court shall be continued after the Supreme Court of Serbia decision to suspend the first-instance court decision. The hearing, scheduled for 14 September 2000, was not held on that day for the defence requested deferment as Flora Brovina had not been handed the relevant Supreme Court document.

- New hearing is scheduled for 12 October 2000. In the meantime the Helsinki Committee lawyers established after their review of relevant documents that Flora Brovina was in detention unlawfully, for her detention was not extended officially since the 16 May 2000 decision of the Supreme Court, although under the Act on Criminal Proceedigns it should have been extended every two months.

Legal assistance

Budimir Radovic from Belgrade turned to Helsinki Committee for Human Rights to help his brother Dragan Radovic criminally prosecuted by the Podgorica Higher Court. We deduced from the submitted documentation that during the proceedings conducted so far blatant breaches of the Act on Criminal Proceedings were committed. We sent a letter to the Podgorica Higher Court notifying it about breaches of the procedural provisions and violations of the fundamental rights of the defendant. We are yet to receive a reply to our letter.

Miroslav Dadic from Sombor asked us to assist him. Namely he was of opinion that during several proceedings against him his fundamental human rights were violated on grounds on his ethnicity (he is a Muslim.) In view of the complexity of the case we asked Dadic to submit more evidence corroborating his assertions, for on the basis of the submitted evidence it was difficult to establish whether his rights were breached on ethnic or on any other grounds.

After the elections held on 24 September 2000 and unofficial results some changes can be expected in the state. As the presidential elections returns have provided for a least a ritual replacing of Slobodan Miloševic, it is difficult to foresee future course of developments. Namely the DOS coalition does not have a majority in the Federal parliament, nor a mandate to form the government. Under the FRY Constitution the latter must be done by a Montenegrin candidate, from the ranks of an already compromised party, SPP, headed by Momir Bulatovic. Besides elections for the republican parliament are utterly uncertain, mandates of the republican MPs expire in 2001, when under the law elections for the republican president and MPs have to be called. Under the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia all the power resides in the two bodies: Assembly of Serbia and President of Serbia. Thus power shall be much-divided at least until early 2001, when a more stable period can be expected. Until then it will be difficult to predict how the courts of law and prosecutors' offices, and the Serbian and Yugoslav police bodies shall function and behave.

We think that in the near future it is very important to finally establish a legal system and build the legal and other institutions of the system in a consistent way.

Added to that we hope that the independent judiciary, independent prosecutor' offices and free media would be also put in place to control such institutions of the system.

Prepared by,
Biljana Stanojevic, Jurist



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