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Legal Assistance Report

(1 April 2000 - 30 June 2000 )


In the past ten years Serbia underwent a deep transformation of its society. Collapse of institutions and fragmentation of society resulted in lack of communication between the center and provinces. The media space was also devastated, thus leaving room to speculations and rumors as the only manner of informing. This in turn generated bigger fear among the citizenry. The regime unable to solve accumulated problems, notably those of social and economic nature, resorted to repression as its only response cum vehicle. The police repression escalated: in the period covered by this report many people were detained for the purpose of "informative interviews", there was a larger number of cases of arrest and detention without any legal grounds, and harassment and intimidation of the work, non-government and other organizations, including unlawful entries into their premises. Judicial bodies for a long time now have not functioned as genuine institutions. Instruments for the protection of individual and group rights are either non-existent and faulty or their enforcement is banned. General state of insecurity plunged the whole nation into the mood of psychosis and paranoia.

Several hundred parties, notably refugees asked for and were rendered so-called primary legal assistance in the shape of a brief oral counsel, either by phone or in direct, personal conversations. A large number of potential returnees asked for advice and information regarding their return. Many elderly parties were predominantly interested in the regulation of their pension rights in their domicile countries. Others wanted to learn relevant information about their tenancy rights, but Croatia still does have a solution similar to the one in place in Bosnia (restitution of tenancy rights). Full legal protection was extended to 46 parties.

Legal problems we dealt with fall into several categories:

a) HC mostly counseled Yugoslav citizens about the judicial proceedings- (4 cases); missing from Kosovo and Metohija- (5 cases); social issues and harassment at the hands of the Serbian police (4 cases). Long-standing problems voiced by the parties who contacted us were also related to trade union issues, delayed and oft unfair judicial decisions, non-exercise of their social rights, labor rights and discrimination on several grounds, prison sentences, war crimes, mandatory military service, industrial crimes and misdemeanors, abuses in the process of property transformation.

b) refugees were primarily interested in being counseled about their emigration possibilities (4 cases), matters related to validation of their years of service, obtaining of documents, social problems and irregularities related to the property restitution in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

c) inquiries from abroad were related to legal counseling and interpretation of different Yugoslav legal acts (5 cases).

d) extension of legal assistance within the framework of project "I want to go home" embracing potential returnees to Croatia. In the aforementioned period HC drafted and issued 'stereotyped' 460 powers of attorney and consents in writing, and about 120 special powers of attorney and consents. Added to that we obtained travel documents for about 950 persons.

e) Lawyers of Helsinki Committee continued to represent clients before the FRY civil and military courts of law in pending cases and took on new cases, which involved full legal protection.
Trials related to compensation of damage to persons who had been unlawfully mobilized by the Yugoslav army and paramilitary once again came into prominence. Such trials were characterized by the lack of political will and biased and inefficient judicial proceedings. After the Kosovo conflict a large number of Albanian convicts were transferred to prisons in Serbia. A number of them was realized in exchange for 'financial compensation' paid by their families. However, according to the official data over 1,000 Albanians are still in jail. According to figures of the Priština Committee for Human Rights and Freedoms and the International Red Cross several thousand are still registered as missing. Their families have engaged a number of lawyers to more actively search for them. Helsinki Committee lawyers represent in courts of law Flora Brovina, Dušan Vukovic, Olivera Radovanovic and it was also entrusted with powers of attorney for 63 Missing Albanians.



The regime tends to treat the issue of refugees in the light of number of "the Serbian victims," whereby it in fact uses them to pursue its policy of "rounding off" ethnically cleansed territories. The state policy for ten years now has been focused on reducing the number of minority members and simultaneously settling refugees in predominantly ethnically mixed milieus. General economic conditions prevent the regime to offer adequate conditions for integration of refugees in Serbia. Many refugees, notably from Croatia, have been trying to return (and they are returning) to Croatia, particularly in the wake of intervention and change of regime in Croatia. However many refugees are still interested in emigrating.

In the past three months HC was still engaged in resolving labor problems and other status issues. As regards Croatia potential returnees are faced with the problem of unfavourable economic conditions in that country, poor employment possibilities and not-so-easy reintegration. Male refugees want to know how to evade military service in Croatia, which has been reduced to six months. Added to that there is a possibility of civilian-military service. One of the problems is the recognition of the military service completed in Serbia, in view of the fact that a number of youngsters were compelled to do the military service under the Act on Refugees. The Republic of Croatia allows for such a possibility as the dual citizenship is recognized to Croatian citizens. But military service of refugees without the Yugoslav citizenship is not recognized. Such legal problems should be swiftly surmounted for the sake of avoidance of dual military service.

a) Emigration

Emigration opportunities are decreasing for a large number of refugees do not fulfill the conditions thereof. Countries of reception have begun to pursue a much more restrictive immigration policy. Many refugees interested in emigration cannot go back to their homes (on grounds of traumas, possibility of facing trials, destroyed houses and similar) but they do not want to remain in the FRY either.

Mara Dejanovic, a refugee from Petrinja, the Republic of Croatia, now lives alone in the FRY. Her husband and two children left their house in Croatia because of war and settled in Canada. Due to some circumstances she could not go with them. In the meantime she divorced her husband, who now has a new family, but remained on friendly terms with him. As her children have grown up, and she has no husband, she does not meet formal requirements for family reunion.

The above story testifies to the necessity to pay more attention to the human angle of some cases, and less to strict enforcement of norms.

Radojka Zrnic, refugee from Petrinja, wants to emigrate due to her rather complex family situation. Her husband disappeared during the "Storm" operation, while she fled to the FRY and was thereafter settled in Kosovo. Her children went to school there. After the NATO intervention they moved to Serbia.

But their chances for immigration were rather slim. Her son faced with an additional problem, as he was compelled tocontinue his studies at dislocated Priština University, instead in Belgrade. He finds this unacceptable for he has no financial means for such studies.

Helsinki Committee has established that refugees from Croatia are increasingly turning their attention to immigration. Problems of refugees from Bosnia are easier to solve for their property can be restituted, although that process, notably the one of restitution of tenancy rights, is somewhat obstructed.

Duško Karanovic, from Srajevo, now a refugee living in Backa Palanka, has a very difficult life in exile. In 1997 he filed a claim for determination of his tenancy right. He received a relevant decision in 2000. However that decision has not yet been enforced. Namely it takes two years to translate into practice similar decisions in the Federation B&H, but not in Republika Srpska. Hence it is necessary to harmonize regulations and enforcement terms in the whole territori of Bosnia, along with consistent enforcement thereof .



Repression against citizens of Serbia is mounting and gradually morphing into a genuine state-led terror. All regime's opponents are continually subjected to harassment and intimidation. Repression is present in all forms of public activities and work of institutions. Stranglehold on the media, university, prominent individuals and judges continues unabated. The Anti-Terrorism Act is in the offing. That Act is intended as a punitive measure against both the regime's opponents, and the 'faltering' or dissenting voices among its ranks, in view of an ever-increasing number of unsolved assassinations. The new student movement "Otpor" simultaneously irritates the regime and opposition, for it disrupts the long-standing political status quo. Majority of citizens have been long engulfed in the mood of fear and apathy. Extremely unfavorable economic and social situation additionally generates conditions propitious for violence. Unemployment is growing and the employed earn only enough to subsist.

a) Missing (Albanians and Serbs)

Cases of people went missing are decreasing. On the other hand little success had been achieved in finding missing registered to date, barring a negligible number of cases. It is very difficult to gather accurate information on current whereabouts of people who have dissappeared.

Dijana Živkovic from Priština reported that her father Ilija, born on 25 07 1943 in Lepina, municipality of Lipljane, resident of Priština, went missing on 14 August 1999. On that day he and an Albanian with whom he had exchanged his flat, left Belgrade for Priština. Thy were stopped in Podujevo, and separated. Ilija's fellow-traveler maintained that he did not know where Ilija was taken. The family was contacted by an eyewitness who claimed that Ilija was well and kept as a prisoner for some future exchange.

The long list of missing includes the case of Stanko Milenkovic.

Stanko Milenkovic from Štrbce, village Sevce, left for his military service in 1998. His first garrison was in Novi Sad, and then on 22 March 1999 he was transferred to Dakovica. Since then his parents did not have any news about him. The Yugoslav Army gave two official versions of his disappearance. According to the first one he ran away because he did not want to serve the army and was registered as a deserter. According to the version of the YA Chief of Staff in Belgrade he was regularl discharged. His parents who had reported this case, still live in Kosovo. They think he was murdered and even indicated the most likely perpetrators. Stanko was a member of a large opposition party, which according to his parents, was a reason good enough for some people to eliminate him. Theyu believe he was killed by members of some paramilitary forces on the ground.

Disappearance of Lukic Radoslav, known by his religious name, Monk Hariton was also reported. He disappeared from Monastery St. Archangel in Prizren.

As regards inquiries about missing Albanians they were mostly made by their families and relatives.

The list of Albanians reported as missing to Helsinki Committee includes the following names:
Masar Imer-Duši (1976), Švecet Smajlj-Duši (1974), Devdet Smajlj-Duši (1973), Nzmi Osman-Duši (1969), Abedin Ajet-Duši (1979), Jakub Bajram Duši (1964), Azem Avdula-Desku (1960), Redep Brahim-Nazdreku (1964), Valjdet Isuf-Buconi (1974), all from Klina. All of them dissapeared in the vicitinty of Dakovica, village Kraljan, on 2 April 1999.

Together with the Red Cross of Yugoslavia, Helsinki Committee has been searching for other 62 Albanians who dissapeared in the same period:

Emin Selman Desku (1938), Hamit Krasnici (1947), Semedin Kadri Kryeziu, Faik Zene Morina (1948), Gene Fadil Eelezi, Qamil Shaban Elezi, Fadil Murat Mustafa, Sadri Sefer Desku, Hysni Rexhep Krasniqi, Valdet Isuf Buqan, Rexhep Brahim Mazreku (1963), Kusthrim Hilmi Racaj (1984), Bekim Gashi, Bekim Milazim Racaj (1969), Sinan Shaban Racaj (1948), Cur Shaban Racaj (1945), Hidajet Vesel Kryeziu (1976), Nevzat Hysen Racaj (1976), Bajram Rizah Bytyqi (1961), Vesel Mehmet Seferaj (1965), Hamit Pajazit Gashi (1966), Bali Pajazit Gashi (1976), Bajram Isa Thaqi (1947), Kamer Adem Seferaj, Sheremt Brahim Ismajli (1958), Azem Avdullah Dešku (1960), Ismet Hazir Gashi (1956), Adem Hazir Gashi (1954), Qaush Musli Morina (1960), Brahim Kadri Fejza (1962), Osman kadri Fejza (156), Enver Hzsen Hoti (1954), Ilir Avdyl Kelmendi (1968), Jakup Bajram Dushi (1964), Abedin Ajet Dushi (1979), Xhevdet Smajl Dushi (1971), Shefqet Smajl Dushi (1974), Masar Ymer Dushi (1976), Isa Halim Gashi (1956), Mentor Xhenajl Myrta (1977), Dritom Xhemajl Myrta (1973), Hasim Jahe Hasanaj, Hashim Jahe Hasanaj, Valon Sheremet Kelmendi (1982), Besim Hashim Hasani (1981), Bekim Hashim Hasani (1973), Halid Haki Gashi (1966), Behxhet Demusha Berisha, Burim Osman Rexhepaj (1980), Feriz Osman Rexhepaj (1974), Bashkim Osman Rexhepaj (1972), Blerim Jahir Kotori, Shpena Jahir Kotori (1974), Avni Gani Morin (1980), Basri Gani Morina (1981), Sadik Daut Hereqi (1972), Sejdi Jakup Thaqi, Haxhi Muharrrem Gllasoviku (1961), Binak Xheme Gllasoviku, Emin Ramadan Krasniqi (1958), Selim Hazir Berisha (1959).

b) Different forms of repression (enforcement of lawlessness)

Almost all state bodies abuse prerogatives and authorizations in which they are vested under the Constitution. Targets or rather victims of "state bodies" let loose are numerous. Added to naked force, both retributive and compulsive methods are used. The situation is rendered more complex by the fact that actions of state-controlled bodies are hard to predict. There is almost no personal and property security; robberies and unsolved murders are frequent.

In Velika Plana on 9 June 2000 municipal misdemeanor judge meted out very high fines to three under-age members of "Otpor" for having drawn the emblem of this organization on a facade of a downtown building. Judge Milan Lalic delivered this ruling in line with a proposal of the authorized center for social work. Unless a 15-day deadline for the payment of the fine is met, three boys will have to serve two weeks' imprisonment sentence. According to the official psychiatrist such a high sentence should be considered an educational measure designed to teach young people how to behave properly. The fact that this was their first offense was not taken into consideration. The judge assigned to this case obviously had to act in accordance with instructions of the Center for Social Work.

The above sentence is not surprising, as a 'special treatment' is reserved for members of "Otpor" organization. It is a well-known fact that other young people who engage in graffiti-drawing are neither detained or punished.

Njegoš Ilic from Kragujevac was accused of obstructing an authorized official in exercise of his duties -maintenance of security and public order and peace, under Article 24, para. 2 of the Act on Public Order and Peace. After the completion of investigation and filing of official indictment, the Kragujevac District Court ruled that that the proceedings be suspended in line with the decision of the District Public Prosecutor not to pursue the case. As the entire proceedings lasted four years, the defendant suffered major damage. In the subsequent proceedings he tried to compensate that damage. Added to the material damage HC client was prevented from exercising his fundamental rights, as his freedom of movement was heavily restricted for four years. He also suffered a non-materialdamage in the shape of psychological pain caused by publicizing of the whole case in the media. His family was also badly affected by the whole case.

The Zajecar District Court sentenced Dušica Radulovic from Bor, owner of "Borske Novine" to three months' imprisonment for "slander" of the municipal officials . Dušica is not a responsible editor and she has a 100% invalid child. As all those extenuating circumstances were not taken into account when the sentence was meted out to Dušica, the editor-in-chief and a journalist of "Borske novine" offered to serve the sentence instead of her. They lodged their appeal to that end to the Zajecar District Court and the Supreme Court of Serbia.

Miodrag Simic Bata, president of independent trade-union "Morava" in Jagodina was harassed by the police and his bycicle and propagand material of the trade union "Nezavisnost" were seized from him when he tried to enter the"TV Palma Plus" premises. When he came round he found himself on the street alone and injured. Then he went to the hospital. There he met two policemen who reported his case. A police patrol then took him to the site of incident to identify his attackers, but instead of doing their job they harassed him again. Not a single attacker was detained, but Simic was restituted his material and bycicle.

Whiel attempting to enquire about his trade-union colleague, Goran Rakic from Jagodina, a trade union member, shared Babic's fate, that is, was beaten up.

Citizens are not only harassed by the police, but also by unidentified para-groups and individuals. Members of independent trade-union, those beyond the influence of the state will, are often subjected to intimidation and harassment.

Added to that the state bodies frequently engage in illegal transactions in order to seize property of other people. In such transactions they usually use legal instruments and through quasi legal institutions they intimidate owners of coveted property.

An unauthorized person moved into premises housed in the building no. 31 in Ratnih vojnih invalida street, Belgrade, and set up a work-shop in the usurped space. At a later date he won the municipalcompetition which authorized him to utilize that space. Another tenant of the building who failed to win the competition appealed against the relevant decision. The relevant ministry repealed the municipal decision,but the ensuing appeal lodged to the Supreme Court ofSerbia two years ago, is still pending.

c. Economic crimes

Collapse of the judiciary and absence of sanctions favoured the emergence of the mafia-like orgnaizations. That trend began in the wake of the SFRY disintegration, when buildings and other property of persons abandoning Yugoslavia were taken over.

Private company "Miki" from Pirot has been successfully cooperatingwith Kosovo-based companies for years,notably "Kosovo Vino" from Mala Kruša and "Orvin" from Orahovac. The war stopped that cooperation and boththe Serbian partner and Kosovo ones suffered financial losses. "Miki" from Pirot asked Helsinki Committee to help it re-establish business contacts with its Kosovo-based partners, as currently all legal and physicalcommunications are well nigh impossible. Representatives of the Pirot company are willing to go to Kosovo and meet their partners, but they need guarantees for their personal and property security.

Misuse of official position and illegal seizure of property gathered momentum. The Guca municipal prosecutor brought charges against 5 employees of the Lucane- based company "Gradevinar" (official indictment no. 80/99) for remitting money for undelivered commodities, forging and doctoring lists of employments' pays. Director of the company is additionally charged with misusing his position by assisting another person, a high official of the ruling party, to make illegal financial gains. Namely "Gradevinar" director, without any compensation, gave to the aforementioned official plumbing material and consequently caused his company to incur substantial losses.

Although the indictment was filed on 27 August 1999, the final ruling is still pending. It is difficult to predict the outcome as one of the accused is a prominent party personality.


4. War crimes- Kosovo

War crimes in Kosovo are increasingly being disclosed in Serbia. The international community's presence in Kosovo enabled insights and probes into numerous war crimes committed on that territory in the course of 1999. A number of those cases is being dealt with by courts in Kosovo proper.

The Gnjilane Public Prosecutor's Office filed the indictment KT no. 29/2000 against Miloš Jokic from Vitina for criminal offence of Genocide under the Penal Code of Yugoslavia, Article 141. The text of the indictment indicates that the provision does not belong to the enforced body of legal regulations of the current Yugoslavia. The accused has been charged with several offences qualified as Genocide. As Albanians are the only damaged partied, only Albanians have been summoned to testify as witnesses.

The reasoned opinion in writing of the indictment does not indicate the commission of genocide. It is a well known fact that the criminal offense of genocide is difficult to prove, even before the Hague Tribunal, as genocide means a host of acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

The fact that only Albanian witnesses have been called to court to give evidence has raised suspicions as to the impartiality of the court.


5. Lawyers' assistance

In the reported period Helsinki Committee lawyers continued to successfully engage in some cases and undertook new ones which are still pending.

Case of Dušan Vukovic- father of a 21-year old soldier killed in Kosovo and Metohija during the NATO intervention brought a loss compensation suit against the state and the Yugoslav Army, for having lost his only child. The lawsuit ended with a just ruling of the Niš court which awarded to the family of the perished soldier, the compensation to the tune of 1 million dinars, somewhat less than demanded. The family appealed against the decision. But it bears stressing that a major legal precedent was set in the reasoned opinion in writing. That is, the judge rebutted the main argument of the defendant that the "war was force majeure." Interestingly enough the judge observed in his ruling that the war could have been anticipated.

Case of Flora Brovina- criminal proceedings before the Niš court. The open session of the Supreme Court of Serbia on 16 May 2000 in determining the appeal against the first-instance court decision (12-year prison sentence) ruled that the aforesaid sentence be suspended and returned to the first-instance court for review. Flora Brovina's detention was however extended.

The Supreme Court also determined that the wording of the first-instance sentence was not intelligible in part, and that reasons justifying such a sentence were not fully grounded, btu rather in mostly contradictory and unclear. It was concluded that the criminal proceedings were essentially violated. Such a court decision was obviously of a compromising nature, but, contrary to recent judicial practice, legal arguments were this time around fully observed. A new hearing before the Niš court is to be scheduled soon.

Case of Miroslav Filipovic- dealt with by the Kraljevo district court. Following the pre-trial proceedings Filipovic was released from detention on 10 May 2000, but was soon returned to the investigative prison in Niš. Unfortunately the family and two lawyers, recommended by the daily Danas, do not allow other interested parties to access any relevant information. Lawyers asked DM 45,000 for their services from the Institute for War Reporting. There was no solidarity response in the country and abroad, primarily because of Filipovic's lawyers conduct. Namely they tried to create an impression that Filipovic would be released imminently. There are no clear indications as to how this case shall be finally resolved.

HC continued to work on claims related to damage compensation lawsuits against the SFRY state and its official bodies.

Represive measures pursued by the regime primarily mirror its impotence. But as no genuine resistance is mounted, primarily by political factors, the repression morhps into state-led terror. Future developments are hard to predict. The regime continues to use all institutional and extra-institutional means to consolidate its power and instill fear. Recent constitutional amendments enabling the FRY president to stand again for office opened a new crisis this time related to Montenegro. The aforementioned moves, made without consultations with Montenegro, only confirm the regime's intention to provoke a new crisis in that republic and possibly introduce a state of emergency there. But on the other hand such moves also speed up separation of Montenegro from Serbia. Similar methods have been applied with respect to the former SFRY republics. In turn it is very likely that repression in Serbia proper shall escalate.


Prepared by:
Biljana Stanojevic, Jurist




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