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Human Rights in Serbia 2000


IX - Refugees


1. Status and position of refugees in the FRY

The refugee issue, one of key moral and political issues of Serbia instead of being tackled, is constantly sidelined. The Yugoslav authorities in the past 10 years did not show any understanding for problems of refugees, except when concern over their fate served their political purposes and- promotions. A false picture was created of bearable life of refugees. This was intended to boost their hopes that "better life is just around the corner" and to dissuade them from returning to their domicile states.

Situation in most collective centres, that is, hygiene and accommodation conditions are appaling. Rooms are overcrowded. In one room there are over 20 persons, including children and the elderly. They all share the same bathrooms. Management of collective centres often harasses refugees. Furthermore refugees oft complain of unfair distribution of humanitarian assistance or the lack thereof.

Difficult political and economic situation, lack of care, minimum humanitarian assistance and poor living conditions in collective centres have motivated refugees to increasingly consider their return to domicile states, despite many obstacles imposed both by the host state (the FRY) and their domicile states. The FRY Commissariat for Refugees did not allow NGOs to communicate with refugees in collective centres, accommodating the largest number of potential returnees.

Status and situation of Kosovo refugees is very difficult. All collective centres are crowded by refugees from Croatia and Bosnia. Consequently Kosovo refugees had to be accommodated elsewhere, mostly in abandoned houses, cellars, indoor sports facilities, or abandoned factory halls. Roma from Kosovo are in the worst predicament. In some Belgrade suburbs Roma families from Kosovo live in makeshift huts. Their children do not go to school. Humanitarian assistance is meagre, for Roma, fearing forcible return to Kosovo, failed to register with the competent bodies in Serbia.

The new authorities have taken a better line on the refugee issue. Some officials announced that they would take better care of refugees and establish good-neighbourly relations with the newly-emerged countries in the territory of former Yugoslavia. The latter would vastly improve the refugees' chances for return. Introduction of dual citizenship was also announced. This will guarantee the security of refugee property, and help refugees resolve their status issues, for example inherited and acquired rights in Croatia and Bosnia.

The issue of refugees one of the most vulnerable social groups is also an acute social and humanitarian issue. In view of an ever-increasing number of socially vulnerable groups, the new authorities will first have to tackle the social aspect of the refugee problem. Consequently it is important to devise a comprehensive refugee policy, including conditions favourable for the return of those willing to go back to their domicile states. The return policy should be free of political manipulation. At the same time full co-ordination should be established with domicile countries of refugees and the return procedure simplified.


2. Refugees from Croatia

When new Croat government took office in January 1999, it was thought that treatment of refugees would improve and their return to Croatia accelerated. Under a close surveillance of the international community, Croatian politicians were compelled to promise better return conditions. Then Mato Granic called on "Serbs to return to Croatia" and moreover stated that "all citizens of Croatia are most welcome." Furthermore Prime Minister Ivica Racan sent a loud an clear message that "Croatia guarantees that all those willing to return shall not face any problems."

Croatian President Stipe Mesic was most vocal among advocates of return of Serb refugees. He stressed that "Croatia must meet all its international obligations including the return of Serbs and hand-over of war crimes suspects to the Hague Tribunal." He also underscored that "Serbs must understand that they are a national minority and as such a precious bridge for co-operation for neighbours. That would guarantee good co-operation between Serbia and Croatia. "Croatia must be a state with all its citizens equal before the law, irrespective of their nationality. Stipe Mesic also appealed to the international community to help Croatia create conditions for return of refugees.

Change of the political regime in Croatia opened up prospects for the resolution of the issues relating to the status of refugees, notably the property and tenancy rights. Consequently many refugee organisations in the FRY and Serbia launched an initiative for "the repeal of discriminating laws and provisions." Thereafter refugee organisations in the FRY stepped up communications with the Croatian authorities and refugee organisations in Croatia.

At the first round-table conference of the Stability Pact for South East Europe, held on 21 February 2000, in Budapest, Croatia accepted the return of 16,500 Croat citizens of Serb nationality, who had already registered for return. Lovro Pejkovic, President of the Office for Refugees of the Croatian government jointly with the UNHCR elaborated a project for the return of Croat refugees and announced that "return of 16,500 Serbs would be effected within 6 months." (Glas javnosti, 19 February 2000). The idea was to show that the Government of Croatia had the political will to do that. There were even official statements to the effect that the project implementation would be immediately funded from the budget of the Republic of Croatia, without waiting for the Stability Pact funds.

The new official line on the return was welcomed by refugees. Furthermore it was enthusiastically backed by the Bosnian authorities. Alija Izetbegovic, the then President of Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, backed the decision of the new Croatian authorities and stressed that "Bosnia and Herzegovina was particularly interested in the return of Serbs refugees, accommodated in the area of Banja Luka, Prijedor and Brcko, to their homes in Knin Krajina, for then Bosniak refugees could also return to their homes." (Politika, 21 February 2000)

Politically sidelined far-right-wing parties, tried do intimidate their opponents and urged a deal on refugee property compensation. Increasingly radical stands of political parties, notably of the Croatian Democratic Community, on the issue of return, provoked several incidents and murders. For example a returnee Nedeljko Stulic (38) was beaten to death in a family house on the island of Vir, in the vicinity of Zadar. His wife Veselka and their 7 year old son also lived in the house. On 1 March in late evening hours three young men broke into the house, attacked Stulic and cruelly kept beating and kicking him for 10 minutes. When they left Veselka called the police and the first aid. But Stulic died in the Zadar hospital. (Politika, 10 March 2000). Ljubica Paripovic (73) was stabbed to death in her house in the village Borik near Mikleus. (Vecernje Novosti, 10 March 2000). On 6 May the Croat extremists attacked a group of Serbs at a ceremony commemorating 520 civilians from Veljun and nearby villages killed by Ustashi in the early May 1941. (Politika, 9 May 2000). Stevanija Ivin (Tintor) was killed in village Rastevic, near Benkovac. Her body was found in the well, in the vicinity of her house. The inquest findings indicated death by grave bodily injuries. (Vecernje Novosti, 31 May 2000). Such incidents were intended to intimidate potential returnees. But the number of returnees in the course of 2000 rose.

But as the new Croatian authorities failed to keep their promises, no headway was made in many important areas, notably in the property restitution and recognition of tenancy rights. OSCE and other international organisations in the past had pressured the CDC-led regime to recognise that tenancy right were not a social issue, but rights from the province of the right to property. Croatian government instructed the municipal housing commissions to accept property restitution applications and forward them to the state commission in Zagreb. However, the number of applications received to date has not been disclosed. According to some organisations, Serb refugees owe 50,000 flats in Croatia. On the other hand tenancy rights of all Croat returnees to Vukovar were recognised.

International community continued its small-scale projects of refugee-related assistance by funding reconstruction of damaged houses, repair works, etc. On 8 March 2000 in a radio broadcast the Knin Mayor Josip Odak called on all citizens of Serb nationality with recognised pre-war tenancy rights to submit property restitution or purchase applications. He simultaneously announced that the Croatian government would render funds for the repair of 60 flats in Knin. (Jutarnji list, 18 March 2000.) Knin and notably Benkovac are still not returnee-friendly areas, notably in the light of 1991-1995 developments. Hence a special interest of international community in assisting refugees from those areas. According to Josip Odak 6,000 Serbs returned to Knin. He also stated that assistance for the return of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the tune of $ 55.6 million granted by the donor Conference of the Stability Pact to the UNHCR was not adequate for resolution of the pertinent problems: "Even if we solved the issue of accommodation of Serb returnees and Croat refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina (10,000 in the Knin area), we still face a salient problem of employment. Of 20,000 Knin inhabitants, only 2,500 are currently employed." (Danas, 5 April 2000)

As both Croat and Serb authorities manipulate the number of returnees to Croatia, their exact figure is not available. According to the Serbian Democratic Forum since 1995 27,000 Serb refugees returned to Croatia. 35,000 of them in want of a permanent housing are living like nomads Croatia-wide. In Vojnic, Glina, Plasko, Srb, Gracac, Korenica, Vrginmost and Dvor na Uni, Serbs already constitute the majority population. This practically means they could win the local elections in all these localities. 17,000 refugees in the FRY submitted applications for house repair funds, and 22,000 applications for property restitution. (Blic, 27 March 2000). According to the Serb National Party 38,000 Serbs returned to Croatia. 1,600 returnees to Okucani are still without permanent accommodation. According to the Bureau of the Serb Demographic Forum in Okucane, all of them applied for accommodation, but Bosnian Croats still live in their houses. In fact of 350 applications for property restitution, only 37 were positively resolved. (Politika, 27 March 2000)

In the early April 2000 refugee Nebojsa Jelic, a returnee to Bele Vode, in the vicinity of Glina, was arrested. (Blic, 7 April 2000). Returnee Slavko Drobnjak (30) from Gornja Milnoga was arrested while taking his new ID on 17 July 2000. He was convicted of war crimes and sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison by the District Court in Sisak. (Politika, 4 August 2000). Dusan Jokic (65) was arrested in Zaton and convicted of armed robbery in 1990. But when the general amnesty was enforced, he was released by the Zadar court. All the three aforementioned individuals returned under the UNHCR auspices. They all had the Croatian Justice Ministry certificates guaranteeing "no legal impediments to their return." (Politika Ekspres, 5 September 2000)

Many refugees despite judicial decisions cannot move into their flats and houses. For example Andja Cvetic despite the police escort could not move into her flat in Osijek, because the local authorities refused to evict from her flat a usurper of Croat nationality.. (Politika, 24 September 2000)

A group of 27 convicts of Serb nationality (imprisoned in May and August 1995 during "Flash" and "Storm" offensives) serving prison sentences in Lepoglava, in April 2000 went on a hunger strike on grounds of "unlawful enforcement of the Amnesty Act and non-observance of the Croat-FRY Agreement on Exchange."

President Mesic's tackling of the war crimes committed in Croatia sharply divided the Croat public opinion and radicalised the right-wing followers. There were sharp reactions to the Hague Tribunal-conducted investigation of mass graves of Serbs killed in Gospic area in 1991. Milan Levar, former commander of a reconnaissance squad and intelligence centre, was criticised for stating that "Serbs in Gospic were liquidated in line with the official Croat policy, pursued by the top Zagreb leadership. Nobody contested that policy." Levar was later killed. The Serb National Party confirmed that as early as in 1991 it had submitted to the highest officials of Croat cabinet and Parliament a detailed report on liquidation of 64 Serbs in Gospic on 15 and 16 October 1991, but that those crimes were glossed over in line with the official policy. (Politika, 14 April 2000)

Tackling of war crimes in Croatia activated many NGOs, Serb parties in Croatia and the FRY political parties. Details of war crimes against Serbs were disclosed. For example Milan DJukic ,President of the Serb National Party, stated that 5,673 Serbs disappeared in Croatia. He added that this fact was never discussed in Croatia since "Croatia talks only about missing Croats." (Politika, 19 April 2000). Milorad Pupovac, President of the Serb National Council stated that 700 Serbs were killed in Croatian towns. (Glas javnosti, 20 April 2000)

The Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights published results of investigation into suffering of civilians during offensives "Flash" and "Storm." In Sector South 470 civilians perished, and in Sector North 267 were killed. CHC also quoted that the largest number of victims were reported in localities Glina, Slunj, Gvozd and Vojnic. Most of them were killed while escaping in refugee columns or in their houses. The findings also indicate that they were victims of the Croatian Army, withdrawing Serb forces, and units of the Fifth Corps of the B&H Army on river Una. (Danas, 21 July 2000). According to "Veritas" findings 1,806 Serbs died or went missing in the "Flash" offensive, namely. 1,033 civilians, of whom 451 were women and 11 children. (Politika, 4 August 2000)

Croatian Parliament passed three laws on minorities, in line with the Croat obligations stemming from the country's 1998 admission to the Council of Europe, namely: the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities, the Law on Equal and Official Use of Minority Languages and Alphabets, and the Law on Education in Minority Languages and Alphabets. These laws constitute a major improvement in legal regulations relating to the status of minority groups. However discrimination is on the rise regarding restitution of property, as most local bodies are still firmly controlled by the Croat Democratic Community (pan-Croatian local elections are yet to be staged.) Population census scheduled for April 2001 with its methodology and results can have a positive impact on the minority rights (so-called rights of returnees). Croatia is also a party to the Council of Europe Framework Convention for Protection of Minority Rights.

The refugee situation has deteriorated because of generally poor economic and social conditions in the FRY. Refugees still face a host of problems. After change of authorities in Croatia, official authorities of the FRY and Serbia declaratively backed the return of Serbs to Croatia. Bratislava Morina, the Serbian Commissioner for Refugees maintained that the process of return of Serb refugees to Croatia was kick-started and that "after having passed a strict admission procedure, 16,500 Serbs were allowed to return to Croatia." She also stated that "the Federal Ministry for Refugees and Displaced persons, Commissariat for Refugees of the Republic of Serbia and the UNHCR shall shortly implement Annex 7 of the Dayton accord" (interview to Jagodina TV, early June 2000)

Catastrophic situation in collective centres encouraged refugees after the October 4 coup to demand dismissal of Bratislava Morina on grounds of "her inefficiency and lack of responsibility in handling accumulated refugee problems, her persistent refusal to co-operate with refugee associations, her opportunism and intolerant and rude treatment of and communication with refugees." (Borba, 13 October 2000) All in all refugees expect the new authorities to take a different line on the solution of refugee issues. Radenko Popic, Vice President of the Vojvodina branch of Association for Assistance to Refugees and Displaced Persons," stated that "the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees by its irresponsible conduct and actions exacerbated and made very complicated existence of refugees. All the commissariat's prerogatives must be relegated to the federal level, for staff of this republican body are devoid of moral qualifications to deal with the refugee issue." (Glas javnosti, 25 October 2000). Refugees have been waiting for many years a decision on dual citizenship, facilitating the resolution of their status in Serbia, in the FRY, in Croatia and in B&H. The new Yugoslav authorities announced adoption of a new citizenship law in the early 2001. According to some information the bill is in the offing.

After the Serbian elections the international community adopted a different policy towards the FRY and Serbia. This in turn affected positively the refugee situation. According to the UNHCR spokesman the 2000 budget was downscaled, which meant that less aid was sent to Yugoslavia, but "the international community's attention remains centred on the FRY." (Danas, 24 October 2000). Rade Dubajic, Secretary General of the Yugoslav Red Cross stated that in the wake of political changes in Serbia that the Red Cross National Societies of Germany, Norway, Sweden promised donations, as did the ICRC.(Politika, 24 October 2000). Spokesman of the Belgrade office of UNHCR appealed to international donors to grant $ 20 worth of emergency aid to refugees in the FRY. (Blic, 27 October 2000)

After new Croatian government took office co-operation between Croatia and the FRY stepped up with respect to the return of refugees. According to the Belgrade office of UNHCR 110 refugees return to Croatia every week. (Blic, 30 June 2000). A three-way meeting (FRY, Croatia and UNHCR) on the return of Serb refugees to Croatia was held on 12 September 2000. It was agreed that there would be no check of police records (if any) of refugees. Files shall be checked only at a special request of a potential returnee, to establish existence of earlier convictions or lack thereof, and consequently their eligibility for amnesty.

International organisations, such as the UNHCR, Stability Pact for South East Europe, asked the FRY to consent to a new census of refugees, in order to establish their exact number and concrete wishes, that is, whether they want to stay in the FRY or go back to Croatia.


3. Refugees from Bosnia

Serb refugees from B&H mostly returned to Republika Srpska, in line with the official policy of Belgrade and RS, or their goal of consolidation of ethnic territories. Belgrade perceives Republika Srpska as a war booty threatening the Dayton accord implementation, notably W. Petrich's implementation thereof. In that context the old and new policy of refugees return to B&H should be understood. New authorities criticise Slobodan Milosevic exclusively on grounds of lost wars. Vojislav Kostunica, FRY President, condemned Milosevic only because "he signed capitulation in Dayton and Kumanovo." (Danas, 5 September 2000)

Serb strategists respect the new international circumstances, that is, assess that the process of globalisation "shall hinder for a long time the creation of a unique state of Serb people," but they do not relinquish that goal. Their assessment is that circumstances shall change and that, as academician Mihajlo Markovic, has put it "Serb intellectuals and politicians should not wait for the process of globalisation to collapse or weaken...they should immediately start working on unification of Serb countries." According to Markovic "their direct task is to work on creation of a unique Serb territory, for conditions for such venture are propitious now" (Srpska politicka misao, 1-2/2000). This indicates that the elite still insists on the program of "unification of all Serbs in one state." This was a dominant viewpoint voiced at many scientific conferences (for example the 20 October 2000 Fruska Gora meeting.)

Republika Srpska is obviously a priority of the new FRY President, who only several days after his electoral victory stated: "It is not normal that Serb towns remain in foreign territories" and "only globalism-minded politicians think that Drina is not a river, but an ocean." In the capacity of the FRY President his first visit was to Trebinje. He took part in re-burial of Jovan Ducic, Serb poet, diplomat, and protagonist of a Greater Serbia project in diaspora (the US). Only after the international community piled pressure on him Kostunica agreed to visited Sarajevo . At the airport he committed himself to observance of the Dayton accord . However when a journalist asked him when he planned to apologise to Bosniaks, Kostunica answered: "the truth is yet to emerge." In his statements Kostunica stressed his "commitment to consistent implementation of the Dayton accord, for 'Serbs live in one entity, Republika Srpska, and everything that leads to suspension of that entity shall be countered by our legally founded criticism." He also said that 5 years after Dayton there is a need for "people to decide on their own fate." (Danas, 9 November 2000). All the aforementioned statements clearly reflect the FRY position on Bosnia and Herzegovina.

For five years now Republika Srpska has been persistently obstructing the return of Bosniaks and Croats to their pre-war homes. For example Rajko Gnjato, Dean at the Mathematical Faculty in Banjaluka, says that from the standpoint of Serb interests "Republika Srpska is the only beacon in the process of the SFRY disintegration," but that "international community is likely to pile pressure on us to implement Annex 7, which would impair the cohesive power of RS." Gnjato says that "establishment of a unitary B&H should be countered by the return of Serb refugees to RS and promotion of population policy measures, and of the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church." (Compendium of papers presented at the round-table "Serb people in the new geopolitical reality, 1997.")

Having in mind that in the national strategy manipulation of refugees plays a key rule, the issue of return must be viewed in a different light. Nationalists on all sides through administrative measures obstructed or slowed down the return of refugees. They resorted to delay tactics in hope to discourage refugees from return. They succeeded in their goal for the international community belatedly realised that return was a key precondition for reintegration of the whole region.

Policy of the High Representative Wolfgang Petrich on refugees return and in those terms creation of conditions for their return made some Republika Srpska officials very anxious. They responded negatively to the possibility of a more massive return of refugees to the B&H. According to the UNHCR 15,000 Serbs returned to Sarajevo in the course of 2000. Very massive return to Drvar area in the wake of pull-out of the Croat army was also reported. Namely families of Croat soldiers also left usurped houses and flats, thus enabling returnees to move in their own property.

According to Bratislava Morina, the then Federal Minister for Refugees, Displaced Persons and Humanitarian Assistance, "the international community-organised return of refugees to B&H gave poor results...hence we should urge implementation of Annex 7 of the Dayton accord" (Blic, 18 August 2000). Vladimir Cucic, Head of Belgrade office of the Commission for Property Claims of B&H Refugees and Displaced Persons stated: "our office has to date received 215,000 claims and took 110,000 decisions on restitution of property in the territory of B&H." (Danas, 31 August 2000)

After new Yugoslav government took office the international community took a more active stand on the resolution of the issue of refugees return to B&H and Croatia. The new authorities, notably President Kostunica, have publicly pledged to consistently implement the Dayton accord "both in terms of property restitution and the return of people." (Danas, 27 December 2000)


4. Refugees from Kosovo

Refugees from Kosovo, notably those accommodated in collective centres, are probably the most vulnerable population group. Their fate is very uncertain, as it is closely linked to the settlement of the Kosovo issue. Refugees were intrumentalised by former regime and are being instrumentalised by the new authorities. Developments in Southern Serbia have again stirred up emotions and made even more questionable the fate of displaced persons from Kosovo. The new regime emulates the old one by trying to create an illusion that the YA and police shall return to Kosovo, after which a more massive return of Serbs could be effected.

There are 230,000 displaced persons from Kosovo. Kosovo Roma are in the worst predicament, for they are accommodated in the Roma slums, and having decided not to register (out of fear of forcible repatriation to Kosovo) they don't receive any humanitarian assistance. 45,000 Roma came to Serbia. They are mostly accommodated with host families, that is, in houses of their relatives, or are squatting. Most of them are in Belgrade suburbs of Tosin Bunar and Zemun Polje.

Roma have settled in 24 slums and live a very hard life. But Jordan Vasic, President of Democratic Association of Roma stated that life in slums was better than in high-rises. A 7-month old baby, Rifa Asanovic, died of hunger and cold in Belgrade borough of Dorcol (Vecernje Novosti, 29 January 2000). Fama Fetina Dervisaj, a 14- months old baby, refugee from Kosovo, died in the collective centre Vrela Ribnicka in the vicinity of Podgorica (Blic, 17 Feburary 200). 15 families are squatting in a house in Blok 28, New Belgrade, and many more in Radio Station Antena, Ledina, Pinki, Staro Sajmiste, etc. In Novi Sad Roma families are accommodated in settlements Rit, Adica. Telep and Klis.

As host families often lacked the property certificates, the Yugoslav Red Cross could not register their relatives from Kosovo as beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance. In fact host families are very poor and the majority of them live in slums or in illegally built houses. Added to that majority of Roma from Kosovo do not know which organisation to address in order to regulate their right to labour, pension and similar. Roma receive assistance in kind -food and medicines-from the municipal Red Cross and the Roma Association. They do not get any legal assistance although they need counselling in the field of children's allowance, maternity leave compensation, health insurance, etc. Roma children don't go to school. They faced an education problem in Kosovo, but now they have to deal with an even larger barrier-namely most Roma children speak only Albanian. In view of a prevailing anti-Albanian mood, most of them are reluctant to demand separate, Albanian language classes. Added to that parents are not particularly interested in education of their children. In fact they compel them to work because of poor conditions under which most Roma families live. At the last federal and republican elections Roma from Kosovo were not eligible for voting or putting forward their candidates. Roma are poorly informed and there is a dire need for a Roma medium geared towards informing the Roma refugee population.


5. Compensatory damage lawsuits brought by refugees unlawfully mobilised in 1995

a. Overview

In June, July and August 1995, the Serbian police staged a massive campaign of ID checking in public places "in compliance with regulations on registering and de-registering places of residence." This resulted in arrest of able-bodied (and even militarily unfit) conscripts with refugee IDs and a number of citizens with the FRY citizenship, but originating from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. After arrest those persons were taken to collective centres (Sremska Mitorivica, Zrenjanin, Pancevo, Loznica, etc.) and ferried in police buses and vans to different localities in Eastern Slavonia (part of so-called Republika Srpska Krajina) and in Republika Srpska. There they were 'handed over' to police and military formations of the Serbian Voluntary Guard headed by Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan.

Because of that unlawful mobilisation about 130 people in 1996 and 1997 took compensatory damage against the Serbian police (the Serbian Ministry of Interior). Those actions had not been as massive as one would have expected, because many forcibly mobilised men feared further intimidation and harassment, and outcome of such lawsuit proceedings.

How those men were arrested, and forcibly taken to RSK and RS, is best illustrated by the following examples:

Stevo Knezevic from Sisak with his family fled Croatia during the "Storm" offensive, on 12 August 1995. Four days after his arrival in Smederevo, where he intended to settle, he was first taken by two policemen to the Smederevo police station, and later, in late evening hours was ferried to Erdut (so-called RSK). He was handed over to the Arkan's Serbian Voluntary Guard. He was "released" on 17 January 1996 in a very poor psychological state. Later he twice tried to commit suicide.

Milan Mrkobrad and his family on 14 August 1995 fled Utinja Vrelo, near Vojnic in Croatia and re-settled in Centa, Vojvodina. On 24 August he was arrested and taken to the Zrenjanin police station. Later he and other 200 detainees were ferried to Erdut. There they were met by the fatigues-clad and fully armed men. After lining them up, shaving them, and putting them in tents, Arkan's 'soldiers' once again lined them up and ordered them to shout that they had betrayed Srpska Kraijina. The next day they were all given uniforms of former Yugoslav People's Army. On the third day Milan Mrkobrad was deployed in a unit of so-called Army of RSK, in Sremska Laza. He stayed there 60 days, although in his military booklet, which no-one bothered to check, it was clearly stated that he was unfit to serve the army. When he was finally granted a 5-day leave Mrkobrad left for the FRY. He did not return to the Sremska Laza unit.

Gojko Diklic and his family in August 1995 fled Croatia. He settled in his wife's family house in Zajecar. On 15 September he was taken to Zajecar police station He was told that he was supposed to take part in military exercises in Nis, but he was in fact escorted in a police van to Erdut and handed over to Arkan's units. During his stay there he and other forcibly mobilised men were beaten and harassed for protesting against their unlawful mobilisation. All valuables and documents were seized from Diklic and other "detainees." They were severely punished for smallest mistakes. Many of them had to carry a 36 kg stone with lettering "Mister discipline" around the polygon. After Erdut he was sent to the front line in Pacetin. Diklic was on duty, in trenches, for 24 hours for several days in a row. He was released on 15 December 1995.

On 23 June 1995 the Loznica police unit arrested Dusan Sedlar and took him to a fire brigade station in Loznica. It was in fact a collective centre for all the forcibly mobilised men from Novi Sad and Belgrade. A day later they were ferried to Zvornik in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sedlar's wife went to Loznica to present evidence of military unfitness of her husband (he has a diabetes) and his Serbian and FRY citizenship. But the police told her that they were ordered to mobilise all B&H former residents (she and her husband used to be teachers in Tuzla.) She then went to the Republika Srpska Army Headquarters in Han Pijesak. There she was told that her husband was deployed in Nedz-arici. During her conversation with an army officer, another one protested against her presence and told her to go to the police to insult them, for they had arrested her husband. When she insisted on being told whether the Republika Srpska Army asked the police to mobilise refugees, an officer retorted that no such request had been made and that the RSA only had problems with thus mobilised persons. She was also told that only General Ratko Mladic could sign a return permit. 7 days later, on 24 September 1995, Dusan Sedlar in a poor mental and physical health was returned to Serbia.

Milos Pantovic, a refugee from Dubrovnik settled with his family in Dubrovnik, in 1991. He had a refugee status until he was granted Montenegrin, that is Yugoslav citizenship. In February 1995 family Pantovic moved to Pancevo. They got their residence permit there and were issued IDs. On 21 June 1995 he was taken by two Pancevo policemen to a fire brigade station. With other "detainees" he was transferred the same night first to Ruma/Sremska Mitrovica, and later to Bijeljina. According to their place of birth they were divided in the groups to be deployed either in Republika Srpska Krajina or in Republika Srpska. The next day Pantovic was ferried to Pale, and then to Semizovac where he was given uniform and weapons despite being declared militarily unfit, as his army booklet plainly stated. From Semizovac on 27 June 1995 he was transferred to Rajlovac where he was kept in trenches until 23 July 1995, the day of his release. Pantovic and other forcibly mobilised persons testified that the police were aware of unlawfulness of their actions. Namely the bus which ferried them to RSK or RS started the journey always at the nightfall. It was escorted by the police and frequently stopped to tune in to UNPROFOR communications. UNPROFOR must have been aware of those men-smuggling operations for the troops were constantly patrolling the area. Mobilised men were mistreated. They were not allowed to go to toilet, were given only stale bread and old cans, were insulted and jeered as traitors. The chief officer of Semizovac unit seized all their IDs, cursed them and labelled them as "traitors, unwilling to defend their country." They were all subjected to harsh psychological torture. Mentally weaker individuals were badly shaken and one man committed suicide by sitting on an activated bomb. After a month in trenches and thanks to intervention of his wife, Pantovic was released on 23 July 1995.

b. Legal regulations

Article 1 of the Law on Internal Affairs (Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia, no. 44/91 of 25 July 1991) prescribes that "internal affairs are affairs established under law, and carried out by the competent republican bodies in order to ensure security of the Republic and its citizens and exercise of citizens' rights guaranteed by Constitution and laws."

Article 2 of the same law lays down that "internal affairs are carried out in a way which ensures equal protection of rights of all citizens and exercise of their constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.

Article 3 of the same law lays down that: "in carrying out internal affairs only legally stipulated measures of coercion can be enforced, likewise those least detrimental to citizens and their organisations, companies, institutions.

Article 11 of the law spells out that "the Interior Ministry can limit the freedom of movement of those who disturb public peace and order and threatens security of the republic, if security and peace cannot be otherwise restored, and a person can be detained for establishing his or her identity, if his or her identity cannot be established by a simple ID check or otherwise, whereby such a person can be detained for maximum 24 hours." Furthermore "an authorised official of the Interior Ministry is duty-bound to immediately inform a detainee on reasons of his/her detention and his/her rights and without any delay notify detainee's family of his or her detention.

Article 12 of the said Law lays down that "a decision on detention must be immediately taken ...and ...a detainee has the right to appeal to the Interior Ministry within 12 hours from being handed the detention decision, whereby the Interior Minister is duty-bound to take a relevant decision on the appeal at the latest within 24 hours from hearing it.

Article 1 of the Law on Refugees (Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia, no. 18/92 of 4 April 1992) prescribes that "care must be taken of and accommodation provided to all Serbs and citizens of other nationalities, which under pressure of the Croat authorities and authorities of other countries, under threat of genocide, persecution and discrimination on religious, national or political grounds were compelled to abandon their homes and settle in the territory of the Republic of Croatia." The Republic of Serbia shall take care of them until conditions are ripe for their safe return to areas which they had abandoned. Article 4 of the aforementioned Law prescribes that the Republic of Serbia "provides for collective protection of personal, property and other rights of freedoms of refugees and ensures their international legal protection in the same way it ensures such a protection for its citizens.

Article 33 of the Geneva Convention on Status of Refugees of 28 July 1951 lays down that "a state in which a refugee seeks refuge cannot expel him or her or forcibly repatriate him or her to the place/country in which his/her life or freedom would be threatened on grounds of his race, religion, citizenship, social group or political opinions, Furthermore Article 3 of the Convention expressly bans discrimination against refugees on grounds of their countries of origins, and selective repatriation of refugees to their home countries. This Convention was recognised and ratified by the FRY (as a legal successor of former SFRY). SFRY had also ratified the Protocol on Status of Refugees, concluded on 31 January 1967, supplementary to the 1951 Convention. This ratification was endorsed by adoption of the Decree on Ratification of the Protocol on Status of Refugees, passed by the SFRY Federal Executive Council on 11 October 1967.

Article 16 of the FRY Constitution prescribes that the FRY shall in good faith meet its obligations stemming from international contracts, and to which the FRY is a party, while international contracts ratified and published in line with the FRY Constitution and generally accepted Rules of International Law make an integral part of the domestic legal order.

Article 123 of the Constitution of the FRY spells out that under the law everybody has the right to compensation of damage incurred to him/her by wrongful actions of officials or state bodies or organisations empowered to carry out such public actions. State is duty bound to compensate that damage.

Article 172 of the Act on Contractual Relations spells out that every legal person must be responsible for damage incurred to a third person by its body while that body discharges its duties.

The aforementioned legal regulations were regularly enforced by the first-and second-instance court judges. Namely a large number of plaintiffs won their damage compensation lawsuits. But there were misuses of this legal principle of the tiered court proceedings. In fact that principle underlies the importance of control of legal, if not political probity of the first-degree judgements. Therefore in the next part of our report we shall illustrate the underlying reasons for the lack of final decisions in some lengthy lawsuits.

c. Lawsuit proceedings

Since 1996 all lawsuits brought against the Republic of Serbia involved compensatory damage to plaintiffs -refugees and the FRY citizens unlawfully detained by the Serbian police and handed over to the RSK and RS military and paramilitary formations-for their physical and mental suffering and violations of their human rights.

In its arguments, the Republican Public Defence Office, a legal attorney of the Republic of Serbia denied all charges and maintained that the Serbian Interior Ministry was not tasked with mobilisation and other defence affairs. In the territory of the Republic of Serbia, under the constitution in place, these affairs are within competence of the federal bodies. In territory of RSK those affairs were within competence of authorised bodies of RSK. The same applied to Republika Srpska. Hence the Serbian Interior Ministry has never engaged in mobilisation or other related defence actions, let alone in 1995. The Serbian Interior Ministry discharges functions from its legally stipulated competence and strictly in compliance with regulations in place. The Serbian police is duty-bound to control registration of addresses, places of residence and to carry out activities related to protection of lives and personal and property security of citizens, in line with enforcement of regulations on registration and de-registration of place of residence. Consequently, in all cases of disappearances the Serbian police acted in line with their duties and regulations in place. Moreover the Serbian Interior Ministry contacted the authorised bodies of Republika Srpska and Srem-Baranja area and negotiated the return of large number of citizens to the Republic of Serbia and the FRY.

Judges of the First Municipal Court in Belgrade, after establishing circumstantial evidence and lawful enforcement of regulations, in co-operation with lawyers of Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, as plaintiffs' attorneys, ruled that compensatory damage be paid to plaintiffs.

The aforementioned judgements were regularly appealed by the Republican Public Defence Office, which stated that the Republic of Serbia was not passively legitimised (cannot be sued) for the Republican Interior Ministry was not authorised to effect mobilisation or to engage in any other defence activity. It was furthermore stated in the appeals that "if it is established that plaintiffs were detained by the police, then in determining responsibility the theory of direct cause should be applied, which implies that defendants were not responsible for damage incurred to plaintiffs after the surrender of the latter to competent bodies of RSK and RS." This would also stem from the fact that "plaintiffs were handed over to bodies of RSK army and not to Croatia, from which they had fled." By extension "it is difficult to assume that lives or liberty of plaintiffs, all of Serb nationality, would be endangered on grounds of their race, religion or citizenship, social group or political opinions, in terms of provision of article 33 of the Convention on Status of Refugees." Added to that "as damage, if any, was incurred outside the territory of the sued Republic of Serbia, a competent body or RSK or RS should be tasked with settlement of this lawsuit."

District Court in Belgrade, as an authorised second-instance court, suspended first-instance court judgements and ordered retrials on the following grounds "in renewed proceedings courts should establish whether plaintiffs voluntarily returned to the territory of Croatia with intention to preserve the RSK territory; have the plaintiffs, if forcibly mobilised, addressed competent police bodies or other bodies to notify them of unlawfulness of mobilisation campaign; have plaintiffs been mobilised at an express request of authorised bodies of other countries; for the purpose of identification of persons who mobilised plaintiffs and their interrogation with a view to establishing identity of persons on whose orders they acted."

Reasoned opinion in writing of the District Court sentence, published in legal magazine "From Legal Practice" (issue no. 4) best illustrates the position of this court (that is the state) on such proceedings:

"According to documents, a son, that is a husband, of plaintiffs, with a refugee status, on 21 September 1995 was forcibly taken by the police to the Sremska Mitrovica collective centre and handed over to the bodies of the then RSK Army. Thereafter he was taken to battlefield and he died in action, in the vicinity of Mrkonjic Grad. The court dismissed the plaintiffs compensatory damage claim, by ruling that the death was a consequence of mobilisation by the then RSK Army and the ensuing deployment, and unrelated to forcible mobilisation by the police as a body of the sued state and hand-over of the now deceased to the RSK authorities in the territory of Serbia."

Sentences passed in the renewed proceedings, and which allowed plaintiffs' claims, indicated that judges acted on orders of the District Court and that they established: lack of evidence of voluntary conduct of the plaintiffs; lack of opportunity of plaintiffs (they were in trenches) to contact authorised bodies of the Interior Ministry or total disregard of plaintiffs complaints by those authorities which they managed to contact (hence their asking for an ultimate legal remedy before "other" bodies.") The Republic Serbia as a defendant failed to comply with repeated requests to submit alleged petition in writing of the military bodies of RSK and RS addressed to the Ministry of Interior of Serbia "to mobilise and hand over to RSK and RS bodies persons originating from Croatia or Bosnia and Herzegovina." It also failed to submit names of policemen who effected arrests, and whose interrogation would have led to disclosure of names of those who had given such orders, in view of the fact that the aforementioned petition had never been written in the first place.

To date plaintiffs won seven lawsuits, of which five were suspended and one was appealed (Supreme Court decision is pending). Namely the defendant appealed to the Belgrade District Court decision which reduced the compensation amount from 40,000 to 20,000 dinars. Compensatory damage amounts determined by courts in the 7 aforementioned cases ranged from 10,000 to 200,000 dinars. In the meantime two plaintiffs died, while 6 of them dropped their lawsuits on grounds of their imminent emigration to the third countries.

d. Conclusion

Arrests made by the Serbian police represent anti-constitutional activities, for provision of Article 23 of the FRY Constitution lays down that "nobody can be arrested, unless so determined by the federal act; and "unlawful arrest is punishable." Forcible arrest and mobilisation of refugees in the FRY territory, serving the purpose of the state from which they had fled, was contrary to the said provision of Article 33 of the Convention on Refugees banning "expulsion or forcible repatriation of refugees to places/countries in which their lives and liberty could be threatened" The Serbian regime has not only violated legal acts but also grossly breached general principles of humanity, the main reasons for adoption of relevant legal acts. Hence forcible taking of refugees to the countries from which they had fled during most intense armed conflicts represented the most flagrant threat to their lives, rights and freedoms.





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