Home News The state appears disinterested in engaging in the prevention and prosecution of torture cases, as well as the protection of victims.

The state appears disinterested in engaging in the prevention and prosecution of torture cases, as well as the protection of victims.

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On the occasion of June 26, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the International Aid Network (IAN) and the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights emphasize the necessity of addressing the problems and consequences that arise in societies that fail to punish perpetrators of torture and provide assistance to victims in realizing their rights, with a particular focus on the recommendations received during the latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and the previous recommendations issued by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).

Although prevention and combating torture are stated as goals of the European integration process of the Republic of Serbia and are mentioned in numerous strategic documents, the state makes little to no progress in this area. An evident example of the state’s disinterest in combating torture is the fact that such crimes continue to expire, contrary to Serbia’s obligations under international law. Furthermore, the definition of torture in the Criminal Code is still not aligned with the definition provided in Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, despite this recommendation being addressed to Serbia by international bodies over the past 10 years.

The recent ad hoc visit of the CPT in March of this year highlights the concerning situation. Due to a significant number of allegations of physical abuse by police officers received during the regular visit to Serbia in 2021, the CPT conducted an ad hoc visit to monitor the implementation of previously issued recommendations, particularly those related to the investigation of abuse cases and the impunity of perpetrators.

Based on data from the Centre regarding prosecutorial and judicial proceedings for crimes of coerced confessions, abuse, and torture involving officials, covering the period from the second half of 2021 to the end of 2022, it has been determined that the practice of interrogating suspects in the offices of criminal investigators without video and audio surveillance remains widespread. Additionally, judicial authorities continue to neglect ordering forensic examinations and assessments of injuries in a significant number of cases, while medical examinations of victims still exhibit significant deficiencies. In order to change this practice, representatives of the Centre advocated for the inclusion of an obligation to audio-visually record all conversations with citizens and/or suspects in police stations exclusively designated for this purpose in the future Law on Internal Affairs, as part of the consultative process with the Working Group of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. However, the Working Group, represented by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, rejected this recommendation, as well as many others related to combating abuse (such as mandatory suspension and dismissal of officials accused and convicted of abuse, informing each summoned individual about their rights, etc.), under the pretext that “Serbia does not have to be the only country in Europe that respects all CPT standards.”

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly stated in its judgments that state officials who intentionally abuse citizens must be immediately suspended and, once their responsibility is established, dismissed from service. However, in Serbia, numerous proceedings initiated by public prosecutors against police officers for unlawful and/or excessive use of force against citizens have not been concluded or have been inadequately sanctioned by the courts. For example, in almost all cases of abuse of citizens during the July 2020 protests, the prosecution and the Internal Control Sector failed to determine the identity of responsible officials and keep these cases “on hold,” awaiting the expiration of the statute of limitations. Recent incidents in which police officers physically abused migrants at the Mali Zvornik border crossing and in the Reception Center in Sombor in April of this year demonstrate that the practice of police violence continues to be tolerated and unpunished in our society.

We also remind that, as a signatory to the Convention against Torture, Serbia is obliged to provide compensation and fair redress to individuals who have survived torture, including the right to comprehensive (psychological, medical, legal, and social), accessible, and adequate rehabilitation.

In conclusion, we can state that instead of declarative commitment to eradicate torture, the state must start taking active measures to address deeply rooted problems that daily harm both citizens and the country. Protecting victims of torture should be a priority for institutions, rather than protecting officials who undermine the trust of citizens and flagrantly violate their fundamental rights.

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