Serbia and Montenegro: Torture allegations must be investigated

Amnesty International is demanding immediate access to prisoners arrested in Serbia and Montenegro's 'Operation Sabre' after its latest report released today details torture allegations including beatings, electric shocks to the head and body, asphyxiation by taping bags over the head and mock executions. 'Operation Sabre' was a large-scale clampdown on elements of organised crime seen by the authorities to have been behind the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on 12 March 2003. Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said: 'Torture and ill-treatment during 'Operation Sabre' was apparently widespread, particularly against people out of the public eye and unlikely to have their allegations widely publicised. 'These are extremely serious allegations and we are asking the Serbian authorities to allow Amnesty International and other human rights groups unfettered access to interview any of the detainees privately so that we may ascertain the true scale of the problem.' It appears that many of those who were allegedly subjected to torture or ill-treatment by the police following arrest were too intimidated to talk openly about their ordeals due to fear of being arrested again or being subjected to other forms of official pressure. However, some have made public statements, while others who remain in detention have had their allegations publicised by lawyers or family members. The report, Serbia and Montenegro: Alleged torture during 'Operation Sabre also calls for a wide-ranging and impartial investigation by the international community into the scale of the violations. It states that courts should examine carefully for evidence of torture all cases based on confessions, with no prosecutions based on a confession allegedly obtained by torture. The report further calls for any law enforcement officials found guilty of torturing prisoners to face disciplinary action, dismissal and criminal charges if appropriate. Victims should be adequately compensated for their ordeal. The report recognises the positive role the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is playing in helping Serbia and Montenegro to overcome its difficulties in establishing the rule of law. However, it also details Amnesty International's concern about statements made by leading OSCE officials about 'Operation Sabre' which were vague enough to be misrepresented in the Serbian media as a negation of serious human rights violations without the OSCE publicly refuting them. Lesley Warner added: 'Concerns about the possible torture or ill-treatment of detainees - many of whom were detained incommunicado for as long as 60 days under legislation introduced after Prime Minister Djindjic's assassination - were initially allayed by the reported statements attributed to leading officials from the OSCE.' Background On 3 April 2003, as Serbia and Montenegro acceded to the Council of Europe, Amnesty International publicly expressed its concern that some aspects of the emergency regulations, introduced after the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, might give rise to human rights violations. The organisation called for all those responsible for Prime Minister Djindjic's assassination to be brought to justice, but underlined that attempts to do so must be carried out with respect for international standards and must not resort to torture. Amnesty International was especially concerned about regulations which allowed the Ministry of the Interior to detain people for up to 30 days without access to a lawyer or family, and without their detention being authorised by a competent judicial body, in breach of international standards. On 11 April the Serbian Assembly approved amendments to the Law on Organisation and Jurisdiction of Government Authorities in Suppression of Organised Crime which were in even clearer breach of international standards. In particular the amendments allowed the Interior Ministry to authorise detention of up to 60 days without authorisation from a court or judicial body. On 5 June, after widespread criticism from many quarters including Amnesty International, the Constitutional Court of Serbia ruled the amendments to be unconstitutional and suspended them. Serbia and Montenegro is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which prohibit torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in all cases and circumstances, as does Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) which Serbia and Montenegro signed on accession to the Council of Europe. The report is available online...

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