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Torture and ill-treatment continues with impunity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, says Amnesty report

"I was arrested, they brought me to the police station... They began with slaps and then they started beating me." – Statement from a man arrested in Prijedor in Republika Srpska.

Torture and ill-treatment continue in police stations and prisons in Bosnia-Herzegovina, according to a new Amnesty International report launched today (6 February) from Sarajevo. Amnesty researchers documented allegations of beatings with fists and truncheons, sometimes after victims had been tied down. A persistent culture of impunity among law enforcement and prison officials, as well as prosecutors, is fuelling such abuses, according to Amnesty.

The report, Bosnia and Herzegovina: "Better keep quiet": ill-treatment by the police and in prisons, found that the cycle of ill-treatment may start at the time of arrest and continue in the police station and then in prison. Amnesty is calling on the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to send a clear message, at all levels, that torture and other ill-treatment in prisons and by police officers will not be tolerated and will be punished.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Torture and ill-treatment are disturbingly common throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and the authorities are failing to prevent it. Beatings often go unreported because the victims are afraid of reprisals, while those brave enough to speak out find their claims aren’t fully investigated.

“This impunity has got to stop. The authorities must demonstrate political will to unequivocally denounce these violations.”

The lack of effective systems addressing cases of police misconduct is one of the main obstacles in fighting ill-treatment. The current system requires prosecutors to start a criminal investigation whenever they suspect that a person may have been a victim of police ill-treatment. However, this rarely happens. Internal police oversight and complaints systems are often ineffective and many complaints are not adequately addressed as a result of the unwillingness or inability by the police to “police itself”.

Cases of ill-treatment and violence in prisons continue to be reported. The prison system is understaffed and some prisons are overcrowded. Amnesty International’s interviews with prisoners in Zenica Prison (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina), for example, suggest a worrying pattern of ill-treatment of prisoners. Prison guards were reported to have beaten with truncheons prisoners held in isolation cells.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, official figures show that no criminal proceedings were initiated against prison guards suspected of having ill-treated inmates in recent years. A culture of impunity and an atmosphere of intimidation make it unlikely that information about ill-treatment will reach anyone beyond the prison walls.

Kate Allen said:

“Our researchers found no system in place to ensure that prisoners can complain about ill-treatment, particularly by prison guards, without fear of reprisal.”

Amnesty International’s report urges the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina at all levels, with the assistance of the international community, to reform its law-enforcement agencies and justice sector, to bring about comprehensive changes in policy and practice to address torture and other ill-treatment.

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