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December 1998 Vol. 10, No. 10 (D)



“Any violence against a person deprived of liberty or whose liberty has been restricted,
as well as any extortion of a confession or statement, shall be forbidden and punishable.
No one may be subjected to torture, degrading treatment or punishment.”
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Article 25.





Photographic Evidence of Deaths in Detention

Rexhep Bislimi

Cen Dugolli

Adem Berisha

Maksut Qafleshi

Bilall Shala


A Bus From Slovenia

Fatime Boshnjaku

Zahride Podrimçaku

Besa Arllati

Mevlude Sarraqi


Xhavet Haziri

Dr. Hafir Shala

Nait Hasani


The Students From Prizren

Ahmet Gjonovci

Destan Rukiqi




Domestic Law

International Law


List of Prisons


Penal Code of the Republic of Serbia


Since the armed conflict in Kosovo began in late February 1998, at least 1,200 ethnic Albanians have been charged under Serbian law with “terrorism” or “anti-state activities.” The exact figure is unknown, because the Serbian government refuses to provide updated information.

The physical abuse and torture of detainees is widespread. Five individuals are known to have died from violence inflicted on them by police in police stations or prisons since July 1998, and this number does not include more than fifty people who, since February 1998, according to Human Rights Watch estimates, were executed by the special police forces after they were taken into custody.1 Hundreds of other detainees have been subjected to beatings to extract a confession or to obtain information about the ethnic Albanian insurgency known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).2

According to the Serbian government, as of October 3, 1998, 1,242 ethnic Albanians had been charged with “terrorist acts” based on Article 125 or 136 of the Serbian penal code (see Appendix B), although only 684 of these people were reported to be in custody. But many arrests took place throughout October and November, and human rights and humanitarian aid groups in Kosovo suspect that the number of people now in custody is higher, probably around 1,500.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been denied full access to ethnic Albanians in state custody, especially those in pre-trial detention, although it has been allowed to visit approximately 160 people in prison after they have been sentenced. Lawyers and family members also report difficulties in visiting their clients and relatives in detention.

The common practice throughout the summer, documented on numerous occasions by Human Rights Watch, was for the police to round up ethnic Albanians in their villages or in the woods where they were hiding from government attacks. The police detained the men for two or three days for interrogation and paraffin tests -- an antiquated and unreliable chemical test to check for traces of gunpowder. Most of those detained were beaten during this time by the police and interrogated about the KLA. Those who tested positive for gun powder, or who the police believed had engaged in hostilities against the state, were arrested. On one occasion, in the village of Golubovac on September 26, the police lined up and executed thirteen men.3

Detained individuals include human rights activists, students, doctors, humanitarian aid workers, political party members, and lawyers, many of whom were physically abused. Although some of these people may have cooperated with or participated in the Albanian insurgency known in KLA activities, the accusation of “terrorism” has cast a wide legal net around many ethnic Albanians who do not have contact with the Albanian insurgents. Simply being an ethnic Albanian is often enough to merit an arrest and beating.

Because prisons in Kosovo are full to capacity, many prisoners have been transferred to facilities in other parts of Serbia, including military prisons. At times, unconventional detention centers were temporarily used, such as schools, fire stations, and factories. There are unconfirmed reports that the ferrous-nickel plant near Glogovac was used as a detention facility.

Eight judges were transferred to Kosovo to deal with the heavy caseload. Trials took place in September, October, and November, and are expected to continue throughout the winter. As in the past, defendants are rarely given a fair trial. In addition to the use of torture to extract confessions, defendants are often denied access to a lawyer, not allowed to view court documentation, or refused permission to present witnesses on their behalf. The government exerts a direct influence on the outcome of most trials.

Such violations are in clear contradiction to Serbian and Yugoslav law, which forbids the use of violence against detainees and guarantees due process. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has also ratified all of the international conventions forbidding torture and degrading treatment or punishment. Despite this, abuses in the legal system are treated with impunity. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any prosecution of, dismissals, or disciplinary action taken against policemen, prison guards, investigators, prosecutors, or judges for excessive use of force or violations of criminal procedure since the armed conflict began in February 1998. Judges regularly dismiss defendants’ complaints that they were abused in detention or forced to confess under duress.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that these abuses will continue, notwithstanding the recent U.S. brokered cease-fire and nascent peace process. On October 14, the Serbian government announced that it had agreed to an amnesty for ethnic Albanians accused of political crimes and to consider moderation of punishment for those convicted of such crimes. But as of December 1, there was no further information about this amnesty, or how it might be administered. Moreover, although repeated Security Council resolutions have insisted on full and unimpeded access for the ICRC, and Yugoslav President Slobodan Miloševic has agreed to allow monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to verify his compliance with those resolutions, the ICRC continues to experience difficulties in obtaining access to detention facilities. Reports of arbitrary arrests and detention have continued since the fragile peace was negotiated in mid-October. Human Rights Watch fears that while the conflict may have subsided for the winter months, serious abuses and miscarriages of justice will continue in Yugoslavia’s police stations, detention centers, and courtrooms.

The KLA has also committed illegal detentions since February 1998, and has sometimes extrajudicially executed those held in its custody. The precise number of those in detention is unknown since the KLA does not provide updated information and no independent monitoring organization has been given access to KLA detention centers. Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, political parties, and the Yugoslav government estimate that between 100 and 300 people, ethnic Serbs and Albanians, are believed to have been taken into custody by the KLA and are unaccounted for, but it is unknown whether these people are in hiding, have been killed, or are still in KLA custody. By the KLA’s own admission, some people in its custody have been executed.

A number of KLA detainees have also been released. On July 22, the KLA handed over to the ICRC thirty-five ethnic Serbs it had captured during the fighting in Orahovac. In a recent case that generated a lot of public attention, two journalists from the official Tanjug news agency were released on November 27, after spending more than one month in KLA custody; their trial by a KLA military court did not meet international standards of due process. Two other Serbian journalists believed abducted by the KLA are still missing.

1 See “Humanitarian Law Violations in Kosovo,” Human Rights Watch, October 1998. 2 Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës (UÇK) in Albanian. 3 See “Humanitarian Law Violations in Kosovo,” Human Rights Watch, October 1998, appendices A and C. A detailed Human Rights Watch report on Golubovac is forthcoming.

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