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Articles on the Kosovo Conflict



Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade
SEPTEMBER 20, 2000 

The stepped-up violence by the Serbian and FR Yugoslavia authorities against political opponents
following the calling of the presidential and federal elections threatened fundamental human rights
and liberties.  The election campaign in Serbia is marked by daily arrests of activists of the Otpor
(Resistance) movement, non-governmental organizations, and members of opposition political parties.

Research by the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) brought out that about 2,500
persons were detained by police from early May to mid-September, of whom
2,000 Otpor activists, 400 opposition party members, and 100 activists of
non-governmental organizations.  The majority were up to 25 years old and
included about 200 minors between the ages of 16 and 18.  Some 300 Otpor
activists were detained five or more times.  Information gathered by the
HLC indicates that police took in about 20 Otpor activists and other active
participants in the election campaign every day from 1-15 September.  Cases
of police brutality against Otpor activists and others were also
registered; 19 persons were physically abused in this period alone.  Police
raided Otpor offices and non-governmental organizations, seizing computers,
address books, and lists of associates.  The number of physical assaults by
private citizens on Otpor activists and others involved in the election
campaign of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), Otpor's campaign
"He's Finished," and the "It's Time" campaign of non-governmental
organizations also rose noticeably. 

The formal reasons for the massive police action against Otpor were the 2
May  incident in Pozarevac when three Otpor activists were arrested for
allegedly attempting to murder a member of the Yugoslav Left (JUL) party,
and the murder of Bosko Perosevic, the President of the Executive Council
of Vojvodina and ranking official of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS),
in Novi Sad on 13 May.  Without any grounds, the police used the murder of
Perosevic as an excuse to detain Otpor activists and opposition party
members in great number and to search their homes.

The police action against Otpor activists further intensified on 9 June
when the Federal Ministry of Justice refused to enter Otpor in the Register
of Associations, in contravention of the constitutional principles and
guarantees of fundamental human rights and liberties.  With this decision,
the authorities demonstrated their readiness to eliminate an entire
generation of young people from social and political life.  Described as a
group which acts against national security interests, these young people
were consigned to the police to deal with. 

Unlawful police conduct against Otpor activists

HLC research brought out that police unlawfully arrested Otpor activists,
questioned them, opened police files on them, searched their homes, and
seized promotional and election literature.

Unlawful arrest

Since the Ministry of Internal Affairs considers Otpor a prohibited
organization, police officers did not conceal that they had orders to
arrest persons wearing T-shirts with the Otpor emblem and participants in
the "He's Finished" campaign.   According to information collected by the
HLC, police in July and August detained over 600 young people, minors and
children found wearing the "banned T-shirt" in public.  In the first half
of September, the majority of those detained were participants in the "He's
Finished" campaign of Otpor and the "It's Time" campaign of
non-governmental organizations.

In all the cases investigated by the HLC, police detained Otpor activists
and others in contravention of Article 11 of the Law on Internal Affairs.
A police detention order was issued in one case only.  After being taken to
police stations, these persons were as a rule interrogated and their
fingerprints were taken, as if they were criminal suspects.

Investigatory interrogations

Immediately after the murder of Bosko Perosevic, police took in for
investigatory interrogation over 200 Otpor activists and members of
opposition political parties.  The murder was used to give a semblance of
legality to the interrogations and the stepped-up activity against
political opponents.  HLC information indicates that police acted
unlawfully in all these cases, with officers frequently saying they were
following the prescribed procedure and orders "from the top." 

When conducting investigatory interrogations, police used a standardized
form.  The questions posed related to the time and reasons for joining
Otpor, its objectives, sources of financing, contacts with foreigners,
names of its leaders and, in some cases, the persons interrogated were
asked whether there were extremist or terrorist factions within Otpor.
Public security inspectors who conducted the interrogations made no effort
to conceal that they had orders to register all those passing out
promotional literature or exhibiting the Otpor emblem because "the
organization and its symbols are prohibited."

Under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), police may summon a person for
investigatory interrogation only when there is probable cause to believe
that a criminal offense in the category of those prosecuted by the state
has been committed.   In such cases, the summonses are in writing and, only
exceptionally, may be oral.  The reason for the summons must be stated in
both cases and must be in connection with a specific criminal offense.  The
offense too must be specified in the summons as the law proscribes
arbitrary citing of reasons.  A person may be taken in by police for an
investigatory interrogation only if he fails to appear on the date
indicated in the summons and did not notify the law enforcement agency
concerned that he was justifiably prevented from appearing.

The Law on Protection of Personal Data stipulates that information on a
person's racial origin, political and union affiliations and sex life may
be gathered, processed and used only with the written consent of the

Photographing and fingerprinting 

HLC research brought out that after unlawfully detaining and interrogating
Otpor activists, police opened criminal files on them, again in
contravention of the law.  Taking of photographs and fingerprints is
allowed only when there is reason to believe that a criminal offense has
been committed.  By opening files on young people, mainly university and
high school students, with no prior convictions, the police in effect
registered them as felons.

Searches of homes and seizures

Information gathered by the HLC showed that police searched over 200 homes
of Otpor activists and their parents in July.  The number of such searches
increased to 300 in August.  In early September, the Otpor offices in Novi
Sad and Belgrade were raided and police confiscated computers and
promotional literature found on the premises.  In none of these cases did
police adhere to the legal provisions regulating the procedure for
searches, indicating that the intention was to leave as few as possible
written traces which might subsequently be used as evidence of unlawful
police conduct.

The law prescribes that police may search private homes and confiscate
objects found in them only after the institution of a judicial
investigation and with the approval of the investigating judge.
Exceptionally, if postponing entry carries a clear danger, searches are
allowed in the pre-judicial stage.   A private home may be searched only if
it is probable that a suspect will be apprehended, or evidence crucial to a
criminal case found in it.   The probability must be real, not assumed or
invented.  Where the searches of the homes of Otpor activists were
concerned, no such probability existed.  The aim was obviously to find
objects carrying the Otpor emblem and/or the movement's promotional and
propaganda literature, possession of which does not constitute a criminal

In about 10 cases, police presented warrants to enter homes for the purpose
of "uncovering objects in connection with a criminal offense."  Police
issued certificates on their entry into some 100 homes, stating as the
reason for entry "the confiscation of propaganda material."

As a rule, police gave no receipts for the objects seized from Otpor
activists or others.  With the sole exception of one instance when a
hunting rifle and the permit for its possession were confiscated, police
seized posters, badges, matchboxes, calendars, handbills, flags and
T-shirts with the Otpor emblem, and "He's Finished" stickers.  In many
cases, police obtained Otpor promotional literature by suggesting to
activists during investigatory interrogations: "If you have propaganda
material at home, turn it over voluntarily since that's better for you than
us finding it when we search your home."  The HLC has learned that even
empty matchboxes or a single T-shirt with the Otpor logo, and cans of glue
were confiscated.  In September, police apparently gave priority to seizing
"He's Finished" stickers and a set of instructions on how people should
behave when confronted with law enforcement abuses. 

Inappropriate treatment of minors

In its actions against young people, the police showed no consideration
even towards minors and children, treating them as perpetrators of
misdemeanors and criminal offenses.

HLC research brought out that police had no legal grounds for detaining the
minors.  There was not a single instance in which these minors engaged in
violent behavior or resisted the police officers who detained them.  And
not in a single instance did police comply with the obligation to treat
minors with particular consideration due to their age. 


A dramatic case of physical abuse of Otpor activists occurred at the police
station in the town of Vladicin Han on 8 September.  Three police officers,
including the local police chief Radivoje Stojmenovic, vented their
aggression on seven youths, tying them up to beat them on the soles of the
feet, throttling them with rope around their necks, beating them with
nightsticks and hands, banging the head of one against the wall, and
inflicting severe pain to another by pulling him by his earring.  The
youths were forced to squat with arms stretched out in front of them; if
they lowered their arms or tried to get up, they were punched on the head
or beaten with a nightstick.  The officers also threatened to take them to
the border with Kosovo and kill them there.  The youths were tortured in
this manner for three hours.

Objective of the police action

An analysis of the behavior of the police indicates that the action is
organized and synchronized, carried out to clear orders and instructions,
and with a clear objective.  Though it is being implemented in the whole
territory of Serbia, it is particularly intensive in Vojvodina.  Since the
police act in an identical manner everywhere, it is obvious that they are
following orders and deliberately violating the law and the Constitution.
Their persistence in breaking the law indicates their confidence that no
disciplinary measures or criminal proceedings will be taken against them. 

If there were any elements of a criminal offense in the activities of
Otpor, law enforcement agencies would be obligated immediately to initiate
appropriate proceedings.  Thus far, however, proceedings were instituted in
only four cases.  By occasionally pressing misdemeanor or criminal charges,
the authorities attempt to preserve at least a semblance of legality.
There are indications that the information collected by the police might by
used for massive criminal prosecution of political opponents, primarily
Otpor activists and others who were taken to police stations where criminal
files on them were opened.

Police zealousness in carrying out orders

Where zealousness in carrying out orders is concerned, there is a
difference between "local" police officers and members of the force
previously stationed in Kosovo.  The latter treat Otpor activists as
"terrorists" and "NATO mercenaries" who must be punished on the spot, and
openly show that they consider any mention of human rights as "hostile

Some inspectors who interrogated activists justified themselves by saying
they had to be more "robust" as they had been reprimanded "from above" for
the "mildness" of their actions against Otpor. The HLC registered in
September warnings by inspectors to Otpor activists to "take care because
the time may come when you will be taken in, questioned and beaten by
someone else, not local policemen."

Assaults by private citizens 

Otpor activists were on several occasions physically assaulted by private
citizens.  A drastic incident took place on 23 May at Belgrade University's
Architecture Department.  A group of about 40 athletically built young men
wearing surgical masks attacked students, instructors and professors with
clubs after a protest meeting against the forcible takeover of the Studio B
radio and television stations and pressures on the independent media in
Serbia.  In some cases, the HLC established that the attackers were members
of the Serbian ruling SPS-JUL coalition.  An Otpor activist in Nis, a
minor, was ill-treated by members of the World War II Veterans' Association.


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