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Alleged police brutality in Bosnia and Herzegovina could be considered torture, Council of Europe says


The Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee published a damning report on allegations of police brutality in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The committee said it uncovered serious allegations of physical and psychological abuse by law enforcement officials.

In a final report released on Tuesday, he said the allegations were so serious they could amount to torture.

They included kicking, punching, slapping and beating with batons, baseball bats, wooden tablets and electric cables in custody, but also rapes with a baton and a sham. execution with a gun.

The report of the Council Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) was based on a visit in June 2019.

Euronews contacted authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina about the allegations, but they had not responded at the time of publication.

In its opening remarks, the 82-page report states: “The high number of credible allegations of police ill-treatment received by the CPT delegation, in particular with regard to members of the Sarajevo cantonal police, is a source of concern. deep concern.

“The seriousness of the findings of the 2019 visit requires … vigorous action to promote a radical culture change within the police; physical mistreatment of detainees must be dismissed as unprofessional and unacceptable by the police themselves. “

Shocking testimonies from former detainees

The inspectors took testimonies from people remanded and sentenced in prisons in Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka and patients from two psychiatric units in Sokolac and from the social center in Stolac.

The most serious assaults were reportedly inflicted by inspectors from the judicial police, with the aim of forcing suspects to confess to a crime, as well as by members of special intervention units at the time of their arrest.

A person arrested on October 26, 2018 in Pale municipality said he was beaten with a baseball bat and gun barrel by Sarajevo police wearing masks during questioning.

He also alleged that he was stripped naked, tortured with metal clamps, and that an umbrella tip and a baton were inserted into his anus. He was released the next day and the Sarajevo East Hospital confirmed that he suffered serious injuries in a medical report.

Another inmate, held in another office the same day, reported the same treatment and also being sprayed with pepper spray on his face.

Another arrested on May 29, 2019, said he was whipped with a cable on his back and legs in an attempt to make him confess to a series of thefts.

Other people who spoke to the CPT said they had been victims of psychological abuse. A woman detained in Banja Luka prison on February 19, 2019, said that she had been falsely told that “her husband, her co-accused, would be executed … that her husband had been killed”.

Two people accused of drug trafficking, six months apart, said officers from the Dom Policije police station had placed a gun barrel in their mouths.

The CPT said of a man arrested in Gacko on January 18, 2019: “While lying on the snow-covered ground with his hands cuffed behind his back, police officers fired bullets on either side of his head to make him reveal information about the location of certain contraband goods. “

Several people met by the CPT’s delegation said that they had been handcuffed to a piece of furniture for hours without food, water or access to a toilet. According to the law in Bosnia and Herzegovina, an arrested person can be detained for 24 hours.

The seriousness of these allegations, writes the CPT, “demands immediate and determined action by the authorities”.

Investigations of “non-independent” complaints

Although detention conditions have improved since 2015, the CPT has also found that detainees in Sarajevo and Mostar are still under undue restrictions, sometimes held in their cells 23 hours a day.

The CPT also observed: “Health personnel [in prisons] continues to show disregard for important principles of medical ethics, such as the confidentiality of medical examinations. “

Bosnia and Herzegovina ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2008, but has not yet established a national preventive mechanism.

In its conclusions, the CPT noted that certain reports of prisoners alleging ill-treatment by the Sarajevo cantonal police had been investigated by members of the same force, who did not take into account the reports. doctors or other potential witnesses.

Elsewhere, the CPT found, the Sarajevo Police Internal Oversight Unit had failed to respond to repeated requests from the Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The inspectors wrote: “The CPT calls on the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to establish fully independent police complaints bodies with sufficient resources and will ensure that allegations of police ill-treatment are investigated. effective.

The report also called for modern methods of forensic investigation, audio and video recording of police interrogations and a radical culture change in the country’s police force.

Government initiates reforms but insists no reported human rights violations

In March 2020, the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina held a meeting with representatives of the police, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior to address the litany of alleged violations. evidence by the CPT in 2019.

In its official response to the investigation, the police administration said it had started to set up interrogation rooms with audio and video equipment.

It has also launched specialized training for some weapons of the Sarajevo police on the topics of “prevention of torture” and “professional interrogation techniques”. He noted that part of the training has since been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, in its action plan submitted to the CPT, the Ministry of the Interior also indicated: their freedom has been violated in any way in the detention centers, in particular with regard to torture and other types of abuse. “

The Interior Ministry and the police administration added that they had agreed on a policy of “zero tolerance” for abuses against persons deprived of their liberty “and this message was broadcast to all police officers ”.

He continued, “Police officers who do not share this position will be prosecuted, both disciplinary and criminal.”

There have been three such prosecutions against police officers in the country in the past two or three years.

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