The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has filed an initiative with the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs to draft amendments to the Police Act as soon as possible.
The first half of July 2020 was marked by numerous cases of police ill-treatment of citizens protesting in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Kragujevac and other cities across Serbia. Dozens of police officers applied force against the protesters without cause, hitting them with their batons, kicking and trampling them, firing teargas at them, shoving them off their bicycles, etc., gravely damaging the reputation of the Serbian police both at home and abroad.
International monitoring bodies have over the recent years criticised compliance with the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment in Serbia, especially by the police. The widespread practice of police ill-treatment is followed by a high rate of impunity of public officials for these acts. BCHR’s perusal of prosecutorial and court cases regarding torture and ill-treatment and extortion of confessions showed that quite a number of public officials, predominantly police officers, went unpunished for these crimes because the statute of limitations expired, while others “paid their dues” by giving money for humanitarian purposes. Most public officials found guilty of torture and ill-treatment or extortion of confessions were sentenced to suspended prison sentences up to six-month.
Most police officers suspected of these crimes went on working not only during the proceedings, but after they were convicted by a final judgment as well. The European Court of Human Rights has on many occasions held that where a State agent has been charged with crimes involving ill-treatment, it is important that he or she be suspended from duty during the investigation or trial and dismissed if he or she is convicted, which is crucial for preserving public trust in the work of the state authorities.
This is why the Police Act must be amended to provide for the mandatory suspension of police officers, against whom disciplinary proceedings have been initiated on suspicion that they had intentionally used excessive physical or psychological coercion against individuals, and/or against whom criminal proceedings have been instituted on suspicion that they had committed the crimes of torture or ill-treatment or extortion of confessions. The BCHR also suggests that the amendments allow the public prosecutor to request the suspension of a police officer before the initiation of ordinary or summary criminal proceedings where a person raises an arguable claim or makes a credible assertion or where there are sufficiently clear indications that these crimes have been committed.
The officers should be suspended pending the adoption of a final decision in the criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings against them and dismissed ex lege in the event they are convicted. Serbian law will thus have fulfilled the above requirements under the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
BCHR lawyers stand ready to assist the Ministry of Internal Affairs in drafting the amendments to the Police Act.
The Initiative is available in Serbian here.