Serbia gripped by police abuse and overcrowded prisons

30th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Despite some improvement in recent years, Serbia is still fraught with a culture of police torture and ill-treatment.

Strasbourg -- Police mistreatment remains widespread in Serbia and its prisons are alarmingly overpopulated, according to a report by the Council of Europe's anti-torture committee.

There were 21 cases of torture and ill-treatment by police officers and 80 cases of abuses of authority reported in the first nine months of 2007, the report said. The police division notified the prosecuting authorities to a total of 391 suspected criminal offences committed by 451 police officers.

During the same period, 1,815 disciplinary measures had been adopted against police officers for serious breaches of duty, including torture and ill-treatment, according to the report.

The report, released this month, cites statistics by Serbian police's internal affairs division.

A delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which visited Serbia in November 2007, received reports that police officers punched, kicked and hit suspects with truncheons in order to obtain confessions during questioning.

But it also said it heard fewer allegations of police abuse and that the cases of alleged ill-treatment were "less severe" during its 2007 visit than in 2004, when it first went to what was then Serbia and Montenegro.

Meanwhile, the report criticized chronic overcrowding in Serbian prisons, saying many were "oppressive, stultifying and threatening to the maintenance of physical and mental health."

The CPT delegation noted during a visit to a Belgrade prison that detainees were kept in their cells for 23 hours every day, in what the report described as "inhuman treatment."

The delegation also said the atmosphere at another prison was "fearful." But it concluded that conditions had improved at Sremska Mitrovica prison in northern Serbia since 2004.

It also reported that residents at a psychiatric hospital in Kovin, a town in the north of the country, said they were being well looked after, although it noted poor standards of nursing.

The Council of Europe is a human rights watchdog body that links countries in eastern and western Europe.

Its 47 member nations meet four times a year in a parliamentary assembly to discuss topical issues and set out recommendations.


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