Council of Europe anti-torture Committee publishes report on its 2021 periodic go to to Serbia

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published today the report on its 5th periodic visit to Serbia from 9 to 19 March 2021 together with the response from the authorities.

In the course of the visit, a significant number of credible allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment of detained persons by police officers were received by the CPT’s delegation. These allegations consisted of slaps, punches, kicks and truncheon blows as well as the application of electro-shocks by hand-held devices and by electric cables connected to a car battery and the placing of persons in stress positions during police interviews. The allegations were supported by documentation examined at police establishments and by detailed injury reports recorded by prison health care staff at the moment persons were admitted to prison. The report recommends that the Serbian authorities adopt more resolute measures to eradicate police ill-treatment, including the introduction of an investigative interviewing approach of criminal suspects and the mandatory audio and video recording of police interviews.

Based upon an analysis of numerous investigative files the CPT found that investigations by prosecutorial authorities and police oversight mechanism into allegations of ill-treatment did not comply with the criteria of effectiveness as set out inter alia in the mandatory instruction adopted by the Republic Public Prosecutor in 2018. Such investigations need to be more thorough, comprehensive, and expeditious.

As regards prisons, the report welcomes the measures taken by the Serbian authorities to reduce prison overcrowding and to upgrade the prison estate. That said, local overcrowding and poor conditions of detention consisting of cramped, dilapidated and unhygienic cells and sanitary facilities remained evident in certain parts of Belgrade District Prison and Požarevac Correctional Institution.

The CPT received some allegations of excessive use of force by staff against prisoners at Pančevo and Požarevac Correctional Institutions and it recommends that action be taken to ensure that all prison officers strictly abide by the provisions set out in the 2019 Rulebook on the Measures for Keeping Good Order and Security in Establishments for the Execution of Criminal Sanctions and that every application of the use of force and means of restraint is fully documented and subject to rigorous oversight by the prison management. The CPT also found that inter-prisoner violence and intimidation remains wide-spread and it urges the Serbian authorities to put in place an effective national strategy to tackle this problem.

Once again, the CPT is critical of the impoverished regime on offer to persons in remand detention. The pilot project at Pančevo Correctional Institution to offer such persons a remunerated activity and sport on a regular basis should be expanded and extended to all prisons.

As regards the Special Prison Hospital Belgrade, the report refers to some allegations of excessive use of force that were received in the context of the use of mechanical restraints. Further, the CPT is critical of the lack of privacy and overcrowded conditions on the wards which appeared to foster violence among patients. The report stresses that urgent measures should be taken to reduce the number of patients at the hospital and to improve the material conditions, notably the dilapidated and filthy communal bathrooms.

In relation to the two psychiatric establishments visited (“Laza Lazarević” and “Slavoljub Bakalović” Psychiatric Hospitals), most patients spoke positively about staff and the living conditions were generally acceptable, albeit impersonal. The level of pharmacotherapy and rehabilitative activities was adequate at both hospitals. However, the CPT found that the number of nurses and auxiliaries should be increased. Further, the safeguards surrounding the measure of fixation of patients to a bed should be improved notably as regards the proper recording of the measure and ensuring that patients are not fixed in view of other patients.

The CPT found that at the Home for Children and Youth “Duško Radović” in Niš the living conditions were decent whereas at the Home for mentally impaired adults in Kulina some of the wards were in a poor state. The CPT also recommends that residents at both homes be offered a greater range of individualized rehabilitative activities, more regular access to fresh air and that the legal safeguards on the placement of residents be strengthened and subject to increased judicial oversight. The CPT also advocates that large-capacity social care establishments isolated from the local community such as the Kulina Home, should be taken out of service as soon as smaller facilities can be made available for the residents.

In their response the Serbian authorities provide information on various training activities of police officers and prison staff concerning the prevention of ill-treatment of detained persons. Reference is made to ongoing amendments to the criminal legislation in relation to torture and related crimes, the refurbishment of police detention units and prison establishments, and the improvement of regime activities for remand and sentenced prisoners. Further, the response also addresses improvements to the living conditions at the two social care establishments visited.

Comments are closed.