against Torture, established under Article 17 of the Convention against
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,
Meeting on 11 May 2001,
Having concluded its consideration of communication No. 113/1998, submitted
to the Committee against Torture under article 22 of the Convention against
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,
Having taken into account all information made available to it by the author
of the communication, his counsel and the State party,
Adopts its Views under article 22, paragraph 7, of the Convention.
1. The author of the communication, dated 22 July 1998, is Mr. Radivoje
Ristic, a citizen of Yugoslavia, currently residing in Šabac, Yugoslavia. He
claims that an act of torture resulting in the death of his son, Milan
Ristic, was committed by the police and that the authorities have failed to
carry out a prompt and impartial investigation. The communication was
transmitted to the Committee, on behalf of Mr. Ristic, by the Humanitarian
Law Center, a non-governmental organization based in Belgrade.
The Facts as Submitted by the Author
2.1 The author alleges that on 13 February 1995 three policemen (Dragan
Riznic, Uglješa Ivanovic and Dragan Novakovic) arrested Milan Ristic in
Šabac while looking for a murder suspect. One of the officers struck his son
with a blunt object, presumably a pistol or rifle butt, behind the left ear,
killing him instantly. The officers moved the body and, with a blunt
instrument, broke both thighbones. It was only then that they called an
ambulance and the on-duty police investigation team, which included a
2.2 The policemen told the investigators that Milan Ristic had committed
suicide by jumping from the roof of a nearby building and that they had an
eyewitness to that effect (Dragan Markovic). The medical doctor who came
with the ambulance pronounced Milan Ristic dead. The ambulance then left,
leaving the body to be collected by a mortuary van. The author claims that
after the departure of the ambulance the policemen struck the deceased on
the chin, causing injury to his face.
2.3 The author provides a copy of the autopsy report, which concluded that
the death was violent and caused by an injury to the brain as a result of a
fall on a hard surface. The fall also explained the fractures described in
the report. The author also provides a copy of the report by the doctor who
came with the ambulance. That report says: "By exterior examination I found
weak bleeding from the injury behind the left ear. Through the trousers
above the right knee an open fracture of thighbone could be seen with small
blood signs; around the wound there were no traces of blood."
2.4 The author contends that the medical reports do not fully tally with
each other. The ambulance doctor explicitly states that he noticed no
injuries on the face while the autopsy report lists a laceration and bruise
on the chin. He challenges the reports, noting that it is hardly possible
that a person could fall from a height of 14.65 metres without suffering any
injury to the face, heels, pelvis, spine or internal organs and without
internal haemorrhaging, leaving only bruises on the left elbow and behind
the left ear. Moreover, he notes that there was no blood on the ground.
2.5 At the request of the parents, two forensic experts examined the autopsy
report and found it superficial and contradictory, especially in the part
referring to the cause of death. According to their report, the autopsy was
not performed in accordance with the principles of forensic and medical
science and practice and the conclusion is not in agreement with the
findings. They proposed the exhumation of the remains and another autopsy by
a forensic expert. The author further states that on 16 May 1995 they spoke
with the pathologist who had performed the autopsy and visited the alleged
scene of the incident. They noted that the autopsy report and the scene had
nothing in common, which suggested that the body had been moved. In a
written statement dated 18 July 1995 addressed to the Public Attorney's
Office, the pathologist agreed that the remains should be exhumed for
forensic examination and pointed out that, as he was not a specialist in
forensic medicine, he might have made a mistake or missed some details.
2.6 The parents of the victim filed criminal charges against a number of
police officers before the Public Prosecutor in Šabac. On 19 February 1996,
the Public Prosecutor dismissed the charges. Under Yugoslav law, following
dismissal of a criminal complaint, the victim or the person acting on his
behalf may either request the institution of investigative proceedings or
file an indictment and proceed directly to trial. In the present case, the
parents presented their own indictment on 25 February 1996.
2.7 The investigating judge questioned the policemen allegedly involved as
well as witnesses and found no grounds for believing that the alleged
criminal offence had been committed. The Criminal Bench of the Šabac
District Court endorsed the investigating judge's decision. The Court did
not find it necessary to hear the testimony of the two forensic experts and
did not consider the possibility of ordering an exhumation and a new
autopsy. Besides, the investigating judge delivered to the parents an
unsigned statement which the pathologist allegedly made in court when they
were not present and which contradicts the one he had made in writing on 18
July 1995. The author further explains that, in addition to the medical
contradictions, there were many other conflicting facts that the judicial
investigation failed to clarify.
2.8 The parents appealed the decision of the District Court to the Serbian
Supreme Court, which on 29 October 1996 dismissed the appeal as unfounded.
According to the ruling, the testimony of Dragan Markovic showed without any
doubt that Milan Ristic was alive at the time when police officers Sinisa
Isailovic and Zoran Jeftic appeared in front of the building in which Mr.
Markovic lived. They were responding to a telephone call from a person named
Zoran Markovic who had noticed a man at the edge of the terrace from whose
behaviour it could be concluded that he was about to commit suicide. Dragan
Markovic and the two policemen actually saw Milan Ristic jump from the
terrace. There was nothing they could do to stop him.
2.9 The parents again tried to bring the case before the judiciary, but on
10 February 1997 the Šabac District Court ruled that prosecution was no
longer possible in view of the decision of the Supreme Court of Serbia. On
18 March 1997, the Supreme Court dismissed their further appeal and
confirmed the District Court's ruling.
3.1 The author considers that first the police and, subsequently, the
judicial authorities failed to ensure a prompt and impartial investigation.
All domestic remedies were exhausted without the court ever having ordered
or formally instituted proper investigative proceedings. The preliminary
investigation by the investigating judge, which consisted of questioning of
the accused and some witnesses, did not produce sufficient information to
clarify the circumstances of the death and the court never ordered a
forensic examination. The court did not order either the hearing of other
witnesses, such as the employees of the funeral home, whose testimony could
have been relevant to establish the chronology of events. The author further
contends that the investigation was not carried out in accordance with the
provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code. For instance, the police failed
to inform the investigating judge immediately of the incident, although
obliged to do so by article 154. The entire on-site investigation was
therefore conducted by the police without the presence of a judge. The
author further contends that every action aimed at clarifying the incident
was initiated by the parents of Milan Ristic and that the competent
government bodies failed to take any effective steps to that end.
3.2 On the basis of the above, the author claims that the State party has
violated several articles of the Convention, in particular articles 12, 13
and 14. He states that although the parents had the possibility of seeking
compensation, the prospect of their being awarded damages was de facto
non-existent in the absence of a criminal court judgement.
Observations by the State Party
4. On 26 October 1998 the State party informed the Committee that, although
all domestic remedies had been exhausted, the communication does not fulfil
other necessary conditions provided for by the Convention. It stated, in
particular, that no act of torture had been committed, since the deceased
did not have any contact at all with State authorities - the police.
Accordingly, the communication was not admissible.
The Committee's Decision on Admissibility
6. At its twenty-second session, in April-May 1999, the Committee considered
the question of the admissibility of the communication and ascertained that
the same matter had not been and was not being examined under another
procedure of international investigation or settlement. The Committee noted
the State party's statement that all domestic remedies had been exhausted,
and considered that the communication was not an abuse of the right of
submission or incompatible with the provisions of the Convention. The
Committee therefore decided, on 30 April 1999, that the communication was
The State Party's Observations on the Merits
7.1 In a submission dated 15 December 1999, the State party gave to the
Committee its observations on the merits of the communication.
7.2 The State party reiterates its opinion that the alleged victim was not
subjected to torture because he had at no time been in contact with the law
enforcement officers, i.e. the police officers. It therefore considers that
there is no violation of the Convention whatsoever.
7.3 The State party also underlines that the courts of its country operate
independently and have concluded rightfully and in accordance with the law
that no investigation should be initiated against the alleged authors of the
acts of torture. It points in this regard to the fact that the author of the
communication has not submitted all the court decisions and other judicial
documents that may bring some additional light to the Committee's
consideration of the communication. The said documents were submitted to
that effect by the State party.
7.4 The State party then gave its version of the facts. First, it alleges
that the alleged victim took alcohol and drugs (Bromazepan) and had already
tried to commit suicide some time before. During the afternoon preceding his
death, on 12 February 1995, the alleged victim had taken some drugs (in the
form of pills) and was in a very bad mood because of an argument he had had
with his mother. These elements were, according to the State party,
confirmed by four of his friends who spent the afternoon of 12 February 1995
with the alleged victim. The State party also notes that the parents and
girlfriend of the alleged victim stated exactly the contrary.
7.5 With respect to the events surrounding the death of the alleged victim,
the State party refers to the statement made by the eyewitness, Dragan
Markovic, who explained that he had seen the victim standing on the edge of
the terrace, 15 metres from the ground and immediately called the police.
When the police arrived, the victim jumped from the terrace and neither
Dragan Markovic nor the police could prevent it. The State party notes also
that the three policemen who are accused of the alleged murder of the victim
arrived on the premises after the victim had jumped and therefore concludes
that none of them could have taken any action.
7.6 The above elements demonstrate, according to the State party, that the
death of the alleged victim was the result of a suicide and that no acts of
torture had therefore been committed.
7.7 Moreover, the State party notes that the impartiality of witness Dragan
Markovic, as well as of S. Isailovic and Z. Jetvic, the two police officers
who arrived first on the scene, is indisputable and confirmed by the fact
that the request for an investigation filed by the author of the
communication was directed not against these persons but others.
7.8 Concerning the judicial proceedings that followed the death of the
victim, the State party recalls the various steps of the procedure and notes
that the main reason that an investigation had not been ordered was the lack
of strong evidence to prove a causal link between the behaviour of the three
defendant police officers and the death of the victim. The State party
contends that the procedure has been scrupulously respected at all steps and
that the complaint has been carefully considered by all the magistrates who
have had to deal with the case.
7.9 Finally, the State party emphasizes that certain omissions that may have
occurred during the events immediately following the death of the alleged
victim and that have been referred to by the author of the communication
were not important because they do not prove that the alleged victim died as
a result of torture.
Comments Submitted by the Author on the Merits
8.1 In a submission dated 4 January 1999, the author refers to relevant
jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. In a further submission
dated 19 April 2000, the author confirmed the assertions he had made in his
communication and gave to the Committee additional observations on the
merits of the communication.
8.2 The author first makes some remarks on specific issues raised or ignored
by the State party in its observations. In this regard, the author mainly
points to the fact that the State party limited itself to arguing that the
three police officers allegedly responsible for the murder were not involved
in the death of the alleged victim and fails to address the main issue of
the communication, which is the failure to carry out a prompt, impartial and
8.3 The author focuses on the following factual elements supporting his
(a) The inspector in charge of the case took three months to collect the
information needed for the investigation;
(b) The District Court was only requested to initiate an investigation seven
months after the death of the alleged victim;
(c) The District Court failed to take as a starting point for establishing
the relevant facts the police report that had been made at the time of the
(d) The eyewitness Dragan Markovic did mention in his only statement the
presence at the scene of police officers Z. Jeftic and S. Isailovic and not
the presence of the three defendant police officers;
(e) The Šabac Police Department failed to provide the photographs taken at
the scene of the incident, as a result of which the investigating judge
transmitted incomplete documentation to the public prosecutor;
(f) When the parents of the alleged victim proceeded in the capacity of
private prosecutor, the investigating judge failed to order the exhumation
of the body of the alleged victim and a new autopsy, at the same time
agreeing that the original autopsy "had not been performed in line with all
the rules of forensic medicine";
(g) Yugoslav prosecuting authorities failed to hear numerous other witnesses
proposed by the author.
8.4 Regarding the State party's contention that the alleged victim had
previously attempted to commit suicide, the author indicates that the State
party does not substantiate its claim with medical records or police
reports, which are usually available in such cases. With regard to other
rumours concerning the alleged victim, inter alia that he was addicted to
drugs, the author notes that they have always been denied by the family. The
author does not know when or whether the four friends of his son were
interrogated and neither he nor his lawyer was ever notified of such an
interrogation. Moreover, the author notes that three of these witnesses may
have been subjected to pressure and influenced for various reasons.
8.5 Concerning the obligation to investigate incidents of torture and cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the author refers to the
jurisprudence of the Committee in the case Encarnación Blanco Abad v. Spain
(CAT/C/20/D/59/1996), where the Committee observed that "under article 12 of
the Convention, the authorities have the obligation to proceed to an
investigation ex officio, wherever there are reasonable grounds to believe
that acts of torture or ill-treatment have been committed and whatever the
origin of the suspicion". He also refers to the decision in the case Henri
Unai Parot v. Spain (CAT/C/14/D/6/1990), according to which the obligation
of a prompt and impartial investigation exists even when torture has merely
been alleged by the victim, without the existence of a formal complaint. The
same jurisprudence is confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights
(Assenov and Others v. Bulgaria (90/1997/874/1086)).
8.6 Concerning the principle of prompt investigation of incidents of alleged
torture or other ill-treatment, the author refers to the Committee's
jurisprudence stating that a delay of 15 months before the initiation of an
investigation is unreasonable and contrary to article 12 of the Convention
(Qani Halimi-Nedzibi v. Austria, CAT/C/11/D/8/1991).
8.7 Concerning the principle of the impartiality of the judicial
authorities, the author states that a body cannot be impartial if it is not
sufficiently independent. He refers to the case-law of the European Court of
Human Rights to define both the impartiality and the independence of a
judicial body in accordance with article 6 (1) and 13 of the European
Convention on Human Rights and underlines that the authority capable of
providing a remedy should be "sufficiently independent" from the alleged
responsible author of the violation.
8.8 Concerning the existence of reasonable grounds to believe that an act of
torture or other ill-treatment has been committed, the author, again relying
on the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, points to "the
existence of facts or information which would satisfy an objective observer
that the person concerned may have committed the offence".
8.9 Concerning the principle of compensation and rehabilitation for an act
of torture or other ill-treatment, the author mentions that an effective
remedy entails also the payment of compensation.
8.10 The author stresses that, at the time of his submission, five years had
already elapsed since his son's death. He contends that, notwithstanding
strong indication that grave police brutality had caused the death of Milan
Ristic, the Yugoslav authorities have failed to conduct a prompt, impartial
and comprehensive investigation able to lead to the identification and
punishment of those responsible, and have thus failed to provide the author
with any redress.
8.11 Relying on a significant amount of sources, the author explains that
police brutality in Yugoslavia is systematic and considers that public
prosecutors are not independent and rarely institute criminal proceedings
against police officers accused of violence and/or misconduct towards
citizens. In such cases, the action is very often limited to a request for
information directed to the police authorities alone and the use of dilatory
tactics is common.
8.12 Finally, the author specifically refers to the most recent examination
of the periodic report submitted by Yugoslavia to the Committee and the
latter's subsequent concluding observations, in which it stated that it was
"extremely concerned over the numerous accounts of the use of torture by the
State police forces that it has received from non-governmental
organizations" (A/54/44, para. 46) and "gravely concerned over the lack of
sufficient investigation, prosecution and punishment by the competent
authorities … of suspected torturers or those breaching article 16 of the
Convention, as well as with the insufficient reaction to the complaints of
such abused persons, resulting in the de facto impunity of the perpetrators
of acts of torture" (ibid., para. 47).
Issues and Proceedings Before the Committee
9.1 The Committee has considered the communication in the light of all
information made available to it by the parties concerned, in accordance
with article 22, paragraph 4, of the Convention. It regrets in this regard
that the State party has only provided the Committee with a different
account of the event, and notes that more precise information concerning the
conduct of the investigation was necessary, including an explanation of why
a new autopsy was not carried out.
9.2 It also notes that the author of the communication claims that the State
party has violated articles 2, 12, 13, 14 and 16 of the Convention.
9.3 With regard to articles 2 and 16, the Committee first considers that it
does not fall under its mandate to assess the guilt of persons who have
allegedly committed acts of torture or police brutality. Its competence is
limited to considering whether the State party has failed to comply with any
of the provisions of the Convention. In the present case, the Committee will
therefore not pronounce itself on the existence of torture or ill-treatment.
9.4 With regard to articles 12 and 13 of the Convention, the Committee notes
the following elements, on which both parties have been able to submit
(a) There are apparent differences and inconsistencies between the statement
made on 18 August 1995 by the doctor who came with the ambulance as to the
premise of the cause of death of the alleged victim, the autopsy report of
13 February 1995 and the report made on 20 March 1995 by two forensic
experts at the request of the parents of the alleged victim;
(b) Although the investigating judge in charge of the case when the parents
of the alleged victim proceeded in the capacity of private prosecutor stated
that the autopsy "had not been performed in line with all the rules of
forensic medicine", there was no order of exhumation of the body for a new
(c) There is a difference between the statement made on 13 February 1995 by
one of the three police officers allegedly responsible for the death of the
alleged victim according to which the Police Department had been called for
a person who had committed suicide and the statements made by another of the
above-mentioned police officers, as well as by two other police officers and
the witness D. Markovic, according to which the Police Department had been
called for a person who might jump from the roof of a building;
(d) The police did not immediately inform the investigating judge on duty of
the incident in order for him to oversee the on-site investigation in
compliance with article 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the State
9.5 Moreover, the Committee is especially concerned by the fact that the
doctor who carried out the autopsy admitted in a statement dated 18 July
1995 that he was not a specialist in forensic medicine.
9.6 Noting the above elements, the Committee considers that the
investigation that was conducted by the State party's authorities was
neither effective nor thorough. A proper investigation would indeed have
entailed an exhumation and a new autopsy, which would in turn have allowed
the cause of death to be medically established with a satisfactory degree of
9.7 Moreover, the Committee notes that six years have elapsed since the
incident took place. The State party has had ample time to conduct a proper
9.8 In the circumstances, the Committee finds that the State party has
violated its obligations under articles 12 and 13 of the Convention to
investigate promptly and effectively allegations of torture or severe police
9.9 With regard to allegations of a violation of article 14, the Committee
finds that in the absence of proper criminal investigation, it is not
possible to determine whether the rights to compensation of the alleged
victim or his family have been violated. Such an assessment can only be made
after the conclusion of proper investigations. The Committee therefore urges
the State party to carry out such investigations without delay.
10. In pursuance of rule 111, paragraph 5, of its rules of procedure, the
Committee urges the State party to provide the author of the communication
with an appropriate remedy, and to inform it, within 90 days from the date
of the transmittal of this decision, of the steps it has taken in response
to the observations made above.