Authorities in Montenegro should immediately investigate evidence of the torture by police of two men arrested and forced to confess to an attempted bomb plot, the IRCT said today in legal briefs, after its forensic experts concluded their symptoms were “highly consistent” with having been tortured, and failures in the investigation of their cases further breached international law.
“The State investigation and medico-legal evaluations conducted into the alleged torture of Jovan Grujicic and Marko Boljevic are incompatible with the obligation to carry out an effective investigation into acts of torture under Article 12 of the Convention Against Torture, as defined by the Istanbul Protocol,” said the IRCT.
“Specifically, certain elements of the State forensic medical examinations and the overall investigation into these acts violated the principles of promptness and thoroughness required for an effective investigation of torture.”
Torture by police in Montenegro, and the failure to investigate, has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.
Three specialists from IRCT’s Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) conducted medico-legal reports on each individual at the request of our local partner NGO Human Rights Action, from which the Secretariat prepared two legal briefs.
Grujicic and Boljevic were both arrested in May 2020 in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, on suspicion of involvement with a plot to bomb the city’s ‘Grand’ bar and the house of a police inspector. Both men allege that they were beaten, electrocuted with a taser-like device, and humiliated by police at their headquarters in Podgorica.
In both cases the authorities were alerted to indications that the men may have been tortured or ill-treated. Boljevic filed criminal charges against the police the day after his arrest and was promptly examined by a State forensic expert. Grujicic's injuries were detected three days after his arrest during the course of a medical check-up in prison, but a forensic examination was not completed until around six months later.
However, both examinations failed to address the allegations of torture and their consistency with the physical evidence, according to IRCT’s legal briefs. State doctors concluded that bruises on Grujicic’s body could be reliably dated to a time before his arrest. However, in their medico-legal report, IFEG noted that dating bruising was “forensically unreliable”. After a medical examination and evaluation of photographs taken soon after the incident, the IFEG experts concluded the wounds to Grujicic were “highly consistent with electrocution with the taser device allegation".
In both cases, IRCT’s legal brief found that Montenegrin authorities, having been alerted to the indications of torture or ill-treatment, did not fulfil their corresponding duty to undertake an effective investigation, despite the existence of police records documenting who held the men in custody at the relevant time.
“Montenegrin State authorities are therefore still obliged to fulfil the duty to conduct an effective investigation of torture, by ensuring that the alleged perpetrators are promptly identified and prosecuted,” said the IRCT, and that reparations and full access to rehabilitation services should be immediately provided to both men.
The Convention Against Torture (CAT), to which Montenegro is a State Party, not only requires States to prevent all acts of torture but also to ensure a “prompt and impartial investigation” into such, as well as the Article 14 right of victims to legal “redress” and “as full rehabilitation as possible”. The Istanbul Protocol is the internationally agreed set of best practices for investigating and documenting torture as States are obligated to under the CAT. Working with other leaders in the field, the IRCT has been involved in updating the Protocol with lessons learned from the past two decades, the launch of which will be later this year.
Torture by police, and the failure by Montenegrin authorities to adequately investigate it, have previously been condemned by the country’s highest court, and recently by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
In 2017, Human Rights Action succeeded in obtaining a ruling from the Constitutional Court that Montenegrin authorities had violated the Article 3 European Convention on Human Rights prohibition against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and their subsequent obligation to carry out a thorough and effective investigation. That case was related to the torture of two men who walked near the site of an anti-government protest in 2015, but did not participate, and who were beaten by police.
On 11 June this year, the ECtHR ruled that the men, Momcilo Baranin and Branimir Vukcevic, had indeed suffered a violation of their Article 3 right to an effective investigation of their torture, and that compensation paid to each by Montenegrin authorities did not discharge the State of its obligations to investigate and provide redress.
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Formerly a republic of Yugoslavia, Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia in 2006, ratifying the CAT in October that year. In 2008, it applied for EU membership and accession negotiations began in 2012 and are on-going. It has been a State Party to the ECHR since 2004, but in a 2019 report the Council of Europe, the treaty’s governing body, found ill treatment of detainees by police in Montenegro was widespread. In its response, the government stated that “any ill-treatment and unprofessional conduct of police officers would be sanctioned as soon as possible.”