Who beat up the residents of Strpce? Ombudsman has not launched any investigation, “because nobody complained to him”

Ombudsman
PHOTO: KoSSev

Translation provided by CBS

By Milica Radovanovic

The Kosovo Ombudsman does not have a position on the allegations of Strpce residents that the Kosovo police used excessive force in early May during a protest against the construction of a mini hydro electric power plant in this municipality.

The reason why the Ombudsman has no position is that, even after five months, he has not received any complaints, the written reply states.

However, the Ombudsman also has the power to launch an ex officio investigation when he is informed of a violation of human rights of citizens, which he did not do in this case.

For almost a year, the citizens of Strpce have been actively protesting against the construction of mini hydro power plants in this municipality. One in a series of protests in early May was also marked by a clash between the police and protesters.

Twenty villagers were reportedly injured because the police used an excessive force, one participant even had his nose broken and another one’s arm was broken, they said at the time, providing photographs of the injured.

„A police officer is authorized to use force only when it is necessary and only to the extent necessary to achieve legitimate police objectives. In cases of the use of force, the police officer should try to minimize the interference with the rights and freedoms of persons and minimize any adverse consequences“.

According to them, seventeen of them were medically taken care of in Strpce – eyewash, repair of injuries and burns, one protester had a broken nose and the other one had his arm broken.  On the same day, the Mayor of Strpce, who condemned the “excessive use of force,” and the Office for Kosovo and Metohija, spoke.

Kosovo Police said in a press release at the time that “although the Police informed and ordered the protesters not to interfere with their work and leave, they did not execute the orders. On that occasion, police used tear gas and the protesters dispersed.” However, this statement did not state that anyone was injured during this police action.

At the end of September, we approached the Ombudsman’s institution and asked for the institution’s position on the above allegations of excessive use of force by the Kosovo police.

What does the Ombudsman say?

The Ombudsman received no complaint from any citizen over the use of force during the May 3, 2019 protests. Given that no complaints have been received and such a case has not been investigated, the Ombudsman has no position on this case“, said the response of this institution from October 1, which intrigued us.

The Ombudsman Institution is an independent institution whose task is to take measures for the protection of human rights and freedoms when they have been violated by an act or failure of state bodies to act. This institution primarily deals with complaints, however, the law also prescribes cases in which the Ombudsman may act ex officio, if there are grounds to believe that in a particular case there has been a violation of human rights and freedoms of citizens.

„The law stipulates that the Ombudsman has a responsibility to “investigate violations of human rights and discriminatory action,” and “to draw attention to cases where institutions violate human rights and to make recommendations for such cases to be ended and, when it is necessary, to express an opinion on positions and reactions of relevant institutions in relation to such cases.”

A week later, on October 7, we contacted this institution again in order to clarify their answer, that is, their responsibilities.

Article 16, Point 4 of the Law on the People’s Advocate 05 / L-019 states that the Ombudsman “has the authority to investigate, either in order to respond to a complaint or ex officio, if from findings, evidence and facts submitted or acquired otherwise, there are grounds to believe that the authorities have violated human rights and freedoms established by the Constitution, laws and other instruments, as well as international human rights instruments. “

Does your previous answer mean that the Ombudsman institution considers that in this particular case there are no grounds for suspecting that excessive force may have been used by the police in May this year and that for that reason the Ombudsman will not investigate this case ex officio? – was our question.

On the same day, we received an answer from the Ombudsman’s Office that our question had been forwarded to the relevant service.

Another e-mail with a question when we can expect an answer was sent on October 21.

“At present, the answer to the question falls under the responsibility of the Ombudsman, Mr. Hilmi Jashari,” we were told from the Office of the Ombudsperson, asking us to forward the question to Mr. Jashari’s e-mail address and info service, which we did.

We have never received a response from these addresses, although we are still awaiting it.

Does the first response we received mean that the Ombudsman in these cases acts solely upon a complaint of citizens, and that, although there is information about potential human rights violations by the institutions, it is not his job to have any position on that, if those whose rights were violated did not turn to him?

Or that the allegations of the villagers, photographs of persons with bandaged arms and noses, condemnation by the Mayor of Strpce, numerous media inscriptions, do not provide sufficient grounds to suspect that the police may have used excessive force against the protesters? Or that he just does not want to investigate the case?

Unfortunately, just one month’s silence on the part of the Ombudsman leaves the public to decide for themselves which of these answers they will believe. In fact, the Ombudsman may have initiated an official investigation into these allegations in the meantime, but he did not find it appropriate to inform us about it.

These are not the first allegations of the use of excessive force by the Kosovo police in Serb-majority communities.

Zubin Potok residents presented similar allegations of police brutality during the May 28th police action under the name „Smuggling“ when a dozen people were hospitalized after obtaining injuries while allegedly obstructing officials in performing their official duty. Six of the people injured also presented these claims before the court, where the judge documented the visible injuries on their faces and bodies. Also, at the last UN Security Council session on Kosovo, UNMIK Chief of Staff Zahir Tanin said that a month-long investigation by UN experts showed that there was „strong evidence of excessive use of force by Kosovo police“ during the May arrest action.

In addition, a month ago, dozens of people were injured, including children, after the Kosovo Police intervened at another protest against the construction of a MHPP in the municipality of Strpce, according to Pristina media reports. The locals also argued that the police had dispersed the protesters by using excessive force.

The Kosovo Ombudsman has not reacted to any of these allegations to date.

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