Article 24 of the 2006 Constitution of the Republic of Serbia governs the right to life, stipulating that: "Human life is inviolable." According to Article 25:
Physical and mental integrity is inviolable.
Nobody may be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment....
Article 54 governs the freedom of assembly:
Citizens may assemble freely.
Assembly held indoors shall not be subjected to permission or registering.
Gathering, demonstrations and other forms of assembly held outdoors shall be reported to the state body, in accordance with the law.
Freedom of assembly may be restricted by the law only if necessary to protect public health, morals, rights of others or the security of the Republic of Serbia.
Article 97(4) of the Constitution provides that the Republic of Serbia "shall organise and provide for ... [the] defence and security of the Republic of Serbia and its citizens". The Constitution does not regulate the use of force by the police or other law enforcement agencies.
|1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||State Party|
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)||State Party|
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints||Yes|
|CAT Optional Protocol 1||State Party|
|1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court||State Party|
|1950 European Convention on Human Rights||State Party|
Police Use of Force
Law enforcement in Serbia is primarily conducted by the Police of Serbia.
Article 65 of the 2016 Law on Police of Serbia stipulates that:
In exercising police powers, the police officer shall act in accordance with the law and other regulations and shall abide by the standards laid down in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, the European Code of Police Ethics and other international acts relating to the Police.
Article 107 of the law prohibits the use of physical force "against persons under the age of 14, persons who are apparently ill, feeble, heavily disabled or against women who are visibly pregnant or who warn that they are pregnant". In exceptional cases, force may nonetheless be used "if one of these persons endangers the life of another person by a firearm, device or other dangerous object".
Article 112 governs the use of Tasers, stating that they "may be used to repel an attack or subdue active resistance of a person".
Article 113 governs the use of police batons, wnich
may be used to repel an attack or subdue resistance of a person, if the use of physical force is unsuccessful or a legitimate goal cannot be achieved.
Use of a police baton means punching or applying combat wrestling on a person’s body.
A police baton shall not be used in the area of the head, neck, spinal column, chest, stomach, genitals and joints, unless such strokes are absolutely necessary in order to protect life and limb.
Article 122 concerns the use of chemical agents, which
may be used to repel an attack and subdue resistance if that cannot be achieved by physical force and police baton, to restore public order, to force a person to leave an enclosed space, in resolving hostage situations, and in cases where conditions have been met for the use of special types of weapons and explosive devices or for the use of firearms, as established by this Law.
When using chemical agents in the vicinity of children’s institutions and senior citizens’ homes, hospitals, primary schools, busy roads and highly inflammable substances, special protective measures shall be taken.
Chemical agents shall not be used against persons near explosive or inflammable substances, at great heights, and in similar locations where human life could be endangered.
The use of firearms is regulated under Article 124:
In the performance of police duties a police officer may use firearms only if he cannot achieve a legitimate policing goal by using other means of coercion and when it is absolutely necessary to repel a simultaneous unlawful life-threatening attack against himself or another person.
An unlawful life-threatening attack against a police officer or another person within the meaning of paragraph 1 of this Article means an attack with firearms, imitation firearms, dangerous tool or an attack with another object, or attack in another way which may threaten the life of a police officer or another person.
The use of firearms shall not be allowed when it endangers other persons’ lives, unless the use of firearms is the only means for performing the tasks referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article.
The use of firearms shall not be allowed against juveniles, except when it is the only way of defence from an imminent attack or threat.
There is no specialised independent civilian police oversight body. Complaints against the police in Serbia are dealt with by the Internal Control Department of the police.
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2017 Concluding Observations on Serbia, the Human Rights Committee did not address police use of force. In his January 2019 report on his mission to Serbia, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture noted "with grave concern" that he had received
numerous and consistent allegations of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the police, most notably as a means of coercing confessions out of individuals during interrogation in police custody. Detainees reported being slapped and beaten with fists and truncheons, kicked and threatened with firearms.
Habimi and others v. Serbia (2014)
This case concerned the use of force by police officers in a prison following violence by the inmates. In November 2006, protests broke in a number of prisons throughout the country regarding demands for the Serbian Parliament to enact specific amnesty-related legislation. On 22 November 2006, violent conflicts between the two main groups of prisoners occurred in the Niš Penitentiary. The security situation in the Niš Penitentiary continued to deteriorate. The prison authorities assessed that there was a very real threat to the life and health of certain prisoners and the governor of the Penitentiary formed a crisis team which decided that a large-scale intervention was necessary. On 24 November 2006, at around 7.20 a.m., more than 330 special police officers, members of the Gendarmerie, wearing helmets with visors, assisted by prison guards and other security staff, entered the Niš Penitentiary. The protests were brought under control by 8.45 a.m.
According to information from the Ministry of Justice, a total of 79 prisoners had been injured and medically treated. The same document stated that the injuries sustained, except in one case, were slight in character and had been inflicted by means of blunt force trauma. The police maintained that during their intervention a certain number of prisoners had offered active resistance. Many also had certain pre-existing injuries stemming from a violent conflict which had apparently occurred between the prisoners themselves prior to the intervention. The police lastly noted that some prisoners had been injured as a result of the general commotion that had ensued in the course of the intervention, including prisoners being trampled over by other prisons and/or pushed against the furniture which had been moved into the corridors.
In its judgment, the European Court of Human Rights noted that in its jurisprudence treatment
has been held to be “inhuman” because, inter alia, it was premeditated, was applied for hours at a stretch and caused either actual bodily injury or intense physical and mental suffering.... It has been considered “degrading” when it was such as to arouse in its victims feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing them and possibly breaking their physical or moral resistance .... Torture, however, involves deliberate inhuman treatment causing very serious and cruel suffering.
Allegations of ill-treatment have to be supported by appropriate evidence. In assessing evidence, the Court has generally applied the standard of proof of “beyond reasonable doubt”.... However, such proof may follow from the coexistence of sufficiently strong, clear and concordant inferences or of similar unrebutted presumptions of fact. Where the events at issue lie wholly, or in large part, within the exclusive knowledge of the authorities, as in the case of persons within their control in custody, strong presumptions of fact will arise in respect of injuries occurring during such detention. Indeed, the burden of proof may be regarded as resting on the authorities to provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation....
Whilst it is not, in principle, the Court’s task to substitute its own assessment of the facts for that of the domestic courts, the Court is nevertheless not bound by the domestic courts’ findings in this regard Whilst most applicants had medical evidence of the injuries sustained during the relevant period and practically all had referred to witnesses in support of their allegations of ill-treatment at the hands of the police and/or the prison guards this is not sufficient for the Court to conclude, certainly not beyond a reasonable doubt, that they had indeed been abused in breach of Article 3 of the Convention.... Specifically, there are some indications to the effect that the injuries sustained or allegedly sustained by the applicants might have been caused as a consequence of score-settling between the prisoners themselves or due to the panic which had ensued in the course of the intervention.... Furthermore, there are reports to the effect that some prisoners, again possibly including the applicants, had offered resistance during the intervention and it is undisputed that a large number of weapons were seized by the prison authorities on 24 November 2006....