NGO reacts to "belated dismissal" of police official

BELGRADE -- Head of the Interior Interior (MUP) Protection Unit for Participants in Criminal Proceedings Miloš Perovid was dismissed from this position on June 6.

The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) said in a statement that the dismissal of this official - who held the position since 2008 - even though late, is significant for the reform of the witness protection system in cases of war crimes, but that it must be followed by serious reforms of the Unit and the protection system.

The statement added:

The Unit was established in 2005 by the Law on the Protection Program for Participants in Criminal Proceedings. When it comes to cases of war crimes, its work has been marked by some serious violations of the law and the endangering of persons under protection, which has resulted in insider witnesses, who were willing to speak up about war crimes, being deterred from testifying. The criticism mainly refers to the unprofessional behavior of its members and the inadequate legal framework which regulates the position of protected persons and the monitoring of the work of the Unit.

The most serious problems refer to the manner in which the members of the Unit treat former members of the armed forces - that is to say, insider witnesses. A number of former members of the armed forces who were part of the Protection Program spoke in public about the threats, insults and psychological abuse of their families and of themselves personally by members of the Unit. One witness spoke about the threats and pressure he received from one high-ranking official responsible for his security. Two protected witnesses have left the Program so far.

Certain witnesses complained during the program about the manner in which members of the Unit treated them; however, the state authorities, including the then President of the Republic of Serbia, Boris Tadid, and the then Minister of Justice, Snežana Malovid, ignored these complaints.

The Law has not designed any sort of a mechanism for the investigation of complaints filed by persons who are part of the Program. When it comes to the Protection Program Implementation Commission, which renders decisions on the admission, extension, suspension and termination of the Program, the National Assembly is responsible for the monitoring of its work. However, the Assembly Committee in charge of this task has discussed and formally adopted only one Commission Report so far. The Director of Police monitors the work of the Unit.

The fact that the employment process in the Unit does not entail the inspection of the candidates’ wartime pasts (vetting) is particularly worrying, so there are members of the Unit who were members of the armed forces of Serbia, and who participated in the conflicts during the 1990’s; some of them were even members of units that committed crimes.

The European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the OSCE Mission to Serbia, Amnesty International, and the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor have criticized the work of the Unit.

The HLC calls for the state institutions to remove the flaws of the existing law, first of all by establishing strict selection criteria for members of the Unit, and efficient mechanisms of independent control and monitoring of the implementation of the Protection Program. The improvement of the witness protection system represents one of the principal requirements for bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice.