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"Safe house" report on the situation of conscientious objectors, draft evaders and deserters from the most recent conflict in Yugoslavia

This is a preliminary report compiled on the facts gathered at the "Safe house" project. Further reports and comments will be distributed upon collection of more data. Therefore, we would appreciate any contribution in this direction.

Criminal Proceedings in Yugoslavia

At this moment, estimates retired officer Tihomir Stojanovic, formerly a head of the Legal Department of Supreme Command, there are 23000 charges in front of the military courts for offences committed during the NATO intervention and war in Kosovo. The cases mainly refer to crimes listed in chapter 20 of the Criminal Code of FRY. The most often charge is "not responding call-up and avoiding military service" and few are accused for "escaping from the army", "avoiding military duty by lie or mutilation" and "not fulfilling duty during combat". Here t is also important to draw attention to the article 226 of the Criminal Code which severely increases the length of prison penalties during the state of war. According to other reliable sources there are few hundred imprisoned objectors, draft evaders and deserters and more than 12 000 charges opened by military courts. Most imprisoned objectors and deserters are in prisons of Zabela-Pozarevac, Sremska Mitrovica and Nis. The most common sentence is five years imprisonment.

Goran Zizic from Leskovac (South Serbia) did his military duty many years ago. Later on he became very religious and deeply pacifist. When called-up after the NATO intervention started he asked to serve his duty for civil purposes and in civil form. The court martial sentenced him to two years in a fast procedure.

At the moment he is in military jail in Nis. Visit is allowed only to his mother.

N. Vukadinov from Zrenjanin did his military duty. Six months ago he joined the Nazarene religious community in Vojvodina, famous for its traditional and deeply rooted religious pacifism for which they are persecuted for almost two hundred years. When called-up he only asked to be relieved from carrying a gun. Military court in Novi Sad sentenced him to five years in jail. He is in jail in Sremska Mitrovica and family members were allowed to visit only.

In military base of Karadjordjevo there were 14 conscientious objectors before the escalation of war in March. Twelve of them were Nazarenes or Jehovah's witnesses and two which did not declare religiously. They were working on "non-military" tasks but on military premises and for the benefit of the army. (farm work). Then they were ordered to engage in army jobs. One Jehovah's witness refused and was sentenced immediately to five years.

Democratic party has announced that high official of the party, which is at the same time member of Party board, director of its Center for communication and member of the City parliament of Belgrade Goran Vesic was condemned to two years in jail by the Military court in Uzice for "not responding to a call-up." According to the sentence, military officials tried to deliver a call-up order to Vesic at his parents' home in Kraljevo although he is living in Belgrade for eleven years already. During the time Vesic supposedly "failed to respond to a call-up and went into hiding" he attended regular sessions of the City parliament of Belgrade and was every day at his office in Democratic party, giving public statements to domestic and international media. As this sentence has obvious political background Vesic and his party decided not to obey the sentence and he went into hiding in Montenegro.

As all international media reported, Dr. Zoran Djindjic, President of Democratic party was also brought to the Military court in Belgrade because he "avoided military duty during NATO bombing". No sentence was brought yet but Djindjic attended the trial, knowing he would have a great international support and could not be imprisoned easily as other citizens of Yugoslavia.

The situation in Hungary

Most of deserters and draft evaders who came to Hungary before border was closed for men between 18 and 60 (March, 29) or over the green border still remain fearing persecution upon return. Because of visa restrictions they could not leave to any other European country. If they did not ask for refugee status, their tourist permissions expired or will expire soon. Some go to Romania and back to avoid this situation. Most of them are desperate awaiting for a more permanent solution. An amnesty or other guarantees that would enable them to return to their homes or a possibility to go to a third country and receive some kind of status.

Over one thousand people from Yugoslavia are still staying in refugee camps in Hungary. Estimations from visitors are that over a third are draft evaders.The conditions in camps are prison-like , 6-16 people live in one room, the freedom of movement is limited and the atmosphere very tense. During the bombardment all Yugoslav citizens had a right to stay in camps if they could not find another solution, but now this right is abolished. There is also an unconfirmed number of Yugoslav citizens in prison, some of whom charged with illegal border crossing. Our fear is that some of them might be draft evaders or deserters too.

According to the statement of Yugoslav Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in Belgrade from June, 24 the situation of those who fled the country is further worsened by the state of war provision which required registration of any change in residence. This provision enables military authorities to raise charges against anyone who stayed abroad during the state of war and did not register as a conscript with the nearest Yugoslav embassy. Therefore, no safe return is possible unless the Amnesty act is passed in Yugoslavia. For the moment Yugoslav authorities are not showing any signs of willingness to pass such an act. Moreover, there is no international demand or pressure to resolve this situation.

We will remain comitted in raising our voice for the recognition of a basic human right to refuse to kill and demanding protection for all those who refused to kill.

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