Serbia: killing of lawyer must be urgently investigated

The killing of Serbian defense lawyer Dragoslav Ognjanović must be independently, promptly, and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice, the ICJ said today.

Dragoslav Ognjanović (photo), a prominent lawyer who had defended Slobodan Milosovic and had also represented defendants in cases of organized crime, was shot dead outside his home in Belgrade late on Saturday 28 July.

“Safety of lawyers is essential to the fair operation of the justice system and to protection of the rule of law. The Serbian authorities now need to take urgent steps to re-establish confidence that they can ensure the safety of lawyers who may be under threat, and to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime,” said Justice Radmila Dragicevic-Dicic, of Serbia’s Supreme Court, Vice-President of the ICJ.

“Investigation and prosecution of this case will be a significant test for the Serbian authorities and the legal system,” she added.

The Serbian and Belgrade bar associations have called a week-long suspension of work by lawyers in order to express their concern at the risk of violence against lawyers.

Serbian authorities have blamed an ongoing turf war between organized crime groups competing to control the narcotics trade.

“The concerns of the Serbian legal profession should be taken seriously by the government and the prosecution service, and the bar associations should be consulted on means to ensure the safety of lawyers,” said Róisín Pillay, Director of ICJ’s Europe Programme.

Additional information

International human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights to which Serbia is a party, requires that states take steps to protect the life and physical integrity of persons who they know or ought to know are at real risk of violence.

In addition, the right to life, protected under Article 2 of the European Convention as well as under other international law standards, requires states to ensure an independent, prompt and effective investigation into killings, with a view to bringing to justice those responsible.

According to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, governments must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference (principle 16). The UN Basic Principles specify that “[w]here the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities” (principle 17).

NewsWeb stories