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Yugoslavia: Courts, Detention, and Punishment
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Internal Security > Courts, Detention, and Punishment


Arrest without warrant was standard procedure. Detainees had the right to know the reasons for their arrest within twenty-four hours, by which time their families were to be informed of their whereabouts. Under article 178 of the Constitution, a prisoner could be held three days before a judge was required to decide whether further detention was permissible. The court could detain individuals for three months without charging them with a criminal offense. The Federal Supreme Court had the power to extend imprisonment without charge by an additional three months. The judiciary lacked sufficient independence to ensure impartial justice for all citizens. Judges were subject to party discipline by the LCY, through which they had reached office. Most judges were appointed only after receiving party approval of their "moral-political suitability." The State Presidency directly appointed and dismissed judges and prosecutors.

The Federal Secretariat for Justice operated twelve major prisons throughout the country. Even party veterans admitted that prison conditions were worse under LCY-dominated government than they were under the old regime. Amnesty International received occasional reports of psychological and physical abuse applied to obtain confessions from detainees. That organization estimated that at least several hundred political prisoners were held in Yugoslavia in any given year of the 1980s. Thousands of other citizens were punished by more insidious means. The government often revoked or denied passports, or dismissed suspicious individuals from employment in their chosen profession.

The military had a separate court system, which included an Office of the Military Prosecutor and a Supreme Military Court. Military courts tried cases involving criminal offenses by armed forces personnel and cases otherwise connected with military service. The most serious offenses in this category were desertion, dereliction of duty, and activities contrary to military morale. Article 221 of the Constitution also granted military courts jurisdiction over certain criminal offenses committed by civilians but related to national defense. They could impose sentences including the death penalty for criminal offenses that undermined the economic or military strength of the country in times of war or imminent danger of war. In the 1980s, military courts were increasingly used for proceedings against civilians because they could be conducted in closed sessions. The State Presidency appointed and dismissed military judges and prosecutors, as it did for civil courts.

In a highly publicized case in 1988, two young Slovenian journalists and a noncommissioned officer were arrested by military authorities and accused of illegally possessing secret military information. The journalists had recently published an article critical of the Yugoslav role as intermediary in Swedish arms sales to Libya. When a military court in Ljubljana found them guilty of revealing military secrets, thousands of Slovenes protested the trial, and a rash of physical attacks on army personnel followed the verdict.

Data as of December 1990

Last Updated: December 1990

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Yugoslavia was first published in 1990. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

Yugoslavia Main Page Country Studies Main Page

Section 203 of 208


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