Mentally ill patients at Stimlje Mental Asylum, Kosovo


Danas, Belgrade, Yugoslavia
August 13, 2002-08-12

Reaction to article in the London »Guardian« about the abuse of patients at the Institute for the Mentally Ill in Stimlje

The article in the Guardian

Horror in the hospital

By J. Tasic

Stimlje, Gracanica, Belgrade – The shocking report of the London »Guardian« published on August 8, 2002 in which Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI), a US nongovernmental organization accused the UN mission in Kosovo and Metohija of tolerating »mistreatment, sexual abuse and keeping metal patients in filthy and humiliating conditions« publicly presented a part of the horrors to which patients at the Institute for the Mentally Ill in Stimlje, as well as wards of the Old Peoples' Home in Pristina, who are mostly Serbs, live on a daily basis. UNMIK spokeswoman Susan Manuel confirmed that the majority of claims made in the MDRI report are accurate and the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren requested that UNMIK »urgently establish contact with appropriate medical institutions in Central Serbia through the Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija and offer assistance in transferring Serb patients from Stimlje and Pristina to hospitals where they will be provided with the appropriate protection and care«.

After the article by Guardian journalist Oliver Burkeman was published, »Danas« received a report from a reliable source prepared by a representative of the international administration who visited the hospital in Stimlje during the first half of the year. This report completely confirms the facts which MDRI published after two years of investigation conducted in Stimlje and Pristina by mental health experts.

According to statistical data in the report of the representative of the international administration, in the first quarter of 2002 there were 270 patients in the Institute for the Mentally Ill in Stimlje, of whom 200 were Serbs. Among the patients there were seven children. There were even more children before but thanks to the engagement of several international humanitarian organizations, nine children were transferred to Laplje Selo where they have made visible progress psychologically and physically.

The report states that in addition to the mentally ill, there are several people in the hospital in Stimlje who ended up here by mistake a decade or more ago. »They are imprisoned here because there is no one who is able to help them. I met one of them, who was placed in this hospital for the murder of his wife. He is a Serb. They call him Steve. He worked and lived in Australia,« states the report.

After presenting their identification at the entrance, representatives of the international mission, which included British military clergy, were literally left to inspect the hospital on their own because the administrative building was closed and there was no sign of any medical staff. According to the report, the patients are left completely unattended and alone. They aimlessly wander the hospital grounds, scream, beg rare visitors for cigarettes... The majority of them have shaved heads to prevent lice and visitors are advised »to avoid any form of physical contact with the patients due to skin infections and illnesses from which they suffer due to the unhygienic conditions in which they live«.

„Thanks to the goodwill and efforts of individuals from Finnish and Norwegian humanitarian organizations, as well as Finnish and British KFOR, the children were housed in a separate part of the hospital, renovated and formally opened at the beginning of the year. It is a small building within the hospital complex. There is a bathroom, a living room, a bedroom and everywhere one can smell decay, feces, death and despair. The children, aged five to 15 years, were in very serious psychological condition and seem to have lost the power of speech. They only let out some kind of horrible, inarticulate screams. The reasons for such behavior are the sexual and physical abuse to which they have been exposed daily by older patients as well as by some members of the hospital staff. This is no secret. It is known by many people from the international community who visited this horrible place but all of them remain silent,” states the report.

The male and female pavillion, according to eyewitness testimony, is the incarnation of „a horror of stench, noise, screaming, especially the female section. When these poor, mentally ill women spied us, they simply lunged at us with screams and many vulgar offers... They began to undress, to display certain parts of their bodies... An English clergyman stated that during earlier visits he personally saw patients engaged in sexual intercourse. He explains that there have been no cases of pregnancy because he suspects the hospital staff is sterilizing the patients, even though the physicians, he adds, denied this when he asked them about it,” states the report on the Institute for the Mentally Ill in Stimlje.

Eric Rosenthal, the executive director of MDRI, told BBC that his organization had “sent a letter a year ago to Hans Haekkerup, the former head of UNMIK, on the basis of a comprehensive report by staff of the Norwegian Red Cross regarding sexual abuse in Stimlje and citing testimony by students and employees of the Department of Psychiatry at Pristina Hospital regading abuses in Pristina but to date no investigation has been launched”. Rosenthal warned that the majority of patients, according to a doctor’s opinion, did not require institutional care at all and that “existing money is being used to repair the hospital and not for programs for working for the mentally ill and retarded persons within the community”.

Susan Manual, on the other hand, claims that UNMIK never received a single official report of sexual abuse. In a statement for BBC she announced a training program for employees of institutions for the mentally ill in order “to teach them how to report such cases to the authorities in the future without fear for their own safety”. Manuel also announced the ratification of a new law on the care of the mentally ill which is presently being drafted. After the new legislation is passed, every individual case will be investigated, claims Manuel, who said that upon assuming power in Kosovo UNMIK, despite a lack of funds, opened three new centers for mental health. According to her, release of the patients or their treatment in “day hospitals” is not possible because “the majority of them are not Kosovo Albanians and would find themselves in an environment which is not favorably inclined towards them”. Manuel did not comment on Rosenthal’s claim that there is no reason not to create programs for the integration of Serb patients in Serb communities in the Province, as has already been done with a number of the children from the hospital in Stimlje.

According to the Diocese of Raska and Prizren representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church have visited the Old Peoples’ Home in Pristina several times with essentials and money but they have little information regarding the Institute for the Mentally Ill in Stimlje because it is difficult for Serbs to go there for security reasons. Stimlje is a small town in the central part of Kosovo and Metohija, some 35 kilometers distant from Pristina and 12 kilometers from Urosevac. The only remaining Serbs who are known to live there are the patients of the Institute for the Mentally Ill who can be seen wandering in the hospital garden but only from the road while passing at great speed, without stopping and under the strong protection of KFOR through Stimlje.

„After receiving information regarding the situation in Stimlje through a third party, as the Serbian Ministry of Health has no jurisdiction in Kosovo and Metohija, we asked to visit the hospital at a meeting in Gracanica with Han Vori the head of the UNMIK Department of Health. Vori told me that he had no intention of organizing such a trip for us when he could not even guarantee our security as far as the Clinical Hospital Center in Pristina. We received guarantees that everything at the hospital in Stimlje is fine. On the other hand, Numan Balic, the provincial health minister, has rejected all forms of cooperation with respect to clinical health protection, claiming that Pristina now has ties with Tirana and Skopje, and will have nothing to do with Belgrade,” Professor Zdravko Vitosevic, a commissioner of the Ministry of Health and member of the Coordinating Center for Kosovo and Metohija tells „Danas”.

The Serbian Ministry of Health issued a statement yesterday regarding the Stimlje case in which it draws the attention of the international and domestic public to the inexcusable and grossly inhuman behavior of the Albanians employed in health institutions in the Province, which fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial health ministry and UNMIK’s Department of Health, toward non-Albanian patients, especially Serbs.

Professor Vitosevic announced that a meeting was scheduled for August 21 in Gracanica between Tomica Milosavljevic, the Serbian health minister, and representatives of UNMIK in order to discuss this problem.

What to do with the mentally ill from Kosovo

According to Dr. Milan Stojkovic, the director of the Special Psychiatric Hospital in Toponica naer Nis, this institution cannot accept the patients from Stimlje because it does not provide the necessary kind of treatment. Currently there are about 120 patients of all nationalities from Kosovo and Metohija in Toponica; more than half of them are Albanians. “Their treatment is complete and they are ready to be released and placed either with a family, if conditions for this exist, or in a social institution. Our social agency has contacted their families but most of them are not interested in receiving them. There is absolutely no medical rationale for holding them here any longer but we have no place to send them,” Dr. Stojkovic told “Danas”. Together with Dr. Evica Marinkovic, the only Serb physician in Kosovo Polje and employed in the ZTP infirmary, Dr. Stojkovic initiatied a campaign last year to return the mentally ill from Kosovo and Metohija currently receiving treatment in Central Serbia to Kosovo and Metohija. Numan Balic, the health minister in the Kosovo transitional administration, has also received notification of this but he has not responded. Dr. Marinkovic states that the only response so far has come from Skender Zogaj, the mayor of Kosovo Polje.



The Guardian: UN 'ignored' abuse at Kosovo mental homes

Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI)

Not on the Agenda: Human Rights of People with Mental Disabilities in Kosovo (pdf)

MDRI's press release is available at:
Press Release (pdf)

Serbian Orthodox Church Strongly Appeals on UNMIK to assist evacuation of Serb patients to Central Serbian hospitals

Agence France-Presse (AFP), Date: 9 Aug 2002
UN in Kosovo says it will improve legislation on mentally disabled