Precedent: The Coronial Service wasn’t summoned after the recent floods in Skopje – first time ever!

 

The victims of the floods must be examined by a coroner from the Coronial Service so it can be established whether the victims had died violently or not. Those people have been buried without prior professional verification of the cause of their death, the Coronial Service Institute explicates

 

Author: Olivera Vojnovska

 

A precedent has been made regarding the identification of the victims of the floods that occurred on 6 August 2016 and struck Skopje and its surroundings: Stajkovci, Arachinovo, Singelikj and Smilkovci. For the first time a coroner is not included in such medicolegal procedure. People from the Coronial Service Institute for Truthmeter said that they have taken part in the identification of persons in past tragedies: the plane accident of the President Boris Trajkovski, the helicopter accidents near Blace and Strumica, the ship accident in Ohrid, the accident with the Russian plane…

This is a precedent! For the first time, we weren’t summoned for identification, says the professor from the Coronial Service Institute Biljana Janeska.

Her colleague, Zlatko Jakjovski, an associate professor, says that it is incomprehensible why nobody summoned the Coronial Service.

We do not say that autopsy must be performed at all costs. Here, it is a matter of a mass disaster, but there must be an expert witness – coroner specialist, who solely by examination can say that there are or there aren’t signs of other types of violent death, except the presumption that the people have drowned, he says and also emphasizes that the rules must be respected and there must be an investigation and identification in accordance with the Interpol Disaster Victim Identification Guide.

Macedonia is an Interpol member country and it must adhere to this Guide and the identification must be performed by a multi-discipline team of forensic odontologist, forensic anthropologist, fingerprints specialist, forensic photographer, crime scene technician and DNA analysis expert. But, we don’t know the team in this case, emphasizes Jakjovski.

He explains how an identification should be performed.

This team is summoned and the people work together in order to identify every person. They complete forms, the ante-mortem data are filled in by a special team from the Ministry of Interior, which asks the families about the personal characteristics of the deceased – height, weight, eye color, hair, clothes he wore, scars, tattoos, illnesses. Then, we as a team fill the post-mortem forms with everything we find during the identification process and afterwards we see whether there is or there isn’t overlapping in order to perform correct identification.

The professor Janeska says that the victims in Skopje’s surroundings have most likely been identified by recognition.

Recognition is not a reliable method, problems might arise because the family is shocked in those moments, adds the professor.

She emphasizes that mistakes can be made and she recalls a case from her past when two families claimed one victim as their member.

Many years ago we witnessed how two families recognized a drowned woman. Both claimed that she is a member of their family, says Janeska.

On the other hand, the Public Prosecution Office stated that there is no need for autopsy of bodies in case of natural disaster, because there is no suspicion for a criminal offense. According to the Public Prosecution Office, which referred to the provisions from the Law on Criminal Procedure, an authorized public prosecutor issues an order for autopsy and performs on-site inspection only if there is suspicion for perpetrated criminal offense.

He gave all the required instructions within his authority for the procedures of police teams on-site. Namely, according to the Law on Criminal Procedure (Article 246, Paragraph 1) – ‘Examination and autopsy of a corpse shall be performed when there will be a suspicion that death is caused by a criminal offense’. Having in mind that there was no suspicion for a criminal offense in this case, the authorized public prosecutor did not issue an order for autopsy but he instructed the victims’ bodies for identification in the chapel in Butel so later they could be prepared for funeral. Of course, according to the instructions given by the public prosecutor, an opportunity for additional autopsy was available for every disputable death or for persons that couldn’t be identified, is said in the press release.

In regard of the allegations of the PPO, Jakjoski sarcastically asks:

And who says there is no suspicion? So they, as jurists, know how to determine a cause of death just because besides the diploma from the Faculty of Law they also have a diploma from the Medical Faculty and Coronial Service specialization! The victims must be seen, and it cannot be said whether there they have died violently or not until some expert does not examine them. The people have been buried without expert verification of the cause of their death.

He picturesquely explains why recognition is not enough, and why the whole procedure must be followed.

We all know how you determine a cause of death, you can’t do that just like that. A simple example, you have a pack of cigarettes, but you will not know how many cigarettes are inside unless you open it.

Jakjoski warns that many questions might arise afterwards which were omitted at the beginning of the procedure, so he indicates that there might be problems with the insurance companies.

Some of the victims may have been insured, and the insurance companies require a cause of death. You cannot know the cause without an autopsy.

The professor Janeska wonders how the Public Prosecution Office has assessed that there is no suspicion of a criminal offense.

They have predetermined that it is not a matter of a suspicious death. It is a violent death, and it is not suspicious for them. How, I don’t know!

Natural death is just a death by illness. Everything that is not by illness is violent death. But it has to be determined whether it is a matter of a murder, suicide, accident. I do not believe that all deceased persons have drowned. Some of them have injuries, those who were with vehicles, those carried by water, they surely have injuries, drowning is not the case with them. It is just a supposition. It cannot be generalized that all have drowned, says Janeska.

She hopes that the families won’t start doubting that a wrong identification might have been made.

You know, people agree to everything just to bury the body. They accept everything. And then, after some time, they start thinking, doubting, visiting us, checking, asking, says Janeska, and she adds that the problem with the registration of the death is a possibility as well.

When we perform autopsy we give them a temporary death certificate, in which we write the diagnose, but it is a temporary one. The official document – medical certificate for the cause of death, with which you go to the registration office for issuing a document, must contain the specific cause of death. Here, in this specific case, it is unknown how the person has been found, in which position…, says the professor.

On the question whether the autopsy can answer the dilemmas that the victims’ relatives might have, both Janeska and Jakjovski say that the autopsy performed afterwards shall give precise results regarding the identification (via DNA), but the bodies will be putrid, degraded and a little can be done for verifying the cause of death:

Autopsy can be performed, but the answers will be brought to a minimum. Complete identification can be done and possible bone injuries can be discovered, but due to the fact that there won’t be any soft tissues, we won’t be able to verify whether the person has been bleeding, whether he has had torn lung, liver, for example, we cannot see a firearm injury through soft tissues if the bullet hasn’t hit a bone, and we cannot detect some toxic substances as well, believes Jakjovski.

The professor at the Institute for Social, Political and Juridical Research, Mirjana Najchevska, in her statement for Truthmeter says that the autopsy and the following of precise procedures for identification of victims in mass disasters, which has been verified by experience, and the aim is:

– unambiguous verification of victims (which has plenty of nonjuridical consequences related to the support the relatives of the victim need and juridical consequences related to family relations, inheritance, proprietorial relations etc.)

– unambiguous verification of the causes and conditions of death (which is related to the verification of the disaster size, the causes for it, the possible responsibility elements, but also for the existence of criminal offense and gathering data for a future inquiry)…

Najchevska reacted on her Facebook profile because an autopsy of the bodies hasn’t been performed. According to her, an autopsy must have been performed:

  1. So possible mistakes in the actions of the country can be determined.
  2. So we won’t have a situation when somebody benefited from the disaster by murdering somebody and setting him up as victim of the storm.
  3. So we won’t have a situation of identity theft of identity change.

So can you smuggle a wild card among the victims of the flood who were not examined by coroners from the Coronial Service, but were recognized by their relatives. I.e. one hypothetical situation in which we have a person who has violently lost his life in completely different circumstances and has been smuggled among the flood victims.

The professor from the Coronial Service Institute, Janeska, does not exclude the possibility of such event – somebody murdered somewhere else, and then reported as a victim of the storm.

You’ll make him wet, you’ll cover him with mud, you’ll put him in a car and it can be said that he has been found in Stajkovci or at the ring road, says Janeska.

 


This article was created within the framework of the Project to increase the accountability of the politicians and political parties Truthmeter implemented by Metamorphosis. The article is made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for Democracy(NED) and The Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD), a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an initiative that supports democracy, good governance, and Euroatlantic integration in Southeastern Europe. The content is the responsibility of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, National Endowment for Democracy, the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or its partners.

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