U.S. Department of State Serbia-Montenegro Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997

HRH Crown Prince Alexander (hrhcpalex@btinternet.com)
Sat, 31 Jan 1998 11:04:23 -0000

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30,

Serbia-Montenegro, a constitutional republic, is dominated by Slobodan
Milosevic who, after two terms as President of Serbia, became Federal
President in July. President Milosevic continues to control the country
through his role as President of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS)--a
dual role arrangement proscribed by the federal Constitution--and his
domination of other formal and informal institutions. Although the SPS
lacks majorities in both the Federal and Serbian Parliaments, it controls
governing coalitions and holds the key administrative positions. Serbia
abolished the political autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina in 1990, and all
significant decision making since that time has been centralized under
Milosevic in Belgrade. The Milosevic regime effectively controls the
judiciary and has used this power to manipulate the election process, most
notably to reverse opposition victories in Serbian municipal elections over
the winter of 1996-97--an effort that the regime abandoned in February
after sustained domestic and international pressure.
During 1997 the international community continued to work intensively with
the Milosevic regime to implement the Dayton Accords, a step-by-step
process designed to end the war in Bosnia and secure the peace. United
Nations (U.N.) sanctions against the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" (FRY)
were formally lifted in 1996. The FRY is still not permitted to participate
in the United Nations (U.N.), the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe, or other international organizations and financial
organizations. The United States and the international community do not
recognize Serbia-Montenegro as the successor state to the former
As a key element of his hold on power, President Milosevic effectively
controls the Serbian police, a heavily armed force of over 100,000 that is
responsible for internal security. After his move to the Federal
presidency, Milosevic precipitated a crisis when he tried to wrest control
of the Montenegrin police from Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.
Serbian police committed extensive and systematic human rights abuses.
Despite the suspension of U.N. sanctions, economic performance has been
anemic. Unemployment and underemployment remained high as the Government
was unable or unwilling to introduce necessary restructuring measures. The
Government has not implemented sweeping economic reforms, including
privatization, which could undermine the regime's crony system. Largely as
a result of the central bank's tight monetary policy and the partial sell
off of the state telecommunications entity, inflationary pressures were
kept relatively in check.
The Government's human rights record continued to be poor. The police
committed numerous, serious abuses including extrajudicial killings,
torture, brutal beatings, and arbitrary arrests. Police repression
continued to be directed against ethnic minorities, and police committed
the most widespread and worst abuses against Kosovo's 90-percent ethnic
Albanian population. Police repression was also directed against the
Muslims of Sandzak and detainees and citizens who protested against the
Government. While under the Constitution citizens have a right to stage
peaceful demonstrations, the police seriously beat scores of protesters
throughout the country, sending many to hospitals. The Government used its
continued domination of Parliament and the media to enact legislation to
manipulate the electoral process. In practice citizens cannot exercise the
right to change their government. The judicial system is not independent of
the Government and does not ensure fair trials. The authorities infringe on
citizens' right to privacy. The Government used police and economic
pressure against the independent press and media and restricted freedom of
assembly and association. The Government infringed on freedom to worship by
minority religions and on freedom of movement. The Government continues to
hinder international and local human rights groups and reject their
findings. Discrimination and violence against women remained serious
problems. Discrimination against ethnic Albanian, Muslim, and Romani
minorities continues. The regime limits unions not affiliated with the
Government in their attempts to advance worker rights.
Montenegro was the only relatively bright spot, although Milosevic's
influence threatens to complicate the republic's as yet unproven efforts at
democratization. In July Montenegro's increasingly reformist Prime
Minister, Milo Djukanovic, successfully fought off an attempt by Milosevic
to change the Federal Constitution and boost the powers of the Federal
presidency. Djukanovic appears to be resisting attempts by Milosevic to
consolidate Montenegro's security apparatus-with its relatively clean human
rights record since 1995-under the Belgrade regime. The results of the
October presidential election, in which Milo Djukanovic defeated the
incumbent, Momir Bulatovic, were questioned by the central authorities
despite being endorsed as free and fair by the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
As a signatory of the Dayton Accords, Serbia-Montenegro is obliged to
cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former
Yugoslavia by turning over to the Tribunal the five persons on its
territory who were indicted for war crimes. The Government has so far been
uncooperative. According to credible reports, some of those indicted live
in Serbia, and others freely travel in and out of Serbia. Over the summer,
suspected war criminal Ratko Mladic vacationed in Montenegro and earlier,
according to press reports, attended his son's well-publicized wedding
ceremony in Belgrade.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Political violence, including killings by police, resulted mostly from
efforts by Serbian authorities to suppress and intimidate ethnic minority
groups. Xhafer Hajdari of Mitrovica died in January, apparently from
injuries sustained during police torture several weeks earlier. The victim
had committed no crime, but police alleged that his son had killed a
Serbian hunter in 1992.
On June 20, along the FRY border with the Republika Srpska at Priboj, the
police killed one Muslim Bosniak and seriously mistreated another. Serbian
security forces shot and killed several ethnic Albanians, identified by
police as terrorists, including Adrian Krasniqi, a 21-year-old ethnic
Albanian shot and killed by Serbian police on October 14.
At least two ethnic Albanians died while in jail awaiting trials. On
February 23, Serbian police revealed that Besnik Restelica, an engineer
from Podujevo, was killed while in police custody. Police claim that
Restelica committed suicide, but according to reports of the Council for
the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, a monitoring organization based
in Pristina, Kosovo, he had bruises on his legs, hands, and fingers and
showed signs of having been strangled. He was abducted by police in late
January. On October 17, another ethnic Albanian, Junus Zeneli, died while
in police custody in Belgrade under suspicious circumstances. In both
cases, legal requirements that family and legal counsel of the detainee
contacted immediately were ignored.
Several violent clashes in Kosovo in late November between the police and
Kosovar ethnic Albanians apparently resulted in fatalities on both sides.
Crimes against citizens of ethnic minority groups appear to have been
rarely investigated, nor were police generally held accountable for their
b. Disappearance
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. An ethnic
Albanian, Nait Hasani, of Pristina was seized by police on January 28,
brutally beaten, and then disappeared for 32 days before police
acknowledged that he was in their custody and charged him with
terrorist-related activities.
The trial of Dusan Ranisavljevic began in April; he is an admitted
participant in the 1993 Strpci incident, in which 19 Muslims and 1 Croat
were taken off a train as it passed through Bosnian territory and
disappeared (see Section 4). The fate of the men remains a mystery, and the
Government is clearly reluctant to investigate fully the incident, as well
as other disappearances. The trial started in April but was interrupted for
procedural reasons when Montenegrin authorities sought to move the venue to
a Serbian court in Jagodina, the defendant's hometown.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Torture and other cruel forms of punishment, which are prohibited by law,
continue to be a problem, particularly in Kosovo directed against ethnic
Albanians. Police routinely beat people severely when holding them in
detention. There were several police roundups in Kosovo during the early
part of the year of ethnic Albanians charged with supporting a separatist
agenda and terrorist-related activities. Police beat and tortured many of
over 60 male and female suspects held in custody. It is during the 3 to 4
day period of incommunicado detention allowed by law that the worst police
brutality takes place. These excesses are now primarily concentrated in
Kosovo, and to a lesser extent in Sandzak. Serbian police inflicted some
abuse on
prodemocracy demonstrators early in the year and again in the fall (see
Section 2.b.).
Ethnic Albanians continue to suffer at the hands of security forces
conducting searches for weapons and explosives. The police, without
following proper legal procedures, frequently extract "confessions" during
interrogations that routinely include the beating of suspects' feet, hands,
genital areas, and sometimes heads. The police use their fists,
nightsticks, and occasionally electric shocks. Apparently confident that
there would be no reprisals, and, in an attempt to intimidate the wider
community, police often beat persons in front of their families. According
to various sources, ethnic Albanians are frequently too terrified to ask
police to follow proper legal procedures--such as having the police provide
written notification of witness interrogation.
According to Human Rights Watch, police beat at least 24 journalists during
prodemocracy demonstrations over the winter of 1996-97 in Belgrade alone.
Human Rights Watch cited an incident in which police using truncheons
brutally beat the head of a 21-year-old student journalist, Rastko Kostic.
The police stopped only when another passerby became involved, and they
started beating him. In February the Humanitarian Law Center filed criminal
charges on behalf of 21 journalists who had been beaten, but no action had
been taken by the state prosecutor by year's end.
Police also used threats and violence against family members of suspects
and have held them as hostages. According to Albanian and foreign
observers, the worst abuses against ethnic Albanians took place not in big
towns but in rural enclaves. Continuing a longstanding practice, the
military conducted exercises using live ammunition next to an inhabited
village in Sandzak during the summer on the Pester plain. No one was
killed, but the practice showed insensitivity and served to intimidate the
local Muslim population and encourage residents to leave.
Prison conditions meet minimum international standards. There were no
confirmed reports of the abuse of prisoners, once they were sentenced and
serving time.
The Government generally permits prison visits by human rights monitors. An
important exception was the case of the ethnic Albanians arrested in a
police sweep over the winter. The International Committee for the Red Cross
was, except for one visit, denied access to the prisoners prior to the
beginning of their trials in May.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Police use of arbitrary arrest and detention was concentrated primarily in
Kosovo and, to a lesser degree, in Sandzak. Police often apply certain laws
only against ethnic minorities, using force with relative impunity. During
Belgrade student protests in late September and early October, police
arbitrarily arrested dozens of citizens, including some who were not even
participating in the protests. Police also beat several journalists,
photographers, and television camera people. Laws regarding conspiracy,
threats to the integrity of the government, and state secrets are so vague
as to allow easy abuse by the regime.
Federal statutes permit police to detain criminal suspects without a
warrant and hold them incommunicado for up to 3 days without charging them
or granting them access to an attorney. Serbian law separately provides for
a 24-hour detention period. Police often combine the two for a total 4-day
detention period. After this period, police must turn a suspect over to an
investigative judge, who may order a 30-day extension and, under certain
legal procedures, subsequent extensions of investigative detention up to 6
months. In Kosovo police often beat people without ever officially charging
them and routinely hold suspects well beyond the 3-day statutory period.
However, observers report that the problem is not as pronounced in the rest
of Serbia-Montenegro as in the past.
Defense lawyers and human rights workers complained of excessive delays in
filing formal charges and opening investigations. The ability of defense
attorneys to challenge the legal basis of their clients' detention often
was further hampered by difficulties in gaining access to detainees or
acquiring copies of official indictments and decisions to remand defendants
into custody. In some cases, judges prevented defense attorneys from
reading the court file. The investigative judges often delegated
responsibility to the police or state security service and rarely
questioned their accounts of the investigation even when it was obvious
that confessions were coerced. According to human rights observers, many of
these problems were in evidence with respect to the ethnic Albanians
arrested over the winter and convicted in the late spring in Pristina.
In a country where many if not most of the adult males in the Serbian
population are armed, the police, according to some members of minorities,
selectively enforced the laws regulating the possession and registration of
firearms so as to harass and intimidate ethnic minorities, particularly
Albanian Kosovars and Bosniak Muslims. The most frequent justification
given for searches of homes and arrests was illegal possession of weapons.
Observers allege that in Kosovo the police are known to use the pretext of
searching for weapons when in fact they are also searching for hard
currency. Local police authorities more easily approve the registration of
legal weapons for Kosovo Serbs and frequently turn a blind eye to Serbs'
possession of illegal weapons.
Exile is not legally permitted, and no instances of its use are known to
have occurred. However, the practical effect of police repression in Kosovo
and Sandzak has been to accentuate political instability, which in turn has
limited economic opportunity. As a result, many ethnic Albanians and
Bosniak Muslims go abroad to escape persecution, although only in a few
cases could direct links to police actions be identified.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but in practice the
courts are largely controlled by the Government and rarely challenge the
will of the state security apparatus. While judges are elected for fixed
terms, they may be subjected to governmental pressure. The authorities
frequently deny fair public trial to non-Serbs and to persons they believe
oppose the regime. The fraud that followed the November 1996 municipal
elections was perpetrated mainly through the regime's misuse of the
judicial system.
The court system comprises local, district, and supreme courts at the
republic level, as well as a Federal Court and Federal Constitutional Court
to which republic supreme court decisions, depending on the subject, may be
appealed. There is also a military court system. According to the Federal
Constitution, the Federal Constitutional Court rules on the
constitutionality of laws and regulations, relying on republic authorities
to enforce its rulings.
The Federal Criminal Code of the former Socialist Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia still remains in force. Considerable confusion and room for
abuse remain in the legal system because the 1990 Constitution of Serbia
has not yet been brought into conformity with the 1992 Constitution of the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Under Federal law, defendants have the
right to be present at their trial and to have an attorney, at public
expense if needed. The courts must also provide interpreters. The presiding
judge decides what is read into the record of the proceedings. Either the
defendant or the prosecutor may appeal the verdict.
Although generally respected in form, defense lawyers in Kosovo and Sandzak
have filed numerous complaints about flagrant breaches of standard
procedure which they believed undermined their clients' rights. Even when
individual judges have admitted that the lawyers are correct, courts have
ignored or dismissed the complaints.
The Government continues to pursue cases brought previously against
targeted minority groups under the Yugoslav Criminal Code for jeopardizing
the territorial integrity of the country and for conspiring or forming a
group with intent to commit subversive activities--that is, undermining the
"constitutional order."
Three questionable trials took place in Pristina over the summer and fall
involving 60 ethnic Albanians. In the first trial, 20 individuals,
including one woman, were charged mainly with preparing to conspire to
participate in activities endangering the territorial integrity of the FRY.
The evidence was inadequate and the defendants were largely denied timely
access to their attorneys. U.N. Special Rapporteur Rehn noted that several
defendants met their defense attorneys for the first time only after the
investigative judge had already concluded the crucial stage of
investigation, while other defendants had defense counsel assigned after
they entered the courtroom.
Much evidence appeared to have been obtained by authorities through forced
confessions of defendants under duress. Other evidence was kept from
defense attorneys until right before the trial. Similar problems prevailed
during the second and third trials, in which suspects were either accused
of forming a terrorist organization with the aim of endangering the
constitutional order or of killing police officers. A total of 52
defendants received prison sentences of up to 20 years.
Another aspect of the FRY'S ineffective judicial system is the impunity
that exists for certain criminal behavior. For example, the bodyguard for
Vojislav Seselj, the Serbian radical party leader and candidate for Serbian
president, beat up a respected human rights lawyer, Nikola Barovic, after a
television interview debate in which Seselj and Barovic disagreed
vehemently. Barovic received serious injuries to the face, which Seselj
dismissed glibly as being the result of the human rights lawyer having
"slipped on a banana peel." The courts ignored the case for several weeks
until after Serbian elections. When the case did go to trial, the judge
accepted a banana peel into evidence. The case was suspended. In a case
that demonstrated relative impunity, on October 13 the first municipal
court of Belgrade found Zivko Sandic guilty only of criminal negligence for
pulling out a gun and shooting a prodemocracy demonstrator in the head
during a December 1996 protest. Sandic was sentenced to only 2 years in
prison, close to the legal minimum. In one case with a rare just ending,
Zlatibor Jovanovic, an ethnic Serb from Kosovo, was sentenced to 11 years
in prison for murdering an ethnic Albanian student in 1996.
The Government continues to hold some ethnic Albanians as political
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Federal law gives republic ministries of the interior sole control over the
decision to monitor potential criminal activities, a power that is
routinely abused. It is widely believed that authorities monitor opposition
and dissident activity, eavesdrop on conversations, read mail, and wiretap
telephones. Although illegal under provisions of Federal and Serbian law,
the Federal post office registers all mail from abroad, ostensibly to
protect mail carriers from charges of theft.
Although the law includes restrictions on searches, officials often ignored
them. In Kosovo and Sandzak, police have systematically subjected ethnic
Albanians and Bosniak Muslims to random searches of their homes, vehicles,
shops, and offices, asserting that they were searching for weapons.
According to the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, the
police carried out scores of raids on homes. Police also used threats and
violence against family members of suspects and have held them as hostages
(see Section 1.c.).
Ultranationalist local officials in Zemun encouraged the illegal eviction
of ethnic Croats from their apartments, after which they were replaced by
ethnic Serb refugees (see Section 5).
The Government's law requiring universal military service is enforced only
sporadically. It was not vigorously enforced in 1997. The informal practice
of the military has been not to call up ethnic Albanians. Of approximately
100,000 draft evaders living abroad to avoid punishment, 40 percent were
estimated to be ethnic Albanian. This number in part reflects the large
number of conscription-age men in the FRY's Albanian community. The climate
appears to be moderating, due to the cessation of hostilities in Bosnia.
Nevertheless, leaders of Kosovo's Albanian and Sandzak's Muslim communities
have maintained that forced compliance of these ethnic groups with
universal military service was an attempt to induce young men to flee the
country. According to an amnesty bill passed in 1996, young men for whom
criminal prosecution for draft evasion had already started were granted
In a related development, under a 1996 agreement with Germany, ethnic
Albanian refugees repatriated to the FRY were not supposed to be prosecuted
for fleeing the draft. According to the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC),
however, many returning ethnic Albanians have faced irregular procedures on
returning to the FRY. The HLC reported many violations by authorities
against returned asylum seekers, including physical abuse, threats of
imprisonment, deportation, confiscation of ID cards, and obliging persons
to report to their local police stations on a daily basis. Returning ethnic
Albanians and Sandzak Muslims are routinely detained on their arrival at
local airports. In many cases FRY officials have refused to issue proper
travel documents to children born to asylum seekers.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and the Press
Federal law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but in
practice the Government strongly influences much of the media. In July
several weeks before the Serbian elections, the Milosevic regime
temporarily closed scores of private radio and television stations
throughout Serbia. The FRY Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications,
which controls broadcast frequencies, worked in concert with the criminal
and financial police to pressure independent media outlets that had not
been able to regularize their legal status. Many broadcasters applied for
frequencies but were left in a state of limbo by the regime. Serbia's
broadcast laws remain murky, and licenses are not issued in any fashion
that can remotely be described as transparent.
While the regime harassed the independent media, an HLC study showed that
the Government violated the agreement on the presentation of political
parties, signed before the election season. During the campaign season in
August, state-controlled Radio and Television Serbia (RTS) openly
campaigned for Milosevic's ruling coalition. According to HLC monitoring,
all the other political parties received only one-quarter of the broadcast
time allocated for political parties, while the RTS regularly opened the
evening news broadcasts with campaign promotion pieces for the regime.
The regime lost one of its most important media outlets when it was forced
to reverse the theft of the Belgrade municipal elections in February and
consent to the naming of Democratic Party Leader Zoran Djindic as the
city's mayor. Control of Belgrade's Studio B radio went from the regime to
the opposition, and the management immediately started broadcasting
generally balanced news programming. The regime, however, reversed the
setback when the Zajedno coalition of the political opposition fell apart.
Studio B's independent management was dismissed a week after the first
round of Serbian elections on September 21, and the news board's commitment
to journalistic independence is suspect at best. In effect, Studio B is now
under SPO censorship.
The most striking example of media bias came in reaction to the mass
demonstrations from November 1996 to February 1997 that followed widespread
government theft of the municipal elections. The government-controlled
media downplayed the size of crowds, sometimes ignoring demonstrations
altogether--despite numbers of demonstrators in the tens of thousands. When
state-run television did cover demonstrations, it was in an effort to label
protesters as "hooligans" and "traitors" determined to destroy Serbia.
The same media tack was used when ethnic Albanian students staged a
peaceful protest march in Pristina on October 1 only to be accused by the
state-controlled media of instigating violence in a clash that saw police
move in with truncheons, tear gas, and water cannons. The state-controlled
media, moreover, took advantage of the protests to accuse the Belgrade
opposition of being in league with "Albanian separatists."
Economic pressure was the usual weapon of the regime against the free
press. For example, state-owned enterprises were dissuaded from advertising
in independent media. One of Serbia's leading opposition papers, Nasa
Borba, had its bank accounts blocked by the regime. Although no longer the
persistent problem it was during the period of sanctions, the availability
of newsprint continued to pose difficulties, especially for the independent
media. Also, while the state-controlled press obtained newsprint at
subsidized prices, independent publications paid substantially higher
market prices.
Academic freedom exists in a limited fashion. Many leading academicians are
active members of the political opposition and human rights groups, and the
espousal of anti regime positions would likely limit their advancement. At
the prestigious University of Belgrade, half the membership of the
governing council that controls the university is appointed by the regime
and half by the various faculties.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Federal and republic-level Constitutions provide for freedom of
peaceful assembly and association; however, the Government restricted this
right. During the early part of 1997, citizens were prevented from staging
protest marches on numerous occasions before the regime finally restored
the opposition's victories in several Serbian municipalities. In Kosovo the
regime cracked down on peaceful demonstrators during their October 1 and
late December protests, when police used tear gas and clubs, injuring
several passersby. The regime cited the student protesters' unwillingness
to apply for a permit from Serbian authorities. In Sandzak the Milosevic
regime banned all outdoor rallies, even for election campaigning.
The federal and republic level Constitutions provide for freedom of
association, but the Government restricted this right. Prior to the Serbian
elections in the fall, officials blocked the coalition Sandzak-Dr. Rasim
Ljajic from forming an alliance with the Kosovo-based Democratic Reform
Party of Muslims, a move that protected regime candidates from extra
c. Freedom of Religion
There is no state religion, but the Government gives preferential
treatment, including access to state-run television for major religious
events, to the Serbian Orthodox Church to which the majority of Serbs
belong. The regime has subjected religious communities in Kosovo to
harassment. For example, a Roman Catholic parish in Klina has the money,
property, and permission (including up to the Supreme Court of Serbia) to
build a church for its 6,000 member parish. However, the local chapter of
Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia has continued to block construction.
Other Catholic and Muslim communities in the province had similar
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and
The Constitution provides for freedom of movement, and the Government makes
passports available to most citizens. However, many inhabitants of
Serbia-Montenegro who were born in other parts of the former Yugoslavia, as
well as large numbers of refugees, have not been able to establish their
citizenship in the FRY, leaving them in a stateless limbo.
According to a report by the Humanitarian Law Center, authorities on
several different occasions barred FRY citizens from reentering the
country. The regime also continues to restrict the right of Albanian
Kosovars and Sandzak Muslims to travel by holding up issuance or renewal of
passports for an unusually long period of time and has reserved the option
of prosecuting individuals charged previously with violating exit visa
FRY citizens reported difficulties at borders and occasional confiscation
of their passports. Ethnic Albanians, Sandzak Muslims, and Vojvodina Croats
frequently complained of harassment at border crossings. There were
numerous reports that border guards confiscated foreign currency or
passports from travelers as well as occasional complaints of physical
mistreatment. The authorities generally allowed political opposition
leaders to leave the country and return.
The Government has been very slow to issue passports to refugees. Albanian
Kosovars also have problems with the issuance and renewal of passports and
are sometimes called in for interrogation by state security officers before
passports are issued. In January a new citizenship law entered into force,
which, when fully implemented, is expected to affect adversely the rights
of many inhabitants, including those born in other parts of the former
Yugoslavia, refugees, and citizens who had migrated to other countries to
work or seek asylum. The U.N. Special Rapporteur for the former Yugoslavia
noted that the new law would give the Ministry of Interior almost complete
control over the granting of citizenship. The Government served notice that
it plans to limit severely the granting of citizenship to refugees from the
conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia. The Government also plans to revise the
eligibility status of a large number of people; refugees who have been
granted citizenship since 1992 may stand to lose their FRY citizenship if
they have acquired the citizenship of an ex-Yugoslav republic.
Observers in the Sandzak region also note that Muslim residents who were
forced to flee to Bosnia from Sandzak in 1992 and 1993 may not be permitted
to return to Serbia, particularly if they have obtained Bosnian passports
in the interim. In violation of the Dayton Accords, Bosniak Muslims and
Muslims from Sandzak frequently have been harassed on attempting to reenter
Serbia after visits to Sarajevo or the federation.
Government policy toward refugee and asylum seekers continued to be uneven.
Refugees, mostly ethnic Serbs who fled Bosnia and Croatia, are often
treated as citizens of Serbia-Montenegro for labor and military purposes
but are denied other rights such as employment and travel (see Section
l.f.). Refugees were not allowed to vote in the 1997 elections in Serbia,
although they did vote in some previous elections. The Government has
cooperated with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to provide help for
the more than 500,000 refugees in Serbia-Montenegro.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change
Their Government
The three constitutions--Federal, Serbian, and Montenegrin
Republic--provide for this right, but in practice citizens are prevented
from exercising it by the Government's domination of the mass media and
manipulation of the electoral process. Only Montenegro's electoral system
has shown marked improvement, with the Government of Prime Minister
Djukanovic holding a roundtable with the political opposition, including
ethnic minorities, in September and welcoming observers from the OSCE well
ahead of Milosevic's grudging invitation to outside monitors shortly before
Serbian presidential and parliamentary elections in September.
Serbian elections were seriously flawed. In July the regime repeated its
machinations before 1996 Federal elections and gerrymandered electoral
districts to smooth the way for candidates in the ruling coalition,
expanding the number of districts in Serbia from 9 to 29. Most opposition
politicians charged that changes in the election law implemented since the
last election, including the redrawing of districts, were designed
specifically to favor the ruling party. The redistricting was one factor
that compelled a number of opposition parties to boycott the elections.
Slobodan Milosevic dominates the country's political system and is
attempting to reconsolidate institutional power at the Federal level as a
result of his move to the Federal presidency. This precipitated a clash
with authorities in Montenegro who are intent on protecting that republic's
autonomy. Manipulating power within the federation based on the comparative
size of the Serbian and Montenegrin populations and economies, Milosevic
has been able to circumscribe the Montenegrin Government's capacity for
independent action. As a result of Serbia's political crisis during the
winter of 1996-97, Montenegro's then Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic, began
to take a steadily more assertive, reformist course. His victory in October
presidential elections over incumbent Montenegrin president and Milosevic
crony, Momir Bulatovic, threatened Milosevic's complete control over
institutions of power and prompted a standoff as the internationally
endorsed results were not validated.
No legal restrictions exist on women's participation in government and
politics, and women are active in political organizations. However, they
are greatly underrepresented in party and government offices, holding less
than 10 percent of ministerial-level positions in the Serbian and Federal
governments. An exception is the controversial Mira Markovic, wife of
Serbian President Milosevic. She is the leading force in the neo-Communist
United Yugoslav Left Party, through which she exerts considerable influence
on policymakers.
No legal restrictions affect the role of minorities in government and
politics, but ethnic Serbs and Montenegrins dominate the country's
political leadership. Few members of other ethnic groups play any role at
the top levels of government or the state-run economy. Ethnic Albanians in
Serbia's Kosovo province have refused to take part in the electoral
process, including Serbian elections in the fall. They have virtually no
Ethnic Albanians' refusal to participate in FRY Federal and Serbian
elections has the practical effect of increasing the political influence of
President Milosevic and his supporters. Ultranationalist parties, which in
the past were occasional Milosevic allies, have also taken advantage of the
ethnic Albanian boycott to garner representation beyond their numbers.
Ethnic Albanians in Montenegro do participate in the political process, and
several towns in Montenegro have Albanian mayors.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental
Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Governments of Serbia and Montenegro formally maintain that they have
no objection to international organizations conducting human rights
investigations on their territories. It was the report of the OSCE on the
fraud that characterized the municipal elections that the regime cited in
reversing the results and ultimately recognizing the final results in
February, some 3 months after the vote. The Serbian regime sporadically
hindered activities and regularly rejected the findings of human rights
groups. The Montenegrin Government's record toward outside investigations
was much better, with the Prime Minister taking the initiative to invite
OSCE observers well in advance of the October presidential election in the
A number of independent human rights organizations exist in
Serbia-Montenegro, researching and gathering information on abuses, and
publicizing such cases. The Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center and
Center for Antiwar Action researches human rights abuses throughout
Serbia-Montenegro and, on occasion, elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia. The
Belgrade-based Helsinki Committee publishes studies on human rights issues
and cooperates with the Pristina-based Helsinki Committee in monitoring
human rights abuses in Kosovo. In Kosovo the Council for the Defense of
Human Rights and Freedoms collects and collates data on human rights abuses
and publishes newsletters. In the Sandzak region, two similar committees
monitor abuses against the local Muslim population and produce
comprehensive reports. Most of these organizations offer advice and help to
victims of abuse.
Local human rights monitors (Serbs as well as members of ethnic minorities)
and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) worked under difficult
circumstances. Sefko Alomerovic, chairman of the Helsinki Committee for
Human Rights in Sandzak, was formally charged with libel by former FRY
President Dobrica Cosic and his advisor Vladimir Matovic. Alomerovic had
publicly accused Cosic and Matovic of direct complicity in the 1993 Strpci
incident, in which some 20 men, including 19 Muslims, disappeared (see
Section 1.f.). Alomerovic believes that the Government, and Cosic, were
responsible for their disappearance. The case continued at year's end.
Overall, however, most observers say that the situation improved in 1997,
with slightly less overt obstruction by the Government of human rights
NGO's. One problem continues to be government foot-dragging in issuing
visas to people coming to Yugoslavia on human rights matters. After past
problems obtaining a visa, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for the former
Yugoslavia visited Serbia-Montenegro, including Pristina, twice in 1997.
During the year, the International Committee of the Red Cross was allowed
to conduct prison visits in Kosovo, but its work was seriously obstructed
with respect to visiting the ethnic Albanians charged with
terrorist-related activities who went on trial beginning in the spring.
However, the authorities also refused numerous approaches by OSCE
representatives to allow the reintroduction of the OSCE long-duration
missions into Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Sandzak, maintaining that the FRY must
first be "reinstated" in the OSCE.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
While Federal and republic laws provide for equal rights for all citizens,
regardless of ethnic group, religion, language, or social status, and
prohibit discrimination against women, in reality the legal system provides
little protection to such groups.
The traditionally high level of domestic violence persisted. The few
official agencies dedicated to coping with family violence have inadequate
resources and are limited in their options by social pressure to keep
families together at all costs. Few victims of spousal abuse ever file
complaints with authorities. The Center for Autonomous Women's Rights
offers a rape crisis and spousal abuse hot line, as well as sponsoring a
number of self-help groups. The Center also offered help to refugee women,
many of whom experienced extreme abuse or rape during the conflict in the
former Yugoslavia.
Women do not enjoy status equal to men in the FRY, and relatively few women
obtain upper level management positions in commerce.
Traditional patriarchal ideas of gender roles, which hold that women should
be subservient to the male members of their family, have long subjected
women to discrimination. In some rural areas, particularly among minority
communities, women are little more than serfs without the ability to
exercise their right to control property and children. Women in the FRY,
however, legally are entitled to equal pay for equal work and are granted
maternity leave for 1 year, with an additional 6 months available. Women
are active in political and human rights organizations. Women's rights
groups continue to operate with little or no official acknowledgment.
The state attempts to meet the health and educational needs of children.
The educational system provides 8 years of mandatory schooling.
The current division of Kosovo into parallel administrative systems has
resulted in Serb and Albanian Kosovar elementary age children being taught
in separate areas of divided schools, or attending classes in shifts. Older
Albanian Kosovar children attend school in private homes. The quality of
the education is thus uneven, and the tension and division of society in
general has been replicated to the detriment of the children.
An agreement negotiated under the auspices of the Rome-based Sant-Egidio
community and signed in 1996 by President Milosevic and Dr. Ibrahim Rugova,
the leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, seeks to resolve the
division of the educational system and lend impetus to efforts to normalize
the situation within Kosovo. No progress was apparent on implementation of
the accord over a year later, however, prompting a student protest movement
in Kosovo (see Section 2.b.). Intransigence in implementing the agreement
was detected on both sides.
Economic distress, due primarily to the Government's total mismanagement,
has spilled over into the health care system, adversely affecting children.
In Kosovo the health situation for children remained particularly poor.
Humanitarian aid officials blamed the high rate of infant and childhood
mortality, as well as increasing epidemics of preventable diseases,
primarily on poverty that led to malnutrition and poor hygiene and to the
deterioration of public sanitation. Ethnic minorities in some cases fear
Serb state-run medical facilities, which results in a low rate of
immunization and a reluctance to seek timely medical attention. Significant
cooperation between Serbian medical authorities and ethnic Albanian-run
clinics in Kosovo on a polio vaccination campaign represented a hopeful
development. A similar drive took place in Sandzak for Muslim children.
There is no societal pattern of abuse against children.
People With Disabilities
Facilities for people with disabilities are inadequate, but the Government
has made some effort to address the problem. The law prohibits
discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education,
or in the provision of other state services. The law mandates access to new
official buildings, and the Government enforces these provisions in
Religious Minorities
Religion and ethnicity are so closely intertwined as to be inseparable.
Serious discrimination against, and harassment of, religious minorities
continued, especially in the Kosovo and Sandzak regions. Violence against
the Catholic minority in Vojvodina, largely made up of ethnic Hungarians
and Croats, has also been reported.
National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
There were credible reports that Muslims and ethnic Albanians continued to
be driven from their homes or fired from their jobs on the basis of
religion or ethnicity. Other ethnic minorities, including ethnic Hungarians
in Vojvodina, also allege discrimination. In Zemun the Belgrade Helsinki
Committee office identified at least three instances where the city
government, under ultranationalist mayor Vojislav Seselj, encouraged the
illegal eviction of ethnic Croats from their apartments, after which they
were replaced by ethnic Serb refugees.
The Romani population is generally tolerated, and there is no official
discrimination. Roma have the right to vote, and there are two small Romani
parties. However, prejudice against Roma is widespread. Skinheads murdered
a Roma boy in Belgrade in October. Local authorities often ignore or
condone societal intimidation of the Roma community.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
All workers except military and police personnel have the legal right to
join or form unions. Unions are either official (government affiliated) or
independent. The total labor force is approximately 2.3 million. The
Government-controlled Alliance of Independent Labor Unions (Samostalnost)
claims 1.8 million members but probably numbers closer to 1 million. The
largest independent union is the United Branch Independent Labor Unions
(Nezavisnost), which numbers 157,000 members. Most other independent unions
are sector-specific, for example, the Independent Union of Bank Employees
(12,000 members). Due to the poor state of the economy, over one-half of
union workers are on long-term mandatory leave from their firms pending
increases in production. The independent unions, while active in recruiting
new members, have not yet reached the size needed to enable countrywide
strikes that would force employers to provide concessions on workers'
rights. The independent unions also claim that the Government has managed
to prevent effective recruiting through a number of tactics, including
preventing the busing of workers to strikes, threatening the job security
of members, and failing to grant visas to foreign visitors supporting
independent unions. Some foreign union organizers managed to secure visas
during the year after long delays.
The largely splintered approach of the independent unions left them little
to show in terms of increased wages or improved working conditions. The
Nezavisnost union gained new members as a result of its well-organized and
tough bargaining positions during strikes of teachers and health workers in
the spring. The Samostalnost (official) union lost credibility with some of
its members because it ultimately accommodated the Government position on
these strikes.
The ability of unions to affiliate internationally remains constrained.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
While this right is provided for under law, collective bargaining remains
at a rudimentary level of development. Individual unions tend to be very
narrow and pragmatic in their aims, unable to join with unions in other
sectors to bargain for common purposes. The history of trade unionism in
the country has centered not on bargaining for the collective needs of all
workers but rather for the specific needs of a given group of workers.
Thus, coal workers, teachers, health workers, and electric power industry
employees have been ineffective in finding common denominators (e.g., job
security guarantees, minimum safety standards, universal workers' benefits,
etc.) on which to negotiate. The overall result is a highly fragmented
labor structure composed of workers who relate to the needs of their
individual union but rarely to those of other workers. Additionally, job
security fears, which stem from the high rate of unemployment, limited
workers' militancy. The massive antigovernment demonstrations that followed
the November 1996 elections appear to have helped embolden workers to stand
up to the Government in strike situations.
The Government is still seeking to develop free trade zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced labor, including that performed by children, is prohibited by law
and is not known to occur.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 16 years, although in villages and
farming communities it is not unusual to find younger children at work
assisting their families. With an actual unemployment rate (registered
unemployed plus redundant workers who show up at the workplace but perform
only minimal work) in excess of 60 percent, real employment opportunities
for children are nonexistent. Forced and bonded labor by children is
prohibited by law and is not known to occur (see Section 6.c). Children
can, however, be found in a variety of unofficial "retail" jobs, typically
washing car windows or selling small items such as cigarettes.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Large government enterprises, including all the major banks, industrial,
and trading companies generally observe minimum wage standards. The current
monthly minimum wage is approximately $42 to $84 (250 to 500 Din). This
figure, however, is roughly comparable to unemployment benefits and (at
least theoretically) is paid to workers who have been placed in a mandatory
leave status. The actual minimum wage is at the low end of the range of
average net salaries, $92 to $108 (600 to 700 Din). The minimum wage is
insufficient to meet basic needs. The cost of food and utilities alone for
a family of four is estimated to be $231 (1,500 Din) per month. Private
enterprises use the minimum wages as a guide but tend to pay somewhat
higher average wages.
Reports of sweatshops operating in the country are rare, although some
privately-owned textile factories operate in very poor conditions. The
official workweek, listed as 40 hours, had little meaning in an economy
with massive underemployment and unemployment. Neither employers nor
employees tended to give high priority to enforcement of established
occupational safety and health regulations, focusing their efforts instead
on economic survival. In light of the competition for employment, and the
high degree of government control over the economy, workers are not free to
leave hazardous work situations without risking loss of employment.
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