|Tuesday, 9 March 2021|
Title: Serbia-Montenegro Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author: U.S. Department of State
Date: March 1996
SERBIA-MONTENEGROThe United States and the international community do not recognize Serbia-Montenegro as the successor state to the former Yugoslavia and do not permit the participation of the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" (FRY) from participation in the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and other international organizations. At year's end, the Government was cooperating with the international community to end the crisis in the former Yugoslavia, in a step-by-step process set out in the accords on ending the war in Bosnia which were negotiated in Dayton, Ohio in November.
Serbia-Montenegro is dominated by Slobodan Milosevic, who is serving his second 5-year term as President of Serbia. He controls the country through his Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), which lacks majorities in both the Federal and Serbian Parliaments but holds the key administrative positions. The SPS abolished the political autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina in 1990, and all significant decisionmaking since that time has been centralized under Milosevic in Belgrade. As a key element of his hold on power, Milosevic wields strong control over the Serbian police, a heavily armed force of perhaps 100,000 which is guilty of extensive, brutal, and systematic human rights abuses.
The economy continued to limp along under the impact of the fourth successive year of U.N. economic sanctions. An estimated 1.5 million unemployed or redundant workers, in a workforce of 2.3 million, struggled to make ends meet by smuggling gasoline and other contraband goods. Industrial production, hampered by lack of raw materials and markets, sputtered along at an average 30 percent of capacity. Largely due to the central bank's continued tight monetary policy, the Government managed to avoid the hyperinflation that wracked the economy during the winter of 1993-94. In November the central bank devalued the currency in an attempt to stabilize the exchange rate, but rising prices continued to erode living standards. Despite initial euphoria, the suspension of U.N. sanctions in late December with the signing of the Dayton Agreement produced no noticeable improvement in the economy.
The Government's human rights record continued to be poor. The police committed numerous serious human rights abuses, including carrying out and condoning torture, brutal beatings, and arbitrary arrests. Police repression continued at a high level against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo and the Muslims of Sandzak and reflected a general campaign to keep the one-third of the population who are not ethnic Serbs intimidated and unable to exercise basic human and civil rights. Police elements routinely monitor opposition leaders, human rights workers, and political dissidents.
The Government put some 150 ethnic Albanian former security personnel on trial in Kosovo for conspiring to undermine the Government, using as evidence confessions obtained by torture. In Sandzak similar politically inspired trials targeted Muslim community leaders. The President of Montenegro at year's end freed his Republic's political prisoners. Denial of fair trial and abuse of the judicial system were serious problems. The Government severely restricted the freedom of assembly and association, and tacitly condoned societal violence against religious minorities. The Government hindered the activities of human rights monitors. Discrimination and violence against women were serious problems, as was discrimination against ethnic minorities. Nongovernment affiliated unions are circumscribed in their attempts to advance workers' rights.
An important factor in Milosevic's rise to power and almost total domination of the political process is his control and manipulation of the state-run media. Freedom of the press is greatly circumscribed. The Government discourages independent media and resorts to surveillance, harassment, and even suppression to inhibit the media from reporting its repressive and violent acts.
Opposition politicians and minority ethnic groups are routinely denied access to the state-run mass media; they are vilified in the government- controlled media, and their positions misrepresented. This year the government-controlled press mounted a campaign against nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) and international humanitarian organizations. In some instances personnel of United Nations and religious organizations were not granted visas to continue their work; in at least one case, the Government revoked the registration of a major NGO.
Beginning in June, the police assisted in rounding up men of fighting age, mostly refugees but also some citizens. The police sent them against their will first to serve in Serbian forces in the Krajina and Bosnia, and later to training camps in Eastern Slavonia. The Government of Montenegro refused to allow refugees within its borders to be forcibly mobilized.
Already burdened with refugees from the 1991 conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, social services were almost overwhelmed by the arrival of some 170,000 largely ethnic Serb refugees from the Krajina in August. In contrast to 1991-92, the police acted to prevent the refugees from commandeering the homes of ethnic minority citizens in Serbia and housed them in public buildings. While relatives and acquaintances took in many refugees, the Government sent the majority to areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, principally Vojvodina and to a much more limited extent Kosovo, further intensifying the ethnic tensions within the country.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial KillingPolitical violence in Serbia-Montenegro, including killings by police, resulted mostly from efforts by Serbian authorities to suppress and intimidate ethnic minority groups. Leaders of minority communities in Kosovo and Sandzak, and to a lesser extent Vojvodina, reported numerous acts of violence and intimidation aimed at repressing non-Serbs and Muslims. The level of violence was most severe in the Albanian- populated region of Kosovo, where police repressed expressions of political and community life, and in the Muslim-populated region of Sandzak.
According to the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF), a monitoring organization based in Pristina, Kosovo, Serbian authorities killed 16 ethnic Albanians during the year. Ten persons were shot by police or soldiers and six died as a result of mistreatment or beatings while in police custody.
Serbian police beat Shefka Latifi on June 27, both in his home and at the police station, where he was also thrown down the stairs. A friend, who had also been beaten, took him to the health center where police later threatened the medical staff who were treating him. He was taken home where he died. Photos after the autopsy showed that he had been severely beaten on the body and about the head. One of the policemen identified in his beating was recognized as the same man who was involved in the beating death of Sabiat Vlahia in Podujeva in 1994.
On June 18, soldiers shot a 10-year-old boy on the grounds of a military barracks in Kacanik. Family members were notified that they could find his body at the hospital. They said that he had gone to fetch a stray goat as he had many times before; the soldiers later claimed that they thought the boy was trying to steal cigarettes.
Crimes against citizens of minority groups were rarely investigated, nor were police held accountable for their excesses. On the rare occasion when a policeman was detained, the case never came to trial. Kosovar Albanian Abedin Ahmeti was arrested on April 12 in a village near Mitrovica and taken to the police station. He was then brought to his home where he was beaten into unconsciousness in front of his family and then taken again to the police station. When his brother inquired after him the next morning, he was told Ahmeti had died on the way to the hospital. The physician's report showed that the victim had a broken finger, injuries on his hands, head, and genitals, and hemorrhaging in the brain. On April 19, two Serbian policemen were arrested at the behest of the public prosecutor of the Mitrovica District Court and charged with the murder of Ahmeti. The case had not come to trial by year's end.
On July 11, Serb policeman Boban Krstic was brought to court for having shot dead a 6-year-old boy and wounding his parents in July 1994. Krstic, who had been released pending a trial and received a promotion, was charged with "posing a threat to the community" rather than a more serious charge. The case was adjourned by the judge pending a "reconstruction of events."
b. DisappearanceAside from the temporary disappearance of young men aribtrarily mobilized to serve in Krajina and Bosnian Serb forces (see Section 1.f.), there were no reports of disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or PunishmentWhile the law prohibits torture, police routinely beat people severely when holding them under detention or stopping them at police checkpoints, especially targeting ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. According to human rights agencies, while some Sandzak Muslims, Roma, and even ethnic Serbs and Montenegrins suffered beatings at the hands of police, thousands of Kosovar Albanians were beaten and tortured during supposed searches for illegal weapons. Police extracted "confessions" during interrogations that routinely included the beating of suspects' feet, hands, genital areas, and sometimes heads with fists and nightsticks, and the use of electric shocks. Apparently confident that there would be no reprisals and expecting to have a broader impact, police often beat their victims in front of their families. The police also used threats and violence against family members and sometimes held them as hostages.
Observing the trials of former security personnel in Prizren, the Belgrade Helsinki Committee noted that while the accused had been taken into custody in late November and early December 1994, it was not until March 6 that they were indicted for criminal offenses. To obtain confessions, the committee noted, "torture was used extensively and liberally" by the security forces. The committee charged that security forces refused to allow medical attention to the detainees either when they were ill or when they were badly injured by beatings and torture.
During his trial in Prizren in June, Blerim Olloni testified that he had been interrogated 14 times by state security forces since his arrest on November 20, 1994, and tortured on almost all the occasions, sometimes with electric shock. Rexhep Oruci told the court on June 14, that after his arrest on November 17, he was beaten for 100 hours until November 21, when he signed a statement the police gave him. He said that the Serbian security officers had threatened his children with "liquidation" unless he confessed.
During the trials in Pristina in June, Avdi Mehmedoviq testified that he had been beaten bloody several times by security forces. His brother had also been arrested and their elderly father was beaten and brought to their cells, on one occasion with blood visible on his head. Zeke Bekaj stated that he was injured so badly he had to be taken for medical treatment and was threatened that his brother and young son would be harmed if he did not confess.
In May journalists in Montenegro reported an increasing number of police brutality cases, some of which they termed torture. According to the weekly journal Monitor, whereas Muslims and ethnic Albanians had been the usual target of the Montenegrin police, many of the newer cases were against orthodox Montenegrins and members of the Roma community. The Podgorica police chief was dismissed, in part in response to public protests against police brutality stemming from a case in the town of Spuz where police apprehended a man suspected of planting explosives at the homes of Muslim refugees. Local police beat him until he confessed, only to have a second person come forward and admit to the crime. He was then also beaten. In June the Interior Minister was replaced, and a new head of Montenegrin state security appointed.
Police often administer their own brand of justice without regard to due process. On March 5, police broke up a quarrel among neighbors in the village of Seqeva in Kosovo and arrested four men, beating two of them on the spot. After the men had been sentenced to 30 days imprisonment, one policeman, unsatisfied with the sentence, again beat them severely.
Police in civilian clothes broke down the door of the home of a 60-year- old woman on May 7 and threatened to cut off her head with a hatchet if she did not deliver weapons they claimed belonged to her son who lived in Germany. Police took her to the police station in Istok where she was held for 6 hours before being freed.
The use of excessive force in Kosovo and Sandzak was both routine and capricious. The Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), the leading political party in Kosovo, reported that over 4,000 persons had been beaten by police in 1994. In early March, two Kosovar Albanians waiting for a bus in Mitrovica were searched by police and then taken to the police station and beaten, apparently because the police were unable to find foreign currency on them. Police beat Nehat Krasniqi in the town of Kacanik for failing to halt at a stop sign while driving his tractor. On June 5, an apparently drunken Serb policeman hit the car of Sedat Bajrmi near Prizren and then pointed his gun at him and began to beat him. Other police arrived and beat him badly, seized his identification, and left him by the side of the road.
Prison conditions in Serbia-Montenegro are adequate, and there were no reports of abuse of prisoners, once sentenced and serving their time. The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or ExileArbitrary arrest and detention carried out by the police are the most common abuses of state power in Serbia-Montenegro. Police often apply laws only against ethnic minorities, using force with impunity. Laws regarding conspiracy, threats to the integrity of the Government, and state secrets are so vague as to allow abuse by the state.
Federal law permits police to detain suspects without a warrant and hold them incommunicado up to 3 days without charging them or granting them access to an attorney. 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. Police often beat people without ever officially charging them and routinely held suspects well beyond the 3- day statutory period. It was generally during this initial period that detainees experienced the worst treatment and abuse. During investigative detention, detainees theoretically have access to legal counsel, although in practice access was granted only occasionally.
Defense lawyers and human rights workers complained of excessive delays in filing formal charges and opening investigations. The ability of the defense to challenge the legal basis of their clients' detention was further hampered by the difficulty they encountered in gaining access to the detainee or acquiring copies of the official indictment and the decision to remand the defendant 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 coercion had been used to obtain confessions.
Arrests and detentions for alleged crimes were carried out in an arbitrary fashion against members of ethnic minorities. In a country where the majority of ethnic Serbs are armed, police selectively enforced the laws regulating the possession and registration of firearms so as to harass and intimidate ethnic minorities. In March 19 ethnic Muslims of the Sandzak region were brought to trial in the local court at Plav for illegal possession of weapons. The most frequent justification given for searches of homes and arrests was illegal possession of weapons; Serbs were rarely charged with similar crimes although the weapons they possess are typically unregistered or otherwise illegal.
Family members were sometimes held hostage by police. On January 7, when Serbian police failed to find a man they sought in the town of Vitia, they arrested his son, age 18, held him and allegedly beat him.
Exile is neither legally permitted nor routinely practiced. No specific instances of the imposition of exile as a form of judicial punishment are known to have occurred, although the practical effect of police repression in Kosovo is to cause many ethnic Albanians to go abroad to escape persecution.
e. Denial of Fair Public TrialThe Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but in practice it is largely controlled by the Government and rarely challenges the will of the state security apparatus. The authorities frequently deny fair public trial to non-Serbs and to persons they believe oppose the regime.
The court system comprises local, district, and supreme courts at the republic level, and a federal Supreme Court to which republic supreme court decisions 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 the republic authorities to enforce its rulings. The Federal Criminal Code of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia still applies. There is some confusion and room for abuse in the legal system because the Constitution of Serbia (1960) has not yet been brought into conformity with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1992).
Under federal law, defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to have an attorney, at public expense if needed. The courts will also provide interpreters. The presiding judges decide what will be read into the record of the proceedings. Both the defendant and the prosecutor may appeal the verdict. 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 the judges have admitted that the lawyers were correct, the courts have ignored or dismissed the complaints.
Mass trials were held during 1995 in the district courts of Kosovo of ethnic Albanian former security officers who were accused of conspiring to overthrow the Government (see Section 1.d.). In spite of widespread searches of homes and businesses, police turned up no credible evidence of such a conspiracy, and the cases presented in court were based on confessions obtained by force. The largest trial was held in Pristina where 72 were charged and 61 brought to trial, the others having escaped arrest. The trials in Pec, Pristina, and Gnjilane were perfunctory. Interpreters were provided, defense attorneys were present, and observers, including family members, were permitted if they identified themselves to the court.
The egregious abuses of the justice system took place before the trial when confessions were obtained by torture (see Section 1.c.). In Pristina, Muhamet Ninami told the court that he had signed a confession after being tied in a bent position for 90 hours, mentally and physically exhausted, with no opportunity to see a lawyer. At the Prizren trials, the Helsinki Committee noted a long list of abuses of correct procedure including searching defendants' homes without warrants and ignoring the legal stipulation that two witnesses and the defendant must be present during a search. Although the defendants testified to brutal beatings and torture used to obtain the confessions, and the prosecutors did not deny their charges, the court took no action. In Pristina the judge backdated the documents after the legal period for detention had expired.
Ethnic Serb lawyers who were part of the defense team for the trials in Prizren attempted to force the court to follow proper procedures. Among other things, the lawyers asked, to no avail, that the president of the District Court be disqualified because he had conducted the investigations against some of the accused and because he refused to allow testimony given by the defendants about police torture to be recorded in the minutes of the trial.
The Government charged targeted groups, under article 116 of the Yugoslav Criminal Code, of jeopardizing the territorial integrity of the country and, under article 136, of conspiring or forming a group with intent to commit subversive activities. The Fund for Humanitarian Law found that proceedings on charges of subversion were initiated exclusively against Kosovar Albanians and Sandjak Muslims.
Police investigated over 250 Kosovar Albanian former security personnel and convicted 129, handing down sentences ranging from 18 months to 8 years, on the unsubstantiated grounds of conspiring to undermine the integrity of the state. Those given sentences of over 5 years, and thus not freed pending appeal, are in prison. Over 200 Kosovar Albanians and Sandzak Muslims are now serving prison terms for similar charges. Insofar as the real grounds for these charges appear to have been that these persons were active in ethnic political parties, they may be said to have been prosecuted for their political associations rather than for criminal activity. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) treats them as political prisoners. In December President Bulatovic of Montenegro freed 82 individuals, 50 of whom were considered to be political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or CorrespondenceFederal law gives republic Ministries of the Interior sole control over the decision to monitor potential criminal activities, a power routinely abused. Authorities regularly monitored opposition and dissident activity, eavesdropped on conversations, read mail, and tapped telephones. The federal post office registered 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 systematically subjected ethnic Albanians to random searches of their homes, vehicles, shops, and offices, asserting that they were searching for weapons. CDHRF records showed that Serbian police raided 2,324 Kosovar Albanian homes. Photos of homes which had been searched by police showed chaos--furniture broken, bedding tossed around, drawers emptied out. On May 21, the home of Heset Vishi, who was living abroad with his family, was raided by the police, and in his absence the police arrested his brother, ransacked his home, and confiscated his typewriter and a computer.
Authorities entered a clinic ward in Djakovica on May 31 and interrogated a woman about the activities of her husband 4 hours after she had given birth. Two plainclothes detectives entered the apartment of Hava Mustafa in Pristina on June 11 without a search warrant. They beat the daughter who asked who they were and why they had burst into the apartment. When the mother intervened, she was struck by the police.
Serb paramilitaries evicted Muslims from land near Priboj on the Bosnian border, claiming they might be in danger. The Muslims were not allowed to harvest their crops but told that they must pay property taxes or lose their medical benefits. Several of the Muslim-owned homes were set on fire in June.
In June the Serbian police began to round up men of military age, including official and undocumented refugees and some citizens, to fight with ethnic Serb forces in Croatia (the Krajina) and Bosnia. The men were summarily placed in busses and against their will transported across the border without being allowed to communicate with their families (see also Section 2.d.). One refugee from Sarajevo, whose mother was a
Muslim and father a Serb, said that he felt like an animal being hunted down. A woman who took part in a hunger strike staged in front of the Serbian presidency building by relatives of the men who had been forcibly mobilized, said that her husband had been taken away in the middle of the night by police on June 20. Although he showed his valid Serbian identification card, he was seized because he had spent his school years in Rijeka (now Croatia, but then part of Yugoslavia). In late summer, police continued to stop young men for document checks, reportedly sending some to training camps run by the notorious criminal and paramilitary "Arkan" in Erdut in Eastern Slavonia.
The laws regarding desertion from the military lent themselves to abuse. While compulsory military service was the norm in the former Yugoslavia, there were large-scale desertions when the war broke out in 1991 by men of all ethnic groups who chose to walk away from the military rather than take part in interethnic conflicts. Men of military age continued to be stopped on the street for identity checks and subjected to arbitrary harassment and possible forced recruitment. Young men of Croatian or Albanian descent, in particular, refused to fight against Croatia; many of them fled the country under the threat of recruitment.
After doing little for several years to enforce universal military service or track down those who had deserted the military during the 1991 conflict, the military and police began in 1995 once again to recruit members of minority communities, who were understandably reluctant to support conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. Leaders of the Kosovar Albanian community believe that the reintroduction for ethnic Albanians of forced compliance with universal military service was an attempt to induce young men to flee the country. Almost two-thirds of the small 10,000-member community of Croats who had lived in Kosovo for over 700 years emigrated over the past 5 years because of pressure from Serb nationalists and the refusal of the Government to exempt young men from the military.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal ConflictsThe Government officially closed the border with Bosnia in August 1994, exempting only food, clothing, and medicine. There were many reports of unofficial support for the cause of ethnic Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia ranging from political rallies held by ultra-nationalist leaders who traveled from Serbia, to calls for volunteers by paramilitary groups who took men to the battle areas in Bosnia and Croatia. The Serbian Government actively assisted in the forced mobilization by police of refugees and other men for the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia (see Section 1.d.).
Ethnic tensions were high elsewhere in Serbia, and ultra- nationalist Serbian elements encouraged hostile acts by private citizens against members of minority ethnic groups. In earlier cases, the local authorities in Vojvodina ignored threats to members of ethnic minorities who felt that they were being pressured to leave their homes. However, when Serb refugees arrived in August, fleeing western Krajina after it fell to Croatian attack, special police from Belgrade stepped in to prevent the refugees from taking over the homes of ethnic Croats in Vojvodina. Elsewhere as well, Serb refugees vented their anger on ethnic Croats. In the Kotor Bay region of Montenegro, citizens of Croatian descent were also subject to threats as were Roman Catholic and Muslim Albanians in Kosovo. Leaders of Hungarian communities in Vojvodina and Kosovar Albanians complained that the Government's policy of refugee resettlement was planned to change the ethnic composition of areas with significant non-Serb populations.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and PressFederal law provides for freedom of speech and the press, but in practice most of the media were controlled by the Government. Serbian state-run radio and television (RTS), the prime source of news for the populace, especially outside of Belgrade, has long been under the direct control of President Milosevic's regime and was his most powerful tool for the manipulation of public opinion. The main emphasis of the prime time news program was on the activities of the President, the ruling SPS, and JUL (Yugoslav Leftist League), whose leader is President Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic.
Economic pressure was the usual weapon of the regime against the free press. For example, state-owned enterprises were not allowed to advertise in independent media. A shortage of newsprint continued to be a problem for the press. The main newsprint producer in Serbia, Matroz, supplied newsprint to the state-controlled press at subsidized prices and made independent publications pay the much higher market price; the independent press claimed that newspapers approved by the Government received priority shipments. Matroz cut production from time to time, reportedly due to unpaid electric bills, tax problems, or a shortage of fuel. When the independent publications established their own sources of newsprint, helped by donations from NGO's, customs sometimes delayed or halted border entry. In Pristina, the newsprint donated by the international community to the Albanian-language daily Bujku was appropriated by the Serbian-language daily, leaving Bujku chronically short of paper.
The state agency for property transition was used on several occasions to limit the free media. On December 23, 1994, it cancelled the registration of the Borba stock company and, in a hostile takeover, took control of the outspoken daily, appointing the Federal Minister for Information as its new editor-in-chief. The Borba journalists in protest founded a new daily called Nasa Borba using their own financial resources. Subsequently the Government initiated a criminal investigation against the managers of Nasa Borba in a transparent attempt at intimidation.
In August President Milosevic abruptly dismissed the head of the state- run radio and television for apparent pro-Serb nationalist bias. Also in August, the Kragujevac weekly Svetlost, one of the few independent publications outside Belgrade, became the target of the Government. The local city assembly, allegedly on orders from the ruling Socialist Party, nationalized the paper and sent dismissal notices to the staff. Members of the editorial board refused to leave their offices and continued to publish under the name Nezavisnost Svetlost (Independent Light) with material assistance from the independent weekly Vreme.
The electronic media also experienced varying forms of harassment from the Government. Radio and television not under state control were able to broadcast only within a limited range in the Belgrade area. Obtaining a frequency allocation was a complicated procedure for Serbia's 40 private radio stations. Independent radio B-92, greater Belgrade's main source of information not subject to government control, was never officially allocated a frequency from the Government, thereby making its operations "illegal" and vulnerable to a shutdown. The Belgrade independent television station Studio B endured similar legal pressures and continuing problems with its property status. It cancelled a program about refugees in August, apparently under pressure from the Government. Late in the year, Studio B broadcast the BBC five- part documentary "The Death of Yugoslavia" which was critical of the Serbian regime and Serbian political leaders such as President Milosevic for causing the outbreak of violence in Yugoslavia in 1991-92.
In Montenegro, journalist Seki Radoncic was convicted in May for defamation of a high ranking army official after he criticized the Yugoslav army for war and human rights abuses in the independent magazine Monitor. He received a 1-year suspended sentence and a 2-month prison term. On July 25, a member of Montenegro's state security service bought and burned all the copies of the Belgrade magazine Interview because it reprinted information from Interpol's most wanted list regarding the notorious Serb criminal and paramilitary leader Arkan.
In the Sandzak region in March, Muslim town officials in Tutin accused the Government of imposing an embargo on information concerning infectious hepatitis in the region and appealed to the independent press to investigate the extent of the epidemic. Also in March, a correspondent for the Albanian-language newspaper, Bujku, was told by police that he would be killed if he reported about Serbian police repression in the town of Mitrovica.
While the ruling SPS exercises control over university and student organizations, instructors are generally free to teach their subjects, and some of them are active in opposition party politics outside the classroom. In Kosovo ethnic Albanians have rejected the Serbian education system and established their own parallel system of schools and administration. This educational structure is not recognized by the Serbian Government and is subject to harassment.
Police raided the home used for a teachers' training college in Prizren on May 31 and seized administrative materials. On June 19, Haz Rexha was arrested by police and charged with holding lectures in the Albanian language. In September police ordered 13 teachers and the principal of a primary school in Tankosiq village to report to the police station. The teachers were soon released, but the principal and the owner of the home where classes are conducted were held for 4 hours and mistreated.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and AssociationAlthough the Federal Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the authorities severely restricted these freedoms, applying the laws and regulations in a capricious manner. The FRY Government continued to treat political association by members of ethnic minorities as a threat to the Government, harassing and arresting leaders and members of ethnic Muslim and Albanian parties. On February 24, four members of the Democratic Action Party (SDA) who had been circulating a petition for the return of an exiled leader were beaten by Montenegrin police in Rozaj. On May 26, Serbian police prevented a meeting of the LDK committees in the village of Banulla and confiscated their documents. The home of Murat Riza Sylaj, chairman of the local LDK branch in the village of Dubrave, was raided on June 4 by a Serbian police squad which confiscated all LDK documents, took Sylaj to the village graveyard and beat him so severely that he had to seek medical care for his injuries. In September police arrested and held the bodyguard and the driver of LDK head Rugova. Also, the Radical Party of Serbia was prevented from holding a rally in Kosovo in June and two of its leaders were jailed (see Section 3).
Police also engaged in petty harassment of events in Kosovo organized by Kosovar Albanians. On April 16, Serbian police broke up 2 soccer matches with some 4,000 fans in attendance. On June 11 in the Kacanik region, police prevented a soccer match, and brought charges against the captains of the two teams.
c. Freedom of ReligionThere 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. Although there are no legal restrictions on the practice of religion, police condoned periodic violence against religious facilities used by ethnic minorities (see Section 5).
The State has encouraged the building of Orthodox churches on public land in Kosovo, including an Orthodox shrine in the center of Djakovica, a town almost completely ethnic Albanian. Work has begun on an Orthodox church in the center of Pristina on university land. On June 19, the imam of the mosque in Kacanik was taken to the police station for questioning because he had prayed by name for a child who had been shot by Serbian soldiers (Section 1.a.). On several occasions, Muslims have been ordered to remove loudspeakers from mosques.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and RepatriationThe Constitution provides for freedom of movement, and the Government makes passports available to most citizens. 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.
The Government continues to deny issuance and renewal of passports to many Kosovar Albanian intellectuals and political activists. For travel to Albania, all citizens are required to have an exit visa which is difficult to acquire, with the result that Kosovar Albanians often travel to Albania by way of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; they are then subject to police harassment and the seizure of their passports when they return to Kosovo. In May Zeke Gecaj, a newspaper editor accompanying a delegation of the Liberal Party of Kosovo to the United States, was stopped at the border and prevented from leaving by police who seized his passport because he had traveled without a visa to Albania 3 years ago.
Citizens who were born in other parts of the former Yugoslavia also reported difficulties at borders and occasional confiscation of their passports. Ethnic Albanians frequently complained of harassment at border crossings. There have been numerous reports of border guards confiscating foreign currency or passports from travelers as well as occasional complaints of physical ill-treatment. Serbian authorities have generally allowed ethnic Albanian leaders, including LDK head Ibrahim Rugova, to leave the country and return, even though they consider his party and other ethnic Albanian parties illegal. The vice chairman of the LDK, Fehmi Agani, was held at the Macedonian border on May 8 for 4 hours by officers who questioned him and seized his books, papers, and the abstracts from a conference he had attended in Germany.
Although exit visas are required only for travel to Albania, the cost of exiting the country rose rapidly during the year. At the height of the summer vacation period the exit tax was 60 dinars per person plus 150 dinars for a car, a real impediment to foreign travel in a country where the average wage was 300 dinars per month.
Police stepped up their checks within Serbia during the summer, asking for documentation of citizenship and seizing men of military age with unclear or refugee status for mobilization (see Section 1.f.). Citizens complained that police frequently took foreign currency from those whom they stopped.
Serbian police routinely searched citizens of minority groups for hard currency. The Serbian police of Prizren on January 26 stopped each pedestrian at a public square for identity checks, searched many of them, and took the hard currency they found. In June police blocked off the market place in Podujeva on market day and took hard currency as well as many goods. The police did not disturb Serb merchants or confiscate their goods. On July 11, Serbian financial police confiscated 3 kilograms of gold and 1 kilogram of silver, as well as other goods, in Prizren, a town known for its jewelry workshops. Only Albanian-owned shops were targeted by the financial police. During holiday periods, police seized passports from ethnic Albanian workers who returned home from abroad, giving them the choice of waiting for a court process or paying the police large sums of hard currency for the return of their travel documents.
The Government has been very slow to issue passports to refugees. Kosovar Albanians also have problems with issuance and renewal of passports and are sometimes called in for interrogations by state security officers before passports are issued. In June the Government sent to Parliament a new citizenship law which would in practice adversely affect the rights of many inhabitants, including those who had been 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. human rights rapporteur noted that the new law would give the Ministry of the Interior almost complete control over the granting of citizenship. Although the law had not been enacted by year's end, the Government served notice that it will severely limit the granting of citizenship to refugees from the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia. The Government also planned to revise the eligibility status of a large number of people, chiefly refugees, who have been granted citizenship since 1992.
Government policy toward refugees and asylum seekers has been uneven. Refugees are often treated as citizens of Serbia-Montenegro for labor and military purposes but denied other rights such as employment and travel (see Section 1.f.). The Government has cooperated with the U. N. High Commissioner for Refugees to provide help for the more than 600,000 refugees in Serbia-Montenegro.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their GovernmentThe Constitution provides for this right, but in practice citizens are prevented from exercising it by the Government's monopoly on the mass media and the electoral process. While there were no elections in 1995, in past years the authorities denied opposition parties equal access to the state-run media and omitted many voters from the registration lists. Observers have also noted numerous voting irregularities and raised serious questions as to the accuracy of the vote count.
Slobodan Milosevic dominates the political system in Serbia-Montenegro. Although formally President of Serbia, one of the two constituent republics in the so-called Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Milosevic first weakened the authorities of the Federal Government through his control of the Serbian police, the army, and the state administration, and then placed his followers in key positions, including the Federal President and the Federal Prime Minister. In November Milosevic abruptly removed from their positions five senior party officials who were apparently purged for their continued support of Serbian nationalist aims in Croatia and Bosnia, a position Milosevic has now discarded. Milosevic greatly circumscribes the Montenegrin Government's sphere for independent action and does not tolerate significant divergence from the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia line.
The domestic political opposition continues to be obstructed by these extralegal means of political control and has proved incapable of providing an effective alternative to the SPS. Many citizens are afraid to join opposition parties unless they are economically self-sufficient because of SPS control over many jobs. Although the SPS does not have an absolute majority of seats in the Serbian Parliament, it has managed to coopt one of the smaller opposition parties to allow the Socialists to form the Government. In Montenegro, the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists enjoys an absolute majority. In both Serbia and Montenegro, the ruling parties have effectively blocked legislation that would loosen their control over the state-run media. In July the SPS ended television coverage of parliamentary debate which had been part of the agreement worked out when the Government was formed. Although the opposition initially walked out, and later demanded an extraordinary session to debate the Government's action, its protests were ignored.
The Government has taken no action when threats have been made against the personal security of members of the opposition parties, including death threats to parliamentary deputies and their families. The authorities did move against the notorious ultra-nationalist leader of the Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, who was detained in Gnjilane, Kosovo, in June on a misdemeanor charge but was put in jail and given a stiffer sentence, apparently upon orders from Belgrade. At the same time, his parliamentary immunity was stripped from him in an irregular proceeding.
Ethnic Serbs dominate the political leadership in Serbia. Few members of other ethnic groups play any role at the top levels of government or the state-run economy, although there are no legal restrictions preventing advancement. Ethnic Albanians, as a matter of principle, have refused to take part in the electoral process and therefore have virtually no representation.
Women are greatly underrepresented in party and government positions, holding less than 10 percent of ministerial-level positions in the Serbian and federal Governments. As with ethnic minorities, there are no legal restrictions on their participation, and women are active in political organizations. An exception to the lack of women in leading positions in politics 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.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human RightsThe Governments of Serbia and Montenegro formally maintain that they have no objection to international organizations conducting human rights investigations on their territories. However, they hindered such activities and regularly rejected the findings of human rights groups. A number of independent human rights organizations exist in Serbia- Montenegro, researching and gathering information on abuses and publicizing human rights cases. The Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Fund and Center for Antiwar Action researched human rights abuses throughout the FRY and, on occasion, elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia. The Belgrade-based Helsinki Committee published human rights studies and cooperated 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, a similar council monitors abuses against the local Muslim population and produces comprehensive reports. All of these organizations offer advice and help to victims of abuse.
Local human rights monitors (Serbs as well as members of ethnic minorities) and NGO's which supported their efforts worked under difficult circumstances amid public insinuations by ultra-nationalist leaders and the government-controlled media that they were traitors. The constant stream of invective levelled against human rights activists and NGO's left personnel vulnerable to public animosity. In May members of the antiwar Belgrade Circle who had visited Sarajevo received threatening phone calls, and one young woman was called to the police station for questioning. Young nationalist thugs trashed the offices shared by the small Civic Alliance Party and the Center for Antiwar Action. A Serb told the weekly Interview that he would like to "kill all the humanist grandmothers," naming the female head of the humanitarian law fund. NGO's had their equipment held up by customs officials, and financial police combed through their records. The Government revoked the license of the Soros Foundation in May, after subjecting it to sustained attacks in the government- controlled press. The Soros Foundation appealed to the Supreme Court of Serbia but no action has been taken on the case.
Serbian authorities refused to issue visas to representatives of a number of human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the rapporteur for the United Nations Committee on Human Rights. The new U.N. rapporteur, Elisabeth Rehn, was allowed to visit areas of her choice, including Kosovo, during her second trip to the country in December. In general, the Government continued to deny visas to visitors whom it believed would visit the ethnic minority areas of Serbia, or to delay the issuance until visitors agreed to a restrictive program of meetings with Serbian officials. FRY authorities refused numerous approaches by OSCE representatives to allow the reintroduction of the OSCE long-duration missions to Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Sandzak, maintaining that the FRY must first be "reinstated" in the OSCE.
In spite of a previous agreement that it could visit detainees, the ICRC waited 7 months for permission to visit men detained in Kosovo awaiting trial for conspiracy to overthrow the Government (see Section 1.d.). The ICRC continues to seek permission to visit detainees from the time they are held, when most human rights violations are thought to occur.
FRY officials stated in 1994 that they would offer limited cooperation with the U.N. war crimes tribunal, to the extent that the local law allowed. Both the Serbian and Federal Constitutions forbid extradition. Although Serbian authorities promised that they would try war criminals within the country, suspected war criminals were never the targets of formal investigations. The paramilitary leader Arkan, suspected of war crimes and wanted by Interpol for other crimes, carried on his flamboyant lifestyle with impunity, traveling between his home in Belgrade and his paramiltary activities in Serb-held areas of Croatia.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social StatusWhile 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 for such groups.
WomenThe oppressive nationalism fostered by years of conflict in Bosnia, reflected in the suppression of the rights of non-Serbs in Serbia- Montenegro, and the precarious financial situation of most families have exacerbated the traditionally high level of domestic violence. Life in cramped apartments, often with the added burden of refugees from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, led to quarrels which often erupted into violence, particularly wife beatings.
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 offered the SOS rape crisis and spousal abuse hot line together with a number of self-help groups. The Center also offered help to refugee women, many of whom experienced extreme abuse such as rape during the conflicts from which they fled.
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, women are little more than serfs without the right to control property and children; in a few villages, brides are still bought and sold. Women are entitled to equal pay for equal work and are usually granted maternity leave for 1 year. According to the Helsinki Committee of Serbia, the collapse of the former State and 4 years of war have exacerbated discrimination against women. Also, women have lost benefits they enjoyed under socialism and thereby their social safety net. Women are active in human rights organizations; women's rights groups continued to operate with little or no official acknowledgement. "Women in Black," formed in 1990 to protest the war in Croatia, held weekly silent demonstrations for which police permission was sought and given. When that organization attempted to host a regional conference in August in northern Vojvodina, government officials intimidated local supporters to keep them from providing logistical support and refused to issue tourist visas to participants from other countries.
ChildrenChildren in Kosovo have been particularly disadvantaged by the political struggle for control of the school system. Kosovar Serb and Albanian elementary children are taught in separate areas of divided schools or attend in shifts. Older Kosovar Albanian children attend school in private homes. A 1995 U.N. Children's Fund report found that the health situation for children in Kosovo, already the worst in Europe, had deteriorated further. Humanitarian aid officials blamed the high rate of infant and childhood death, as well as increasing epidemics of preventable diseases, primarily on poverty which 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.
There is no pattern of governmental or societal abuse against children, nor is child prostitution condoned. However, violence against girls within the family is rising, with human rights centers reporting that some 1,000 girls approached them to report abuse during the year. Children are not conscripted into the army. Police violence against non-Serb children was the primary abuse (see Section 1.c.). A 14-year- old boy looking for livestock in the Glogovac area of Kosovo was chased down by a police car and beaten, supposedly because he had whistled.
People with DisabilitiesThere is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services. The law mandates access to new official buildings for people with disabilities, and the Government enforces these provisions in practice. The new metro station in downtown Belgrade provides access for the disabled.
Religious MinoritiesReligion and ethnicity are so closely intertwined as to be inseparable. Serious discrimination and harassment of Serbia's religious minorities continued, especially in the Kosovo and Sandzak regions. Violence against the Catholic minority in Vojvodina, largely made up of ethnic Hungarians and Croatians, was also a problem and intensified with the arrival of Serb refugees from Croatia. Individual Catholics were targeted for threats and harassment.
Most threats and attacks against those of other religions were carried out by nationalist Serbs who associate Orthodoxy with Serb Patriotism. Catholic churches in the Vojvodina were often subject to vandalism. On the night of May 5, a Catholic cross in the village of Bac was destroyed by an explosive charge. On May 19, a bomb was thrown into the churchyard of the Catholic church in Sremska Mitrovica. Vasica Catholic church was blown up and destroyed on May 21. In June a Catholic church in the Srem region was burned down. A Krajina Serb refugee on September 10 walked into a Catholic church in Prizren and threatened a Kosovar Albanian priest, accusing Catholics of supporting Croatia. Krajina Serb refugees in Vojvodina made similar threats to Croatian Catholic priests and congregations in August and September. On August 8, young people burst into a Catholic church in Hrtkovci at the time of the evening service, evicted the priest and churchgoers, and announced that the church could no longer be used.
National/Racial/Ethnic MinoritiesThe ethnic minorities of Serbia-Montenegro suffered discrimination in all respects. In addition to the abuses described elsewhere in this report, there were credible reports that qualified Muslims or ethnic Albanians continued to be driven from their homes or fired from their jobs on the basis of religion or ethnicity. The influx of refugees from the Serbian areas of Croatia in the summer led to sporadic outbursts of violence and threats against ethnic Croats and Hungarians in the Vojvodina. Police responded effectively, however, in most cases restoring property to minorities affected. 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, local authorities often ignore or condone societal intimidation of the Romani community. Romani children are not taught in their own language and often cannot afford to buy school materials. According to the Helsinki Committee of Serbia, only 20 percent of them complete an elementary education.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of AssociationAll workers (except military personnel) have the legal right to form or join unions. Unions are either official (government-affiliated) or independent organizations. The official unions are numerically far stronger than their independent counterparts, claiming a membership of 2 million, while Nezavisnost--the opposition trade union confederation-- has a registered membership of only about 85,000. The imbalance in numbers, however, is of little significance as workers in the official unions have little real voice, and their bargaining leverage tends to be highly circumscribed by the Government. The independent unions, while active in recruiting new members, have not yet reached the critical mass to enable countrywide strikes that would force employers to provide concessions on workers' rights. The largely splintered approach of the independent unions has left them with little to show in terms of gains in either wages or improved working conditions. The Nezavisnost leadership has participated actively in international organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain CollectivelyWhile this right is guaranteed 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 other unions to bargain for a common purpose, such as job security guarantees. 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. Despite legal guarantees for collective bargaining, the practice was effectively undermined during the period of the U.N. economic sanctions by the so-called Law on Minimum Salaries. Under this law, workers made redundant by sanctions were nonetheless guaranteed a minimum salary that was not subject to negotiation through collective bargaining. Antiunion discrimination was also evident as the Government cracked down on independent trade union organizers, declaring their activities illegal and ordering their suspension from the workplace.
There are no known export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory LaborForced labor is prohibited by law and is not known to occur.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of ChildrenThe 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 perform only minimal work) in excess of 50 percent, real employment opportunities for children are nonexistent. Children can, however, be found in a variety of unofficial "retail" jobs, typically selling smuggled cigarettes or other small items on the streets.
e. Acceptable Conditions of WorkMinimum wage standards are established by the Government and regularly updated to reflect changes in the cost of living.
Large socially owned enterprises, including all the major banks, industrial plants, and trading companies in the country, generally observe minimum wage standards, which currently stand at about $100 per month (500 Yugoslav dinars, calculated at prevailing black market exchange rates). Private enterprises also use the minimum wage as a general guide, but are often more flexible in paying higher wages. Reports of sweatshops operating in the country are rare. With the cost of food approaching three times the monthly wage, however, most working class families have little discretionary income remaining at the end of the month. The official workweek, listed as 40 hours, had little meaning in an economy with an unemployment rate over 50 percent, as people tended to work whatever hours were available in order to maximize take-home pay. Similarly, neither employers nor employees tended to give high priority to enforcement of established occupational safety and health regulations, focussing their efforts instead on economic survival.