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news 23 May 13

Amnesty Lists Rights Failings in Balkans in 2012

The Amnesty International Report for 2012 listed war crimes prosecutions and discrimination against sexual and ethnic minorities as among the most pressing rights issues in the Balkans.

BIRN team

ALBANIA

The report said Albania’s judicial system failed to deliver justice in a case of enforced disappearance and in the unlawful killing of protestors in the January 21, 2011 riots while torture and ill-treatment in police departments were described as disturbing.

The rights watchdog noted that UN Committee against Torture had expressed concerns about the investigations by the Ministry of Interior into alleged ill-treatment by police.

The same Committee reported that basic safeguards against torture were not provided to people in detention, including timely access to lawyers and doctors. It also noted the excessive length of pre-trial detentions.

According to the Amnesty report, violence in the family remains widespread in Albania, with 2,526 reported incidents of domestic violence, 345 more than in the previous year. Discrimination against Roma and other minorities is also of concern.

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

The report for Bosnia noted that nationalist rhetoric by the main political parties had increased in 2012. Institutions at state level, including the judiciary, reportedly weakened.

Prosecution of crimes under international law continued before domestic courts but progress remained slow and impunity persisted. Many civilian victims of the 1990s war were still denied access to justice and reparations.

The Amnesty report also noted that Bosnia again failed to implement the 2009 judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case brought by a Roma, Dervo Sejdi, and a Jew, Jakob Finci, concerning discrimination against the minorities.

Top governing posts in the country are currently reserved only for three constituent peoples, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, and the ruling told Bosnia to amend this.

The report also said that despite an Anti-discrimination Law prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, the authorities did not develop a system to register discrimination cases.

State institutions failed to publicly condemn homophobic violence; no one had been held responsible for the attacks on the organizers and participants of the 2008 Sarajevo Queer Festival.

BULGARIA

Roma continued to face discrimination in areas such as education, employment, health care and housing, the Amnesty report said. Conditions of detention fell short of international human rights standards.

"In December, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture criticized detention conditions and ill-treatment reported in Bulgarian prisons," the report said.

Homophobic violence persisted, the report continued. "Bulgarian legislation does not currently criminalize hate crimes perpetrated on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity," it reads.

Amnesty International also said that asylum-seekers continue to face obstacles in accessing international protection.

CROATIA

"Despite some progress in prosecuting crimes under international law committed during the 1991-1995 war, the measures taken to address impunity remained inadequate," the report reads.

According to the report, crimes allegedly committed by the Croatian Army and police against Croatian Serbs and other minorities remained uninvestigated.

Of the total number of registered war crime cases only 112 cases - 10 per cent - were completed before the domestic courts.

The report also said that the authorities failed to provide victims and their families with access to reparation.

Discrimination against Roma continued in terms of access to economic and social rights, including education, employment and housing. Measures undertaken by the authorities remained insufficient.

Croatian Serbs continued to face discrimination, mainly in relation to housing and employment, report said.

KOSOVO

Roma faced widespread and persistent discrimination, in Kosovo, the report said.

The report also noted that only just over 300 Serbs had returned voluntarily to Kosovo during the course of the year.

"Violent and other attacks on returning Kosovo Serbs continued," it said. "In Klina municipality, returnees received threatening letters; two houses recently reconstructed for Serb returnees were burned down."

Meanwhile, a 2011 Law on Witness Protection, which entered into force in September, was not implemented by the end of the year.

According to the report, the government's Commission for Missing Persons largely failed to implement the 2011 Law on Missing Persons.

MACEDONIA

The Amnesty International report noted “further deterioration” in relations between ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians in 2012.

The report mentioned the February killing of two Albanians by an off-duty Macedonian policeman in Gostivar, as well as the arrest of 20 and subsequent terrorism charges against five ethnic Albanians in May, suspected of the killings of five Macedonian men at a lake outside Skopje earlier that year.

“Thousands of Albanians protested against the arrests and the authorities’ depiction of them as terrorists” the report noted.

Amnesty said that quarrels between government partners also sparked ethnic tensions when in August the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party proposed a draft law on reparations to Macedonian army and police veterans that fought in the 2001 armed conflict.

“In October, the bill was derailed in parliament by the coalition party, the Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, because it did not provide for the National Liberation Army (NLA) combatants, an armed group which had fought the government forces,” the report recalled.

The report further mentioned that relatives of missing persons abducted in the 2001 conflict were denied access to justice last year and that conditions in places of detention fell short of minimum standards.

MONTENEGRO

The report on Montenegro particularly criticized verdicts in war-crimes cases and continuing pressures on independent media.

“In some cases (court) proceedings were not fully in line with international standards, and verdicts were inconsistent with international law,” the report said.

With regard to the freedom of expression, the document specifically mentions the case of Olivera Lakic, journalist of opposition daily “Vijesti”, who was beaten up in front of her home in March 2012.
 
Continuing discrimination against the LGBT community and delays in providing more than 3,000 Roma and Ashkali refugees who fled Kosovo in 1999 with permanent housing are further challenges to respect for human rights.

ROMANIA

Excessive use of police force during anti-austerity and anti-government demonstrations, discrimination against the Roma community and the failure to hold a full and open inquiry into the detention and torture of prisoners held under the CIA’s rendition program are among Amnesty’s complaints about Romania in 2012.

The Amnesty report recalls allegations of excessive use of force by Romanian police in anti-austerity protests and also questions a parliamentary proposal from September 2012 to introduce mandatory counseling for pregnant women, which could impact on women’s freedom to choose abortion, it said.

Roma children were still being placed in schools for children with disabilities, in separate schools or in separate classrooms, according to Amnesty, which also said that the segregation of Roma children and the effective denial of access to education were contributing to the lower levels of education found among the Roma community. Forced evictions of Roma families are also referred to.

SERBIA

The report said that forced evictions of Roma had continued in Belgrade in 2012. "Around 1,000 Roma were forcibly evicted in April from the Belvil settlement by the Belgrade City authorities. Almost half were returned to southern Serbia; many were made homeless," the report said.

The rights of gay people were also violated, it noted. According to the report, in September 2012 a gay man was beaten with a meat hammer by youths in a homophobic attack in Belgrade. A month later, the Prime Minister banned the Belgrade Pride for the second year running on the basis of unspecified security threats.

The report also noted that proceedings continued at the Belgrade Special War Crimes Chamber. Some 37 defendants being convicted in first-instance war crimes trials, but only seven new indictments were issued. Some witnesses were allegedly threatened by officials charged with their protection, it said.

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