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News 21 Jan 14

HRW Notes Scant Progress on Balkan Rights Abuses

In its latest World Report, Human Rights Watch says governments in the Western Balkans did little in 2013 to address longstanding human rights problems about minorities and war crimes.

Human Rights Watch

Documenting human rights concerns in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo during 2013, the organisation's World Report said progress in ensuring accountability for war crimes and in countering discrimination against the Roma minority as well as curbing harassment of journalists and LGBT communities was limited.

Durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced people in the region are also lacking, it said. The watchdog organisation also noted human rights concerns in the EU's newest member, Croatia, on war crimes, the treatment of minorities and the asylum system.

“Western Balkan countries need to work harder to bring their human rights records in line with European and international standards,” Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo are going to have to put a stop to these serious abuses if they really aspire to move closer to Europe,” Gall added.

In the 667-page world report, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 90 countries overall.

Syria’s widespread killings of civilians elicited horror but few steps by world leaders to stop them, Human Rights Watch said.

Majorities in power in Egypt and other countries have suppressed dissent and minority rights, it noted. Edward Snowden’s revelations about US surveillance programs had meanwhile reverberated around the globe.

Prosecutors in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina signed a cooperation agreement in 2013 on the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

But, despite some convictions, accountability for these crimes remained elusive, with sparse prosecutions in national courts of either country, the report said.

The prosecution of war crimes in Kosovo remained slow and was marred by witness protection problems.

Protection of minorities remains weak throughout the region, including for Roma, who face widespread discrimination in accessing health care, education, and housing, including forced evictions, the report said.

Authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have not revised the constitutional provisions that exclude Roma and other ethnic minorities from political participation, despite EU pressure and a 2009 European Court of Human Rights ruling that this was discriminatory.

In Kosovo, discrimination against Roma and other minorities, known as Ashkali and Egyptians is exacerbated by the continued forced deportations from Western Europe without adequate assistance to integrate these groups with the rest of the population.

Journalists in the region meanwhile face a hostile environment, including threats and attacks, as do LGBT communities and activists. The Serbian authorities canceled the Belgrade Pride parade for the third consecutive year, citing security concerns, the report noted.

Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights.

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