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Betreff:              [balkanhr] 1999 IHF Annual Report: FRY
Datum:              Fri, 18 Jun 1999 10:40:03 +0300
    Von:              Greek Helsinki Monitor <helsinki@otenet.gr>
Rückantwort:     balkanHR@greekhelsinki.gr
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo)


IHF FOCUS: Freedom of the media; peaceful assembly; judicial system and independence of the judiciary; fair trial and defendants' rights; torture, ill-treatment and misconduct by law enforcement officials; security services; conditions in prisons and detention facilities; accountability for war crimes; religious tolerance; protection of ethnic minorities; citizenship; university law; protection of asylum seekers and immigrants; social rights; trade union rights.

The 1998 developments in Serbia must be viewed in the context of the ten-year political environment, generated equally by the government and the opposition. The Serbian political elite's nationalism played a crucial role in the violations of a variety of basic human rights. At the same time, the price of war affected the economic situation that, again, paved the way for further abuses, such as the violations of economic and social rights, trade union rights and women's rights.

The developments following the Montenegrin elections, the 1997 Serbian presidential elections, and the Kosovo developments clearly indicated further radicalization and strengthening ties within the "red-black coalition" formed by the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and the Serb Radical Party (SRS). The mounting international pressure to solve the Kosovo crisis, the Montenegro's reformist option and similar processes in the so-called Republika Srpska - along with the deteriorating economic situation - all contributed to the tightening political control over all walks of public life.

The year 1998 was marked by squaring of accounts with the media; serious restrictions on the freedom of universities; the escalation of the Kosovo crisis; and the tremendous pressure on Montenegro, all developments that called into question the very survival of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) as a composite state. The dynamics of the 1998 events affected adversely all human rights.

The political radicalization of the Serbian society was manifested in the clear shift to the political right and the increasing egalitarianism and glorification of Serbhood. These developments resulted in the increasing discrimination against other ethnic groups, the election victory of the Radical Party and its participation for the first time in the coalition government.

The erosion of legality, loss of confidence in legal institutions, the crisis of institutions and legal establishments, the dominance of the political over the legal, and the settlement of conflicts by non-institutional methods reflected the central problems: non-existent consensus on the foundations of the community; transition; disintegration of the state; the war; and isolation from the world. After investing ten years for the realization of its outdated national project and the tragic consequences suffered by others in the region, the Serbian society was now also forced to suffer the consequences of its misfired concept.

Serbia was heading towards anomie and paralysis of the state and social institutions. The erosion of the legal system gained place primarily in relation to the independence of the judiciary, enforcement of court decisions and endlessly procrastinated court proceedings. The legal inconsistency - including discrepancy between the republican and the federal constitutions, inadequate legislation, and so forth - was coupled with the adoption of unlawful and arbitrary legal acts such as the laws on universities, personal data, lawyers, public information, as well as the draft laws on religious communities, NGOs and political parties.

 The legality of the police work was one of the most complex questions in relation to the rule of law. The primary task of the police force appeared to be to support the ruling authorities, not to protect individuals.

The few media outlets outside the state control remained long the only genuine opponents and critics of the present government. This courage led to a drastic attack against them, resulting in the closure of several papers, including Nasa Borba, the most significant independent political daily in the FRY. The adoption of the Public Information Law eventually provided for a "legal" ban on alternative reporting.

The status of refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia (about 500,000) deteriorated with the overall aggravation of the situation. Serbia and FRY did not articulate their refugee policy, either with regard to their return or their integration in FRY.

The ever more dynamic work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the arrest of General Krstic (the most important move of the Tribunal so far) strengthened the reluctance of the Serbian political and intellectual elite to cooperate with ICTY.

In the spring of 1998 the Kosovo crisis, which had been left unsolved by the 1995 Dayton Agreement, led to the renewal of the (radical) national homogenization under the slogan "defense of Kosovo by all means and at whatever cost."

The tension in Kosovo escalated in the March conflict between Serb police forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the area of Drenica. About 80 Albanians were killed. The conflict continued to spread to other parts of Kosovo, with decreasing support to Ibrahim Rugova's peaceful policy and increased support for the KLA. Following a months' long negotiation with the Serbian government, and the increasing militarization of Kosovo by Serbs, NATO launched air strikes in March 1999 on Serbia and Serbian forces in Kosovo. As of this writing, ethnic cleansing, destruction of villages, executions, and mass murders led to the exodus of hundreds of thousands Kosovo Albanians and a humanitarian catastrophe. The fate of over 100,000 Kosovo Albanian men was unaccounted for.

Freedom of the Media

The restrictive Serbian Law on Public Information, adopted in October 1998, was the logical end of the campaign to limit free public speech. The new law introduced a ban on private electronic or print journalism, including a ban on specific broadcasts; imposed high taxes (e.g., extremely high fees for frequencies); and provided for bans or restrictions on domestic and foreign donations and re-broadcasting of foreign programs in Serbian. At the same time, it imposed an obligation to re-broadcast information programs of state-run Serbian Radio and Television (RTS). It provided for a de facto censorship through institutionalized censoring boards.

Other means against the independent press, used throughout 1998, included exerting economic pressure, denying access to information and to the state-controlled printing house, and attempts of editorial interference. The government's verbal attacks on and criticism of the independent media intensified in the second half of 1998. It called the media "yellow press" and accused them of acting as "foreign mercenaries" and "informers" of the West, or "ominous elements." The Associated Yugoslav Left (JUL) and the Serb Radical Party- rather than the Socialist Party - played the leading roles against the independent media. Also, the Serb Renewal Movement partially misused the editors of the independent media.

The comparatively dynamic media in Serbia - particularly the press - which had managed to survive was targeted in a serious way. Some dailies, including Nasa Borba - the epitome of free, impartial and influential press for many years - closed down. Others were no longer printed in Serbia (e.g., Danas) and had distribution difficulties. Issues of another daily, Dnevni Telegraf, was regularly seized on the Serbian-Montenegrin border and others (like the weekly Monitor) were punished for printing in Montenegro even though they had done it for a long time. Several radio stations, e.g., Radio Index were banned or taken under government control.

Huge fines threatened the existence of the media and forced into self-censorship, repressing all pluralism. The government made it clear that no criticism was allowed without consequences. The few media remaining outside the governmental control were the only political opponent and critics of the government. The fewer their number grew, the higher the pressure was.

Another problem was the low professional standard of the Serbian media. In the most dramatic situations the public was often compelled to rely on foreign television and radio programs. The Serbian media reported hardly at all about the realistic threat of NATO air strikes or the escalation of the Kosovo developments.

Peaceful Assembly

Police used excessive force to disperse demonstrations. Following the adoption of the new University Law, students organized demonstrations against the law and in support of those teachers who refused to sign the new contracts proscribed by the law. The police used a variety of methods to prevent rallies and in some cases, private security groups were hired to hinder "branded" teachers and dissatisfied students from entering university buildings. The same police conduct applied to peaceful gatherings of pensioners protesting pension arrears and poor living conditions.

The Judicial System and Independence of the Judiciary

 The erosion of the judicial system accelerated in 1998. Just like in the old communist legal system, the chief authority was the state, which combined the legislative and executive power. Its decisions were, by and large, decisive also for judicial organs. In 1998, the authorities even attempted to avoid or directly hinder court decisions that were not in line with their policy.

 Six years after the promulgation of the federal constitution, no legislation had been adopted to back up rights outlined in the constitution. Instead, in 1998, inadequate legislation was adopted that violated basic human rights and democratic standards. In practice, many legal provisions were not implemented at all, courts operated slowly, and abuses by state judicial agencies were rampant.

Independence of the Judiciary

 Yugoslav law did not guarantee judicial independence. Article 138(2) of the federal constitution declared only that military courts, and not courts in general, were independent. Nor did the law contain general provisions on the uniform organization of the judiciary to guarantee its independence.

 The nomination of judges, the length of their terms in office, and their transfer to other courts were unregulated, as was the funding of courts and disciplinary measures against judges. This made the entire judicial system vulnerable to political influence and corruption and led to politically motivated rulings, particularly in cases involving non-Serbs or political opponents.

· Tomislav Krsmanovic, president of the Movement for the Protection of Human Rights with headquarters in Belgrade, faced libel charges because he had accused the judge and the jurors of partiality during a trial he was a party of. According to the Helsinki Committee in Serbia, there was no doubt that the case was a contempt of court case. However, it stated that charges for this offence were brought, as a rule, only against persons who did not belong to the ruling nomenclature. The trial continued as of this writing.

The Act on the Courts of Law did not guarantee the right to a statutory judge (juge naturel). The assignment of judges to deal with specific, politically important cases was done with special care. In practice, "suitable" judges were assigned for important political cases, e.g., trials of Kosovo Albanian charged with terrorism.

In the November election of judges of municipal and district courts of law by the National Assembly, the presidents of courts and the benches of judges were for the first time in years not allowed to even formally express their opinion on the candidates. In most cases the only criterion was the strength of the candidates' links to one of the ruling parties.

The enforcement of court rulings was often delayed as much as possible. This was particularly true in labor suits, otherwise falling within the category of urgent cases.

· Slobodan Radic, employed by a state company since 1974, was given notice while on a sick leave in 1994. He sued to get back his job. The case was returned to the first instance court several times for review.

State agencies could enforce court decisions or refuse to do so, depending on if they regarded the decisions "suitable" or not.

Fair Trial and Defendants' Rights

The right to legal counsel, protection against arbitrary arrest and detention and the right to a fair and public trial was not always guaranteed.

In violation of the federal constitution, not all enjoyed equal protection under criminal law and, moreover, those rights were not observed and exercised in practice. This omission was particularly evident in proceedings conducted against non-Serbs, although "disobedient" Serbs were also treated the same way.

 The Act on Lawyers came into force on 14 July. In contrast to its predecessor, it omitted any specific commitment to confidentiality in the lawyer-client relationship, making lawyers vulnerable to political pressure, decreasing public trust in them, and hampering any efforts on their part to improve the legal system. The act asserted that lawyers could be arrested merely on the basis of "reasons of state." It also restricted the prerogatives and authority of the national bar association, weakening its long battle to preserve its independence.

In cases dealing with misdemeanors, e.g., alleged disturbance of public order, grave violations of the constitutional rights were reported. For example, the new Public Information Law was applied precisely in proceedings for petty offences. Newspapers and their editors-in-chief (e.g., in the cases of Dnevni Telegraf, Evropljanin, and Svetlost) were sentenced to pay extremely high fines never heard of prior to this law.

In other cases, measures officially taken under the misdemeanor law to protect "public order" went beyond it and actually threatened human rights and freedoms and often appeared to only serve as intimidation.

· Four students of the Belgrade University and members of Otpor (Resistance) student organization were arrested for writing anti-war slogans and drawing a fist (Otpor emblem) at a public place. Despite the fact that the students had never before faced legal prosecution, they were sentenced to 10 days in prison for "threatening the peace of citizens and disturbing public peace and order." They were sent to serve the sentence immediately.

Torture, Ill-Treatment and Misconduct by Law Enforcement Officials

The failure to adopt laws to implement the basic rights contributed to misconduct of the police operation. The main task of the police force appeared to be to preserve the power of the government, not to protect individuals. The role of the police was also reflected in the 1999 budget that envisaged them almost as much funds as for the armed forces. The police were therefore treated on a par with the armed forces in maintaining the security system and, in fact, some of the army duties were delegated to the police. As of the end of 1998, the police force was going through purges and dismissals.

Some forms of police conduct that amounted to violations of basic human rights were, by law, actually not illegal. Such provisions involved, among other things, the use of authority at apprehension, investigation and detention and the right to restrict the freedom of movement.

Opposition party members and human rights defendants were frequently summoned to "interviews" for the purpose of intimidation. More than a hundred members of Otpor were taken into custody.

Individuals were frequently held in detention longer than the legally allowed three days, apparently often to conceal the marks of ill-treatment and to break the resistance of the accused. The fact that the defendants were often denied access to legal counsel also helped conceal bodily injuries.

· On 18 May Imeraj Artan (born in 1972) from Istok was on the way on a tractor with ten other villagers to express their condolences to neighbors for a death of a family member. The police stopped them, beat the young people of the group and forced them to start running towards their homes, with both hands at the back of the head. Then the police officers opened fire at them. A bullet hit Imeraj Artan in the shoulder blade. He was arrested later and accused of participation in an armed attack on the police. He faced terrorism charges and was subjected to torture while in police custody. On 21 May Dr. Avdijaj Xevat, who had given medical treatment to Imeraj Artan was charged with "assisting a perpetrator" and "failing to report a crime and its perpetrator." The physician was also physically ill-treated. As of this writing he was awaiting trial.

Police officers appeared to be ready to use any means to catch real or perceived criminals. They used intimidation, harassment and direct violence. Of particular concern was the fact that civilians appeared to increasingly accept the brutal and arrogant police behavior as normal and stopped filing criminal suits against abusive officers, thus encouraging them to further misconduct. The number of disciplinary proceedings against police officers were not published, and the number of public court sentences on law enforcement officers for misconduct was minimal.

Security Services

Accountability of and control on the only publicly known secret service in Yugoslavia, the State Security Service (SDB), was insufficient.

The SDB was vested with a wide scale of tasks, which touched upon many fundamental rights of individuals. On the basis of the Law on the Foundations of the State Security System, SDB was, among other things, responsible for providing information to discover and prevent any attempts to endanger the security of FRY or undermine the constitutional order. A special emphasis was in the prevention "counter-revolutionary" activity, i.e., political offences.

To fulfill its duties, the SDB was authorized to conduct official interviews with individuals who were obligated to cooperate. Moreover, according to article 19 of the constitution, in cases that were judged to endanger the constitutional order or the national security, an authorized official (rather than a court of law) could allow the SDB to deviate from the constitutional principles of the secrecy of correspondence and other mail, to place into preventive custody a person or to apply "other special methods and means," as spelled out in article 24 of the Law on the Foundations of State Security.

However, this law did not provide for a clear definition on who controls that the SBD operates within its legal framework and follows the law and to whom the SBD was accountable. Moreover, it was not clear whether there were other secret services operating within the SDB or independent from it. This was a particularly sensitive issue in the tense social and political situation in which almost every individual who expressed views not in line with those of the ruling parties were regarded as "dangerous" and thus became an object for the "services."

Conditions in Prisons and Detention Facilities

Formally, the Yugoslav penitentiary system was based on the fundamental principles of humanity, legality, individual responsibility and group service during the term. Prisoners are to be treated in a manner that contributes to their re-education and reform. However, these principles were grossly violated.

Inmates suffered from irregular and poor diet, substandard sanitary conditions, overcrowding, shortage of medicines and other medical supplies, and indifference on the part of the health officials.

The cells for solitary confinement in the District Prison in Belgrade, where suspects of grave crimes were held, were reminiscent of the conditions of the 19th century prisons. They were hardly lit at all and were so cold in the winter that the inmates had to keep on all their clothes. The tap for drinking water was 10-15 centimeters away from a primitive latrine. Cockroaches and rats were commonplace.

Group cells in the same prison were not much better. The cells big enough for 4-5 inmates accommodated 10-15 people. They had no windows and only poor ventilation, which was often out of work. As a result, inmates often suffered from various diseases.

Recidivists often harassed physically, mentally and sexually young inmates, without adequate reaction by prison wardens or other inmates.

Article 159(2) of the Law on the Enforcement of Criminal Sanctions of the Republic of Serbia provided for coercive disciplinary measures such as using fire-arms, rubber truncheons, physical force, chemicals, water hoses, trained dogs, restraint and isolation against those inmates who broke internal regulations.

Accountability for War Crimes

The FRY authorities continued to refuse to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and represented the view that alleged war criminals should be tried by FRY courts of law. Another pretext was that the extradition of Yugoslav citizens was in violation of the Yugoslav law.

The attempt to prevent the "interference" of the Hague Tribunal was reflected in the fact that Serbian authorities issued only one-week visas to Louise Arbour and Gabrielle Kirk MacDonald - the prosecutor and the president of the ICTY - to participate in the Round Table on the Tribunal for War Crimes, held in Belgrade in November. In protest, Arbour and Kirk MacDonald cancelled their participation.

The official attitude was demonstrated in the farcical proceedings started by the Military Court in Belgrade against the "anonymous perpetrator" of crimes committed in Vukovar in 1991. The court sent a letter to the ICTY requesting evidence against three officers of the former Yugoslav Army (JNA), indicted by the ICTY for the liquidation of about 260 non-Serbs near Vukovar on 20 November 1991. As the ICTY refused to do that and instead required the court to turn the suspected three army officers (Sljivancanin, Radic and Mrksic) to itself - as the Dayton Agreement required - the court interrupted the proceedings citing the prohibition to extradite Yugoslav citizens. The ICTY had required the transfer of the three men as early as 7 December 1995, which had been rejected on the ground that the extradition request had not been accompanied by any proof indicative of criminal responsibility of those persons.

Religious Tolerance

The federal and Serbian legislation provided for religious rights as guaranteed by international human rights instruments. In Serbia, there were no laws on religious communities and no distinction was made between "traditional" and "new" or "big" and "small" religious communities. State interference in the internal affairs and activities of the religious communities was not permitted.

A new republican law on religious communities was under preparation. As the Serbian Minister for Religious Affairs, Milovan Radovanovic, announced in mid-December, the law should regulate many details concerning the activities and status of religious communities.

Radovanovic stated that "through its agencies the state needs to prevent the activity of destructive and totalitarian religious sects, diverse psycho-organizations, commercial cults and other organizations with asocial influence on the society and family."

The bill on religious communities had not been published as of this writing, nor were there any indications that the public, or at least experts on religious issues, would have the opportunity to review it before it is submitted for adoption. Available information of the contents of the law gave room for a wide range of speculation: Some said the draft would be modern and liberal, others suspected that it would be similar to the restrictive Russian law, favoring the Orthodox Church and promoting it to a form of state church.

Protection of Ethnic Minorities

The escalation and internationalization of the Kosovo crisis in 1998 significantly added to the topicality of the status of non-Serbs in the FRY. At the same time, the Kosovo issue also encouraged other non-Serbs to draw more attention to their situation. For example, some small parties representing ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina demanded that their status be also re-negotiated.

The attitude of the authorities towards the ethnic Hungarians, the largest minority in Vojvodina was ambiguous primarily because Hungarians were better organized and had a strong "mother country." Ethnic Croats and Muslim-Bosniaks were in a highly precarious situation, among other things due to the war between the FRY and their "mother countries." Moreover, the refugees brought additional pressure on all the minorities and in particular the Croat population. Numerous ethnic groups in Serbia, notably in Vojvodina, were targets of assimilation.

The Hungarian Minority

In December, the largest Hungarian party, the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (SVM) published a document called The Agreement on the Political Framework of Self-Rule in Vojvodina. In its press release prior to the publication of the Agreement, the SVM Board criticized authorities for applying double standards in that they addressed only questions linked to the national minorities in Kosovo.

The SVM document proposed an agreement on the political self-rule, open to all national communities in Vojvodina. It, among other things, promoted the idea of self-rule in Vojvodina as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community; defined the rights of national minority members with respect to the preservation of their ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious identity; and proposed that the constitutional status of Vojvodina be re-defined and it be accorded relevant legislative and executive powers within the Republic of Serbia. In addition, it proposed that an ombudsman's office be created for the protection of minorities.

The proposal was supported by the Democratic Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, the second biggest party of this national minority.

Muslim-Bosniaks in Sandjak

In Kosovo, conflict also shed light on the question of Sandjak and the situation of its Muslim-Bosniak population. There were no reports about such drastic violations of human rights like murders, abductions, and arbitrary arrests of Bosniaks that had been frequent still in 1996. But Muslim-Bosniaks remained unrecognized as an ethnic minority and could not even formally enjoy the rights guaranteed to ethnic minorities. Overall discrimination against them continued in all walks of life. Bosniaks living in border and poorer areas continued to emigrate to Bosnia-Herzegovina in growing numbers. It was estimated that tens of thousands of individuals left Serbia - a development feared to result in the disappearance of that minority.

Muslim-Bosniaks were not received with open hands in Bosnia-Herzegovina either. For example, many deans of universities refused to abide by the decision of the Bosnian Ministry of Education that students from Sandjak enjoy the same rights as Bosnian students. For the academic year in 1998/1999, 700 Sandjak students were officially enrolled but not all were accepted by deans.

Serbian authorities remained reluctant to discuss how to solve the Sandjak problems: the Serbian government did not even reply to the invitation sent by the Coalition Sandjak. In May, this Coalition published its declaration requesting the republican and federal authorities to recognize, among other things, the Bosniaks' right to their national Bosnian names and enable their equal representation among the executive.

The officials in Belgrade criticized municipal authorities in Sjenica and Tutin, among other things, because they used typewriters with the Latin alphabet.

The unwillingness of the government to cooperate with Bosniak representatives was demonstrated in the case of Dzemail Suljevic.

· Dzemail Suljevic, represented the List for Sandzak "Dr. Sulejman Ugljanin" in the Serbian Assembly that won three seats in the National Assembly and, together with other parties from Vojvodina, formed a club of democratic parties. When it was the turn of this club to chair the Town Planning Committee of the National Assembly, it nominated architect Dzemail Suljevic. The ruling parties rejected this nomination with the explanation that "A Muslim separatist may not be the chairman of a Serbian Committee."


The issue of citizenship remained a problem for individuals from former Yugoslav Republics. Even in clear-cut cases, it sometimes took months to acquire Yugoslav citizenship.

Articles 47 and 48 of the law on Yugoslav Nationality provided for a simpler procedure for granting Yugoslav citizenship to former Yugoslav nationals who held the citizenship of another former Yugoslav republic and resided in the FRY on the day of the promulgation of the FRY constitution (27 April 1992). This procedure was also applied to the children of such persons born after that date, as well as nationals of other republics who agreed to serve the Yugoslav army on a professional basis and their next of kin unless they held another citizenship. In addition, citizenship could be granted to former Yugoslav nationals who sought refuge in the territory of FRY due to their ethnic origin, religion or political opinion or activities for the protection of human rights and freedoms.

In the above-mentioned cases, obtaining Yugoslav citizenship required giving up any other citizenship, e.g., Croatian. However, renouncing Croatian citizenship resulted in the loss of many rights in Croatia such as the right to pension and to some property rights - and the right to return. Therefore, the Helsinki Committee in Serbia stated that it would be of vital importance to introduce to Yugoslav law the possibility of dual citizenship.

Another concern was the fact that many individuals, particularly Roma, had no citizenship at all. They were not Yugoslav nationals primarily because they did not appear either in the birth registers (e.g., many were born outside clinics) or population registers (because they did not have a permanent place of residence). By law, therefore, they did not officially exist. Without required documents, it was virtually impossible for them to apply for Yugoslav citizenship.

University Law

 On 26 May, the Assembly of the Republic of Serbia passed the new University Act, a further move by Serbian authorities to extend its control over Serbian institutions. By abolishing the autonomy of universities, the act seriously jeopardized academic freedom and was clearly designed to remove professors and other teaching staff who were not loyal to the government and to discourage students from political opposition activity.

 According to article 5 of the act, the faculty council was the only body independent of the will of the government of Serbia. However, the council's powers were restricted only to preparing study plans and curricula for different degrees of university studies.

 On the basis of the new act, all key decisions regarding universities and faculties were made by rectors, deans, managing and supervising boards (all appointed and dismissed by the Serbian government), the Ministry of Education, or directly by the government. Teaching staff and students were excluded from any decision-making processes, and the bodies governing universities and faculties were to be composed exclusively of party loyalists.

· On 24 June the members of the managing board of the Belgrade University were appointed. They included several government ministers representing the Socialist Party and the Serbian Radical Party, including Vice President Vojislav Seselj.

 Article 4 banned political, religious and party organizations at universities and faculties, and article 19 stipulated that cooperation with foreign universities and international organization had to be approved by the minister of education.

 Articles 88 and 91 gave faculty deans, with the consent of the Ministry of Education, the right to select professors and other lecturers. The principal criteria were not genuine qualifications, but rather political affiliation. Career advancement, promotions, and the granting of university titles and degrees were also linked to loyalty to the ruling parties.

Many of those teachers who refused to sign the new contacts were dismissed: this happened particularly at the Faculties of Philology, Electrical Engineering and Law in Belgrade. On the contrary, at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, none of those who had refused to sign these contracts lost their jobs

· Slobodanka Turlajic, director of the computer center at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Belgrade and a well-known opponent of the government, was dismissed by Vlada Teodosic, dean of the engineering faculty and a government loyalist. The managing board of the same faculty suspended Slavoljub Marjanovic, a long-standing professor, because of a sentence in the preface to his textbook "Electronics 1." In the sentence, Marjanovic acknowledged the assistance of his colleagues in making the book, but did not mention their names "because it could cause them run-ins with the faculty authorities." He was replaced by a loyal Socialist Party member.

Protection of Asylum Seekers and Immigrants

The problems of refugees in the FRY could be divided into three groups: return and conditions upon return (work prospects and property restitution); integration in FRY (particularly citizenship ); and emigration to third countries. According to official figures, there were some 500,000 - 700,000 refugees in the FRY in 1998. However, the figure varied according to the purpose it was expected to serve.

The refugees' economic situation declined drastically, further aggravated by the economic sanctions and the country's isolation. The humanitarian relief - which was subject to manipulation - seldom reached them, simultaneously with the growth of other vulnerable groups. The animosity towards them grew in line with the aggravation of the country's social and economic situation. It was difficult for refugees to find jobs and they mostly worked illegally, without any social security. Only a few of them had FRY citizenship.

The refugees accommodated in refugee camps (10-15 percent of the total) were in the worst situation because the state no longer supported them. The camp administrators treated them as virtual inmates and often harassed them. In addition it was difficult for them to get vital information such as about the prospects of return.

Despite the fact that the UN named year 1998 the "year of return," the conditions of return to both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia had not improved. Still, in Croatia, the safety of refugees considerably improved owing to the tremendous international pressure whereas the return to Bosnia-Herzegovina remained difficult. The increasing flow of refugees from Kosovo posed yet another problem.

Social Rights

The drastic aggravation of the economic and political situation, the recently ended wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the escalating conflict in Kosovo, and the inadequate approach to economic reforms resulted in a disastrous social situation in the FRY.

According to the Helsinki Committee information, between 1990 and 1997, the unemployment rate rose by 23 percent (2-3 percent annually), leading to a situation in which only one fifth of the FRY population held steady jobs. Particularly many young people were unemployed.

As of the end of 1998, about 70 percent of the enterprises still in operation worked at 6- 50 percent of their capacity six years earlier. Under such circumstances, most companies could not guarantee even the minimal personal income of about DEM 33. Moreover, the state could not meet its budgetary obligations. Pensioners and educational or health workers were paid with a 2-3 month delay, and child allowances and other social benefits with a 3-10 months' delay. Employers failed to pay their contributions for health insurance.

In mid-November a batch of questionable tax laws were adopted, allegedly to alleviate the taxation of the businesses. However, it appeared clear that the financial burden was simply shifted to the shoulders of citizens and small and medium-sized enterprises in an attempt to alleviate the disastrous economic situation. The law came into force on 1 January 1999.

New regulations were introduced to collect taxes for motor vehicles registered in Montenegro, for new registration plates, and on crude oil and its derivatives, cigarettes and liquor, supplementary taxes on cars, weapons, and cellular telephones. It was also proposed that taxes be levied on dogs and other pets, single citizens, childless couples, and so forth. At the same time, the December draft Law on Special Rights and Duties of Elected Officers, among other things, would have increased manifold the salaries of state officials and provided for life-long financial support and other privileges for current presidents of the republic, government and the Assembly of Serbia. Following wide protests, the law was repealed.

Trade Union Rights

The status of trade unions was only one example of the collapse of the Serbian society and moral values, resulting in apathy and hopelessness. The vast majority of workers were reluctant to fight for their rights in a hopeless situation. Those few who did were in a permanent conflict with authorities, potentially leading to a serious conflict.

In addition to the largest and state-controlled Confederation of Unions of Serbia (former umbrella organization of all employees in Serbia), there were dozens of new, independent trade unions such as Nezavisnost, the Association of Free and Independent Unions, the Organization of Independent Unions of the Belgrade University.

The authorities used blackmailing and pressure against protesting workers in order to hinder them from free organization. Union activists and members of "disloyal" unions were frequently threatened with dismissals, "forced holidays" or reassignment to jobs with lesser payment. Many were suspended, fired or even unlawfully arrested and placed into custody. When dismissing employees, they were often accused of having given unauthorized statements damaging to the company, or obstructed its operation - all reasons difficult to prove to be incorrect.

Employers also frequently violated the labor and union rights. Intimidation of workers, particularly the activists of independent unions, was commonplace.

A special form of violation of trade union rights was the abuse of collective contracts. The state invariably conducted negotiations with representatives of the state-controlled Confederation of the Unions of Serbia, which evaded consultation with minority unions.

The labor legislation remained poorly formulated and vague. The Labor Law gave vast powers to managers, allowing them to relatively easily get rid of "unsuitable" employees. The main problem, however, was that the laws were violated or they were enforced arbitrarily.

The rights of women employees in the private sector presented another problem. Despite formal guarantees for equality, in practice, women were latently discriminated against both in employment and the exercise of some of their labor rights. The employment of women was on the decrease, especially in the private sector. The number of women entrepreneurs was also declining. Private employers ignored the right to maternity leave or even concluded contracts whereby women consented to maternity leaves shorter than prescribed and guaranteed by law, or to an unpaid leave.


Due to reasons connected to the war in FRY, the section on Montenegro was not available as the report went to print.


IHF FOCUS: Ethnic cleansing and genocide

In 1998, repression of the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo continued virtually unhindered, escalating towards the end of the year. The Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF) reported that 1,934 ethnic Albanians, including women and children, were killed in Kosovo during 1998. In addition, ill-treatment and persecution led to the displacement of an estimated 500,000 civilians. The destruction of more than 41,500 homes and apartments made the return of many of the displaced a near impossibility.

The rise of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an armed resistance movement arising from the ethnic Albanian population, marked an end to years of peaceful resistance to Yugoslav government oppression. The KLA claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on Serb forcers and ethnic Albanians it considered collaborators with the government.

In March 1999, NATO launched air strikes against military targets in Serbia and Serb military forces in Kosovo in response to increasing brutality towards Kosovo Albanians and continuing deployment of Serb military forces to Kosovo despite of contrary commitments by Serbian authorities during the 1998 peace negotiations. As of this writing, full-scale ethnic cleansing and genocide was being carried out by Serbian militias in Kosovo. In apparent retaliation of NATO air strikes, Serb militias systematically forced the majority of the Albanian population to leave their homes and property and flee to neighboring countries, destroyed their homes, sexually abusing women and abducting and executing men - the first victims being Albanian moral, intellectual and political leaders. The fate of tens of thousands of men was unknown as of this writing.

 The open war was a direct development of the 1998 events. On 13 October the Serbian government approved the Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement for the peaceful solution of the Kosovo conflict. It included provisions for the withdrawal of all Serbian forces from Kosovo, return of refugees and internally displaced persons, free access to humanitarian organizations into the area, and initial talks for the autonomy of Kosovo. While Serbian authorities claimed to have halted their military activities in Kosovo and pulled their forces out, the opposite was the cases: special forces were reinforced, and thousands of displaced persons were unable to return to their homes for fear of becoming targets.

While the international community in 1998 took a greater role in helping resolve the Kosovo crisis, these efforts were insufficient in scope and scale to stabilize the situation, provide for a negotiated, peaceful political settlement, and prevent an outbreak of a larger conflict. The IHF and its member committees on several occasions criticized the UN Security Council for its slowness and reluctance to take action to save lives in Kosovo, and called upon the international community to stage a Dayton-type conference for resolving the Kosovo crisis. The IHF also urged the deployment of a robust and large-scale international monitoring and preventive peace keeping mission in Kosovo, as well as forces to monitor the implementation of cease-fire.

On 7 October 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced that the Yugoslav authorities had denied visa requests for ICTY investigators to probe recent atrocities. The Yugoslav authorities stated that they did not recognize the jurisdiction of the Tribunal over war crimes committed in Kosovo. The UN Security Council repeatedly affirmed that the ICTY's jurisdiction extends to Kosovo.

1998 Developments

In March of 1998 armed conflict broke out, covering nearly half of the territory of Kosovo. As a result of actions by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), Serb police forces, and fighting between these forces and the KLA, at least 88 civilians were killed, many others wounded and displaced, and the vast majority of homes in the area destroyed. This area had been targeted by Serb forces for being a stronghold of the KLA, who later controlled an estimated 40 percent of the territory of Kosovo.

During the 1998 offensives, Serbian forces reportedly carried out massacres in Likoshan, Qirez, Prekaz, Lybeniq, Poklek, Rahovec, Goluboc, Galica and Abria. In addition to the thousands of displaced, many Albanians were subjected to ill-treatment and torture, while many storage, factories, mines, schools and monasteries were turned into weaponry depots, investigating prisons, and concentration camps.

In May, just days after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had agreed to meet with Ibrahim Rugova, Serb forces launched a full-scale offensive against the KLA. The hardest hit area was near the border with Albania. It was reported that it was through this border that the KLA had been receiving arms and fresh recruits from across that border.

In July the KLA carried out its first major offensive, attempting to seize control of the town of Orahovac from Serb forces. Serb forces recaptured the town two days later, and at least forty-two people were killed in the fighting. Witnesses reported summary executions and the use of human shields by police.

During the summer, as Yugoslav President Milosevic was claiming that the Serb offensive had ended, the violence, in fact increased, as government forces retook territory controlled by the KLA.

During the summer offensive, there were three cases in which helicopters, marked with the Red Cross emblem, reportedly fired on civilians. In addition, landmines were placed along the borders with Albania and Macedonia. Most villages in the region were systematically destroyed.

From January through September, more than 1440 persons were reported missing, including a number of ethnic Serbs and Montenegrins.

Arbitrary Arrest, Ill-Treatment, and Torture

In 1998, the District Courts in Prishtina, Peja, Prizren, Gjilan and Mitrovica, and the Military Court in Nis initiated investigations and penal proceedings against ethnic Albanians, and convicted many, on charges of terrorism and threatening the territorial integrity of Serbia and Yugoslavia. Such charges have been falsely applied against ethnic Albanians for a decade. In 1998, 2626 people were arrest, and 132 convicted, for criminal acts pursuant to articles 125 and 136 of the criminal code. More than 1100 were being held in pre-trial detention on the same charges. Many detainees reported being tortured and ill-treated both during investigations and while in pre-trial detention. The CDHRF reported that, in the course of 1998, seven persons died in investigative prisons as a result of torture.

Extrajudicial Executions

Since the escalation of the crisis in Kosovo to an armed conflict, Serb forces carried out extrajudicial executions and massacres with impunity. Such executions took place in Likoshan (28 February 1998), Qirez (February), Prekaz i Poshtem (March), Poklek i Ri (May), Decan, Lybeniq, Rahovec (July), Dobratin (September), Gercina (October), Abri (September), Galica (September), in the vicinity of the Magura tunnel, Radisheva, Golluboc, Ranca near Shtime, and Lugishta near Has.

· An offensive was launched against the villages of Likoshan, district of Gllogoc, and Qirez, district of Skenderaj, on 28 February. The offensive, which lasted 24 hours, included large numbers of masked Serb policemen, soldiers and paramilitaries. Heavy weaponry and helicopters were also used. Helicopters reportedly opened fire on the two villages. Inside their homes, monx ethnic Albanian civilians were killed and mutilated.

· Early on the morning of 5 March, Serb police forces launched an attack on the villages of Prekaz i Poshtem, Llausha, Polac, Marina, Vojnika and Rakinica, district of Skenderaj, which resulted in the deaths of 46 Albanians. Twenty were members of the same family. The victims were buried by the police on 10 March. No autopsies were conducted.

During the same time period, attacks continued in the regions of Decan and Peja. On 25 May, police and military forces launched an attack on the villages of this region, resulting in the deaths of nine civilians. On 31 May Serb forces launched an attack on the village of Poklek i Ri, killing 11 persons. The bodies of ten of the victims were loaded on a police truck. It was assumed that the corpses were buried in a mass grave or destroyed.

· On 18 July, in Rrasa e Zogut , near the Albanian border, up to 60 women, children and elderly, trying to return to their homes, were massacred, and many more wounded. The bodies of the victims have still not been released to the families.

· On 19 July an attack carried out by Serb forces resulted in the deaths of around 150 Albanians in Rahovec. Eye-witnesses claim that Serb forces carried out extrajudicial executions. Many Albanians were reported missing, taken hostage and arrested. On 22 July, Serbian authorities in Prizren opened two mass graves in which they buried corpses of Albanians killed during the offensive in Rahovec.

· On 26 September eighteen members of one family, mostly women, children, and elderly, were killed near the village of Donje Obrinje by men believed to be with the Serbian special police. Many of the victims had been shot in the head and partially mutilated. On the same day, thirteen ethnic Albanian men were executed in the nearby village of Golubovac by government forces. One man survived and was taken out of the country by international agencies.

Similar massacres were perpetrated by Serb forces in other regions throughout the year.

Despite the agreement reached between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and United States envoy Richard Holbrook, fresh forces and heavy weaponry were redeployed in Kosovo at the end of 1998. In addition, Serb forces began to distribute arms to Serb civilians.

Forced Displacement

Since February, more than 450 dwellings were targeted by the Serbian forces. In most villages shelling and the forced displacement of the civilian population were followed by Serb armed forces, looting and setting fire to houses. Over 41,000 houses were destroyed by shelling or fire. The mass destruction of Albanian homes clearly demonstrated that the Serbian government intended to prevent the return of displaced persons. At least 500,000 Albanians had fled their homes.

During these military operations, entire villages were abandoned. Thousands of Albanians were forced to live in the open or in plastic sheet shelters. Ninety-two Albanians died as a result of these living conditions and lack of medical assistance.

In 1998, an estimated 90,000 Kosovo Albanians sought refuge in Western Europe, 26,500 in Albania, 21,800 in Montenegro, 5,000 in Macedonia and 6,000 in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A large number of Albanians, while trying to flee to Western European countries, were placed in refugee camps in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Italy. An estimated 400,000 were internally displaced.

Police in Kosovo actively hindered displaced persons from returning to their homes.

Freedom of Expression

Between March and May, peaceful protests, carried out mainly by students, were held throughout Kosovo to protest against the escalating violence. Hundreds of protesters were ill-treated by police, with many suffered severe injuries.

A large number of healthcare professionals and humanitarian workers became targets of abuse, ill-treatment, and kidnappings in 1998.

· In July, Rexhep Bislimi, an activist working in the CDHRF office in Ferizaj, and Cen Dugolli, an activist, died after being tortured while in police custody.

· On 10 April, Dr. Hafir Shala, an activist with the "Mother Theresa" humanitarian organization, was arrested by the Serb forces. His whereabouts remained unknown as of the end of 1998.

· On 17 September, Xhavit Haziri, an activist with the CDHRF in Prishtina, was kidnapped. Also his whereabouts remained unknown.

In addition, the CDHRF has registered 114 cases of ill-treatment of humanitarian activists.

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