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Amnesty Gives Balkans Mixed Verdict on Rights


Balkan countries still struggled to address a range of human rights concerns in 2014, a new report by Amnesty International says.

The latest report published by international campaign group Amnesty International on Wednesday said attacks on the gay community were handled inappropriately by justice systems throughout the Balkans and Roma continue to face discrimination.

The latest State of the World’s Human Rights report profiled the state of human rights in 160 countries and territories in 2014.

In Albania, domestic violence is still widely reported, with perpetrators rarely facing criminal charges. Despite the government’s commitment to improve access to affordable housing for the poorest citizens, such options remained limited. The report also noted that Albania received EU candidate status in June and held its first Gay pride march in May without incident.

In Bosnia, discontent from the high unemployment rate resulted in demonstrations and clashes between police and protestors. Government officials intimidated journalists throughout the year, and at least one journalist was severely beaten by police while covering protests in February.

Domestic prosecution of war crimes remained slow in Bosnia and civilian victims were not provided justice or reparations. Trials were also hindered by constant criticism from high-ranking officials who sought to undermine the court’s legitimacy.

The report stated that conditions for asylum-seekers partially improved in Bulgaria, although concern remains regarding their societal integration. Refugees met challenges when seeking health care, education, housing and other public services. The report also said that Bulgaria failed to correct problems within legislation pertaining to hate crimes, and questioned the effectiveness and independence of investigations into alleged police brutality.

In Croatia, the rate of prosecution and investigation of war crimes remained slow. Seventeen cases were filed by civilian victims of war that claimed the state failed to adequately investigate the killing or disappearance of their relatives. Discrimination in the labour market resulted in high levels of unemployment in the Roma community and Croatian Serbs also endured discrimination in public-sector employment.

In July, a Law on Life Partnership was adopted, which legally recognized same sex partnerships and offers equal rights and protection, except in adoption cases.

The report noted that human rights and freedom of expression in Macedonia were reduced. Furthermore, authorities significantly influenced the police and judiciary. The government reportedly spent 1 per cent of its budget on advertisements in pro-government media and election coverage by state media expressed favoritism towards the ruling party.

Violent protests damaged relations between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians and allegations of police brutality continued, especially against Roma. After the European Commission recommended that EU accession talks begin, the EU Council of Ministers deferred the decision for the sixth time.

In Montenegro, the Committee against Torture and the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances determined that the courts inadequately applied domestic law and misinterpreted international humanitarian law in cases prosecuted since 2008. In August, Montenegro signed a regional declaration to determine the fate and location of 61 missing persons. In 2014, the LGBTQI social center in Podgorica was attacked 26 times, yet no perpetrators were prosecuted. Podgorica Pride, however, was adequately protected and 10 counter-protesters were arrested.

A former senior intelligence official confirmed that Romania cooperated with the CIA to establish a secret prison in the country in 2002. The report also found that Roma continue to experience discrimination, including forced evictions and stigmatizing language used by public officials when discussing the Roma population. The parliamentary Commission for the Revision of the Constitution passed an amendment removing sexual orientation as basis for protection against discrimination. In January, the European Commission questioned the independence of the judicial system. Obstacles remain for women’s access to legal abortions.

Movement was made in Serbia in investigations of the unsolved murders of journalists, however, there is little improvement in war crimes prosecution. Insufficient resources in the Office of the War Crimes Prosector and poor police investigations inhibited domestic prosecutions. The government restricted media freedom and removed any negative comments regarding its response to the May floods from government websites. Individuals that were critical met with police for “informative talks.” Hate crimes in Serbia were not effectively investigated, but the Belgrade Pride parade occurred for the first time since 2010.

A special court will be established outside of Kosovo to prosecute former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) that captured Serbs in 1999. In the north of Kosovo, violence sparked by inter-ethnic tension and minority discrimination is persistent. The report also notes that government and state agencies partially controlled the media by providing substantial contributions to advertising revenue. There is also continued aggression towards investigative journalists in Kosovo.

source: Balkan Insight


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