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State of the World's Minorities 2006 - Serbia and Montenegro

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 22 December 2005
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2006 - Serbia and Montenegro, 22 December 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48abdd8d64.html [accessed 30 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The authorities of Serbia and Montenegro have taken decisive steps to protect national minorities in such fields as education and language rights. There are, however, wide variations between regions in terms of efforts taken to protect the languages and cultures of national minorities. Whereas in Vojvodina a number of initiatives have been introduced, the situation is considerably less developed, with respect to the protection of the Vlach national minority in north-eastern Serbia. The Union Charter of Human Rights and Minority Rights and Civil Freedoms, and the federal Law on the Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities contain promising innovations such as the setting up of the National Council of national minorities. It further recognizes the commitment of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights to the implementation of the laws. However, the main problems in the protection of national minorities in Serbia and Montenegro pertain to the implementation of the relevant norms in practice and at the level of the constituent states, as the State Union is only to become active if either Serbia or Montenegro fails to provide for adequate protection of minorities (Article 9 of the federal law).

Serbia lacks a law on national minorities, which means that commitments to minority rights are implemented through subject-specific laws or not at all. In general, the commitment to minority rights protection of law-makers and the executive has been reactive, mainly in response to international pressure. Between 2002 and 2004 some 11 minority councils were established and they include all larger minorities with the exception of Albanians. A Serbian Council for National Minorities was established in September 2004 by the Serbian government, which includes the presidents of the national councils. The Serbian parliament also established an Ombudsperson Office in September 2005 with minority rights among its responsibilities. According to the 2002 Serbian Law on Local Self-Government, a Council for Interethnic Relations was set up in municipalities with minorities making up more than 10 per cent of the population. However, not all municipalities that qualify have established these councils, and in municipalities where minorities are not in large numbers, other systems need to evolve.

Although many minorities in Serbia have their own political parties, only the larger Hungarian and Bosniak minorities have been regularly represented at the national level. The main Hungarian party is the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, and the two key parties of Bosniaks are the Party for Democratic Action and the Sandzak Democratic Party. Smaller minorities, especially Albanians, have been mainly effective in securing representation at the municipal level. After the representation of minority parties dropped from eight (representing 3.2 per cent of votes) to two (representing 0.8 per cent) in the December 2003 elections, the parliament amended the electoral law and abolished the threshold for minority parties.

In 2002, the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights established the Office for a Roma National Strategy, which developed a detailed national strategy in terms of the necessary reforms for the coming decade in all key fields. However, Roma remain marginalized throughout Serbia and are represented only in a few municipalities. The police force includes only few police officers from minority communities, with the exception of southern Serbia, where a special multinational Serb-Albanian police force was established in 2001.

Montenegro has not implemented the federal Law on National Minorities, and an ongoing initiative of a Law on National Minorities has not left the drafting stage. In the absence of these legal frameworks implementation of minority rights remains an ad hoc affair, not based on clear universal standards. Thus, for example, there is no clear legal provision for the recognition of minority languages in municipalities. In addition to the Ministry for Protection of the Rights of National and Ethnic Groups established in 1998, and the Republican Council for Protection of Rights of Members of National and Ethnic Groups, Montenegro established an Ombudsperson Office in 2003. The electoral law, which provides for a lower threshold for the registration of candidates in local and republican elections for Albanian candidates, was reduced in 2002 from five to four. That law has been repeatedly criticized by Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODHIR) election observers as it benefits only one minority. Generally, minorities are under-represented in government and parliament whereas at the local level, minorities, with the exception Roma, are frequently represented in municipal councils, governments and administration. Minorities are insufficiently represented in sensitive fields, such as policing, and in state institutions. Where there is representation they tend to work in lower-ranking positions in the public administration.

A major challenge in Montenegro is the provision of Roma education. Only 8 per cent of Roma below the age of 18 attend school. Some 1,066 Roma attended elementary school in 2004 whereas in 2003, there were only 39 Roma children in secondary schools and four attending university. For the displaced Roma from Kosovo, school attendance is particularly difficult as the first language of 60 per cent of them is Albanian and for nearly all of the remaining 40 per cent it is Romani.

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