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Serbia and Montenegro: Domestic violence and spousal abuse (January 2003 - March 2005)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 4 March 2005
Citation / Document Symbol SCG43436.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Serbia and Montenegro: Domestic violence and spousal abuse (January 2003 - March 2005), 4 March 2005, SCG43436.E, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
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.

Incidence of Domestic Violence and Spousal Abuse

The consensus among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate was that domestic violence and spousal abuse is a serious and widespread problem in Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005; Voices Unabridged 28 Sept. 2004; AI 2004; FAIR Fund n.d.b.; UN 27 Feb. 2003; Freedom House 15 Sept. 2004). According to Freedom in the World 2004, an estimated half of the women in Serbia and Montenegro have been victims of domestic violence (ibid.).

One source reported that a study done by the Victimology Society of Serbia revealed that "every second woman in Serbia suffers mental violence in [the] family, every third woman suffers physical violence, and every fourth woman has to put up with threats of violence" (Voices-Unabridged 28 Sept. 2004).

The results of a poll of 500 married women in Montenegro, conducted in March 2004, revealed that "one in four [was] beaten and one in three [was] slapped by their husbands" (AI 2004). Between January and June 2004, 141 cases of domestic violence were reported in Montenegro (FBIS 13 Oct. 2004). Country Reports 2004 indicated that the level of domestic violence was particularly high in the rural areas of Montenegro (28 Feb. 2005, Montenegro-Sec. 5)

In Kosovo, 105 occurrences of domestic violence were reported in November 2004 (UN 14 Feb. 2005).

International and Domestic Law

On 12 March 2001, Serbia and Montenegro became a state party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which prohibits domestic violence and spousal abuse (United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women 20 Oct. 2004; UN 27 Feb. 2003; FAIR Fund n.d.b.). The country's federal laws, as well as the laws of Serbia, provide for the equality of women (ibid.).

In Serbia, domestic violence is a crime punishable by 6 months to 10 years' imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the offence (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Serbia-Sec. 5; Voices-Unabridged 28 Sept. 2004; US 26 Feb. 2003). If domestic violence results in death, the minimum prison sentence is 10 years (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005). Victims are not required to bring charges against their abusers (ibid.). Simple cases of spousal rape are punishable by prison sentences ranging from a minimum of one year to the current legal maximum of 40 years (ibid.). In aggravated cases of spousal rape, the minimum prison sentence is three years; a minimum sentence of five years is imposed if death results or if the victim is a minor (ibid.).

According to a United Nations (UN) report, "it is necessary to prove resistance during the entire episode of rape" (27 Feb. 2003).

In Kosovo, the regulations of the United Nations Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) prohibit domestic violence and carry a penalty of six months to five years (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Kosovo-Sec. 5; see also UN 27 Feb. 2003). Although a new criminal code that criminalized rape was implemented on 6 April 2004, the code was silent on the issue of spousal rape (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Kosovo-Sec. 5; see also UN 27 Feb. 2003).

In Montenegro, domestic violence is a crime punishable by a fine or by imprisonment of up to 10 years, depending upon the seriousness of the violence (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Montenegro-Sec. 5). If the domestic violence results in death, the prison term increases to between 3 and 12 years (ibid.). The punishment for spousal rape is a prison sentence of between 1 and 10 years; however, the victim is required to bring charges (ibid.).

The Law in Practice

Sources indicate that throughout the country, victims of domestic violence rarely file complaints against their abusers (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005; AI 2004; FAIR Fund n.d.b.; UN 27 Feb. 2003). This situation may be the result of fear that the abusers will take revenge on them or that they will be humiliated in court (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Serbia-Sec. 5). Some reports indicate that societal attitudes may also play a role in the low number of complaints (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Kosovo-Sec. 5; UN 27 Feb. 2003).

Country Reports 2004 reported that the few agencies in Serbia that deal with family violence did not have adequate resources (28 Feb. 2005, Serbia-Sec. 5). The report also said that "[the] police response to domestic violence has improved markedly; a number of police officers provided assistance to female victims of violence and detained offenders to protect victims" (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Serbia-Sec. 5). According to one news source, since the criminalization of domestic violence in 2003, domestic violence perpetrators have been fined but "[n]o abuser has been sent to prison" (Voices-Unabridged 28 Sept. 2004). FAIR Fund, an advocacy organization that works with women's rights non-governmental organizations to integrate women's equality into developing societies (FAIR Fund n.d.a), indicated that "many judges and enforcement officers are unaware of [the legislative] amendments" (ibid. n.d.b).

Country Reports 2004 reported that in Kosovo "legal allegations and prosecutions involving domestic violence increased for the second year" (28 Feb. 2005, Kosovo-Sec. 5). In 2004, 188 cases of domestic violence were processed through the judicial system and 52 of the 53 completed cases resulted in convictions, with sentences ranging from judicial reprimands to prison terms (ibid.).

Country Reports 2004 reported that there were no governmental agencies dealing with the issue of family violence in Kosovo (ibid.). However, according to a February 2003 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, the Department of Justice has set up a Victims' Advocacy and Assistance Unit (VAAU) to support and assist victims of crime, particularly victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking (UN 27 Feb. 2003). Further,

... the UNMIK Police Force has adopted [a] Domestic Violence Policy and Procedures at the central and the regional levels and established Regional Domestic Violence Coordinators within the UNMIK Special Victims Unit. The Coordinators are responsible for investigating cases of domestic violence and improving police responses...

A joint campaign between UNMIK and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] resulted in the increased recruitment of women into the Kosovo Police Service. The Kosovo Police School provides training on rape, domestic violence and trafficking in human beings. ... UNMIK also runs an Office of Gender Affairs that works to coordinate gender issues in UNMIK programmes and offices, thus implementing gender policy and facilitating exchanges between UNMIK and women's organizations. The Office of Gender Affairs has established local posts of Gender Officers in all 30 municipalities of Kosovo (ibid.).

Country Reports 2004 stated that in Montenegro "the police did a better job [than in the previous year] in responding to domestic violence; however, efforts were still inadequate" (28 Feb. 2005, Montenegro-Sec. 5). One local non-governmental organization (NGO) indicated that "domestic violence-related offenses made up 30 percent of all police arrests" in 2004 (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Montenegro-Sec. 5). Furthermore, according to Country Reports 2004,

[t]he Government prosecuted a small number of domestic violence cases; however, NGOs reported that judges refused to impose jail sentences even though prosecutors routinely asked that convicted abusers be imprisoned; most convictions resulted in probation...

According to a local NGO, 80 percent of domestic violence cases against women involved spousal rape; however, there were no reports of indictments of alleged rapists. A lack of female police officers contributed to long delays in investigating rapes, assaults, and offenses against women (ibid.).

Non-Governmental Organizations

In Serbia, the Center for Autonomous Women's Rights in Belgrade operates a rape and spousal abuse hotline and sponsors a number of self-help groups (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Serbia-Sec. 5). As well, in the municipality of Kragujevac a humanitarian organization called SOS Phone Service, which was founded in 1999, provides legal protection and free psychological and psychiatric advice to victims of domestic violence (United States 26 Feb. 2003). With assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the local government in Kragujevac set up a Women's Crisis Center (ibid.). In the Serbian municipality of Jagodin, the Counseling Center Against Family Violence operates a domestic violence shelter that is partially funded by the local government (ibid.).

In Kosovo, the Center for Protection of Women and Children (CPWC) received approximately 4,700 requests for assistance from victims of violence in 2004 (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Kosovo-Sec. 5). Local and international NGOs operate four shelters for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking (ibid.). According to Country Reports 2004, "[s]everal domestic and international NGOs pursued activities to assist women; however, they were constrained by a tradition of silence about domestic violence, sexual abuse, and rape" (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Serbia-Sec. 5).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International (AI). 2004. "Serbia and Montenegro." Amnesty International Report 2004. [Accessed 3 Mar. 2005]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004. 28 February 2005. "Serbia and Montenegro." United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 3 Mar. 2005]

FAIR Fund. n.d.a. "About Fair Fund." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2005]
_____. n.d.b. "Serbia." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2005]

FBIS Report. 13 October 2004. "Selection List: Montenegrin Press 13 Oct 04." (FBIS-EEU-2004-1013 14 Oct. 2004/WNC)

Freedom House. 15 September 2004. "Serbia and Montenegro." Freedom in the World 2004. [Accessed 15 Sept. 2005]

United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women. 20 October 2004. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. "States Parties." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2005]

United Nations (UN). 27 February 2003. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). (E/CN/2003/75/Add1). Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2002/52. [Accessed 3 Mar. 2005]
_____. 14 February 2005. Security Council. (S/2005/88). Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. [Accessed 3 Mar. 2005]

United States (US). 26 February 2003. United States Agency for International Development (USAID). "Together in the Prevention of Domestic Violence." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2005]

Voices-Unabridged. 28 September 2004. Zaklina Milovanovic. "Serbia-and-Montenegro: Learning Democracy the Hard Way." [Accessed 3 Mar. 2005]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: BBC, European Country of Origin Information Network (ECOI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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