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Freedom in the World 2014 - Montenegro

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 15 September 2014
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2014 - Montenegro, 15 September 2014, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/541aa0b85.html [accessed 19 November 2017]
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.

2014 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst): 2.5
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst): 2
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst): 3

Explanatory Note:

The ratings from 2004 and 2005 are for the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.

OVERVIEW

In early 2013, Montenegro's ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) came under fire after Dan. an independent media outlet known for criticism of the government, published leaked party meeting records that seemed to reveal underhanded political tactics. Among other allegations, the reports accused the DPS of trying to secure jobs for party loyalists and close a trade union led by a legislator from the opposition Democratic Front. After the state prosecutor declined to investigate the allegations in February, the opposition raised the possibility of boycotting the April presidential election, though they ultimately participated. Incumbent Filip Vujanović of the DPS defeated Democratic Front leader Miodrag Lekić. Prosecutors later in the year opened an investigation in connection with Dan's reports. At year's end, no indictments had been filed.

In July, Montenegro's first gay pride event, in the coastal town of Budva, was disrupted by protesters, some of whom shouted "kill the gays" and threw rocks and other items at LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) activists. Some 20 people were detained, prompting authorities in the capital, Podgorica, to heighten security during its first gay pride event, in October. Protesters nevertheless attempted to attack participants at that march, but police prevented them from doing so and made dozens of arrests.

Having officially opened membership talks with Montenegro in December 2012, the European Union (EU) in October 2013 expanded the negotiations to include issues related to the judiciary, media freedom, and security. Brussels also praised the Balkan nation's progress on key EU-backed reforms aimed at strengthening judicial independence, while calling for more transparency in public administration.

Montenegrin journalists faced increased pressure in 2013.

POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES

Political Rights: 27/40

A. Electoral Process: 9/12

Members of the unicameral, 81-seat Skupština (Assembly) are elected for four-year terms. The president, directly elected for up to two five-year terms, nominates the prime minister, who requires legislative approval. International observers have deemed recent elections generally free and fair, despite some irregularities.

In July 2012, legislators voted to dissolve the parliament and call early elections so the government could begin the EU talks with a fresh mandate. A DPS-led coalition won snap polls held that October with a simple majority of 46 percent, or 39 seats. The Democratic Front took 20 seats, followed by the Socialist People's Party with 9, Positive Montenegro with 7, and the Bosniak Party with 3. The Croat Citizens' Initiative and two Albanian parties won 1 seat each. The DPS-led coalition took power with support from Albanian and Croatian minority parties, and DPS Chairman Milo Đukanović, who has served as Montenegro's prime minister or president for most of the last two decades, was elected to his seventh term as prime minister in December 2012.

On April 7, 2013, President Vujanović was reelected with 51.2 percent of the vote. The Democratic Front's Lekić followed with 48.8 percent. Opposition supporters protested the results, alleging fraud. However, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitored the election, said the poll had been professionally administered and competitive, and that "fundamental freedoms of expression, movement, and association were mostly respected" during the campaign.

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 11/16

Numerous political parties compete for power, though the opposition is weak. The biggest opposition faction, the Democratic Front, comprises the reform-minded Movement for Changes and the New Serb Democracy. The current coalition government comprises the DPS, its ally the Social Democratic Party, and a handful of lawmakers from parties that represent Montenegro's ethnic minorities. The Roma ethnic minority is underrepresented in politics. Serbs, comprising 28.7 percent of the population, generally opposed the government's declaration of independence from Serbia in July 2006, but have adjusted to the new reality.

In September 2011, the parliament broke a four-year impasse to approve a landmark new election law that ensures the representation of minorities and improves technical voting issues. The law's passage had been delayed due to a controversy over the languages officially recognized in the country. In 2010, Montenegrin had become the official language of the state broadcaster, and a Montenegrin grammar text was introduced in schools. Critics countered that the government was promoting an artificial language derived from standard Serbian, and the opposition had vowed that it would not support the election law until the Serbian language was given equal status to Montenegrin in the education system. The law was passed after legislators agreed on a class to be taught in schools called "Montenegrin-Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian language and literature."

C. Functioning of Government: 7/12

Corruption remains a serious problem. Legislative frameworks to improve transparency in party financing and public procurement, among other anticorruption efforts, are in place, but implementation is mixed. Graft and misconduct remain widespread in key areas such as health care and public procurement, convictions in high-profile cases are low, and oversight of conflicts of interest is relatively weak, according to the European Commission's (EC) 2013 progress report; the report added that organized crime groups have significant influence in both the public and private sectors. Law enforcement does not take a proactive approach to corruption investigations, especially cases involving top officials. Regarding the corruption allegations against the ruling DPS that emerged in the media in early 2013, prosecutors eventually launched an investigation after initially dismissing the accusations; no indictments had been issued at year's end. Montenegro was ranked 67 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International's 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Civil Liberties: 45/60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 13/16

A variety of independent media operate in Montenegro. While the government does not explicitly censor media outlets, journalists critical of Prime Minister Đukanović or the governing party have faced costly civil defamation suits. (Montenegro decriminalized libel in 2011.) In November 2013, Đukanović attended a so-called journalism conference in Podgorica that reportedly featured a display labeling outlets critical of the government as "enemy" media. Attacks against Montenegrin journalists are reported each year. In August, Reporters Without Borders criticized what it called an "oppressive climate for investigative journalism" after a bomb attack targeted the home of Tufik Softić, a reporter for a Montenegrin daily; he was not injured in the explosion. In December, an explosive device detonated outside the offices of the opposition daily Vijesti, though no one was injured.

The DPS-led government denies opposition media outlets advertising contracts from publicly owned entities, while directing significant funding toward the progovernment newspaper Pobjeda, which it continues to operate in evident violation of legislation prohibiting the state from founding print media outlets. The public broadcaster is being reformed but still lacks sustainable financing, according to the EC. Internet access is unrestricted.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religious belief. However, the canonically recognized Serbian Orthodox Church and a self-proclaimed Montenegrin Orthodox Church continue to clash over ownership of church properties and other issues.

Academic freedom is guaranteed by law, but political debates about the nature of Montenegrin identity and history have spilled over into the educational realm, as was the case when controversy over the Montenegrin language almost blocked the adoption of the 2011 election law.

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 10/12

Citizens enjoy freedoms of association and assembly. After the violence at the July gay pride parade in Budva, authorities deployed 2,000 police officers to secure the Podgorica event, and some 60 counterdemonstrators were detained. Nongovernmental organizations generally operate without state interference, and civil society participates in state and local government, though the EC has urged closer cooperation. Most formally employed workers belong to unions, and the right to strike is generally protected. However, trade union members sometimes face discrimination, and dismissals of striking workers have been reported.

F. Rule of Law: 10/16

In 2013, the EC cited progress on judicial reform. In July, parliament passed constitutional amendments to improve judicial independence; these measures aim to curb political influence on judicial appointments by making the process more transparent and more focused on candidates' individual merit. However, the government has yet to institute a single nationwide recruitment system for judges and prosecutors based on transparent criteria, courts are subject to political influence, and the judicial and prosecutorial councils, while functional, are understaffed and underfunded, according to the EC. Legal proceedings are lengthy and often highly bureaucratic, particularly for proceedings involving business dealings. Prison conditions do not meet international standards for education or health care.

Ethnic Albanians, who comprise 5 percent of the population, maintain that they are underrepresented in the civil service, particularly in the police and judiciary. Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians, members of the LGBT community, and other minority groups often face discrimination. As part of the Sarajevo Declaration Process, Montenegro continues to cooperate with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia to reintegrate refugees from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 12/16

The state sector dominates much of Montenegro's economy, though the tourism industry has thrived in recent years, with significant foreign investment to develop Budva, Kotor, and other coastal towns. Official unemployment is 19 percent, but that figure is probably inflated, as many workers counted as officially unemployed work in Montenegro's sizeable gray economy. Since 2012, Montenegro has launched an electronic business registry, simplified licensing procedures, and taken other steps to improve the environment for starting a business. However, corruption continues to undermine the business climate.

Women in Montenegro are legally entitled to equal pay for equal work, but traditional patriarchal attitudes often limit their salary levels and educational opportunities. Women are underrepresented in government and business. New provisions requiring women to comprise 30 percent of candidate lists were implemented in the 2012 elections, but women hold only 14 seats in the 81-seat parliament. While domestic violence remains problematic, in January 2013 the government adopted the 2013-17 Gender Equality Plan to address violence in the home and gender discrimination in the labor market. Trafficking in persons for the purposes of prostitution and forced labor remains a problem; the government has adopted an anti-trafficking strategy through 2018.

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