Human Rights Watch World Report 2001 - Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Serbia and Montenegro

Human Rights Developments

Efforts by indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to remain in power decisively shaped the human rights situation in 2000. The Milosevic-dominated federal parliament amended the Yugoslav constitution in July to restrict Montenegro's autonomy and allow another presidential term for Milosevic. In the September 24 federal elections, which the Montenegrin government boycotted, the opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica defeated Milosevic in the presidential contest. By manipulating the federal election commission and federal constitutional court, Milosevic attempted to force a second round of the election. The opposition responded with a series of mass rallies. On October 5, opposition supporters stormed the parliament and occupied Serbian state television. Two days later Milosevic conceded electoral defeat, and Kostunica was inaugurated.

Leading opposition politicians faced harassment and persecution throughout the year. In February, the public prosecutor indicted Dusan Mihailovic, president of the New Democracy Party, for "spreading false information" when he publicly criticized a Milosevic speech. On February 29, Belgrade police detained and interrogated Ivan Kovacevic, the Serbian Renewal Movement spokesman and member of Serbian parliament. Zarko Korac, leader of the Social Democratic Party, was beaten by unknown assailants in early March. Jan Svetlik, opposition councilor in Zrenjanin constituency, was abducted on April 5 by two unknown assailants and kept out of town during an important local parliamentary vote before being released unharmed. Momcilo Perisic, retired Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff and an opposition leader, was stripped of his military rank in August.

On June 15, unknown persons shot at Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic from the terrace outside his apartment in Budva, Montenegro. One bullet grazed Draskovic's head. In the ensuing investigation, the Serbian Ministry of Interior refused to surrender two key witnesses to the Montenegrin police. Two weeks before the assassination attempt in Budva, the police at Belgrade Airport had arrested and disarmed Draskovic's entire security staff. Vuk Draskovic had survived a car accident on October 3, 1999, which many believe was staged by the Serbian Security Service.

Unidentified groups of men, apparently State Security agents or thugs employed by the government, beat and harassed regime opponents on a number of occasions. On February 26, in Belgrade, they beat student Milos Dosen who they found taking down a poster attacking Otpor (Resistance), an anti-government group mostly comprised of university students; on April 11, in Novi Sad, two unidentified men beat Radoje Cvetkov, secretary for urbanism in the Novi Sad Executive Council, which is controlled by the opposition; persons in civilian clothes raided Otpor headquarters in Belgrade on September 9, forcing Otpor activists to the floor while searching the office. There was no indication that police investigated any of these cases.

The authorities prevented the opposition from staging rallies or used force to disperse them. On November 9, 1999, police forces in Belgrade used excessive force to disperse some 2,500 students demanding early parliamentary elections in Serbia. Police stopped buses with opposition supporters traveling to rallies in Belgrade (April 14) and Pozarevac (May 9). On May 17-18, the police used excessive force to disperse Belgrade street protests and beat protesters and passers-by for hours after the protests.

Beginning in June 2000, in the run-up to the September elections, police were increasingly involved in the beating of opposition activists and members of Otpor. Thirty beating incidents were reported between June and August and ten more in the first week of September. In one case, the police in Vladicin Han tortured six Otpor activists for three hours, hitting them in their genitals, head, kidneys, and feet. In May and June, the police detained and interrogated 500 Otpor activists on the unfounded charge of "terrorism."

In purges of the judiciary carried out in December 1999 and July 2000, the authorities removed from their posts two judges of the Supreme Court of Serbia, one judge of the Constitutional Court, and seventeen judges of district, municipal, and commercial courts. Presidents of the courts in Serbia, elected by the government-dominated Serbian parliament, assigned politically sensitive cases to "politically reliable" judges who were expected to render decisions favorable to the authorities, and did so.

Most victims of unfair trials were Kosovars, taken from the columns of fleeing civilians during the war with NATO and charged after the war with seditious conspiracy and terrorism. In most cases courts based the convictions on confessions extorted through police torture or on the notoriously unreliable paraffin test for gunpowder, allegedly showing that the person had used arms. In one such case, the district court in Nis collectively sentenced 143 ethnic Albanians from Djakovica to sentences of between seven and thirteen years of imprisonment. Flora Brovina, poet and physician from Pristina, was accused of providing medical supplies to members of the Kosovo Liberation Army and sentenced in December 1999 to twelve years in prison for "terrorism." On July 10, the district court in Belgrade sentenced six Albanian Belgrade University students to harsh prison sentences on a charge of "preparing terrorist acts." The verdict was based on apparently planted evidence and confessions extorted by beating, the threat of murder, and mock executions.

The authorities have continued to use penal sanctions since the 1999 war to prevent public debate on war crimes committed by security forces against ethnic Albanians. On July 26, a closed-door Yugoslav military court sentenced journalist Miroslav Filipovic to seven years in prison for publishing articles on the Internet in 2000 about the crimes. In August, the Yugoslav Army threatened Natasa Kandic, a leading Yugoslav human rights activist and director of the Humanitarian Law Center, with prosecution and trial because of her August 2000 statements about war crimes committed by the security forces.

Misdemeanor judges, appointed and controlled by the government, continued imposing the payment of heavy financial penalties on numerous independent media for "libelous" statements or reports, on the basis of the Public Information Act. In almost all cases, those recovering damages were members of the three ruling parties in Serbia – the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the Yugoslav Left (JUL), and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Belgrade authorities closed down or disrupted the signals of a number of independent and opposition-controlled television and radio stations. Police removed relay links and essential transmission equipment from the transmission facilities of radio and television stations in Pozarevac, Cuprija, Pozega, Pirot, Kraljevo, Mladenovac, and Cacak. After disrupting its signal for eight months, the government took over the Belgrade Radio-Television Studio B. Radio B2-92, which broadcast from the Studio B premises, was also taken off the air.

With the focus of repression shifting to the Serbian opposition, the Milosevic regime's harassment of ethnic minorities subsided slightly. Yet tensions in Bujanovac, Medvedja, and Presevo, municipalities bordering Kosovo and inhabited mostly by ethnic Albanians, remained high during the year. Elsewhere in Serbia, incidents against Roma received most attention. On June 7, police leveled Roma homes in a Belgrade settlement built in breach of zoning laws; during the action, the police hurled racial insults at the Roma and slapped and kicked some of them. Roma were not allowed to enter the swimming pool in Sabac, owned by the president of the local branch of the ruling Serbian Radical Party. Romani men working for a street cleaning company in Belgrade were frequent victims of attacks by racist "skinhead" youth.

The presence of some 230,000 persons displaced after the Kosovo conflict and 500,000 refugees from Croatia and Bosnia continued to strain the resources of Serbia and Montenegro. UNHCR announced in August that it would decrease aid to provide accommodation for refugees and the displaced from U.S. $65.6 million to $58.6 million.

Defending Human Rights

Nongovernmental organizations in Serbia were extraordinarily active in 2000, and the regime responded with unprecedented harassment. The Humanitarian Law Center and Yugoslav Committee for Human Rights represented numerous individuals in political trials. These groups, along with Group 484, Women in Black, and the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, also developed a network of trial monitors who reported extensively about the trials of ethnic Albanians and other victims of government repression. Government representatives and media repeatedly accused human rights groups of working for foreign intelligence agencies. In a campaign of intimidation, initiated in May, financial inspectors accompanied by regular and secret police visited the offices of six leading organizations for a purported financial inspection. The police interrogated numerous activists about their daily activities and confiscated documents unrelated to financial matters. On July 7-8, State Security Police tortured Bojan Aleksov, a human rights activist and conscientious objector who had been studying in Budapest for two years and was arrested while visiting Belgrade. In August the police banned the Council for Human Rights, a prominent human rights group from Leskovac, justifying the move on the basis of the council's "engagement in political activities."

The Role of the International Community

United Nations

The Commission on Human Rights, in a resolution passed in April, expressed grave concern at the ongoing serious violations of human rights by the Serbian and Yugoslav authorities, as well as at the failure of Belgrade to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The commission welcomed positive trends in Montenegro toward democratic and economic reforms. U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Former Yugoslavia Jiri Dienstbier repeatedly protested the repression against the opposition, students, and the independent media in Serbia. He also called for the lifting of international sanctions against FRY. Dienstbier visited the country in March and June and during the election crisis in September and October. The commission extended the special rapporteur's mandate for one year.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

Efforts by the OSCE to monitor the human rights situation were unequivocally rejected by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was suspended from OSCE membership in July 1992. OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media Freimut Duve defended independent media, but his activities were branded "terrorism and a crime against sovereign state" by Federal Information Minister Goran Matic, and Duve was accused of being a "German agent" by Minister of Telecommunications Ivan Markovic.

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Montenegro monitored the June 11 early municipal elections in Podgorica and Herceg Novi and found that the elections were well conducted and generally in line with OSCE commitments. In a report released on August 30, ODIHR concluded that the legislation governing the September 24 elections did not accord with international standards or OSCE commitments. Yugoslav authorities announced earlier that they would not permit ODIHR experts to observe the elections. On October 19, OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Benita Fererro-Waldner invited the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to join the OSCE as a participating state.

European Union

The E.U. took some steps to alleviate the impact of economic sanctions against Serbia on ordinary citizens opposing the Milosevic's government. Between November 1999 and April 2000, the European Commission conducted the program, "Energy for Democracy," delivering 17,513 tons of fuel oil to seven cities governed by the Serbian opposition. The Belgrade authorities initially blocked delivery of the E.U. assistance to opposition towns, but Belgrade eventually abandoned the unpopular measures. In July, however, Yugoslav authorities denied import licenses to a number of firms exempted from the E.U. trade and investment embargo. The commission also provided urgent aid to the media and nongovernmental organizations harassed by the government. The E.U. continued to support the democratic transition in Montenegro. On May 22, 2000, the General Affairs Council committed 20 million euros (U.S. $19.2 million) in assistance to the Montenegrin government. On October 9, the E.U. lifted the oil embargo and the ban on international flights to and from Yugoslavia. Financial and trade restrictions against firms and individuals connected to the Milosevic regime remained in place, along with the visa ban and freeze of assets belonging to these individuals.

Council of Europe

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's application for admission to the Council of Europe remained suspended from consideration. Council of Europe officials issued condemnations of the crackdown on independent media and the opposition and called for free and fair elections. In July the Council of Europe secretary general appointed Eva Tomic as his special representative to be based in the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Podgorica. Tomic was tasked to provide expert assistance to the Montenegrin authorities in reforming education, local self-administration, and the judicial system and in drafting legislation.

United States

On June 29, 2000, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke announced a campaign to exclude FRY from membership in the U.N. Although to a lesser extent than the E.U., the United States tried to alleviate the impact of sanctions on some sectors of the Serbian population. After an April 7 meeting in Washington, D.C., with the mayors of eight major Serbian municipalities controlled by the opposition, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced that the U.S. would approve aid for improving health care, public services, education, and environmental protection in cities run by the democratic opposition. The U.S. exempted Montenegro from sanctions and provided an estimated $77 million in aid during the year. On October 12, the U.S. lifted its oil embargo and flight ban to the Former Yugloslavia.

Relevant Human Rights Watch Reports

Curtailing Political Dissent: Serbia's Campaign of Violence and Harassment Against Government's Critics, 4/00

Kosovo: Rape as a Weapon of "Ethnic Cleansing," 3/00


Human Rights Developments

Despite the efforts of the United Nations civilian administration and a massive North Atlantic Treay Organization (NATO) presence, human rights in Kosovo frequently remained an abstraction during 2000. Ethnic minorities were hardest hit, with continuing violence against the province's Serb, Roma, Muslim Slav, Gorani, and Turkish populations, and the Albanian minority living in northern Mitrovica town. At the time of this writing, municipal elections were scheduled for October 28, despite the absence of conditions for their free and fair conduct and against a backdrop of rising political violence among Albanian Kosovar parties and a Serb boycott. Efforts to establish rule of law and to end impunity were hampered by shortcomings in the nascent justice system, and inadequate and incompetent policing. The NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) and its member governments were reluctant to take decisive action against elements of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) linked to attacks on minorities and political opponents. Despite progress in identifying the fate of missing persons, more than 3,000 remained unaccounted for from last year's armed conflict, most of them ethnic Albanians.

For the most part confined to mono-ethnic enclaves and unable to travel without KFOR escorts, the situation of minorities in Kosovo remained extremely precarious. Few of the more than 150,000 non-Albanians who fled from Kosovo since June 1999 attempted to return. Roma and especially Serbs continued to bear the brunt of much of the violence. Ethnic Croats, Muslim Slavs (including Torbesh), Gorani, and Turks also faced attacks, harassment, and pressure to leave their homes. Although far fewer murders and kidnapings took place in 2000 than in 1999, minorities continued to be disproportionately affected. On February 2, Josip Vasic, a prominent doctor and moderate member of the Serb National Council, was shot dead in a Gnjilane street by unknown assailants. On April 3, Metodije Halauska, an eighty-six-year-old ethnic Czech man, was kidnaped from his home in Pristina, beaten, and shot in the back of the head. A seventy-year-old Bosniak woman in Pec was hospitalized the same month after being beaten in the street by fifteen Albanian men. On May 15, the body of twenty-five-year-old Serb translator Petar Topoljski was found in the village of Rimaniste, near Pristina. Topoljski had gone missing a week earlier from his job with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), after his name and movements were published in the Kosovo daily newspaper Dita, together with allegations that he was a Serb paramilitary who had participated in the mass expulsions of Albanians from the province.

The weeks surrounding the first anniversary of NATO's entry into Kosovo on June 12 saw an upsurge in violence against minorities in the province. A series of grenade and landmine attacks and drive-by shootings targeting Serbs left eleven dead and more than a dozen wounded. Valentina Cukic, an editor of a Serbian-language program of the multi-ethnic Radio Kontakt, was shot and badly wounded in Pristina June 20, together with her companion, while wearing her KFOR press identification. On July 12, a Serbian Orthodox priest and two seminary students were wounded in a drive-by shooting near the village of Klokot. In a sinister development in August, minority children were targeted: on August 18, a grenade was thrown from a moving car into a group of children at a basketball court in the Serb village of Crkvena Vodica leaving ten wounded. On August 27, an Albanian man drove his car into a group of children in the same village before fleeing the scene, killing one child and wounding three. An eighty-year-old Serb farmer from the same village was shot dead later the same day. On September 14, a forty-five-year-old Serb woman was shot dead at her home in Kamenica. A sixty-year-old Serb shepherd reported missing was discovered dead near Strpce on October 4, with gunshot wounds to the body.

The international community struggled to balance free expression against curbs on speech inciting hatred and violence. The practice of publishing the names of alleged Serb war criminals in Kosovo newspapers, redolent of the notorious lists published in the Croatian region of Eastern Slavonia, drew condemnation from UNMIK and the OSCE, but international efforts against hate speech, including the appointment of a temporary media commissioner with wide powers and the temporary closure of Dita after it repeatedly published inflammatory allegations against Serbs, were criticized by Kosovo Albanian journalists and international press freedom groups as an attack on free speech.

The divided town of Mitrovica remained a flash-point for inter-ethnic conflict. Some of the worst violence in the town followed a February 2 rocket attack on a UNHCR bus under KFOR escort traveling to Mitrovica from the Serb village of Banja in which two elderly Serbs were killed and three wounded. The attack sparked a wave of tit-for-tat inter-ethnic violence in northern Mitrovica that left eight non-Serbs dead and led 1,700 Albanians, Turks, and Muslim Slavs to flee their homes. The prospects for a lasting solution to the town's status remained dim. Violence against Albanians was not confined to Mitrovica. The murder of two Albanians in the village of Cubrelj by a group of Serbs on June 12, the first anniversary of the end of war, echoed the persecution of Albanians a year earlier.

Much of the violence against Albanians, however, occurred at the hands of other Albanians. The murder of a politician from the Democratic League of Kosovo, the party headed by Ibrahim Rugova and known by its Albanian acronym, LDK, and the kidnaping and interrogation of another in the Drenica region in November 1999 was followed by a spate of execution-style killings of prominent KLA fighters. Although the killings were frequently attributed to rivalries among organized crime figures, some of the murders, including the killing in May of a politically moderate former KLA commander, Ekrem Rexha (known as Commander "Drini"), had a political dimension.

Political violence increased over the summer. On June 15 Alil Dresaj, a senior LDK politician, was shot dead by persons wearing insignia of the former KLA. On July 7, Ramush Haradinaj, a politician and former senior KLA commander, was wounded in the village of Streoce during what appears to have been a shootout. On July 12, a close aide to Haradinaj was murdered. The burned corpse of Shaban Manaj, a senior LDK official, was discovered on August 6 in a remote village. He had been kidnaped on July 27. Attacks directed against the LDK continued in August. On August 1, an LDK activist was shot and wounded in Podujevo. The head of the LDK in Srbica was wounded in a shooting the following day. The wife of an LDK official died in an explosion at their home in Dragash on August 9. Several LDK offices were attacked during the same month. Political motives were also suspected in the September murders of Shefki Popova and Rexhep Luci, two prominent Albanians with close ties to the LDK. Popova, a veteran journalist with Albanian-language daily Rilindija and Luci, head of Kosovo's housing and reconstruction department, were gunned down on consecutive days.

Despite the absence of "an atmosphere free of violence and intimidation" (an OSCE condition for free and fair elections), the international community pressed ahead with its plans to hold municipal elections, at the time of writing, scheduled for October 28. While most eligible Albanians registered to vote, Serbs, Muslim Slavs, and other minorities boycotted registration, citing lack of security, thus rendering them ineligible to vote. As if to confirm their reservations, a bomb exploded on August 18 in a Pristina building housing the offices of smaller Albanian, Turkish, and Bosniak political parties, as well as the Yugoslav representation in Pristina. Despite the violence and concerns that conditions were inadequate for free and fair elections, the body set up by the OSCE to enforce standards during the election was weak and lacked effective sanctions.

The International Organization for Migration in Kosovo reported that traffickers had lured dozens of women to Kosovo with offers of lucrative jobs; the women found themselves trapped in forced prostitution in brothels around the province.

Defending Human Rights

Restrictions on freedom of movement, inter-ethnic animosity, and the legacy of a decade of repression and armed conflict impaired human rights work by local nongovernmental organizations in Kosovo. The Humanitarian Law Center largely restricted its activities to monitoring the issue of missing persons and prisoners. Reports by the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms were frequently politicized and sometimes limited to abuses against Albanians and those committed by Serbs. International human rights groups were mostly able to carry out investigations unhindered, although the highly variable security situation in Mitrovica and some minority enclaves sometimes limited or preventd access. Local organizations protested freely and often about the fate of Kosovo Albanian prisoners in Serbian jails.

The Role of the International Community

Kosovo remained a de facto international protectorate during 2000, administered by UNMIK, with security provided by NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers and United Nations police and financed primarily by the European Union and United States governments and the World Bank. Yugoslavia had little influence on events in the province outside the Serb-dominated municipalities north of Mitrovica. The international community's policies toward Kosovo pulled in contradictory directions: expected municipal elections aimed to increase local self-government for Kosovo's population, while in the area of the courts and media, international involvement increased. Despite an ongoing security gap for minorities, political violence, and growing crime, with elements of former KLA and Kosovo Protection Corps clearly implicated, NATO and the U.N. remained unable or unwilling to confront the perpetrators in a decisive and consistent manner.

United Nations

UNMIK made some progress in establishing transitional power structures and persuading most leading Albanian politicians and some moderate Serb leaders to participate in them. Its international civilian police, tasked both with policing the province and establishing a local Kosovo Police Service, remained under-equipped and often poorly trained and faced difficulties obtaining cooperation from local communities, judges, and prosecutors, and in some cases KFOR, with most cases left unsolved or dropped before reaching the courts. A case involving a Kenyan aid worker wrongly accused of fraud highlighted concerns about due process violations by U.N. police. The establishment in August of a special U.N. police unit for the protection of Serbs was a more positive development. Evidence of bias and intimidation in the nascent local court system, and a lack of serving judges from minorities led UNMIK to acknowledge that, as with the police, a greater degree of initial international supervision would be necessary. Following the model of Mitrovica, UNMIK appointed international judges to some courts and transferred some sensitive cases involving minority or political violence to those courts. On August 14, the Polish human rights lawyer appointed by the special representative of the secretary-general in July as Kosovo's first ombudsman made his first working visit to the province. The ongoing detention of some 1,200 Kosovo Albanians in Serbia, as well as the lack of information about the fate of some 3,300 missing persons from Kosovo, including 400 Serbs and one hundred Roma, was highlighted by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson's appointment, on September 1, of a special envoy on persons deprived of liberty. In an April resolution, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights emphasized the need for an independent judiciary and an end to inter-ethnic violence in Kosovo. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia continued its investigations in Kosovo into crimes committed by government forces and the KLA.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

Charged with institution building, the OSCE Mission in Kosovo performed well in the area of human rights training and monitoring, producing accurate and public periodic reports with UNHCR on the difficulties faced by Kosovo's minorities. Its lead role in organizing municipal elections was less positive, with lessons from Bosnia regarding the need for basic conditions for free and fair elections and enforcement of standards seemingly ignored. The OSCE's efforts to tackle hate speech also drew criticism from press freedom groups and Kosovo Abanian journalists.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The NATO-led KFOR remained the most important security actor in Kosovo. Despite some improvements, including a more mobile approach to protecting minorities pioneered by the British contingent, a reduction in the murder rate, more aggressive pursuit of illegal weapons, and an acknowledgment that attacks on minorities were organized, KFOR remained reluctant to confront the armed elements responsible for many of the attacks. An uneven response to violence among KFOR's various national contingents, an inadequate response to attacks on Roma, and complaints about cooperation with U.N. police also cast a shadow on KFOR's record.

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe and particularly its Congress of Local and Regional Authorities continued its support for democratic institution building and human rights in Kosovo through the council's office in Pristina. In July, the newly established council observation mission began monitoring preparations for the municipal elections scheduled for October 28.

European Union

European Union governments generally showed a reluctance to move beyond the condemnation of violence against minorities and toward tackling its causes. While showing more equivocation on early municipal elections than the U.N. or U.S., leading E.U. states were nonetheless unwilling to call publicly for postponement. The European Union continued to finance much of the international effort in Kosovo, although there were renewed criticisms of delays in the disbursement of promised aid by the European Commission.

United States

The United States was willing to condemn violence against minorities and even in June to acknowledge that such violence was systematic, but despite organizing a June conference of Albanian and Serb leaders outside Washington, it showed far less willingness to expend the political capital or deploy its troops in KFOR in the manner necessary actually to improve security in the province. The laissez-faire approach of U.S. policy to Kosovo was most clearly manifest in its strong support for early elections in the province, its unwillingness to acknowledge publicly the involvement of KLA members in ethnic and political violence, and in the trial of the Momcilovic brothers, where the U.S. army withheld evidence that an Albanian man involved in an attack on the Momcilovic home had in fact been shot by U.S. troops and not by the Serb defendants, who spent a year in pretrial detention.

Relevant Human Rights Watch Reports

Kosovo: Rape As A Weapon of "Ethnic Cleansing," 3/00

This report, Human Rights Watch's eleventh annual review of human rights practices around the globe, covers developments in seventy countries. It is released in advance of Human Rights Day, December 10, 2000, and describes events from November 1999 through October 2000.

This 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.