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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.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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