Members of riot police block a street during a protest in Sarajevo on February 10, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

(Beirut) – Governments in the Western Balkans should step up their efforts to improve human rights protection to further their European integration, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015. Human Rights Watch documented human rights concerns in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Serbia, Kosovo, and Croatia during 2014.

Human rights issues in the Western Balkans include the poor climate for media freedom, persistent discrimination against Roma, limited progress in prosecuting war crimes in national courts, and harassment and intimidation against LGBT groups.

“It’s time the Western Balkans governments demonstrated they are serious about European Union values like equal treatment of minorities and accountability for serious crimes,” said Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “That’s true for the EU member Croatia and aspiring members Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo.”

In the 656-page world report, its 25th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth urges governments to recognize that human rights offer an effective moral guide in turbulent times, and that violating rights can spark or aggravate serious security challenges. The short-term gains of undermining core values of freedom and non-discrimination are rarely worth the long-term price.

Journalists face a hostile environment throughout the region, with inadequate government responses to attacks and threats. Police beat journalists covering February protests over layoffs, unpaid salaries, and perceived government corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

There was limited progress on war crimes prosecutions in national courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo. A February 2013 war crimes protocol signed between Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro has yet to lead to new prosecutions or convictions. The Kosovo parliament approved the establishment of a special court outside Kosovo to try serious crimes during and after the 1999 war, but necessary legal changes making the court operational have yet to take place.

Roma face discrimination in accessing health care and education and are vulnerable to evictions across the region. Despite a second ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities failed to adopt constitutional reforms to end political discrimination against Roma, Jews, and other minorities. There was no progress in implementing strategies in Kosovo to integrate Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians and assist people forced to return to the country from Western Europe. Thousands of people with disabilities in Croatia are confined to institutions and denied the right to make decisions about their own lives.

While the Belgrade Pride Parade took place and Croatia adopted civil partnership legislation, LGBT groups faced threats and intimidation in Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.