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(Beirut) – Hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and migrants faced substantial difficulties during 2015, as they followed a key transit route in the Western Balkans, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016.

Problems along the route in Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Macedonia that asylum seekers and migrants faced included slow registration procedures and inadequate reception conditions exacerbated by cascading border closures. Governments in the Western Balkans should focus on improving human rights protections, including for asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said.

Thousands of asylum seekers and migrants wait on the Serbian side of the border to enter Croatia on October 23, 2015. © 2015 Marko Drobnjakovic

“Western Balkans governments that aspire to European Union membership need to do a better job of living up to their human rights obligations,” said Lydia Gall, Western Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “That includes effective accountability for war crimes, combating discrimination against minorities, and ensuring access to protection and humane treatment for asylum seekers and migrants.”

In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

Human Rights Watch documented human rights concerns in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo during 2015 for the World Report 2016. Concerns in Croatia and the impact of the European refugee crisis along the Western Balkans route are included in a chapter on the European Union.

Other human rights issues in the Western Balkans include the limited prosecutions in national courts for war crimes during the breakup of Yugoslavia, a hostile climate for media, persistent discrimination against Roma, and harassment and intimidation of LGBT people and groups.

There was limited progress in war crimes accountability in national courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo. War crimes prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are underfunded and lack sufficient capacity to deal with cases. While Kosovo’s parliament finally passed a law establishing a special court to try serious crimes during and after the 1999 war, the court is not yet operational because of delays in concluding a host agreement with the Netherlands.

Twenty years after the Dayton peace agreement in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country remains divided and beset by political sclerosis. No progress was made in implementing two European Court of Human Rights judgments, from 2009 and 2013, requiring Bosnia and Herzegovina to amend its discriminatory constitution, which denies members of minority groups the ability to run for high political office.

Discrimination against Roma in access to health care and education persisted in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo, and Roma remained vulnerable to forced and arbitrary evictions. Progress in implementing strategies in Kosovo to integrate Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian minority groups and assist people forced to return there from Western Europe was limited. LGBT groups continued to face harassment and intimidation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo.


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