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Human Rights Developments

Human rights conditions remained a cause for concern in 1996 in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), despite Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic=s efforts to shake off the country=s pariah status after the Dayton agreement. Continued repression and police brutality in Kosovo, discriminatory practice with regard to minorities and the unlawful treatment of refugees perpetuated the pervasive atmosphere of xenophobia and ethnic nationalism. Government control of the media became more stringent, and independent media nearly ceased to exist. The government=s continued antagonism toward the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) underscored the FRY=s defiance of the international community=s efforts to seek accountability for war crimes perpetrated in the former Yugoslavia.

Minorities continued to face harassment, in part because of their ethnicity and in part because of the political threat they pose to the state since most non-Serbs identify with opposition parties. Opposition Serbs, although never facing the level of intimidation and violence that Muslims and Croats faced during the war, nonetheless encountered serious harassment and limitations on their political participation that paralleled those imposed on minorities. Few attempts were made during 1996 to prosecute or hold accountable those who committed serious crimes against non-Serbs and Serb supporters of the opposition. Now, in the wake of the Dayton agreement on Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Serb political opposition and ethnic minorities continue to be marginalized by the Milosevic government - which, under international pressure, has changed its tactics, but not its aims.

The treatment of Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb refugees was particularly troubling during 1996, as the government continued with its attempts to forcibly settle displaced persons in Kosovo, the Serbian-controlled sector of eastern Slavonia in Croatia, Sandzak and Vojvodina. The Serbian Helsinki Committee reported that Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb refugees in Serbia were Athe worst treated refugees in the war,@ noting that many had not been officially recognized as refugees by the Serbian government, and that in some instances this indeterminate status had been used to reduce the level of humanitarian aid, medical treatment and housing opportunities.

The government also interfered with the registration process of Bosnian Serb refugees for the September national elections in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Human rights groups in rump-Yugoslavia reported that local authorities obstructed efforts by refugees to vote by absentee ballot. In addition to failing to distribute ballots to many voters who had been promised that they would receive them by mail, Serbian officials were accused of coercing Bosnian Serbs to register to vote in the Bosnian Serb-held entity, Republika Srpska (RS), in areas of strategic importance to the RS authorities, and to vote exclusively for Bosnian Serb candidates. Methods used included misinformation, withholding of humanitarian assistance, fraudulent registration and mass public registration designed to intimidate those who might otherwise have registered in a non-Serb dominated municipality.

The status of resident minorities did not improve in Kosovo, where 1.8 million ethnic Albanians have faced systematic discrimination since 1989. In 1996, thousands of Albanians were harassed, detained or beaten by Serbian policemen who act with near total impunity. At least sixty ethnic Albanians are currently in Yugoslav prisons for political reasons after trials fraught with due process violations. The politically controlled courts consistently rejected overwhelming evidence that torture was used by the police and investigators to extract confessions.

Serb authorities continue to deny ethnic Albanians their right to free association and speech. All Albanian organizations face regular harassment by the police and security forces, including the maltreatment of activists and the arbitrary and illegal confiscation of office equipment. Albanian-language media is minimal, censored, and faces political and economic barriers imposed by the state.

In September, the Serbian government agreed to reopen Albanian-language schools in Kosovo, although it remains to be seen if the agreement will be respected. Before September, during 1996, many Albanian students and teachers were detained and beaten for wanting to study or teach in their native language. The police often confiscated money that had been collected for private Albanian-language schools.

Freedom of movement for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo remained limited. A large number of Albanians were denied passports by the rump Yugoslav authorities and could not travel; others were denied reentry into rump Yugoslavia after time spent abroad. A new citizenship law was passed by the parliament on July 16 which may result in statelessness for Kosovo Albanians. According to this law, a person from Kosovo may lose his or her citizenship if it is determined that he or she originally became a Yugoslav citizen by using documentation that the rump Yugoslav government claims to be false. There is a danger that this provision will be used arbitrarily to strip ethnic Albanians of their citizenship with no official inquiry or right to appeal specified. The creation of Astateless@ Kosovo Albanians would be a violation of the FRY=s commitments under international law to eliminate statelessness, in addition to leaving many with no voting or residence rights.

State control of media and efforts to prevent free expression continued in 1996. Freedom of the press within rump Yugoslavia was curtailed after the Serbian information minister declared in January that independent broadcasters would no longer be granted frequencies because their information was Aanti-government, inaccurate and patently one-sided.@ Studio B, the last prominent independent television station in the FRY was nationalized in February; at the end of May, the popular Radio Smederevo left the ranks of independent radio stations in the country when it too was nationalized.

Facing growing criticism for having betrayed the Serb populations of western Slavonia and the Krajina region of Croatia, and western Bosnia, the Milosevic government took steps against its critics. Authorities detained opposition leaders on questionable charges and scheduled local, republican and federal elections simultaneously in November, thus making it difficult for opposition parties to distribute scant resources for any semblance of a free and fair campaigning process.

Although the FRY turned over two suspected Asmall fry@ war criminals in early April and permitted the ICTY to open an office in Belgrade in August, the government refused to cooperate with the tribunal in other ways. Members of the Yugoslav Army, Milan Mrksic, Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic, all indicted war criminals for their activities in the Croatian city of Vukovar in 1991, continued to reside in the FRY. The government did little to encourage the arrest and extradition of another fifty indicted persons believed to be in Republika Srpska. Several of the most infamous indictees were allowed to make very public appearances during 1996, with no repercussions. Sightings of indicted war criminal and Bosnian Serb Army General Ratko Mladic were embarrassingly frequent throughout Republika Srpska, and he was also allowed to move freely in the FRY, most notably attending a May funeral for an indicted war criminal General Djordje Djukic in Belgrade. Although not yet indicted by the ICTY, Zeljko AArkan@ Raznatovic - a notorious war criminal who partook in brutal ethnic cleansing campaigns in Bosnia-Hercegovina and CroatiaCcontinued to hold a parliamentary position in the Serbian government.

The Right to Monitor

While the work of international and domestic human rights groups was carefully monitored by the state government, international human rights groups were more consistently allowed visas into the country in 1996 than they had been in the past. The work of organizations such as the Helsinki Committees for Human Rights in Serbia and Montenegro, the Humanitarian Law Center and the Serbian Civic League helped to maintain international awareness of human rights conditions in the country; the Democratic League of Croats in Vojvodina, the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms in Kosovo, the Helsinki Committee of Sandzak, and the Kosovo Information Center also reported instances of abuse against their respective nationalities. Nonetheless, rights groups were far from universally respected: human rights activists in Kosovo, specifically from the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms, were regularly harassed by Serbian police.

The Role of the International Community

The United Nations and Europe

Throughout 1996, Milosevic=s continued support for the Dayton peace process was viewed by the international community as critical to its success. In an effort to keep the Dayton peace process on track, the United States and the European Union opted to downplay human rights abuses within the FRY, as well as the government=s continued ties to the war-criminal laden leadership in the Republika Srpska.

In late December 1995, in recognition of the role played by Milosevic in bringing about the Dayton peace agreement, the Security Council suspended the sanctions imposed mainly by Security Council Resolution 757(1992). These sanctions required member states to cease trading in any commodity, maintaining air traffic links, or participating in sporting or cultural events with the FRY; the lifting of these sanctions was to be contingent upon cooperation with the ICTY, ceasing to aid the Bosnian Serbs, and cooperating with the U.N.=s embargo against Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The FRY=s inner wall of sanctions was permanently lifted on October 1 after the OSCE ruled that the national-level elections were successful in Bosnia-Hercegovina. At the time of this writing, the so-called outer wall of sanctions remained in place, including denial of readmission into the United Nations, the OSCE, the International Monetary Fund, and other international organizations crucial to the FRY=s full integration into the international community. According to an October 1995 decision by the European Union=s General Affairs Council, long term economic assistance is conditioned on the implementation of the Dayton agreement, respect for human and minority rights, cooperation with the ICTY, and with respect to FRY Athe granting of a large degree of autonomy within it for Kosovo.@

The United States

Throughout the year, the Clinton administration continued to meet with President Milosevic on issues related to the Dayton peace process, the ICTY, the state of affairs in Kosovo, and press freedoms in the FRY. In July, after two rounds of talks with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, President Milosevic was finally induced to demand that Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic step down from any form of political activity in the Republika Srpska. This served the immediate aim of removing Karadzic from public view, while allowing Karadzic=s Serbian Democratic Party, headed by nationalist elements far more extreme than he, to remain an OSCE-legitimized participant in the Bosnian elections. Although Milosevic=s agreement with Holbrooke promised Karadzic=s official withdrawal from political activities, even Holbrooke noted that Karadzic could still exercise power through hidden channels.

Although U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher told Milosevic in February that Yugoslavia will never achieve full acceptance into the international community until it reconciles the status of Kosovo, both U.S. and European governments gave up one of their most important bargaining chips for improvements in human rights in Kosovo by allowing the permanent lifting of economic sanctions in early October.

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