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Amnesty International: Freedom of expression and media freedom are key issues in the Balkans

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Amnesty International (AI) published a annual report on the situation of human rights in the world. The organization, supported by more than 7 million people worldwide, aims to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end serious human rights violations, and to demand justice for those whose rights were raped.

In its 2016/2017 annual report, Amnesty International presented human rights research conducted in 159 countries with five regional overviews. European Western Balkans provides a brief overview of each country in the region.

ALBANIA

AI reports on several different issues in Albania: enforced disappearances, forced evictions, the justice system, refugees and asylum seekers, torture and other ill-treatment.

Amnesty International says authorities have made no progress in their cooperation with the International Commission on Missing Persons, with an estimated 6,000 people still missing. This cooperation was established to locate and identify the remains of Albanians forcibly disappeared under communist governments between 1944 and 1991.

As for asylum seekers, around 20,000 Albanians applied for asylum in EU countries, the majority of them in Germany, but most of them were rejected.

On the other hand, in July, a justice reform was voted in Parliament. The reform amended dozens of articles of the Constitution and introduced new laws to guarantee the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and prevent political intervention and corruption.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

In a report on Bosnia and Herzegovina, Amnesty International noted few problems related to freedom of expression, crimes under international law and discrimination.

The Journalists’ Association has documented repeated attacks on journalists, attacks on freedom of expression and media integrity.

In the area of ​​international law, in July, an independent analysis commissioned by the OSCE showed that the national strategy against war crimes had not achieved its objectives, with a backlog of more than 350 complex cases still pending before the State Court and Prosecutor’s Office. Furthermore, no progress has been made regarding the adoption of the law on the protection of victims of torture and the harmonization of the laws of the entities regulating the rights of civilian victims of war in order to allow their access effective services, free legal aid and effective redress.

Issues of social exclusion and discrimination, particularly against Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, have been widely criticized. Amnesty International also notes that the 2009 judgment in the Sejdić-Finci case remains unimplemented.

CROATIA

Reception conditions for asylum seekers were adequate and it was noted that services were available for refugees and migrants, including psychosocial support and language education, but that these were mainly provided by NGOs.

Regarding crimes against international law, the law regulating the status of civilian victims of war adopted in 2015 helped facilitate access to reparations and facilitated survivors’ access to essential services. However, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has expressed concerns about the pace and effectiveness of prosecutions by national courts for crimes committed during the 1992-1995 war.

Civil society groups have recorded increasing instances of media and public officials “evoking fascist ideology” of the past by promoting the use of inflammatory iconography and generally fueling anti-fascist sentiment. minority, targeting specific groups, particularly ethnic Serbs, refugees and migrants.

In March, the government abruptly terminated the contracts of nearly 70 editors and journalists at Croatian public broadcaster Radio Television, in what was seen as an attempt to influence its editorial policy, causing Croatia to fall from 54th to 63rd place in the World Press rankings. Freedom index.

MACEDONIA

In 2016, Macedonia faced two main problems: political instability and the refugee and migrant crisis.

The political crisis sparked by the 2015 release of audio recordings revealing government corruption and widespread illegal surveillance has continued. In April, the president announced the pardons of 56 high-level political figures under investigation for their involvement in the wiretapping scandal, which led to the president’s revocation of the pardon in June at the following a wave of demonstrations described as the “colored revolution”.

In early March, the Interior Ministry announced the closure of the country’s southern border with Greece, preventing the arrival of refugees and migrants into the country, which left thousands of people stranded in the camp. fortune of Idomeni, on the Greek side of the border.

MONTENEGRO

In May, two LGBTI organizations filed a complaint with an administrative court against the Ministry of the Interior for failing to guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly by allowing police authorities to ban an LGBTI pride march in Nikšić. After the court rejected the applicants’ requests, the organizations turned to the Constitutional Court to request a constitutional review.

By the end of the year, authorities had not acted on recommendations from the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances to include disappearance as a separate criminal offense in the Penal Code. The authorities also failed to provide victims with access to justice and reparation.

Journalists continued to receive threats and media offices were sometimes vandalized. Although the Minister of the Interior announced in June that amendments to the Penal Code would be introduced to combat widespread impunity for attacks against journalists, no draft had been submitted by the end of the year.

SERBIA

Independent journalists’ associations have recorded dozens of incidents targeting journalists, including physical attacks and death threats.

In March, the prosecutor’s office confirmed the indictment of eight former members of the Interior Ministry’s Special Brigade of Republika Srpska, the ethnic Serb side of the Bosnian war, for war crimes committed against civilians in Srebrenica in 1995.

A significant decrease in the number of refugees and migrants crossing Serbia en route to the EU compared to 2015 is partly due to the closure of borders to irregular migrants in the south and north.

Serbia has been criticized for failing to provide access to a fair and individualized asylum procedure to the vast majority of registered asylum seekers.

The major problem facing Serbia, besides the rights of refugees and migrants, was the right to housing.

As Amnesty International reports, more than 200 families have been evicted in central Belgrade since work began in 2015 on the Belgrade waterfront site. In April, a forced eviction was carried out at night by 30 masked men, who violently destroyed residents’ homes. The local police were alerted but refused to intervene.

KOSOVO

A Stabilization and Association Agreement between the EU and Kosovo entered into force in April.

Progress in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo has remained limited.

The EU Rule of Law Mission has announced that it will not launch new investigations into cases of crimes under international law. Hundreds of ongoing cases were therefore to be transferred to Kosovo authorities, although the European Commission said Kosovo’s justice system was “slow” and “vulnerable to undue political influence”.

In January, Oliver Ivanović, the leader of a Kosovo Serb political party, was sentenced by a panel of international judges at the Mitrovicë/Mitrovica Magistrate’s Court to nine years’ imprisonment for ordering the murder of ethnic Albanians in the city in April 1999. He remained under house arrest at the end of the year while his appeal against his conviction was pending before the Pristinë/Pristina Court of Appeal.

E.M.





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