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Human rights progress stalling in Balkans: HRW

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its 2019 World Report, released Thursday, that Balkan countries made only modest progress last year on human rights, citing a lack of support for war crimes prosecutions and various other matters.

However, the overall picture is mixed. “In some ways, this is a dark time for human rights. Yet even as autocrats and human rights violators dominate the headlines, defenders of human rights, democracy and the rule of law are also gaining strength,” the director wrote HRW executive Kenneth Roth in an essay included in the report.

HRW’s 2019 World Report summarizes key human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories around the world, drawing on events between late 2017 and November 2018.

Bosnia Herzegovina

Bosnia made limited progress in 2018 in addressing long-standing human rights issues, the report said.

War crimes cases are being resolved slowly, while a revised national war crimes strategy has been awaiting approval by the Council of Ministers, the government, since February 2018.

Members of national minorities are still ineligible for the presidency in the 2018 general elections due to the failure to amend the discriminatory provisions of the Constitution.

Furthermore, authorities failed to provide even basic support to the thousands of asylum seekers and migrants who arrived in 2018, the report said.

Journalists face threats and interference in their work and, although some cases were investigated by police and referred to the prosecutor’s office, no one had been convicted for attacks against journalists at the time of writing this report.

Croatia

Between January and September 2018, 14 war crimes cases were brought before Croatian courts. During the same period, courts convicted only four people for war-related crimes, and prosecutions in the remaining cases progressed slowly.

HRW noted allegations that, since January, around 2,500 asylum seekers and migrants have been turned back by Croatian police to Bosnia and Herzegovina, hundreds of cases of denial of access to asylum procedures and more than 700 allegations of police violence and theft.

Ten years after Croatia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), thousands of adults and children with disabilities remain trapped in segregated institutions.

The report notes that a government-funded study published in July found that almost all of the country’s Roma live in poverty and less than a third complete primary school.

The report notes a campaign launched in May for a public referendum to reduce ethnic Serbs’ seats in parliament and limit their right to vote on the budget and government formation, which alarmed leaders of the Serbian community and NGOs.

Kosovo

Progress in improving human rights protection in Kosovo was slow during the year, the HRW report said.

Serbian and Kosovar leaders announced a controversial plan in August to redraw their borders, raising concerns about the human rights implications of population transfers that might be required under the plan.

Tensions between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians continued, particularly in the north. Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities in the Balkans continue to face discrimination.

The operation of the special court established to try serious war crimes committed during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war has been delayed due to a change of special prosecutor.

Journalists have been threatened and intimidated, and prosecution of crimes against journalists has been slow.

Serbia

In Serbia, war crimes prosecutions progressed slowly and lacked political support and adequate resources, while witness support mechanisms were weak, the report said.

“Few high-ranking officials involved in serious wartime abuses have been held accountable in Serbian courts,” according to HRW.

The report also states that the asylum system remains flawed and conditions for asylum seekers have not improved.

The situation of journalists also remains precarious, with attacks, threats and legal proceedings against those who cover sensitive issues, the report notes.


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