Department of State on Montenegro: Corruption is a significant problem, the government did not effectively apply the law...

"The government has taken limited credible steps to identify and punish officials who may have violated human rights," the report said.

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State Department, Photo: Shutterstock
State Department, Photo: Shutterstock
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

There were no significant changes in the state of human rights in Montenegro during 2023, the US State Department assessed in a new report.

Significant violations of rights include, among others, credible reports of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for which government officials are responsible, serious problems for the independence of the judiciary, serious restrictions on freedom of expression - including threats of violence against journalists, serious corruption in government, widespread gender-based violence, human trafficking, criminal acts of violence or threats of violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community, and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The report was presented today in Washington by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

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flashphoto: Reuters

"The government has taken limited credible steps to identify and punish officials who may have violated human rights," the report said.

It is estimated that the government did not respect the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, although this is provided for by the Constitution and laws.

"Certain non-governmental and international organizations and legal experts claimed that prosecutors and judges were influenced by political pressure, corruption and nepotism. The process of appointing judges and prosecutors was politicized," the report emphasizes.

It is also stated that corruption was a significant problem in the country, and that the government did not effectively apply the law that provides for the criminal punishment of cases of corruption among officials.

The State Department says that the Special State Prosecutor's Office prosecuted cases of organized crime and corruption and that it took a number of actions with the Special Police Department during 2023 against high-ranking officials, including "arrests or indictments for abuse of office, creation of a criminal organization and drug trafficking."

According to the report, the elections in Montenegro were mostly fair and there were no abuses or irregularities.

It recalls the ODIHR report on the two rounds of presidential elections last year, which states that they were competitive and adequately conducted, with respect for basic freedoms during the campaign, but that politicization and lack of inclusiveness in the candidate registration process reduced public trust.

Observers, as recalled, registered the harsh rhetoric of the candidates and stated that the biased reporting of the campaign by some media did not contribute to the voters' capacity to make well-informed decisions.

Also, it is estimated that the parliamentary elections were also competitive and well conducted, despite that "they were held in the context of an institutional and constitutional crisis".

The State Department assesses that the parties, which were part of the government of Prime Minister Dritan Abazović, continued "the earlier tradition of using the state administration and state companies for party employment."

"According to NGOs, political leaders viewed employment in state-owned companies and central and local government services as a significant resource that could be used to influence future local and national elections," the report said.

It is also reminded of the decision of the State Election Commission (SEC) to reject the presidential candidacy of Milojko Spajić, the leader of the Europe Now Movement, due to the question of whether he meets the conditions regarding residence and citizenship, but that non-governmental organizations and legal experts rejected this as a politically motivated move by the SEC. -a.

The State Department says there have been no reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents, and no reports of disappearances linked to the authorities.

Action for Human Rights and other non-governmental human rights organizations, as highlighted in the report, criticized the lack of progress in the government when it comes to the prosecution of war crimes, as well as recognition of victims and compensation.

There were also credible reports that government officials used torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment, although this is prohibited by the Constitution and laws while Montenegro is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, the State Department said, citing reports from prominent NGOs about police torture of suspects and beatings in prisons and detention centers across the country.

The State Department report said the government prosecuted some police officers and prison guards for abuse of authority, but that there were delays in those prosecutions, and that some prosecutions did not result in large sentences. Human Rights Action said it had received reports that the use of torture had resulted in severe physical or mental harm and suffering.

It is emphasized that conditions in prisons and detention centers were bad due to overcrowding and limited access to health care, and that violence among prisoners is a constant problem. According to the reports, cited by the State Department, the violence in the prison is attributed to a long-standing conflict between the two largest organized crime groups in the country, with which, according to some accusations, prison employees cooperated.

According to the State Department, impunity is a problem in the security forces, particularly among police and prison officials, and is contributed to by corruption, lack of transparency, lack of oversight body capacity, and political influence over prosecutors and officials in the Police Department and Ministry of the Interior.

The report also points to claims by human rights organizations that the authorities were involved in illegal wiretapping and surveillance, even though it is prohibited by the Constitution and laws. It is recalled that the trial of the former director of the National Security Agency, Dejan Peruničić, who was accused of abuse of office, illegal wiretapping of several opposition leaders, a former special prosecutor, a metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and two journalists who criticized the trial was postponed several times, allegedly for health reasons. the former government.

When it comes to freedom of expression, including the media, the State Department assesses that the government mostly respected it, but that this freedom is "undermined by the growing trend of hate speech, verbal threats and insults against journalists and civil activists, targeting critical media and unresolved attacks on journalists".

The media themselves, as assessed in the report, expressed various political and social views and, among other things, criticized the government.

The case of Boban Batrićević, a professor at the Faculty of Montenegrin Language and Literature, against whom a court case was requested because he criticized the Serbian Orthodox Church in an author's article for the Antena M portal, is also highlighted. Batrićević was accused of violating the Law on Public Order and Peace because he said in the article that SPC priests "spread Serbian nationalism, hatred and xenophobia" and that in the long term, the SPC is destroying multi-ethnic and multi-religious Montenegro and Montenegrin national, cultural and territorial identity. , the report reminds.

The State Department also assesses that there are no reports of the government using violence against the media, but that unsolved attacks from previous years have contributed to the atmosphere of intimidation.

It is recalled that the pro-opposition media and the civil sector criticized the then Prime Minister Dritan Abazović for inappropriate targeting of the media criticizing him. Abazović, as stated, accused the local City Television of "spreading religious and ethnic hatred", and the private TV channel E, of being "owned by the leader of organized crime".

President Jakov Milatović similarly accused the "pro-opposition daily Pobjeda" of being connected to criminals. The State Department stated in the report that the investigation into the murder of the editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Dan" Duško Jovanović in 2004 continued, and that within that case the former president of the Supreme Court Vesna Medenica, who was the supreme state prosecutor at the time of the murder, was questioned.

It was also pointed out the progress in the investigation into the wounding of Vijesti journalist Olivera Lakić in 2018 and that 14 individuals were charged in that case.

According to the State Department, journalists were faced with intimidation, threats of violence and attacks by unknown individuals because of their reporting.

Death threats against Antena M editor Darko Šuković and his deputy Milena Aprcović, and threats against Ljubomir Filipović from the CDM portal stand out.

It is emphasized that the ban on Russian RT and Sputnik was in force during 2023, based on the government's decision to comply with EU sanctions, but that according to some observers, including the Forensic Digital Center of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, the authorities did not fully implement the decision of the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM) to suspend the broadcasting or distribution of the programs of both Russian state media, given that they were still available in the country.

In the report, the State Department assesses that domestic violence was a long-term and serious problem in all communities, and that according to NGO reports, victims faced difficulties when it came to processing their cases and that this "promoted an atmosphere of impunity" for the perpetrators.

Police response was also allegedly substandard, with officers often advising women to "forgive their attackers" or not to harm their "employment prospects".

The State Department also stated that the government did not effectively enforce laws protecting members of racial or ethnic minorities from violence, and that Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians were "the most vulnerable victims of discrimination," and that they had the highest rate of poverty. Albanians and Bosniaks are also reported to have often claimed that they were victims of government discrimination and that they were economically neglected.

Members of the LGBTQI+ community, according to the State Department, enjoyed a certain degree of acceptance in society, but discrimination and harassment prevailed. It is also estimated that people with disabilities did not have equal access to education, health services, public buildings and transport.

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