Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media generally expressed a wide variety of political and social views, including through articles and programs critical of the authorities. The NGO Center for Civic Education warned in each of its annual reports since 2012, however, that selective and nontransparent public funding through the purchase of advertising continued to exert undue influence on the media market. According to the NGO, such funding was provided to reward media outlets favorable to the government and withheld from media that questioned official policies or practices.
The independent television station and newspaper Vijesti continued to blame unfair media conditions, economic pressure from the government, and selective prosecution for its difficulties in making regular tax payments. On April 25, the Commercial Court rejected a 2014 lawsuit brought by Vijesti’s parent company, Daily Press, against the progovernment tabloid Pink M Television for allegedly discrediting Vijesti’s reputation.
Violence and Harassment: Attacks directed at journalists continued to be a serious problem.
On May 8, an unknown assailant shot and wounded investigative journalist Olivera Lakic of the daily Vijesti in front of her home in Podgorica. Lakic, whose reporting covered crime and corruption in the country, was previously attacked in 2012 for her reporting. Government officials, political parties, and international and multilateral organizations condemned the attack. On May 9, journalists, citizens, and civic activists rallied to demand that authorities stop violence against journalists. Also on May 9, in an interview with Radio Danilovgrad, then president-elect Milo Djukanovic condemned the assault on Lakic, but drew heavy criticism for stating, “There is no difference if somebody from a narcotics-trafficking clan or from the media draws a target on their opponents.”
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent and pro-opposition media complained about unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies. The Center for Civic Education claimed that selective and nontransparent distribution of public funds to media outlets created an unfair media environment and constituted “soft censorship.”
On June 7, the managing council of the public broadcaster Radio Televizija Crna Gora (RTCG) dismissed the RTCG’s director general, Andrijana Kadija. Six representatives of the nine-member council voted for Kadija’s dismissal. All six were affiliated with the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS). In its decision, the council said the RTCG improperly ceded editorial control to a NGO for an EU-funded project. Kadija denied that the EU-funded grant hampered the editorial independence of the RTCG and asserted her only fault was her apolitical stance and commitment to shield the RTCG from political control.
The EU and the OSCE sharply criticized Kadija’s dismissal. Independent journalists, civil society activists, and opposition politicians asserted that Kadija’s dismissal was the final step in the DPS’s campaign to regain control of the public broadcaster. That campaign, they said, began late in 2017 when parliament dismissed two RTCG council members, film director Nikola Vukcevic and NGO activist Goran Djurovic, because of alleged conflicts of interest. Both Vukcevic and Djurovic denied the allegations. Parliament later appointed two DPS-affiliated members, Slobodan Pajovic and Goran Sekulovic, as their replacements. On November 30, the RTCG managing council elected Bozidar Sundic, who also had strong DPS ties, as its new director general.
Additionally, in December 2017 parliament dismissed another NGO representative, Darko Ivanovic, from the managing council of the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM), citing an alleged illegal conflict of interest. Ivanovic denied the accusation and claimed he was dismissed because he had advocated punitive measures against the progovernment tabloid television station PinkM, which the AEM had cited on numerous occasions for violations of the agency’s program principles and standards.
In its 2018 Report on Montenegro, the European Commission (EC) noted that the country made no progress in advancing freedom of expression since November 2016. The EC specifically warned that “recent political interference in the national public broadcaster council and the Agency for Electronic Media are a matter of serious concern.”
Some media outlets continued to demonstrate a willingness to criticize the government. However, a lack of training and unprofessional journalistic behavior, combined with low salaries and political pressure, contributed at times to biased coverage.
Libel/Slander Laws: There is no criminal libel law, but media outlets faced libel charges in civil proceedings. During the year the AEM issued nine warnings to Pink M for “violating program principles and standards.” Some civil society representatives urged the AEM to take more severe disciplinary measures against the broadcaster.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no official reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. However, MANS did complain of government surveillance of their communications.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, an estimated 71 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly. The government usually respected this right, but on several occasions, the Ministry of Interior denied permits to workers and LGBTI groups wishing to assemble to express their grievances. Public gatherings within 164 feet of government buildings are prohibited.
Police asserted that they prohibited gatherings that would disturb public peace and order and interfere with traffic. In some cases, authorities offered protesters alternate locations for demonstrations. In a few cases, when protesters assembled without authorization or failed to obey police orders to disperse, police detained them for questioning and charged them with misdemeanors.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to displaced persons, internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
The Ministry of Interior significantly reduced the number of pending applications for resolving residency status in the country. As of September a total of 15,131 displaced persons (DPs) had applied to resolve their residency status. While authorities completed 14,828 of those requests, 303 were still pending. Of those completed, 12,242 received permanent or temporary resident status.
Persons whose applications for “foreigner with permanent residence” status were pending with the Ministry of Interior continued to hold the legal status of DPs or IDPs. Some persons who were entitled to apply faced difficulties in obtaining the required documentation, particularly in regularizing previously unregistered births or paying the fees required to procure documents.
With UNHCR and OSCE support, the government, together with the government of Kosovo, continued to assist displaced Romani persons and Balkan Egyptians in obtaining personal identification documents under the Montenegro-Kosovo agreement on late registration of births of persons born outside the hospital system. The process facilitated the registration of births of persons born in Montenegro or Kosovo, especially Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian children.
Conditions for IDPs and DPs from the Yugoslav wars varied. Access to employment, health care, and social services was sometimes limited due to language barriers, insufficient integration programs, lack of documentation, or unclear or inconsistent administrative procedures. According to UNHCR, many remained vulnerable and in need of assistance.
Together with Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country was a party to the Regional Housing Program, facilitated by international donors, to provide durable solutions for up to 6,000 DPs and IDPs in the country. During the year, the construction or purchase of apartments progressed well through eight projects which were in different stages of implementation.
A number of IDPs continued to live in substandard dwellings, struggled to pay rent for private accommodation, or feared eviction from illegally occupied facilities known as informal collective centers. Approximately 600 Roma from Kosovo remained split between a settlement in Berane and a container camp in Podgorica, while approximately 250 displaced Serbs continued to live in substandard collective housing in Berane. The government and international donors continued to assist camp residents while constructing multiple apartment buildings under the Regional Housing Program.
To assist both refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and IDPs from Kosovo, the government continued to implement its 2017-19 national strategy for finding durable solutions for DPs and IDPs during the year.
Restricted access to employment pushed many DPs into gray-market activities. Poor economic prospects particularly affected Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians from Kosovo as well as the aging Kosovo-Serb population in the Berane area, who continued to form a large segment of the marginalized and vulnerable DP and refugee population by virtue of their size, time in country, and access to resources. Romani DPs were the most vulnerable and marginalized displaced population in the country due to their low social status and level of integration, high levels of unemployment, and low levels of schooling and literacy.
Although the law gives foreigners with permanent residence the same rights as citizens, with the exception of the right to vote, IDP’s from the former Yugoslavia sometimes had limited access to employment, education, property ownership, and specialized medical care due to the difficulty of obtaining official documents.
The government continued to encourage DPs and IDPs to return to their places of origin, but repatriation slowed to a trickle due to the preference of many IDPs and DPs to remain in the country due to fear of reprisals in their countries of origin or a lack of resources. The availability of housing solutions in the country through the Regional Housing Program also affected the interest in returning. During the first eight months of 2017, only 53 IDPs voluntarily returned to Kosovo and Serbia.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee or subsidiary protection status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government allows individuals to apply for asylum within a few days of entering the country. However, those caught illegally crossing the border who do not apply for asylum are placed into a detention center for criminal processing and deported. In January parliament adopted the Law on International Assistance and Temporary Protection of Foreigners, under which the Ministry of Interior took over management of the asylum center in Spuz, thus centralizing the main functions of the asylum system (i.e., initial determination of international protection and reception of services).
Unlike 2017, when 90 percent of asylum seekers were men, the year saw a substantial increase in the number of families applying for asylum. The government made efforts to strengthen its capacity to cope with sudden or large influxes of migrants by improving reception capacity. In July, in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, UNHCR set up four refugee housing units at asylum centers to accommodate additional asylum seekers. The government has a contingency plan in place to ensure preparedness in case of a mass influx, but it was under revision at year’s end. On August 16, the government deployed the army to the Bozaj border crossing area of the border with Albania to prevent irregular entry into the country.
Of 2,346 asylum applications, 2,079 interviews were scheduled, and 44 were held. Observers noted that attention and readiness to address the increased mixed flow of migrants remained focused on border control aspects, as evidenced by the sharp rise in the number of migrants pushed back from the Montenegrin boarder during the year. The Ministry of Interior confirmed it attempted to deter migrants from entering by using patrols and noted that young men who saw the patrols often lost their nerve and went back to the other side of the border from which they had come.
Access to Basic Services: Once the asylum procedure is initiated, asylum seekers are granted access to free health care and education services in line with international standards, although barriers, including language and cultural differences, sometimes limited practical access.
In April, UNHCR and the Red Cross opened a community center near the asylum center to provide information, psychosocial support, counselling, legal support, language classes, and sports activities.
Durable Solutions: A path to citizenship was available but requires evidence that the applicant had renounced citizenship in his or her country of origin. The government provided support for the voluntary return or reintegration of refugees from countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed access to the same rights as citizens, including access to basic services and naturalization in the country, but they did not have the right to vote.
Under the new Law on International Assistance and Temporary Protection of Foreigners, the integration of refugees and persons who receive subsidiary protection remains under the purview of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: These acts are illegal, and authorities generally enforced the law. In most cases the penalty provided by law for rape, including spousal rape, is one to 10 years in prison. Actual sentences were generally lenient, the average being three years.
Domestic violence is generally punishable by a fine or a one-year prison sentence.
According to NGO reports, courts often failed to prosecute domestic violence. When they did so, sentences were lenient. Lengthy trials, economic dependency, and a lack of alternative places to live often forced victims and perpetrators to continue to live together.
The country aligned its legislation with the Istanbul Convention on violence against women and domestic violence, but domestic violence remained a persistent and common problem. The law permits victims to obtain restraining orders against abusers. When abuser and victim live together, authorities may remove the abuser from the property, regardless of ownership rights.
Within the Romani communities, domestic violence was a serious problem. In a UNHCR report during the year, over half of Romani men and women surveyed agreed with the statement, “A man has the right to beat his wife in certain instances.” As a corollary, only 3 percent of the general population agreed with this statement.
According to NGOs and the ombudsman, female victims of domestic violence often complained that government-run social welfare centers did not respond adequately to their appeals for help. NGOs reported that state institutions did not provide physical protection for victims. In February an operative team for domestic violence was formed, composed of representatives of the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Health, State Prosecution, the Supreme Court, the Higher Court, the Organization for the Civic Control of Police, and six NGOs.
The government, in cooperation with an NGO, operated a free hotline for victims of family violence. NGOs continued to report that, despite some progress, particularly in the law, government agencies responded inadequately to prevent domestic violence and help survivors recover.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In many Romani communities, the practice of paying a traditional “bride price” of several hundred to several thousand euros for girls and women to be sold into or purchased from families across the border in Kosovo or Albania led to concerns about trafficking in persons. The potential to be “remarried” existed, with some girls being sent back to their families, being resold, and the money then given to the former spouse’s family. These practices were rarely reported, and police rarely intervened, viewing the practices as “traditional.” These practices also led to girls being pulled out of school at a rate much higher than boys, limiting their literacy and ability to provide for themselves and their families, essentially trapping them in these situations.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not defined as a crime under the law. According to the Center for Women’s Rights, sexual harassment, including street harassment, of women occurred often, but few women reported it. Public awareness of the problem remained low. Victims hesitated to report harassment due to fears of employer reprisals and a lack of information about legal remedies. Stalking or predatory behavior with physical intimidation is punishable by law with a fine or up to three years’ imprisonment.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. All property acquired during marriage is joint property. The government enforced these laws somewhat effectively. The NGO SOS noted that women often experienced difficulty in defending their property rights in divorce proceedings due to the widespread public belief that property belongs to the man. Sometimes women ceded their inherited property and inheritance rights to male relatives due to tradition and pressure from their families, but this practice continued to decline. A consequence of these factors was that men tended to be favored in the distribution of property ownership.
The Department for Gender Equality worked to inform women of their rights, and the parliament has a committee on gender equality. The government adopted the 2017-2021 strategy on gender equality.
According to Romani NGOs, one-half of Romani women between the ages of 15 and 24 were illiterate. Romani women often noted that they faced double discrimination based on their gender and ethnicity.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: Although it is illegal, medical professionals noted that gender-biased sex selection took place, resulting in a boy-to-girl ratio at birth of 108:100. The government did not actively address the problem.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents and, under some circumstances, by birth in the country, through naturalization, or as otherwise specified by international treaties governing the acquisition of citizenship. Registration of birth, a responsibility of the parents, is required for a child to have the necessary documents to establish his or her citizenship. Births of all children in hospitals and medical institutions were registered automatically. The parents of Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian children not born in hospitals registered their births at much lower rates than other groups, mostly due to lack of awareness of the registration process or the parents’ own lack of identification documents. It was difficult for the unregistered children of Romani and Balkan Egyptian parents to access such government services as health care, social allowances, and education. Of the Romani and Balkan Egyptian children in primary school, 10 percent were not registered.
Education: The law provides for free, compulsory elementary education for all children. Secondary education is free but not compulsory.
Child Abuse: Child abuse laws are covered by the 2017-2021 strategy for the prevention and protection of children from domestic violence. The Ministry of Health reported that every third child was subject to emotional abuse, while every fourth child was a victim of physical abuse. Many children, particularly high school students, were exposed to alcohol, drugs, and violence. The ombudsman noted that child sexual abuse victims were usually girls between the ages of 14 and 16. The abusers were mostly close relatives of the children, and abuse usually occurred at home. The very low number of reported cases of sexual violence against children raised concerns about identification of victims.
Authorities prosecuted child abuse when they had cases with enough evidence, and the government worked to raise public awareness of the importance of reporting cases. Facilities and psychotherapy assistance for children who suffered from family violence were inadequate, and there were no marital or family counseling centers. Authorities sometimes placed juvenile victims of domestic violence in the children’s correctional facility in Ljubovic or the orphanage in Bijela.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 in most cases, but persons as young as 16 may marry with the consent of the court or a parent. Punishment for arranging forced marriages ranges from six months to five years in prison, but convictions were rare, generally owing to a lack of evidence or poor understanding of the law.
Child marriage was a serious problem, particularly in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities. According to a 2018 UNICEF report, 56.4 percent of Romani women were married before the age of 18, and 36 percent had a live birth before the age of 18. Of girls, 18.2 percent said they were married before the age of 15. For boys, nearly 35 percent were married before age 18, 6.5 percent of whom were before age 15. Of persons aged 15 to 19, 28 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys were married. There were reports of girls as young as 13 being sold into “traditional” marriages without their consent or input. These marriages generally did not meet the criteria necessary for legal, documented marriages. As such, they were difficult to track and regulate, regardless of legality.
The custom of buying or selling virgin brides continued in the Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities. Brides found not to be virgins prior to marriage faced severe repercussions, including violence, from the groom’s family, their family, and the community at large.
The government implemented some measures to prevent underage marriage, including enforcing mandatory school education.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering or procuring for prostitution. The country partially enforced the law, omitting “traditional” practices of selling children into forced marriage as a concern in some Romani communities. The age of sexual consent is 18. There is a statutory rape law. Sexual activity with a juvenile carries a prison sentence of up to three years. Paying a juvenile for sexual activity carries a prison term of three months to five years. Authorities may fine or imprison for one to 10 years any person found guilty of inducing a minor into prostitution.
Child pornography is illegal, and sentences for violators range from six months in prison for displaying child pornography to eight years for using a child in the production of pornography.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish community was approximately 500 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The government was implementing the Strategy for Integration of Persons with Disabilities 2016-2020, but NGOs claimed that it did not do so effectively. During the year, 10 NGOs that worked with persons with disabilities formed a network to coordinate and monitor implementation of the government’s strategy better.
Authorities generally enforced the requirement that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but most public facilities, including buildings and public transportation, were older and lacked access. Although election laws specifically require accessible polling places, the majority of polling stations remained inaccessible.
Despite legal protections, persons with disabilities often hesitated to bring legal proceedings against persons or institutions seen to be violating their rights. Observers ascribed this reluctance to the adverse outcomes of previous court cases or, according to the ombudsman, to insufficient public awareness of human rights and protection mechanisms relating to disabilities. The NGO Association of Youth with Disabilities initiated several discrimination cases against the Kotor Basic Court and Kotor Social Center this year while court processes against the national parliament, the Podgorica municipality, and social centers in Podgorica, Tivat, and Budva continued.
The Ministries of Health; Labor and Social Welfare; Education; Sports; Finance; Justice; Human and Minority Rights; Sustainable Development and Tourism, as well as the Secretariat for Legislation, the State Employment Agency, and five NGOs provided assistance and protection within their respective spheres. Together, they constituted the Council for Care of Persons with Disabilities, chaired by the minister of labor and social welfare with the responsibility for policies protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
According to NGOs, services at the local level to children with mental and physical disabilities remained inadequate. Associations of parents of children with disabilities were the primary providers of these services. The law permits parents or guardians of persons with disabilities to work half time, but employers did not respect this right.
The government made efforts to enable children with disabilities to attend schools and universities, but the quality of the education they received and the facilities to accommodate them remained inadequate at all levels. NGOs also stated that supported-living assistance at home and similar services were not provided to families and parents of children with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities were generally institutionalized, or encouraged towards institutions, which perpetuated stigmatization. Persons with physical disabilities had difficulty obtaining high-quality medical devices to facilitate their mobility through health and social insurance.
Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians remained the most vulnerable victims of discrimination, mainly due to prejudice and limited access to social services. Lack of required documentation often limited their access to services. The law relating to citizenship and its accompanying regulations makes obtaining citizenship difficult for persons without personal identity documents or those born outside of a hospital. For example, access to health-care services remained difficult for members of these communities due to their lack of medical care cards. The government adopted the Strategy for Social Inclusion of Roma and Balkan Egyptians 2016-2020, which, as implemented, resulted in some improvements in the number of Romani children attending school, access to health care, and access to housing.
According to the Roma Education Fund, the poverty rate among Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians was 36 percent compared with a rate of 11 percent for the general population. Many Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians lived in illegal squatter settlements that often lacked services such as public utilities, medical care, and sewage disposal.
Albanians and Bosniaks in the southern and northern parts of the country frequently complained about central government discrimination and economic neglect. Ethnic Serb politicians claimed that the government discriminated against the Serbian national identity, language, and religion.
Government-supported national councils for Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians, Muslims, Croats, and Roma represented the interests of those ethnic minorities. NGOs, legal observers, and the media continued to accuse the government of misappropriating money from a fund established to finance the national councils.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law forbids incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation and prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Anti-LGBTI bias motive is an aggravating circumstance when prosecuting hate crimes.
The NGO Queer Montenegro reported four physical attacks against LGBTI individuals in the first nine months of the year. LGBTI NGOs stated that most of these cases were prosecuted as disorderly conduct and not as hate crimes. They also reported that transgender persons were susceptible to the most severe violence. Queer Montenegro reported an attack against a transgender person in September 2017 that was being prosecuted as a hate crime. The NGO considered this a positive development that should be standard practice, not an exception.
LGBTI advocates reported that young persons perpetrated 80 percent of the violent crimes against members of the LGBTI community. Hostile individuals used social media and LGBTI dating sites to attack and bully known and suspected LGBTI persons anonymously. In the first five months of the year, the NGO LGBT Forum Progress reported to police 78 persons for hate speech and incitement to violence targeting LGBTI persons on the internet. They also submitted reports to police against two politicians and some high-ranking religious leaders for anti-LGBTI statements.
Negative public perception of LGBTI persons led many to conceal their sexual orientation, although there was a trend toward greater visibility as LGBTI persons came out to their families and colleagues. In 2017, the last year for which data was available, the Ombudsman’s Office received three reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation, the same as in 2016. There were also reports of beatings, with some based on LGBTI identity, in prisons and detention centers across the country.
On October 29, the Constitutional Court found in favor of a complaint registered on behalf of LGBTI groups following a 2015 police ban on holding a pride parade in Niksic, reversing a 2016 Supreme Court ruling. The Constitutional Court found that the police decision to ban the pride parade in that town for security reasons had violated the rights of organizers to peaceful assembly and that the state failed to provide adequate protection for an event legally registered with police. NGO representatives assessed the Constitutional Court’s ruling as an encouraging message to the LGBTI community and public that the rights of all citizens must be respected.
Every police station had an officer whose duties included monitoring observance of the rights of LGBTI persons. During the year a “team of confidence” between police and LGBTI NGOs continued working to improve communication between police and the community.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Juventas and the Montenegrin HIV Foundation stated that persons with HIV/AIDS were stigmatized and experienced discrimination, although most discrimination was undocumented. Observers believed that fear of discrimination, societal taboos relating to sex, and the lack of privacy of medical records prevented many persons from seeking testing for HIV. NGOs reported that patients often faced discrimination by medical personnel and received inadequate treatment. There has been no official response to these claims.