Montenegro is a mixed parliamentary and presidential republic with a multiparty political system. Voters choose both the president and the unicameral parliament through popular elections. The president nominates, and the parliament approves, the prime minister. The observation mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) stated that the 2016 parliamentary elections were conducted in a competitive environment and fundamental freedoms were generally respected. The opposition coalition did not accept the election results and began a continuing boycott of parliament, although all but two parties have since returned. On April 15, Milo Djukanovic, president of the Democratic Party of Socialists, was elected president of the country, winning approximately 54 percent of the vote in the first round. This is his second term as president, having additionally served six terms as prime minister. The OSCE/ODIHR, the European Parliament delegation, and the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly noted the April 15 election proceeded in an orderly manner but had a few minor irregularities that did not affect the outcome. Despite opposition protests, elections were generally considered free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included corruption; trafficking in persons; attacks on journalists; and crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
Impunity remained a problem, since the government did not punish officials who committed human rights abuses.
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.