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Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, businesses, and criminal groups sought to influence media in inappropriate ways.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. There were efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on media, including by threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption.

Business owners freely used their media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. There were credible reports of senior media representatives using media outlets to blackmail businesses by threatening unfavorable media coverage. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Economic insecurity due to a lack of enforceable labor contracts reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union (AJU) continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at many media outlets, in some cases up to 10 months. According to the journalist union, the pandemic worsened these delays. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income, leading to questions regarding the integrity of their reporting.

NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for some of the estimated 900-plus news portals in the country, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial, political, and criminal interests. The dramatic growth in online media outlets provided a diversity of views as well as opportunities for corruption.

In July parliament voted to elect a new chairperson of the Audiovisual Media Authority, an independent body that regulates broadcast media. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the EU had urged parliament to postpone the July vote until September to allow for the seating of the new parliament and the return of opposition parties that had boycotted parliament since February 2019. There were concerns regarding the independence of the chairwoman elected in July, as she had previously served as a spokeswoman for the Socialist Party before being appointed head of the state-owned Albanian Telegraphic Agency.

Violence and Harassment: Political and business interests reportedly subjected journalists to pressure. Through November, the AJU reported 11 cases of violence and intimidation against members of the media. For example, in April police detained Fax News reporter Preng Gjikola for several hours without explanation following a protest in Thirre, Mirdita. In July police participating in an ongoing operation briefly detained News 24 journalist Ergys Gjencaj, who was filming the operation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment. The AJU cited censorship and self-censorship as leading problems for journalists. A survey of 800 media professionals published in 2019 found that 62 percent of respondents thought there was interference from individuals or politics, 60 percent thought there was interference from media owners, 39 percent thought there was self-censorship, and 31 percent thought there was corruption in the media. Approximately 78 percent of media professionals thought there were journalists who engaged in corrupt practices to misreport stories.

In July, following criticism by reporters, media outlets, and journalists’ associations, parliament reversed its earlier decision to limit physical access of reporters to Assembly premises and meetings of its permanent committees.

Prior to the April parliamentary elections, media outlets and journalists’ associations complained regarding a lack of independent media access to campaign events held by political parties, which preferred to provide their own party-edited content to media outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines were excessive and, combined with the entry of a criminal conviction into the defendant’s record, undermined freedom of expression. The AJU expressed concern that as of September, there were more than 20 lawsuits against journalists, mainly for defamation.

In 2019 the Assembly passed legislation, the so-called antidefamation package, which amended existing media laws to address defamation. NGOs and some international organizations criticized the amendments, sparking public debate, and the president returned the law to parliament. In June 2020 the Venice Commission found the law problematic and advised against its adoption as drafted. The legislation remained pending.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: To receive government services, citizens changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many individuals could not provide documentation and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means or necessary information to register.

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In August the government, in coordination with private organizations, began accepting Afghan evacuees seeking protection following the change of the Afghanistan government. Over 2,400 Afghans were subsequently granted temporary protection status by the Albanian government.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

In February a new law on asylum was adopted (Asylum Law no. 10/121) that extended the deadlines for granting or denying asylum requests from 51 days to six months from the date of application, with potential for three-month extensions up to 21 months, under certain circumstances.

As of August 31, five persons had applied for asylum with the Directorate for Asylum, Foreigners, and Citizenship. UNHCR supported the appeals of four rejected asylum applicants.

Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the access of arrivals to national procedures and return of persons to countries from which they arrived. Monitors reported prescreening procedures were often curtailed, raising concerns about access to asylum and identification of potential victims of trafficking. The ombudsman and Caritas were also allowed to monitor the detention of migrants.

UNHCR reported some cases of border police returning migrants to Greece despite indicating an intention to seek asylum. Authorities detained 6,521 irregular migrants who entered the country between January and August, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation.

Migrants who claimed asylum were housed at the Babrru National Reception Center for Asylum Seekers. Many of the irregular migrants placed in Babrru were later apprehended again attempting to cross into Montenegro and Kosovo rather than remaining in the country to pursue asylum requests. Karrec and Babrru centers faced funding constraints. In late 2020 UNHCR supported rehabilitation of a portion of Babrru capable of accommodating 30 asylum seekers and unaccompanied and separated children. In August the Ministry of Interior redistributed funds in the state budget, allocating approximately 56,500 euros ($65,000) for refurbishment and increasing reception capacity.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law limits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or being granted refugee status. UNHCR reported that one asylum request had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs reported concerns regarding the unaccompanied foreign and separated children who faced increased risk of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation due to lack of strong protection system. The NGO Nisma ARSIS supported six cases of unaccompanied children who arrived in the country during the year through September.

NGOs considered the migrant detention facility in Karrec to be unsuitable for children and families. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there, sending them instead to the open asylum-seekers facility in Babrru.

Employment: Under the new law on asylum, refugees may seek employment authorization. If no decision has been communicated within nine months, employment authorization is automatically granted.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance.

Police reported no stateless persons in the country as of August.

According to UNHCR statistics, approximately 700 persons at risk of statelessness were identified under the agency’s statelessness mandate as of November. Of these, approximately 380 were registered with the National Register of Civil Status. The government does not have data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country. The 2021 Law on Foreigners establishes a statelessness determination procedure. UNHCR and its partners provided technical support to the government with the implementation of the law.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime; the law also includes provisions on sexual assault. Penalties for rape and sexual assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the penalty is three to 10 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Authorities did not disaggregate data on prosecutions for spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.

The law on domestic violence extends protection to victims in a relationship or civil union and provides for issuance of a protective order that automatically covers children as well. In November 2020 parliament amended the law to provide for ordering the abuser to leave the premises of the victim. Police operated an automated application issuance process within the police case management system that allowed for rapid issuance of protective orders and produced a record of orders issued. A National Strategy for Gender Equality 2021-2030 and its action plan were adopted in June and focused on the empowerment of women and the advancement of gender equality.

In April the Ministry of Health and Social Protection approved a protocol for operating shelters for victims of domestic violence and trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The protocol provides services to victims of domestic violence and trafficking while following guidance on social distancing. The ministry posted a video message reminding citizens to report any case of suspected domestic violence and provided a hotline and police number on its web page.

As of August, police reported 33 cases of alleged sexual assault. NGOs reported high levels of domestic violence against women, and police reported 3,563 cases of domestic violence as of August. In 2,205 cases, a protection order was issued. As of August, 13 women had been killed by their partners.

State Social Services reported that 30 women and 33 children were accommodated in the national reception center for victims of domestic violence as of August. Social Services also reported there were 25 other centers around the country to deal with domestic violence cases with counseling and long-term services. State Social Services faced challenges in terms of employment and education because 75 percent of domestic violence survivors were from rural areas and did not have appropriate education. The government also operated a crisis management center for victims of sexual assault at the Tirana University Hospital Center.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection from discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and could impose fines. Police reported 33 cases of sexual harassment as of August.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

While there are no legal barriers to access to contraceptives, which were provided free of charge to insured women, women and girls often did not use this right for a variety of reasons, including fear of stigma from health-care service providers and members of their community. Some women and girls, particularly those living in remote, rural areas, faced significant challenges in accessing essential sexual and reproductive health services. Women from disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as women with disabilities, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community, Roma, and Balkan-Egyptian women, were often unaware of their rights to reproductive health services.

The Ministry of Health and Social Protection operated the Lilium Center in Tirana with the support of the UN Development Program (UNDP) to provide integrated services to survivors of sexual violence. The center was in a hospital setting and provided health-care services, social services, and forensic examinations at a single location by professionals trained in cases of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was prescribed or offered within the first five days after abusive sexual intercourse or rape; the contraceptive was suggested to be given as soon as possible to maximize effect. From its creation in 2018 through July, the center provided services to 85 survivors. Survivors in remote areas of the country did not have many options for assistance and support in their areas. Unless they were identified by authorities and brought to Tirana, they could only be referred to shelters for victims of trafficking.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women were underrepresented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms subordinating women to men.

There were reports of discrimination in employment. Through August the commissioner for protection from discrimination managed 94 cases of employment discrimination, 74 of which were against public entities and 21 against private entities. The complaints alleged discrimination based mainly on political affiliation, health conditions, or disability. The commissioner ruled in favor of the employee in 16 cases, 15 of which were against public entities and one against private entities. Through August the commissioner had received 17 complaints of discrimination based on gender and ruled in favor of the employee in two cases. Through August the commissioner found five cases of discrimination on grounds of disability.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to official figures, in 2020 the ratio of boys to girls at birth was 107 to 100. There were no government-supported efforts to address the imbalance.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

There were allegations of discrimination targeting members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. The antidiscrimination commissioner issued a monitoring report with a special focus on children in the education system in December 2020. It concluded that children with disabilities and from the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities continued to face discrimination in education.

As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 26 complaints of discrimination on grounds of race and ethnicity, ruling in favor of the complainant in four cases. In one case, the commissioner ruled against a Tirana bank and its contracted security company for discriminating against Romani bank customers. The bank appealed the commissioner’s discrimination decision to the court.

The government has a law on official minorities but has not passed all the regulations needed for its implementation. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The law provides for minority language education and dual official language use for the local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained regarding the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”

An individual acquires citizenship by birth in the country or from a citizen parent. There were no reports of discrimination in birth registration, but onerous residency and documentation requirements for registration made it more difficult for the many Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents who lacked legally documented places of residence to register their children. The law on civil status provides financial incentives for birth registration.

Children born to internal migrants, including some Romani families or those returning from abroad, frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to government services. As of June the State Agency on Child Rights reported 25 cases of children not registered with the civil status registry.

Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and members of other minorities. The government provided free textbooks for children up to the ninth grade in the public education system.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened the situation of vulnerable populations, especially children, in the country. During the year the NGO Terre des Hommes referred 296 vulnerable children, youth, and adults for services, including 218 children in street situations. The NGO Nisma ARSIS alleged that police sometimes reacted late or not at all in cases when a protection order was violated, especially in cases involving Romani or Egyptian families. Child victims of domestic violence in Nisma ARSIS’s emergency center reported psychological violence, parental neglect, and economic exploitation as the most common forms of child abuse.

Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not always enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities. Nisma ARSIS reported 10 cases of forced early marriages of children between the ages of 13 and 15 in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities. UNICEF reported child marriage in the country was driven by gender inequality, poverty, and social exclusion. The Child Rights Center Albania (CRCA) reported children, especially girls, being forced into sexual relationships with older men for gifts, food, or extra income.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law; the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is also illegal.

Authorities generally enforced laws against rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that they rarely enforced laws prohibiting child pornography and the online sexual exploitation of children. Police reported that, as of August, three children had been sexually exploited. The Ministry of Interior reported that, as of August, 50 of the 73 victims or potential victims of trafficking identified were minors.

A February CRCA report on child protection and law enforcement found that child victims received little support during or after reporting sexual exploitation. Trials that did occur were lengthy. One case before the Gjirokaster Magistrate Court required 46 sittings before sentencing a teacher who had sexually exploited an eight-year-old student.

Displaced Children: There were many displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Some street children begged, and some of them became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children younger than 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes. Police reported 80 children younger than 18 were missing as of July. There was no specialized police unit for missing persons. In 2020 CRCA Albania and the Global Center for Missing and Exploited Children organized an international workshop on setting up an Amber Alert system in the country, which has not yet been established.

Institutionalized Children: There were 232 children in nine public care service institutions for children. Foster care and other alternative care options remained underused and public residential care accounted for the highest number of children. Residential care institutions primarily served orphaned children rather than survivors of abuse or neglect. The institutions lacked specialized services, such as psychotherapists and social workers, and stays were often lengthy.

As of August the General Directorate of Prisons reported that there were 27 juveniles in the justice system, none of whom had been convicted. The country lacked adequate facilities for pretrial detention of children, although the Juvenile Institute in Kavaja, the only institution in the country for juvenile offenders, was adequate for the population it served. The directorate reported that the number of minors in pretrial detention and detention facilities had decreased because of alternative sentencing.

NGOs reported the child-protection system was generally functioning, although law enforcement entities lacked appropriate facilities and training for age-appropriate interrogation techniques of juveniles at police stations and prosecution offices.

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


Reports indicated there were 40 to 50 Jews resident in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the statutes. In May the government adopted the National Action Plan on Disability 2021-2025, with the accessibility component as one of the main priorities.

As of August the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received 33 complaints of alleged discrimination against individuals with disabilities and ruled in favor of the complainants in five cases. In one case the commissioner ruled against the local post office for lacking accessibility. There were no known reports of violence, harassment, or physical abuse against those with disabilities.

The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies lacked funding to implement their programs adequately. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were in facilities that lacked accessibility or other accommodations. The Ministry of Health and Social Protection (Ministry of Health) improved building accessibility in 28 health centers and to the newly restored post-earthquake schools with the support of the UNDP. A December 2020 report by the antidiscrimination commissioner concluded that only 60 percent of schools in the country were partially or fully accessible to children with disabilities.

The government provided targeted funding for social-care service projects to persons with disabilities in the municipalities of Librazhd, Lushnje, Lezha, Rrogozhina, Kavaja and Tirana, funding day-care centers, mobile services for children with disabilities, and integrated community services for children and young individuals with disabilities. During the year parliament adopted law 82/2021, On official translation and the profession of official translator, that defines the role of sign language interpreters and provides the right to interpretation for official business.

The Ministry of Health reported that 697 unemployed disabled individuals were registered with the employment offices as of April. Only 18 persons with disabilities were employed as of July, while 58 received vocational training.

The number of children with disabilities in public education increased in the 2020-21 academic year. During the year, 4,131 students with disabilities attended classes in nonspecialized public and private educational institutions starting from preschool. During the year approximately 11.5 percent of children with disabilities enrolled in preuniversity education attended special education institutions.

OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights reported that most polling stations for the April 25 elections visited by the monitoring team were not barrier free for persons with physical disabilities.

The law prohibits discrimination against individuals with HIV or AIDS. The Association of People Living with HIV or AIDS reported that stigma and discrimination caused individuals to avoid getting tested for HIV, leading to delayed diagnosis and consequently delayed access to care and support. Persons with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination and issues with professional reintegration, and children living with HIV faced discrimination in school. The Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS reported service delays and other problems after the Infectious Disease Clinic was converted into a COVID-response hospital.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak. The National Action Plan for LGBTI concluded in 2020, and a new one for 2021-27 was being drafted. As of August, the commissioner for protection from discrimination had received seven cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. Most cases were under review. In one case, the commissioner ruled against a Tirana taxi company that had refused services to transgender persons. The company had yet to respond to the commissioner. Reports indicated that LGBTQI+ persons continued seeking asylum in EU countries.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for rights, public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. Some incidents of hate speech occurred online and in the media after an LGBTQI+ activist suggested changing the law to enable registering the children of LGBTQI+ couples. NGOs filed the case with the antidiscrimination commissioner and the ombudsperson. Government institutions did not react to the controversy.

Several persons were arrested for physically assaulting a transgendered person. As of August, the shelter service NGO Streha had assisted 72 LGBTQI+ youths facing violence or discrimination in their family and community. The Ministry of Health increased support to the shelters by covering the costs of shelter staff salaries. Other shelter costs, including food, medication, and shelter rent, remained covered by donors.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but governmental respect for this right remained poor during the year. Violence, intimidation, harassment, and threats, including death threats, against journalists and media outlets continued during the year. BH Journalists, a professional association, noted that passive attitudes of institutions, primarily the judiciary and the prosecutor’s offices, left room for threats and pressure to continue and increase. Numerous restrictive measures introduced to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic continued to limit access to information. A considerable amount of media coverage was dominated by nationalist rhetoric and ethnic and political bias, often encouraging intolerance and sometimes hatred. The absence of transparency in media ownership remained a problem. Ownership of online media remained opaque in many instances. For many broadcast and print outlets, only information about nominal ownership was available.

The country’s laws provide for a high level of freedom of expression, but the implementation and application of the law seriously undermined press freedoms. The law prohibits expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance, including “hate speech,” but authorities enforced these restrictions only occasionally. In July the high representative for BiH amended the criminal code of the country to sanction genocide denial, the glorification of war crimes, and the incitement of racial, religious, or ethnic hatred, and violence, but as of November no persons had been indicted or prosecuted for these acts.

Data from the Free Media Help Line (FMHL) indicated that courts continued to fail to differentiate between different media formats (in particular, between news and commentary), while long court procedures and legal and financial battles were financially exhausting to journalists and outlets. The FMHL concluded that the number of defamation cases against journalists and editors remained high, especially in instances where journalists were investigating crime and corruption. Available data indicated that 80 percent of defamation cases were initiated by government officials or politicians. Continued incorrect implementation of the defamation laws caused direct pressure against journalists and media that jeopardized journalists’ right to freedom of expression. BH Journalists warned that the number of so-called SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) charges was increasing and that enormously high damage compensation claims were directed at undercutting the financial stability of media.

Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but sometimes this resulted in pressure or threats against journalists. Officials confronted with criticism intensified the practice of calling journalists traitors or labeling them as members or affiliates of opposition political parties, using harsh insults to discredit them. BH Journalists noted that gender-based attacks and pressure against journalists had increased since 2019. The law prohibiting expression that provokes racial, ethnic, or other forms of intolerance applies to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals but was seldom enforced.

The Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) received 11 complaints related to hate speech but did not determine any cases as hate speech in the broadcast media. The Press Council, which operates as a self-regulatory membership-based body for both online and printed media outlets across the country, registered 297 complaints related to hate speech, all of which were related to online media, one to an article published by a news agency, and seven related to content published on social media. Of the complaints, 295 were related to comments from web portal visitors. As of September, 136 complaints had been resolved through self-regulation.

The web portals and conducted a yearlong slander campaign against media professional and University of Sarajevo professor Lejla Turcilo, accusing her of “poisoning Bosniak children” and labeling her a “genocide denier.” BH Journalists issued a statement condemning the attacks. As a result, BH Journalists general secretary Borka Rudic also became a target of similar attacks. Nationalist web portals accused both women of supporting war criminals and insulting the prophet Muhammed. Journalist and television presenter Nikola Vucic and N1 (a CNN affiliate) editor in chief Amir Zukic endured similar attacks due to efforts to address the smear campaign against Turcilo. Both were accused of supporting war criminals. Safe Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists strongly reacted to the campaign. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media Teresa Ribeiro condemned this targeted online hate campaign against media professionals in BiH, urging authorities to take effective measures to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.

Political and financial pressure on media outlets continued. The negative economic effects of the pandemic further eroded the financial stability of media across the country, often forcing them to scale back their operations and making them more vulnerable to outside pressure. Some media outlets noted that allegations of tax evasion and elaborate financial controls continued to be powerful tools in attempts to intimidate and control outlets.

The number of attacks against journalists increased during the year. Attacks on journalists’ professional integrity and freedom of the press continued throughout the year. Public officials obstructed the work of journalists. This period was marked by attempts to restrict access to information in several areas. Restrictions imposed during the pandemic remained in place. They included government officials organizing press conferences broadcast by only one media outlet with no journalists present, making follow up questions impossible. Submission of questions remotely allowed officials to choose what questions they answered. Government release of pandemic-related data also varied, and some public hospitals shared information only with selected media outlets. Several instances of restricting the press while reporting on the migrant situation in the country were reported. In January a group of local and international correspondents were prevented from filming the Lipa migrant camp near Bihac. Although there were no signs prohibiting filming, inspectors from the Ministry of Security forced a group of journalists into their car, confiscated their documents, and required them to delete recorded materials. BH Journalists wrote to the Ministry of Security, urging it to respect freedom of access to information and freedom of movement. A television correspondent from O Kanal was prevented from filming outside a local refinery in Brod. After he refused to surrender recorded material to on-site security, police detained and threatened him with a lawsuit. Due to a swift reaction from BH Journalists, charges were never filed. Mostar-based journalists filed a complaint with FMHL in February because the city administration of Mostar prevented them from reporting on the election of the mayor of the city.

The practice of pressuring journalists to censor their reporting continued during the year. Reaction to investigative stories focusing on the corruption of high-level judicial officials and their lack of accountability continued generating pressure on journalists. After web portal published a report exploring the credibility of alleged attempts to threaten the security of the BiH chief prosecutor, the chief prosecutor issued a public refutation accusing the author of “anti-civilized and barbaric discrediting” of her personality, of instigating “national and religious hatred,” and “paving the road for elimination of all those standing in the way of paramilitary circles.” BH Journalists condemned the pressure on the reporter. Sarajevo-based Face TV continued to face pressure coming from the ruling Bosniak ethno-nationalist Party of Democratic Action (SDA) because of its reporting on instances of corruption linked to this political party. In one of its responses, the SDA stated the reporting of Senad Hadzifejzovic, Face TV’s owner, was untruthful and motivated by “hurt vanity, anger, or some other motives.” BH Journalists underscored that continued political pressure against Face TV represented unacceptable interference in the outlet’s editorial policy and alleged that the objective was to label them as an “enemy, unpatriotic, and propaganda outlet.” News portal was pressured after they reported the filing of criminal charges against the minister of interior in Herzegovina Neretva Canton. The minister, who declined to comment to the outlet, called the editors after the story was published, accusing them of doing a story “for their own interests.” In a written reaction he labeled unprofessional and irresponsible for publishing an “anonymous and untruthful pamphlet.”

Authorities continued exerting pressure on media outlets to discourage some forms of expression, and party and governmental control over some news outlets narrowed the range of opinions represented in both entities. Public broadcasters at the state (BHRT) and entity level (RTV FBiH and RTRS) continued to operate without stable and sustainable income that would enable independent editorial policy. Public broadcasters therefore remained vulnerable to strong pressure from government and political forces. They remained exposed to political influence, especially through politically controlled steering boards, because existing legal solutions failed to provide mechanisms that protect editorial independence. Independent analysts stated that limiting the competencies of entity parliaments in the process of the appointment of the steering boards of public broadcasters remained crucial for their editorial independence.

The institutional instability of the governing structures of RTV FBiH continued, as the broadcaster failed to elect a steering board or appoint organizational management and remained open to political influence. As a result, RTV FBiH continued to demonstrate a selective approach to news. The RS government continued to increase its direct control of RTRS, which strongly amplified the positions and narratives of the ruling coalition in the RS entity. BHRT yielded to increased political pressure and continued to censor its own reporting. Authorities remained subject to competing political interests and failed to establish a public broadcasting service corporation to oversee the operations of all public broadcasters in the country as provided by law.

The CRA, which regulates the audiovisual media market, lacked full financial and political independence. The mandate of the CRA Council expired at the end of 2017, but the parliamentary commission for the appointment of the council had not decided on its mandate renewal by the end of the year. CRA repeatedly warned that a major delay in switching from analogue to digital broadcasting could have dangerous consequences on media plurality in the country. During the year, Croatia demanded that BiH switch off several public and commercial terrestrial transmitters. CRA ordered the shutdown of terrestrial signal transmitters for several channels in BiH to be completed by the end of 2021 in the RS entity, including for Bijeljina-based BN TV, a non-RS government aligned media outlet branded “anti-Serb” by the Serb member of the BiH Presidency and SNSD leader Milorad Dodik.

Violence and Harassment: Intimidation, violence, and threats against journalists were recorded during the year. Intimidation and politically motivated litigation against journalists for their unfavorable reporting on government leaders and authorities also continued.

As of July the FMHL recorded 62 cases involving alleged violations of journalists’ rights and freedoms, including one death threat and two physical assaults. In one incident, bodyguards of the Serb member of BiH Presidency and SNSD party leader Milorad Dodik physically stopped a cameraman from the web portal and forced him to erase from his camera all footage of a gathering of the ruling SNSD party in Banja Luka in late September. In addition, a local SNSD official forced the cameraman to show his identification card, photographed it, and asked the cameraman for his home address. According to 2006 to 2020 data from BH Journalists, authorities prosecuted approximately 30 percent of criminal acts reported against journalists and investigated more than one-third of the alleged violations of journalists’ rights, illustrating that inefficient investigations into attacks against journalists by police and prosecutors’ offices continued.

In February a crew from Banja Luka-based Elta TV was prevented from doing an interview with a former RS Railroads company worker and was threatened by RS Railroads security guard Milenko Kicic. Kicic insulted his former colleague and threatened the television crew, saying he would smash their camera if they disobeyed his orders. Elta TV reported this incident to police, who filed a criminal complaint against Kicic. RS Railroad issued a statement that their worker Kicic was just doing his job, without threatening anyone, while the television crew was not authorized to make any recording of their company’s facilities.

Verbal attacks against journalists continued during the year, some of them also gender based. Serb member of the BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik repeatedly insulted media representatives and analysts, calling them “traitors, mercenaries, and hostile media” when they presented facts or opinions with which he disagreed. On May 24, he insulted political analyst Tanja Topic, Banja Luka-based employee of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, calling her an “agent of the German intelligence service” and “a proven quisling.” Dodik also insulted her family members. BH Journalists and international community representatives condemned the attacks on Topic’s personal and professional integrity. In addition, on several occasions Dodik attacked BNTV representatives, calling them traitors. During an August 10 primetime interview on RTRS, Dodik called BNTV and its owner, Vlado Trisic, traitors who work against the interests of Republika Srpska. On September 30, during a press conference in East Sarajevo, he said the station was part of an “organized criminal enterprise.”

During the year several web portals experienced cyberattacks. In February web portals and were subjected to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) cyberattacks, and on August 10, Nezavisne novine reported DDoS attacks against its website, an online media outlet focused on anticorruption and investigative journalism, was exposed to a four-day cyberattack that started February 18 and disabled access to the website. Zurnal’s server host said it had never experienced such a complex, carefully planned and executed cyberattack. At the same time similar cyberattacks were conducted against online media outlets and The cyberattacks against started on August 10 and recurred for several days. The cyberattacks were reported to police. BH Journalists reacted in February, noting they had sent letters to the cybercrime departments of the Federation Police Administration and the RS Ministry of Interior asking for an efficient and thorough investigation of these cases. On February 25, following the cyberattacks on media portals Zurnal and Buka, the OSCE Mission to BiH, the EU Delegation and EU special representative, the Embassy of the United Kingdom, and the Office of the High Representative issued a statement calling on BiH authorities to investigate all attacks on media websites because they represent a clear danger to media freedom. Following the most recent DDoS cyberattack in August, the BH Press and Online Media Council’s Steering Board called on police and the prosecutor’s offices for an urgent response, condemned the hacker attack, recalled other such attacks against online media, and noted that the cyberattacks, in addition to denying the right to free reporting, also inflicted economic damage on media outlets.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Multiple political parties and entity-level institutions attempted to influence editorial policies and media content through legal and financial measures. As a result some media outlets practiced self-censorship. Government institutions restricted access to information in some instances related to the COVID-19 crisis, coverage of the migrant situation in the country, and access to information related to ongoing cases of corruption. Cases of allowing only selected media representatives to cover events were noted. In some instances, media sources reported that officials threatened outlets with loss of advertising or limited their access to official information. Prevailing practices reflected close connections between major advertisers and political circles and allowed for biased distribution of advertising time. Public companies, most of which were under the control of political parties, remained the key advertisers. Outlets critical of ruling parties claimed they faced difficulties in obtaining advertising. The 2020 lockdown and numerous restrictions related to the pandemic had a direct negative impact on the finances of media in the country, making them more vulnerable to economic and political pressure.

Libel/Slander Laws: While the country has decriminalized defamation, many complaints continued to be brought before courts against journalists, often resulting in extremely high fines. Noteworthy court decisions against journalists included temporary bans on the posting or publication of certain information as well as extremely high and disproportionate compensatory payments. In June and July, the Municipal Court of Sarajevo issued two verdicts ordering payment of unusually high fines and penalties in defamation cases against two media outlets. Following a court order, more than 212,000 convertible marks (KM) ($127,000) were seized from the bank account of the publishing house Avaz-roto Press, based on a 2009 defamation case and a related 2016-2019 case about publishing the court ruling. Avaz-roto Press was found guilty and had previously already paid KM 5,000 ($3,000) in damages and covered additional accompanying court costs. In July the online media outlet Zurnal was ordered to pay more than KM 170,000 ($102,000) based on a first-instance court ruling in a defamation case. The BH Journalists association expressed concern that such excessive fines and penalties could seriously jeopardize the work and business of media outlets, noting the need to find a balance between the economic power of the media, the public interest, and the right to compensation. The Steering Board of the BiH Press and Online Media Council expressed concern, noting that such high fines and penalties are at odds with projecting journalistic integrity and endanger the work of the media.

The laws provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, but some restrictions remained.

In-country Movement: Although the law on asylum provides for freedom of movement for asylum seekers, authorities of Una-Sana Canton imposed restrictions without a legal basis. This resulted in asylum seekers – including some who were duly registered with the asylum authorities – being forcibly removed from public transport at the entrance of the canton. Unlike in the past, there was no exception on the restriction of movement for vulnerable categories including unaccompanied children, pregnant women, and persons with medical conditions. Restrictions on entry to and exit from temporary reception centers (TRCs) were put in place, and new admittances of persons to the Miral TRC in Velika Kladusa were barred and strictly enforced by local police. All restrictions on transport and reception in TRCs remained in force under the guise of COVID-19 mitigation measures. In addition, authorities in the RS entity regularly restricted the movement of migrants and asylum seekers within its territory and in some cases provided transport to the Interentity Boundary Line at Rudenice/Kljuc where they were not permitted access to Una-Sana Canton by local police, leaving them stranded at the checkpoint.

Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees statistics indicated that 96,305 individuals still held internally displaced person (IDP) status resulting from the 1992-95 conflict. The majority of Bosniaks and Croats fled the RS entity, while Serbs fled the Federation. At the beginning of the year, UNHCR was directly providing protection, assistance, or both to 479 IDPs. According to UNHCR an estimated 3,000 persons, including IDPs, continued to live in collective accommodations throughout the country. While the accommodations were meant to be temporary, some had been living in them for 20 or more years. A substantial number of IDPs and returnees lived in substandard conditions that affected their livelihoods.

The country’s constitution and laws provide for the voluntary return or local integration of IDPs consistent with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The government actively promoted the safe return of refugees and IDPs or the local integration of persons in their place of displacement, depending on their specific situations. The government allocated funding for returns and participated in internationally funded programs for return. Isolated attacks against minority returnees continued but were generally not investigated or prosecuted adequately, and there were no major developments with regards to improved access to rights and services – particularly the right to education in their language – for vulnerable IDPs and returnees.

The government cooperated with the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum (refugee or subsidiary protection status), and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers with pending claims have a right to accommodation at the asylum center until the Ministry of Security makes a final and binding decision on their claims, although in practice only asylum-seeking families were accommodated, resulting in single men and unaccompanied children being accommodated in a limited number of temporary reception centers, limiting their access to asylum. In addition, the two centers specifically designated to accommodate asylum seekers – Asylum Center (AC) Delijas and Refugee Reception Center (RRC) Salakovac – remained underutilized. Accommodation in either is not based on asylum status or intention but instead on the capacity of the Usivak TRC where referrals are made and approved by the Ministry for Security, resulting in most families staying for brief periods before pursuing onward movement.

The overwhelming majority of refugees and migrants arriving in the country were issued an attestation on expressed intention to seek asylum (94 percent of 80,000 arrivals since January 2018) although very few intended to apply for asylum in the country. Accommodation in any of the reception centers is contingent on possession of this attestation document. This created a severe backlog in the asylum system, which has no mechanisms for identifying and prioritizing those with protection needs and a willingness to pursue international protection in the country over those pursuing onward movement. As a result there were extreme delays for persons wishing to register an asylum claim. For asylum claims registered between January and July, the average wait time between issuance of an attestation and registration with the Sector for Asylum was 182 days, and this was only for those who managed to register. The processing times for those who were registered were also excessive, averaging 422 days between registration and the issuance of a decision during the year, meaning that on average the asylum process can take up to two years from initial issuance of an attestation to issuance of a decision.

To register a claim, individuals must be invited by the Sector for Asylum. Asylum authorities currently only regularly invite unaccompanied children and families accommodated in the Usivak TRC and persons in private accommodation to register asylum claims. Single men in other TRCs, persons in Una-Sana Canton, and those accommodated in government-run centers – AC Delijas and RRC Salakovac – were not invited to register claims and thus effectively had limited or no access to the asylum procedure. The highly restrictive access to the asylum procedure and the lengthy and inefficient procedure for those registered resulted in many abandoning the asylum process, and authorities suspending most cases prior to issuing an initial decision (546 suspensions compared to 85 decisions in 2020 or 86.5 percent of cases being suspended).

Authorities also maintained a restrictive approach to assessing asylum claims, granting refugee status in just three cases since the start of the mixed movement surge in 2018. They instead granted subsidiary protection in cases when refugee status would likely be more appropriate – such as cases involving Syrian citizens – while most cases were denied outright at the first instance, including 27 of the 31 or 87 percent of the decisions issued during the year. Asylum seekers have the right to appeal a negative decision before the Court of BiH, although the court lacked specific expertise on asylum and often upheld the initial decision issued by the asylum authorities, while only intervening on issues related to the process rather than the content or quality of the decision. When appeals were upheld, they were returned to the Sector for Asylum for reexamination, although often the second decision remained unchanged. Gaps remained regarding access to rights and services for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection, including education, healthcare, free legal aid, employment, and basic social services.

In reception centers, international organizations, NGOs, and volunteers provided services which varied depending on the facility. There were two government-run centers (AC Delijas and RRC Salakovac) which remained underutilized, while most asylum seekers and migrants resided in five temporary reception centers operated by the International Organization for Migration in cooperation with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs in Sarajevo (Usivak and Blazuj) and Una-Sana Cantons (Borici, Miral, and Lipa). In response to a lack of accommodation for unaccompanied children, the Ministry of Security in cooperation with the IFS EMMAUS Center for Children and Youth in December 2020 began providing protection-sensitive accommodation in a center for migrant and asylum-seeking children. Due to the center’s location in Doboj East, away from the larger concentrations of asylum seekers and migrants in Sarajevo and Una-Sana Cantons, most children opted instead to seek accommodation in TRCs, particularly those designated for single adult males, exposing them to exploitation and abuse risks. There remained an acute lack of protection-sensitive accommodation for other vulnerable categories or persons with specific needs, including those with physical and mental disabilities, families with children, survivors of gender-based or domestic violence, persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, elderly persons, and victims of human trafficking.

The COVID-19 pandemic continued to impede the asylum claim registration process.

As a result of the mass influx from 2018, authorities largely stopped the previous practice of detaining irregular migrants in the Immigration Center in Lukavica, mainly due to its limited capacity. NGOs including free legal aid providers continued to have limited access to the immigration detention and asylum centers, on the grounds of COVID-19 mitigation measures. Access to information, free legal aid, and asylum remained a concern for those detained in the Immigration Center, especially given the risk of return and refoulement for those detained.

Certain provisions of the laws on extradition give authorities the possibility of extraditing a person who has expressed the intention to seek asylum if the request was made after the country had received an extradition request.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the application of the concept of “safe country of origin or safe third country.” Authorities may deny asylum to applicants who cannot prove they were unable to return to their country of origin or to any country of transit. The application of this concept would require that the BiH Council of Ministers make a list of safe third countries and countries of origin, which the Council of Ministers has not yet approved.

Durable Solutions: The legal framework provides a program for integration and return of refugees and displaced persons. The country was party to a regional housing program funded by international donors and facilitated in part by UNHCR and the OSCE to provide durable solutions for up to 74,000 refugees and displaced persons from four countries in the region, including 14,000 of the most vulnerable refugees, returnees, and IDPs from the country. The process of selecting program beneficiaries was protracted due to capacity and management problems that resulted in extended delays in the reconstruction of homes. Fragmented institutional arrangements added administrative delays to the process, as did the political imperative to select beneficiaries proportionally from among the country’s constituent peoples. The BiH Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees drafted a bylaw on practical support for greater integration of refugees and persons granted subsidiary protection in society.

The government provided subsidiary protection status to individuals who qualified as refugees. In the first seven months of the year, authorities provided subsidiary protection to four individuals, and by the end of July there were 50 persons with subsidiary protection status in the country. While subsidiary protection status affords individuals access to education, healthcare, labor, and social welfare, there remained problems accessing these rights in practice. Subsidiary protection status requires the annual review and confirmation of status by the authorities and does not include a pathway to permanent residency and ultimate naturalization, and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are not issued travel documents and are not entitled to family reunification, therefore hindering local integration and achievement of durable solutions.

As of July UNHCR was aware of 69 persons, including Roma, children born to undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, persons born abroad without birth registration, and persons lacking birth certificates and citizenship registration at risk of statelessness. UNHCR continued to provide assistance to authorities to facilitate birth and citizenship registrations. From 2009 to August, UNHCR assisted 1,765 individuals in confirming their nationalities through its implementing partner, the NGO Vasa Prava BiH.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape (including of men), including spousal rape, and domestic and intimate partner violence. The maximum penalty for rape, regardless of gender, including spousal rape, is 15 years in prison. The failure of police to treat spousal rape as a serious offense inhibited the effective enforcement of the law. Women victims of rape did not have regular access to free social support or assistance and continued to confront prejudice and discrimination in their communities and from representatives of public institutions.

While laws in both the Federation and the RS empower authorities to remove the perpetrator of domestic violence from the home, officials rarely, if ever, made use of these provisions.

NGOs reported that authorities often returned offenders to their homes less than 24 hours after a violent event, often reportedly out of a concern over where the perpetrator would live. In the Federation and in the RS, authorities prosecuted domestic violence as a felony, while in Brcko District it can be reported as a felony or a misdemeanor. In January the Federation amended its law on protection from domestic violence by introducing a “person of confidence,” who can assist victims during court proceedings. Even when domestic violence resulted in prosecution and conviction, offenders were often given suspended sentences, even repeat offenders. To avoid prolonged court proceedings, judges both in the Federation and in the RS rarely applied domestic violence law, which would prescribe greater sanctions for offenders, but instead applied only criminal code and other laws, resulting in lesser charges and sentences.

Domestic violence was recognized as one of the most important problems involving gender equality. The Gender Equality Agency (GEA) reported that one of every two girls or women older than 15 experienced some type of domestic violence (psychological, economic, or physical) and that the problem was underreported because most victims did not trust the support system (police, social welfare centers, or the judiciary). NGOs operated eight safe houses in the country (five in the Federation and three in the RS) with a total capacity of 181 beds. In the RS entity, safe houses were officially included in the system of government-supported institutions and received regular financial support from the government. In the Federation, the safe houses were not supported by the entity government and received no budgetary assistance, as no bylaw was adopted that would regulate financing of safe houses. The Federation provided support to safe houses through government grants. During the year the Federation government allocated KM 240,000 ($142,000) as a grant to safe houses. The Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees (through GEA) also provided KM 100,000 ($59,000) as support to operations of all eight safe houses. Additionally, as a response to the increase in gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 the ministry (through GEA) gave an additional KM 160,000 ($94,600) to safe houses. According to NGOs running safe houses, 679 cases of domestic violence were registered during 2020, an increase of 50 percent from 2019. The country had a gender action plan for 2018-22. The Council of Ministers has a steering board for coordination and monitoring of implementation of the plan. The country lacked a system for collecting data on domestic violence cases. The GEA worked to establish a local-level mechanism to coordinate support for victims. In 2019 the agency performed an analysis of the data collection system on domestic violence cases that were processed by the judiciary and sent its recommendations for improving the system to the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council. The GEA also continued developing a computerized data collection system on domestic violence in the Federation since the RS refused to participate in this internationally supported project, citing their perception of this initiative as a transfer of competencies from the entity to the state level.

The network of institutional mechanisms for gender equality in the country comprised GEA at the state level and gender centers at the entity levels. There was also the Gender Equality Commission of the BiH Parliamentary Assembly, the Gender Equality Commissions of the Federation House of Peoples and the House of Representatives, the Equal Opportunities Committee of the RS National Assembly, and the Commission for Gender Issues of the Brcko District Assembly. Gender equality commissions also were established at the cantonal level; at the local level, respective commissions operated within municipal councils.

Sexual Harassment: Combating violence against women and domestic violence is mainly the responsibility of the entities. BiH law defines and prohibits gender-based harassment, including sexual harassment, as a form of discrimination.

NGOs reported that sexual harassment was a serious problem but that women rarely reported it due to the expectation they would not receive systematic support from law enforcement institutions and that the perpetrators would go unpunished or receive light punishment, as evident by years of such practices by judicial authorities.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

There was no comprehensive sexual education program, and education, including on reproductive health and related topics, was not standardized through the country. Members of minorities, in particular Romani women, experienced disparities in access to health-care information and services, including for reproductive health. For example, many Romani women were not enrolled in the public insurance system because of their inability to meet local legal requirements due to the lack of official documentation of residency or registration, poverty, and social marginalization, which prevented them from accessing health care. Another problem for Romani women was that moving from one part of the country to another invalidates their registration and makes their access to health services subject to a different set of rules and requirements.

Both BiH entities (the Federation and Republika Srpska) as well as the Brcko District have laws that provide for survivors of sexual violence to access sexual and reproductive health services. Women with disabilities in BiH continued to face obstacles in accessing sexual and reproductive health. For example, health-care facilities lacked staff trained to work with women with disabilities and gynecological examination tables adjusted for women with certain disabilities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property, and authorities generally treated women equally. The law does not explicitly require equal pay for equal work, but it forbids gender discrimination. Women and men generally received equal pay for equal work at government-owned enterprises but not at all private businesses. As evaluated by the Gender Equality Agency in the 2018-2022 Gender Action Plan, women in the country faced multiple obstacles in the labor market, such as longer waiting periods for their first jobs, long employment disruptions due to maternity leave or elder care, and the inability of middle-aged women to successfully re-enter the labor market due to market shifts and discontinuation of some types of work. NGOs also reported that during hiring interviews, potential employers routinely asked women if they were planning to have a family soon, sometimes requesting that women sign a written agreement stipulating that they do not plan to become pregnant in the next three years.

Both Federation and RS labor laws stipulate that an employer must not terminate a woman’s employment contract while she exercises her rights to be pregnant; use maternity leave; work half time after the expiration of maternity leave; work half time until a dependent child is three years of age if the child requires enhanced care according to the findings of a competent health institution; or use leave for breastfeeding. While the law provides for these rights, its implementation was inconsistent. In practice women were often unable to use maternity leave for the period of one year as provided by law, return to their work position after maternity leave, or take advantage of the right to work half time. Employers continued to terminate pregnant women and new mothers despite the existence of legal protections. The level of social compensation during maternity leave was regulated unequally in different parts of the country. The RS government paid a monthly KM 405 ($250) maternity allowance to unemployed new mothers for a period of one year or for a period of 18 months in cases of twins and following the birth of every third and subsequent child. Employed mothers were entitled to one year of paid maternity leave. In the Federation this compensation is regulated differently in each of its 10 cantons, while Federation labor law and law on social protection provide only a framework for compensation. For example, Sarajevo Canton pays 533 KM ($307) per month for one year, while Western Herzegovina Canton pays 80 percent of the last earned salary of the employee for the first six months and a fixed amount defined by the canton for the remaining six months. Women remained underrepresented in law enforcement agencies. According to a Center for Security Studies survey, women made up only 20 percent of police agencies in BiH and generally held low officer ranks, with no women in ranks of a general or chief inspector general of police forces. The survey found that women were generally underrepresented in managerial positions.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The boy-to-girl birth ratio for the country was 107 boys per 100 girls in 2020.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Harassment and discrimination against members of minorities continued throughout the country, although not as frequently as in previous years. The Interreligious Council of BiH reported 17 attacks against religious buildings during 2020. Members of minority groups also continued to experience discrimination in employment and education in both the government and private sectors. While the law prohibits discrimination, human rights activists noted that authorities did not adequately enforce the law. For example in 2020, 119 potential bias-motivated incidents were reported to police in BiH with the most common bias based on ethnicity, which in the country is linked to religion. The most frequent incidents were damage to religious facilities, property damage, and verbal assault. One case was judged to be a hate crime because of the court’s applying a mandatory aggravating circumstance for an ethnicity-based security threat, resulting in a suspended prison sentence in 2020.

Violence and acts of intimidation against ethnic minorities at times focused on symbols and buildings of that minority’s predominant religion. For more information, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

Authorities frequently discriminated against Roma, especially against Romani women who continued to be the most vulnerable and experience the most discrimination of any group in the country. They experienced discrimination in access to housing, health care, education, and employment opportunities; nearly 95 percent remained unemployed. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated Romani community vulnerabilities. A significant percentage of Roma were homeless or without water or electricity in their homes. Many dwellings were overcrowded, and residents lacked proof of property ownership. Inability to prove property ownership made it difficult for Roma to obtain identity documents, which are basic precondition for accessing many other civil rights, such as education and healthcare. Approximately three-fourths of Roma lived in openly segregated neighborhoods with very poor basic infrastructure.

In the 2013 census, 12,583 persons registered as Roma, a number that observers believed significantly understated the actual number of Roma in the country. Romani activists reported that a minimum of 40,000 Roma lived in the country, which was like Council of Europe estimates. Observers believed the discrepancy in the census figure was the result of numerous manipulations that occurred with the Roma census registration in 2013. Romani activists reported that in many instances, Roma were told by census takers that they had to register as Bosniaks, had their census forms filled out for them, or were simply bypassed altogether.

Birth Registration: By law a child born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen regardless of the child’s place of birth. A child born in the country to parents whose citizenships were unknown or who were stateless is entitled to citizenship. Parents generally registered their children immediately after they were born, but there were exceptions, particularly in the Romani community. As of September the NGO Vasa Prava had been working on 43 pending cases related to birth/citizenship registration of persons under 18 years of age. New amendments to the Federation law on extrajudicial proceedings opened a potential legal path to resolve pending and difficult cases of civil registration in the Federation through court proceedings.

Education: The law prescribed that education be free through the secondary level but compulsory only for children between the ages of six and 15. In practice, parents needed to pay for books, supplies, and with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, internet connection and telephones, tablets, or laptops. This left many disadvantaged children without access to regular schooling, especially in the Federation, where students attending grades five to nine had mostly online classes in the 2020-21 school year. Due to inadequate registration and persistent poverty and marginalization, only 35 percent of Romani children between the ages of six and 15 regularly attended school.

More than 50 schools across the Federation remained segregated by ethnicity and religion. Although a “two schools under one roof” system was instituted following the 1992-95 conflict to bring together returnee communities violently separated by conflict, the system calcified under the divisive and prejudicial administration of leading political parties. These parties controlled schools through the country’s 13 ministries of education and often enforced education policies based upon patronage and ethnic exclusion. Where students, parents, and teachers chose to resist segregation, they were frequently met with political indifference and sometimes intimidation, which further hurt the quality of education children received. Funds were spent on perpetuating the “two schools under one roof” system rather than on improving school infrastructure, training teachers, improving teaching materials, or conducting extracurricular activities. The situation compounded inefficiencies in the country’s education system, as evidenced by poor performance by 15-year-old students who participated in the 2018 international Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) study implemented by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The results of the study showed that the country’s students were three years behind in schooling compared to the OECD average and that more than 50 percent of students did not possess functional knowledge in language, mathematics, and science. Results for disadvantaged students showed that they lagged five years behind the OECD average. Results were similar for 10-year-old students who participated in the 2019 international Trends in Mathematics and Social Sciences (TIMSS) assessment implemented by the International Education Agency. The results of the study showed that almost one quarter of students did not reach the Low International Benchmark, which is a Student Development Goal. According to the study, “Rural and socio-disadvantaged students are falling behind and less than 20 percent of them have access to computers in school.”

As demonstrated by the 2018 PISA testing results and confirmed by the results from TIMSS, the country faced a learning crisis. In December 2020 when the TIMSS results were published, the international community (the European Commission in BiH, the OSCE, and UNICEF) issued a joint press statement noting that “combined with the pandemic, BiH is facing a learning catastrophe that could undermine decades of progress and exacerbate entrenched inequalities.”

Returnee students (those belonging to a minority ethnic group returning to their homes after being displaced by the war) continued to face barriers in exercising their language rights. For the eighth consecutive year, parents of Bosniak children in returnee communities throughout the RS continued to boycott public schools in favor of sending their children to alternative schools financed and organized by the Federation Ministry of Education with support from the governments of the Sarajevo and Zenica-Doboj Cantons and the Islamic community. The boycott was based on the refusal of the RS Ministry of Education and Culture to approve a group of national subjects (specific courses to which Bosniak, Serb, and Croat students are entitled and taught in their constituent language according to their ethnicity). Parents of children in one of these schools in Vrbanjci, Kotor Varos, won a court case in December 2019 when the RS Supreme Court ruled that their children were entitled to instruction on the national subjects in Bosnian. Although the RS Supreme Court decision was final, the RS Ministry of Education failed to implement the decision. As a result, 60 children continued learning in the Hanifici Islamic Center building, where teachers traveled from the Zenica-Doboj Canton, and in some cases from Sarajevo Canton. In 2020 lawyers representing Bosniak parents filed a request for execution of the decision at the Kotor Varos basic court, but the decision had not been implemented as of November.

In the Federation, Serb students likewise were denied language rights as provided in the Federation constitution, especially in schools with Croat language of instruction. One example was the Glamoc elementary school in Canton 10, where authorities prevented the use of the Serbian language and textbooks, despite the significant number of returnee Serb students. Human rights activists noted that changes in the history curriculum and in history and other textbooks reinforced stereotypes of the country’s ethnic groups other than their own and that other materials missed opportunities to dispel stereotypes by excluding any mention of some ethnic groups, particularly Jews and Roma. State and entity officials generally did not act to prevent such discrimination. Human Rights Watch asserted that ethnic quotas used by the Federation and the RS to allocate civil service jobs disproportionately excluded Roma and other minorities. The quotas were based on the 1991 census, which undercounted these minorities and was never revised.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, but family violence against children was a problem. According to UNICEF, there was no recent data available on the overall level of violence against children in the country. While relevant institutions collect scattered data, there was no unified data collection system. Police investigated and prosecuted individual cases of child abuse. Only a small number of cases of violence against children were reported and, consequently, only a few cases were brought before courts. The country’s Agency for Gender Equality estimated that one in five families experienced domestic violence. In many cases, children were indirect victims of family violence. The Sarajevo Canton Social Welfare Center reported that more than 100 children were victims of domestic violence during 2020, of which 13 children were direct victims. In the cases where children were direct victims, proceedings were launched, and the parents were sanctioned. The RS Ministry of Interior registered 843 cases of domestic violence from March to December of 2020, of which 80 victims were children. It also reported that the number of cases of domestic violence against children aged 14 to 16 increased by more than 100 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Municipal centers for social work are responsible for protecting children’s rights but lacked resources and the ability to provide housing for children who fled abuse or who required removal from abusive homes.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 but may be as young as 16 with parental consent. In certain Romani communities, girls were married between the ages of 12 and 14, and Romani human rights activists reported that early marriages were on the rise. Children’s rights and antitrafficking activists noted that prosecutors were often reluctant to investigate and prosecute forced marriages involving Romani minors, attributing it to Romani custom. Activists also warned authorities often returned children to their families even when their parents were the ones involved in their exploitation.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The Federation, the RS, and the Brcko District have laws criminalizing sex trafficking, forced labor, and organized human trafficking. The state-level penalty for sexual exploitation of children is imprisonment for up to 20 years under certain aggravating circumstances. At the entity level, penalties range from three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Under entity criminal codes, the abuse of a child or juvenile for pornography is a crime that carries a sentence of one to five years in prison. Authorities generally enforced these laws. The law prohibits sexual acts with a person younger than 18.

Girls were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, and there were reports that Romani girls as young as 12 were subject to early and forced marriage and domestic servitude. Children were used 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


The Jewish community in the country reported that it had fewer than 1,000 members.

The Jewish community reported a rise in anti-Semitic incidents. In March, an unknown perpetrator drew a swastika on an obituary of a prominent Jewish community member posted at the entrance to the city synagogue, which also serves as the Jewish Community headquarters. The Jewish community also reported a rise in internet-based anti-Semitism directed against the Jewish community. According to a 2018-21 tracking of anti-Semitic online speech by the Jewish organization La Benevolencija, the official website of the Sarajevo-based soccer club Zeljeznicar contained numerous anti-Semitic posts when Zeljeznicar played Israeli soccer clubs, including anti-Semitic slurs and various conspiracy theories.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities remained a very marginalized group due to insufficient and inadequate laws that govern their rights and to their exclusion from decision-making processes. The laws of both entities require increased accessibility to buildings, health services, education, and transportation for persons with disabilities, but authorities rarely enforced the requirement. The laws in both entities and at the state level prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Nevertheless, discrimination in these areas continued. The government lacked a uniform legal definition of disabilities. The most frequent forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities included obstacles in realization of individual rights and delayed payments of disability allowances, employment, and social and health protection. Support to persons with disabilities was dependent on the origin of the disability. Persons who acquired their disability during the 1992-1995 conflict, whether they were war veterans or civilian victims of war, had priority and greater allowances than other persons with disabilities. BiH had a Council of Persons with Disabilities of BiH (the Council), which was an expert and advisory body to the Council of Ministers (CoM) with the responsibility to monitor the rights of persons with disabilities in BiH. Different organizations of persons with disabilities throughout the country participated in the work of the Council. The Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees, together with the Council, regularly marked December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The competent ministries regularly allocated, in accordance with the budget possibilities, financial resources for the support of organizations of persons with disabilities through various grants and through lottery profits. Advocacy organizations argued that these funds are symbolic and insufficient for their adequate functioning. Also, certain funds were allocated at the level of individual local communities, resulting in large disparities between benefits provided by local communities.

The Federation had a strategy for the advancement of rights and status of persons with disabilities in the Federation for the period 2016-21, while the RS had a strategy for improving the social conditions of persons with disabilities in the RS for 2017-2026. The strategies were developed in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Both strategies had a monitoring system implemented through the establishment of coordination bodies. In addition, in the Federation, coordination bodies were established at the cantonal level as well. In the Brcko District, the law provided expanded rights of persons with disabilities, but Brcko had no separate strategy for implementing the law. Entity governments also provide funds within their budgets for the operation of vocational rehabilitation and retraining funds. Activities on the implementation of inclusive education continued in the education system.

Human rights NGOs complained that the construction of public buildings without access for persons with disabilities continued. Both entities have a strategy for advancing the rights of persons with disabilities in the areas of health, education, accessibility, professional rehabilitation and employment, social welfare, and culture and sports. NGOs complained that the government did not effectively implement laws and programs to support persons with disabilities. The law provides for children with disabilities to attend mainstream schools with common curricula “when feasible.” In practice, students with disabilities continued to struggle for access to a quality, inclusive education due to physical barriers in schools; the lack of accommodation for children with audio, visual, or mental disabilities; and the absence of in-school assistants and trained teachers. Schools often reported a lack of financial and physical resources that prohibited them from accommodating these students. While some children with disabilities attended integrated schools, most children with disabilities were enrolled in segregated schools. Children with severe disabilities, however, were not included in the education process at all and depended entirely on their parents or NGOs for education. There were no provisions for assistance to students with disabilities who needed additional support to continue their education, which further exacerbated the problem. Parents of children with significant disabilities reported receiving limited to no financial support from the government, notwithstanding that many of them were unable to seek employment because of the round-the-clock care required for their dependents.

The country registered approximately 382 persons with HIV or AIDS (249 in the Federation and 133 in the RS), with 20 to 30 new cases reported annually. It was believed, however, that the actual number of cases was higher and that due to stigma and discrimination, many persons avoided testing. Social stigma and employment discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS remained among members of the public as well as health workers. Due to a lack of understanding of the disease and its subsequent stigmatization among the general population, many persons with HIV or AIDS feared revealing their illness, even to close family members. The country had no permanent or organized programs of psychosocial support for these persons.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While the law at the state level prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, authorities did not fully enforce it. Both entities and the Brcko District have laws that criminalize any form of hate crime committed based on gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Hate speech, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQI+ individuals were widespread. For example, all social media posts and online reports related to the marking of Pride month and the Pride march were followed by an avalanche of hate speech, threats, and calls to violence against LGBTQI+ persons. The NGO Sarajevo Open Center (SOC) reported that transgender persons continued to be the most vulnerable LGBTQI+ group, as their gender identities were more visible. In its 2021 Pink Report, the SOC reported that every third LGBTQI+ person in the country experienced some type of discrimination. The SOC believed the actual number of LGBTQI+ persons who experienced discrimination was much higher but underreported due to fear.

In 2020 the SOC documented five discrimination cases: two involved workplace discrimination; two involved access to services; and one was related to access to health services. Four of those five cases pertained to discrimination based on sexual orientation, and one to discrimination based on sex characteristics. In one of the five cases, which pertained to discrimination in the workplace, the perpetrator was sanctioned through the employer’s internal procedures and the victim reported that it resulted in improved conditions. None of the remaining four cases resulted in a lawsuit or a complaint against the institution. BiH courts had yet to issue a single final ruling on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

During 2020 the SOC also documented two cases of hate speech and calling for violence and hatred and 14 cases of crimes and incidents motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity. Of the 14 cases, five took place in a public place or online, ranging from threats to violence and infliction of bodily injuries, while four cases were cases of domestic violence. The prosecution of assault and other crimes committed against LGBTQI+ individuals remained delayed and generally inadequate.

The SOC is currently pursuing two strategic court cases, which pertain to discrimination in access to goods and services in the market and enticement to discrimination. The first case was under appeal, after the first instance court ruled that there was no discrimination. The second case was at the municipal court, and the first hearing was pending as of November.

The Sarajevo Canton government adopted its first Gender Action Plan for 2019-2022 as a public document that contains a set of measures intended to improve gender equality in government institutions.

Societal discrimination and occasional violence against ethnic minorities at times took the form of attacks on places symbolic of those minorities, including religious buildings. According to the Interreligious Council, an NGO that promotes dialogue among the four traditional religious communities (Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish), attacks against religious symbols, clerics, and property continued. During the year the council registered 17 reported acts of vandalism against religious sites but stated the actual number of incidents was likely much higher (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

There were widespread instances of media coverage and public discourse designed to portray members of other ethnic groups in negative terms, usually in connection with the 1992-95 conflict, or to deflect responsibility for wartime brutality. For example on November 17, the Bosniak member of the BiH Presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic, said that wherever the Republic of BiH Army was in control during the 1992-1995 war, there were no mass graves or prisoners’ camps. Associations of BiH Croat prisoners of war disputed the statement. On November 17, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ BiH) leader Dragan Covic and other BiH Croat political leaders celebrated the 30th anniversary of the founding of the self-declared administrative territory of Herceg Bosna in Mostar, which was abolished by the 1994 Washington Agreement. Some media strongly criticized the celebration, highlighting that six former high-ranking Herceg-Bosna officials were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

During the year the Serb member of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik, as well as senior officials in his political party SNSD (the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats), and other RS officials and leaders continued to deny that Serb forces committed genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, despite the findings of multiple local and international courts. On July 21, the RS government released a report, prepared by the so called Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Sufferings of All Peoples in the Srebrenica Region between 1992 and 1995, which was established by the RS entity government. The report disputed that genocide was committed in Srebrenica and sought to cast doubt on whether thousands of Bosniaks who were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 were innocent civilians. The report also accused the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia of staging politically biased trials of Bosnian Serb political and military leaders, and of wrongly classifying the Srebrenica massacres as genocide.

On July 23, outgoing BiH High Representative Valentin Inzko imposed amendments to the BiH criminal code, criminalizing genocide denial; glorification of war crimes; and incitement of racial, religious, and ethnic hatred, and violence. The amendments entered into force on July 28. The BiH Parliamentary Assembly has the right to debate and vote on the imposed amendments, although they remain in force even if parliament rejects or refuses to endorse them. In response to the criminal code amendments, the Republika Srpska National Assembly (RSNA) held a special session on July 30 and enacted a law preventing the implementation of the decision of the High Representative on the amendments to the BiH Criminal Code. The RSNA also adopted amendments to the RS Criminal Code criminalizing disparagement of the RS or “its peoples” as “aggressors” or “genocidal,” prescribing a sentence of imprisonment between six months to 15 years, depending on whether the perpetrator was a government official or whether the statement was made with the intention of changing the RS constitutional order, its territorial integrity, or independence. On October 12, RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic signed the July legislation into law. The two laws entered into force on October 13.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media. While the government generally respected this right, credible reports persisted that some public officials, politicians, businesses, and religious groups sought to intimidate media representatives. Funding problems also undermined media independence. Journalists encountered difficulties in obtaining information from the government and public institutions, notwithstanding laws providing access to public documents. The Independent Media Commission regulates broadcast frequencies, issues licenses to public and private broadcasters, and establishes broadcasting policies.

Freedom of Expression: In July the basic court in Pristina sentenced Montenegrin national Risto Jovanovic to six months in prison for inciting intolerance by chanting nationalist slogans during the June 28 observance of the 1389 Kosovo Battle commemoration (Vidovdan) at Gazimestan, Pristina. The court fined Jovanovic 6,700 euros ($7,700) in lieu of imprisonment and banned him from entering the country for five years.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, generally without restriction. Nevertheless, reports persisted that government officials, some political parties, businesses connected to the government, religious groups, and disgruntled individuals pressured media owners, individual editors, and reporters not to publish certain stories or materials. Some journalists refrained from critical investigative reporting due to fear for their physical safety or job security.

While some self-sufficient media outlets adopted editorial and broadcast policies independent of political and business interests, those with fewer resources sometimes accepted financial support in exchange for positive coverage or for refraining from publishing negative stories harmful to funders’ interests. According to some editors, funding was limited in part because the government was reluctant to purchase advertising in media outlets that published material critical of government policies.

According to the Association of Journalists of Kosovo, in September Haki Abazi, a deputy of the ruling Vetevendosje party, threatened the online media outlet Albanian Post and its director over their coverage of the government’s appointment of ambassadors. The outlet posted a recording of the alleged incident online.

Violence and Harassment: As of December the Association of Journalists of Kosovo reported 26 instances of government officials, business interests, community groups, or religious groups violating press freedom by physically assaulting or verbally threatening journalists.

In late February investigative journalist Visar Duriqi was attacked outside his home by three persons who were reportedly waiting for his return. He was severely injured, including a broken nose and loss of teeth, and required treatment at the hospital. Duriqi’s reporting frequently covered crime and corruption, including analysis of widespread agriculture subsidy abuses which he spoke about on local television station Kanal-10 the evening he was attacked. Police opened an investigation into the incident, but no suspects have been identified. The Ombudsman characterized the violence as an attack on freedom of expression.

On April 17, police investigators interviewed Parim Olluri, director of the online news agency Insajderi, about the journal’s reporting on the Minister of Health’s alleged failure to sign an official purchase of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. Olluri claimed police requested he identify his sources of information. The Association of Journalists and civil society condemned police and the government for allegedly violating the Law on Protection of Journalists’ Sources.

On October 13, rioters attacked several journalists from both Albanian- and Serbian-language media outlets (including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) covering protests in Mitrovica/e North following an antismuggling operation carried out by police. Journalists reported rioters seized and smashed video equipment, chased journalists on foot and in cars, and threw rocks, Molotov cocktails, and other explosive devices at media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no reports of direct censorship of print or broadcast media, although journalists claimed pressure from politicians and organized criminal groups frequently resulted in self-censorship. Some journalists refrained from critical investigative reporting due to fear for their physical safety or job security. Journalists occasionally received offers of financial benefits in exchange for positive reporting or for abandoning an investigation.

According to the Association of Journalists, government officials as well as suspected criminals verbally threatened journalists for perceived negative reporting. According to some editors, government agencies and corporations withdrew advertising from newspapers that published material critical of them.

Journalists complained that media owners and managers prevented them from publishing or broadcasting stories critical of the government, political parties, or particular officials. In some cases, media owners reportedly threatened to dismiss journalists if they produced critical reports. Journalists also complained that media owners prevented them from reporting on high-level government corruption.

As of August, the Ombudsperson Institution was investigating 26 complaints from media, civil society organizations, and individual citizens concerning alleged violations of the right of access to public documents. The Ombudsperson Institution concluded public institutions lacked the professional capacity and staff to respond to requests for access to public documents, leading to either significant delays or failures to provide legal justification for denying or restricting access.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on cultural events. The education system was subject to political appointments of school directors and teachers at all levels.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Ethnic minorities had access to identity documents in the civil registry, and the number of Kosovo Serbs with these documents continued to increase. Kosovo-Serb representatives claimed some challenges remained, such as access to civil documents for Serbian nationals married to Kosovo-Serb citizens.

In-country Movement: The primary bridge connecting Mitrovica/e North and South remained closed for vehicular traffic, allegedly to prevent civil disturbances, but was fully open to pedestrians. KFOR and police maintained permanent security at the location. Other bridges connecting the two cities were fully open.

Exile: The return to the country by ethnic minority refugees from the war remained a challenge. Parliamentary representatives of the Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptian, and Romani communities reported social prejudice prevented the return of nearly 400 members of their communities. These persons were formerly resident in the country and informed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that they were ready to return from Serbia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro.

UNHCR reported large numbers of individuals continue to have displacement-related needs stemming from the 1998-99 conflict and the violent events of 2004, including 15,699 displaced persons within the country.

While UNHCR continued to maintain its internal database of returnees and assistance applications, the Ministry for Communities and Return initiated procedures to establish its own database on displaced persons, refugees, and returnees. According to the Communities and Return Ministry, barriers to return included widespread discrimination against members of minority communities, fear of violence or harassment failure to enforce court decisions (particularly those concerning property), property usurpation, lack of access to educational and economic opportunities, lack of public services in a common language, limited representation of minority communities in public institutions and enterprises, and limited coordination and cooperation between governmental bodies to address issues of concern. UNHCR noted the government lacked a data collection and processing system for displaced populations and voluntary returns to the country and that the lack of a detailed census and adequate profiling data left displaced persons excluded from human rights protections and development plans.

The government promoted the safe and voluntary return of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Through the Communities and Return Ministry, it promoted policies and protections for IDPs in line with EU policies and cooperated with domestic and international organizations to ensure IDPs had access to their property and tools for their sustainable return. These include assistance repossessing property, land allocations for housing, and improved socioeconomic prospects.

Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian displaced persons and returnees continued to face particularly difficult living conditions. One of the main challenges was the resistance of some municipalities to allocate land and recognize tenancy or possession rights based on the informal settlements members of these communities occupied prior to displacement. Some municipalities failed to allocate land to Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities that had received property rights within the municipalities because they had lived elsewhere prior to their displacement.

In January media outlets reported joint funding from the EU Office, the Danish Refugee Council, and Strpce/Shterpce municipality enabled former IDPs from a collective center (temporary shelters) in Strpce/Shterpce to move into 110 apartment units. With the support of the EU and the Danish Refugee Council, the Ministry of Communities and Return reported it completed construction of residential units for some IDPs living in Gracanica/Gracanice.

According to UNHCR data, 139 displaced persons still resided in 15 collective centers in the country.

By the end of June the Ministry of Communities and Return reported it had, with support from the EU, completed construction of two houses for returnees and begun construction of eight more. The ministry delivered household appliances, food, construction material, and other necessary supplies to facilitate resettlement. Under the EU-supported initiative, the ministry also helped fund 41 individual small business projects and seven infrastructure projects for IDP communities.

The return process in some areas of the country continued to be marked by security incidents and local communities’ reluctance to accept the return of, or visits by, Kosovo-Serbs. As of July UNHCR reported a total of 19 incidents affecting returnees and IDPs, mainly in the Peje/Pec region. In June, Dragica Gasic, the first Kosovo Serb to reclaim property in Gjakova/Djakovica, experienced strong opposition from the community, including from local political party branches and associations of those missing and killed during the 1999 war. Gasic reported frequent harassment from neighbors and local businesses, including insults and intimidation. On July 27, Gasic reported to authorities that her home was forcibly entered and items stolen. According to media reports, Gasic legally repossessed the apartment through the Kosovo Property Comparison and Verification Agency. In July media outlets reported that unknown persons caused grievous bodily injuries to a displaced Serb who came to visit his property in Kline/Klina municipality. Police launched an investigation.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status with subsidiary protection, a system for providing protection to refugees, and temporary admission of asylum seekers while their cases are adjudicated. The government has a system in place enabling foreign nationals or stateless persons to seek asylum at any entry point to the territory or within the territory. The country has no central-level migration management system, however, for identification, screening, and referrals of persons seeking asylum protection and persons with specific needs within the mixed migration flow.

Reception facilities at the asylum center could host children but the facility lacked standard operating procedures for unaccompanied children seeking asylum or for determining their eligibility for asylum. Asylum cases decreased from previous years, and the country remained largely a point of transit. Those seeking asylum typically left the country and did not attend their hearings.

Refoulement: In August 2019 the PIK filed charges with the prosecution against 22 police officers who participated in an operation involving the 2018 rescission of residence permits and subsequent refoulement to Turkey of six Turkish citizens, whom Turkey accused of having ties to terrorism. In 2019 the appellate court affirmed a prior ruling that the rationale for rescinding the residence permits was baseless. As of December, the Ministry of Internal Affairs had not received a final judgment from the court. Separately, in February the SPO filed an indictment against the former director of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency and two senior Ministry of Internal Affairs officials for abuse of office in connection with the deportation of the Turkish citizens.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR reported asylum seekers received accommodations, regular meals, and clothing, while UNHCR partner organizations provided psychological assessments, counseling services, and legal aid. The lack of interpretation services for several official languages at both the central and local levels remained a problem. UNHCR stated health care and psychological treatment were still inadequate. According to the International Organization for Migration, despite a straightforward registration process, the government did not grant new arrivals immediate access to services and asylum procedures, which resulted in a considerable backlog of applications.

The government partnered with UNHCR to designate a detention center for foreigners as a quarantine site for new arrivals and to secure personal protective equipment and hygienic items for asylum seekers. UNHCR provided access to internet services at asylum centers to provide asylum seekers with online legal and psychosocial assistance as well as education for children.

The government introduced regulations mandating support and integration for asylum seekers, refugees, persons granted temporary protection or subsidiary protection, and stateless persons, but is still finalizing its standard operating procedures.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection, called subsidiary protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Through September the government had provided subsidiary protection to more than 1,000 individuals, primarily Afghan nationals in support of Operation Allies Refuge.

Official figures on stateless persons were not available. The law contains no discriminatory provisions that might cause groups or individuals to be deprived or denied citizenship. Citizens convey citizenship to their children. Children born to noncitizen parents acquire citizenship by virtue of birth within the country; this situation most often occurs within minority communities with large numbers of undocumented residents. Government procedures provide for access to naturalization for those granted stateless or refugee status five years after the determination.

While laws relating to civil status permit stateless persons to register life events such as birth, marriage, and death, implementation varied among municipalities. The government’s capacity to identify stateless persons and those with undetermined nationality remained inadequate.

Unregistered residents did not receive social assistance benefits and pension rights and could not register property titles or retain rights to inherited or transferred property. Children born of parents displaced outside the country and who entered with their readmitted parents often lacked documentation, including birth certificates, from their place of birth. UNHCR provided legal aid for civil registration of approximately 100 unregistered Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptians.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and domestic violence against all persons, including rape of a relative or spouse. By law rape is punishable by two to 15 years in prison. EULEX noted that courts often applied penalties lighter than the legal minimum in rape cases and that law enforcement bodies rarely took steps to protect victims and witnesses. In addition, sentences were often further decreased by the appellate court. The Prosecution Victim Assistance Office reported an increased number of domestic violence cases, from 1,145 in 2020 to 1,374 from January to August. Instances of gender-based violence, including sexual violence and rape were rarely reported by survivors, frequently due to social stigma or lack of trust in authorities.

The law recognizes gender-based violence as a form of discrimination but lacks a definition of gender-based violence for use in criminal and civil proceedings. The Prosecution Victim Assistance Office helped to provide access to justice for survivors of all crimes, with a special focus on survivors of domestic violence, trafficking in persons, child abuse, and rape. In addition, each prosecutor’s office had a prosecutor who specialized in handling domestic violence cases. These prosecutors could apply risk-assessment tools to mitigate the risk of future abuse and were empowered to recommend harsher sentences for repeat offenders and violators of protective orders.

Police investigated cases of domestic violence before transferring them to prosecutors who make the determination on filing charges. The rate of prosecution was low, however, and sentences were often lowered on appeal. Advocates and court observers asserted prosecutors and judges favored family unification over survivor protection, with protective orders sometimes allowing the perpetrator to remain in the family home while a case was pending. Sentences ranged from judicial reprimands to up to five years’ imprisonment. The Pristina Basic Court held online hearings on domestic violence cases consistent with government COVID-19 pandemic measures.

In March, Sebahate Morina was killed by her former husband, Lulzim Sopi, 11 days after her daughter reported to police that her mother was being abused physically. In 2019, Sopi was indicted on domestic violence charges, and despite consistent violence against his wife, the Gjilan Basic Court, following a guilty plea by Sopi, imposed a criminal fine only. A civil restraining order against Sopi was active until three months before Morina’s reported murder. In March the Ombudsperson issued a report on the killing, finding authorities did not conduct a proper risk assessment and lacked coordination.

In August two men deposited the body of 18-year-old Marigona Osmani in front of a hospital in Ferizaj/Urosevac. Doctors confirmed Osmani had been raped and otherwise physically abused for at least two days and was already dead when discovered at the hospital. From the hospital’s security camera footage, Kosovo Police identified Dardan Krivaqa, Osmani’s husband, and Arber Sejdiu as suspects and arrested both two days later. Press reports indicated police had previously charged both men for multiple other violent offenses, including rape, bodily injury, and attempted murder. The incident sparked nationwide protests against perceived police inaction. As of September the two suspects remained in custody pending further investigation.

The government licensed and supported 10 NGOs that assisted women and child survivors of domestic violence. The government maintained a budget line for financial support of shelters, resolving a long-standing funding problem. Both NGOs and shelters reported timely receipt of funding.

The Office of the Prime Minister maintained a commission to recognize and compensate survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. The commission has granted pensions to more than 900 women since 2018. The SPRK designated one prosecutor for cases of conflict-related sexual violence. Police maintained a unit for war crimes cases, including cases of conflict-related sexual violence.

Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment in civil and criminal proceedings. The criminal article on sexual harassment stipulates criminal proceedings are initiated upon a victim’s request and prison sentences are authorized for sexual harassment offenses against vulnerable victims. In cases where a crime is committed with the use of a weapon, the sentence may vary from one to five years in prison. The NGO Kosovo Women’s Network reported that implementation of sexual harassment laws was hampered by poorly defined procedures for filing complaints of harassment, and lack of clarity regarding which government bodies should receive these complaints.

According to women’s rights organizations, harassment was common at workplaces in both the public and private sectors, including in public institutions of higher education.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Poor, marginalized, and illiterate individuals often had insufficient access to information on reproductive health. To address the problem, the government and the UN Population Fund created family planning curricula for all educational levels and began training educators to implement it.

The government requires transgender persons to undergo mandatory sterilization before changing their gender marker (see Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, below, for additional information).

The National Law on Reproductive Health obligates the government to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not always available as part of clinical management of rape. The Ministry of Health included emergency contraception on its list of essential drugs for health centers, but the UN Population Fund reported some centers did not always have the drugs available. The Kosovo Women’s Network reported it was unaware of emergency contraceptive services in the country. Survivors were assigned a “victim’s protection official” who assisted with both the criminal justice and medical treatment processes.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The law requires equal pay for equivalent work. The law stipulates that partners in marriage and civil unions have equal rights to own and inherit property, but men usually inherited family property and other assets. In rare instances Kosovo-Albanian widows, particularly in rural areas, risked losing custody of their children due to a family custom requiring children and property to pass to the deceased father’s family while the widow returned to her birth family.

Relatively few women occupied upper-level management positions in business, police, or government. The Kosovo Women’s Network reported women were often subject to discriminatory hiring practices.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The boy-to-girl ratio at birth was 108 boys to 100 girls. The government did not have policies to address the imbalance.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on racial or ethnic background. The constitution further allows for the adoption of interim measures to protect or advance the rights of minority or ethnic individuals or groups that suffer from discrimination. Reports of violence and discrimination against members of ethnic minority groups persisted. The law guarantees equal protection, without discrimination, on the grounds of race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, relation to any community, property, economic and social condition, sexual orientation, birth, disability, or other personal status. The Law on Protection from Discrimination establishes a comprehensive system of protection from discrimination in the country and designates two entities – the Ombudsperson Institution, and the Office on Good Governance under the Prime Minister – as the administrative bodies responsible for resolving cases of discrimination, promoting equality, and monitoring the implementation of antidiscrimination measures. The criminal code contains provisions to classify as “hate acts” such offenses where race or ethnicity is a motivating factor.

According to the Ombudsperson Institution, although there is a good legal framework to protect racial and ethnic minorities, there were problems that prevent full and effective implementation and enforcement, including a lack of institutional capacity. Societal violence, as well as social and employment discrimination, persisted against Kosovo-Serb and other ethnic minority communities.

Through July, Kosovo Police reported six incidents of societal violence or discrimination targeting ethnic minorities, including the placement of wartime photos at the apartment building of a Serb returnee in Gjakove/Djakovica (see section 2.e., Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons), and vandalism of an Orthodox Church in Pristina. In May the Kosovo Police approved a Manual for Handling Hate Crimes, and police investigations of incidents targeting ethnic minorities led to some arrests. The Kosovo-Serb community expressed concern that the government’s responses were not adequate.

The NGO Aktiv reported 48 incidents in the first six months targeting the Kosovo-Serb community and Serbian Orthodox Church sites, including property damage, burglaries and thefts, physical attacks and threats, and offensive graffiti. In August, the advocacy platform Empirica issued a press release demanding thorough investigations of unresolved cases, particularly those involving physical attacks against Kosovo Serbs. Serbian-language media regularly reported on incidents, including two attacks in July, one against a teenage boy by Kosovo Albanians in Vushtrri/Vucitrn and another against a displaced Serb visiting his property in Kline/Klina. In September Kosovo Police arrested several Kosovo Albanians, including minors, suspected of an assault targeting a group of Kosovo Serbs in Mitrovice/a South.

Harassment of Kosovo-Serb members of the Kosovo Security Force by other ethnic Serbs was commonplace, although usually the incidents were difficult to trace. Victims in most cases did not report the incidents to police for fear of escalation and retaliation. The Ministry of Defense and Kosovo Security Force leadership continued to take steps to protect Kosovo-Serb members, including better documentation of incidents, routine welfare checks by commanders, and attempts to improve the response of police and the Kosovo Intelligence Agency.

In December the Supreme Court annulled the basic and appeals court convictions against former member of parliament Ivan Todosijevic on charges of inciting intolerance and denying atrocities committed against ethnic Albanian civilians in 1999. The Supreme Court’s ruling annulled the previous sentence of two year’s imprisonment and ordered a retrial. Todosijevic was serving as the Minister of Local Government Administration in 2019 when he denied the occurrence of the well-known Recak/Racak massacre of 45 ethnic Albanians, during a public speech.

Access to justice for Kosovo Serbs continued to improve due to the 2017 integration of the judiciary system in the four northern Serb-majority municipalities and integration of Kosovo-Serb judges and staff in other basic courts in the country. The judiciary suffered from a lack of funding and support for members of minority communities. Poor or delayed translation in court proceedings, a backlog of cases in the north, nonexecution of court decisions, limited numbers of minority staff, and inconsistency between Albanian and Serbian translations of legislation continued to hinder the delivery of justice for Kosovo Serbs and other minority communities.

Ethnic minorities, including the Serb, Romani, Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptian, Turkish, Bosniak, Gorani, Croat, and Montenegrin communities, continued to face varying levels of institutional and societal discrimination in employment, education, social services, language use, freedom of movement, the right to return to their homes (for displaced persons), and other basic, legally stipulated rights.  The Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities often lacked access to basic hygiene, medical care, and education and were heavily dependent on humanitarian aid for subsistence.

The Prime Minister’s Office of Community Affairs and the Ombudsperson Institution noted discrimination in public sector employment in almost all local and national institutions. Although the law mandates 10 percent of employees at the national level of government be ethnic minorities, their representation remained limited and generally confined to lower-level positions. Smaller communities, such as Gorani, Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians, were particularly underrepresented.

The Office of the Language Commissioner continued to monitor the implementation of legislation that conferred equal status to the country’s two official languages, Albanian and Serbian, as well as other official languages at the local level, including Bosnian and Turkish. The commissioner reported municipal administrations and central government institutions remained inconsistent in implementing provisions of national language laws, which resulted in unequal access to public services, information, employment, justice, and other rights.

Lack of translation or poor translation remained a problem with regards to numerous laws, signage in public institutions, and communication in court proceedings. Courts often failed to provide adequate translation and interpretation services to minority defendants and witnesses and did not provide adequate translation of statute and court documents as required by law. Government efforts to address these problems remained inconsistent.

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship from citizen parents or by birth in the country, including those with parents whose citizenship was not documented. Those not registered at birth were primarily from the Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities. UNICEF indicated lack of registration could adversely affect a child’s access to social assistance, particularly for repatriated children. Children who were not registered were considered stateless.

Education: The law requires equal conditions for all schoolchildren and recognizes minority students’ right to public education in their native language through secondary school. This law was not enforced. Bosniak, Croat, Gorani, Montenegrin, Romani, and Turkish community leaders cited the unavailability of textbooks and other materials in the Serbian, Bosnian, and Turkish languages, occasionally turning to Albanian-language curricula or curricula sponsored by Serbia or Turkey to educate students.

Child Abuse: The criminal code does not specifically criminalize child abuse but addresses various elements of child abuse, including in sections on sexual assault, rape, trafficking in persons, and child pornography, among others. Penalties range from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. The incidence of child abuse was unknown due to social stigma and lack of reliable data.

UNICEF, the Ombudsperson Institution, the Statistics Agency, and responsible ministries jointly created a unified data management system to track child-related information in the justice, education, and social welfare sectors.

In July 2019 a nine-year-old boy from Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje was raped and killed. The boy’s mother had reported his rape, identifying the perpetrator, to police prior to the killing, but the alleged perpetrator was released after questioning and never rearrested. Six months later, the child was found dead in Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje. The alleged perpetrator was then arrested for rape and aggravated murder. The defendant was sentenced provisionally in 2020, with final sentencing still pending in August. The government allocated 20,000 euros ($23,000) to the victim’s family to help alleviate their financial situation. Following the trial, police and prosecutors began jointly reviewing all procedures and actions in child abuse cases. Disciplinary investigations were initiated against two prosecutors involved in the case over suspicion they failed to address the claims of abuse in a timely and efficient manner. One of the prosecutors was disciplined by the Prosecutorial Council. A human rights lawyer took up the case and sought to hold officials accountable for inaction.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law allows persons to marry at age 16 with parental consent. Although there is no official data on early and forced child marriages, it was a common practice, including within the Roma, Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptian, Bosniak, and Gorani communities. According to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics and UNICEF, while the overall percentage of women between the ages of 20 and 24 who married before age 18 was low, the percentage for women in the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities was disproportionately high, at one in three. According to a government report that focused specifically on Romani, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, approximately 12 percent of children, mostly girls, married before the age of 15. High poverty levels in these communities contributed to these rates.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Persons who produce, use, or involve a child in making or producing pornography may receive a prison sentence of one to five years. The distribution, promotion, transmission, offer, or display of child pornography is punishable by six months’ to five years’ imprisonment. Possession or procurement of child pornography is punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.

The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape is a criminal offense punishable by five to 20 years in prison. Terre des Hommes Kosovo reported that national mechanisms for identification and referral of children who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation are ineffective. The organization noted children transported from Albania for street work were inadequately identified as potential victims of trafficking or children at risk of trafficking. The municipality of Pristina established a special task force intended to address these issues and provide protection and necessary services for children engaged in street work.

International Child Abductions: The country is not 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


Approximately 50 Jewish persons resided in the country, according to Jewish community representatives. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and provide for equal access to education, employment, and other state services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, and persons with disabilities faced discrimination and were unable to access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others.

Educational options for children with disabilities were limited. UNICEF, through its implementing partner Handi-Kos, assessed 30 municipalities and found that primary and lower secondary school buildings had numerous architectural barriers preventing inclusion and enrollment of children with physical disabilities into regular education. For example, 56 percent of schools did not provide a wheelchair ramp and 74 percent lacked accessible toilets. According to Handi-Kos, approximately 38,000 children with disabilities did not attend school.

According to Handi-Kos, access to health and rehabilitative services, including social assistance and assistive devices for persons with disabilities, remained insufficient.

Physical access to public institutions remained difficult, even after the implementation of bylaws on building access and administrative support. Handi-Kos reported that municipal compliance with a mandate on access to government buildings remained in the single digits. The parliament building itself was not accessible, and one member of parliament in a wheelchair had to be carried into the assembly hall by colleagues. Likewise, in the municipality of Suhareka/Suva Reka, persons in wheelchairs had access only to the ground floor of the municipal building, but not floors containing the mayoral and directorate offices.

Although the law requires equal access to transportation for persons with disabilities, the Ombudsperson Institution published a report in 2020 criticizing unequal access to inter-urban transportation for blind persons, despite the legal requirements. The report found public transportation accessibility measures for reserved seating, cost, and enforcement insufficient.

In June, the government established a Council for Persons with Disabilities as a government advisory body, with representatives from relevant ministries and NGOs, to improve enforcement of disability rights. The council held its first meeting in June, and its workplan includes implementation of the National Strategy 2013-2023.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the “public and private spheres of social life, including political and public life, employment, education, health, economy, social benefits, sports, culture and other areas.” When the motivation for a crime is based on gender, sexual orientation, or perceived affinity of the victim with persons who are targets of such hostility, the law considers motivation to be an aggravating circumstance.

According to human rights NGOs, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community faced overt discrimination in employment, housing, determination of statelessness, and access to education and health care.

The NGO Center for Equality and Liberty reported that societal pressure persuaded most LGBTQI+ persons to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity. The center also noted increased homophobic public reactions in social media since the introduction of country-wide measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the year, three cases of violence targeting LGBTQI+ were reported to the Kosovo Police and subsequently referred to the Prosecutor’s Office. Two were registered as incitement of hatred, discord, and intolerance based on religious, racial, or ethnic grounds, and one was registered as an incitement of threat. In May an unidentified individual threatened the life of LGBTQI+ activist Lend Mustafa in Pristina’s main square. Mustafa reported the unknown individual spat at him and shouted threats to kill him. Although police initiated an investigation, no charges had been filed as of December.

Police were inclusive and accepting of LGBTQI+ and other minority communities in their public messaging, and senior police officials participated in the annual pride parade. Pristina municipality established a drop-in center in 2020 and allocated funding for construction of the first-ever shelter for at-risk LGBTQI+ persons during the year.

In 2019 the appeals court upheld a basic court ruling permitting the change of the sex marker on identity documents from female to male for a citizen living abroad. In total, two citizens have changed their identity documents following lengthy court procedures, while four citizens’ requests for change of identity documents have not been resolved. The government requires transgender persons to undergo mandatory sterilization before changing their gender marker.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected these rights. Unsolved attacks against journalists, political interference with the public broadcaster, politically biased media reporting, and a deluge of ethnically divisive content and disinformation from Serbian outlets, however, continued to characterize the media landscape.

Freedom of Expression: Unlike 2020, during which the number of journalists, political activists, and private citizens who were detained and fined for posting disinformation, “fake news,” or insulting comments – mostly against government officials on social media – spiked, a much smaller number of individuals were prosecuted for social media postings during the year.

On April 28, the High Court of Podgorica convicted Aleksandar Jovanovic from Niksic to one year in prison for inciting ethnic, religious, and racial hatred through social media posts about Serbs. The same day, according to media reports, the High Court of Podgorica sentenced another individual from Niksic, Stefan Kovacevic, to seven months in prison for sharing an article containing hate speech against Muslims on his social media account.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of political and social views, media regulators faced increasing demands during the year that they curtail the rebroadcast of material from Serbia inciting hatred and intolerance.

The Atlantic Council of Montenegro’s Digital Forensic Center (DFC) reported on September 16 that since October 2020, Serbia-based media published a total of 15,825 articles containing the keyword Crna Gora (Montenegro), with 9,698 of them directly dealing with Montenegro and its internal political affairs. Their reporting, the DFC stated, “in an extremely sensationalist and inciting way, often violating journalism ethics and human moral code of conduct…leads to dangerous prejudices against Montenegro, its citizens, and institutions.”

Several times throughout the year, opposition parties urged the country’s Agency for Electronic Media (AEM) to ban rebroadcasting of programming from a few Serbian tabloid television stations for reportedly spreading hate speech. Following the August 30 broadcast of the Happy TV talk show “Will there be bloodshed in Montenegro?” about the enthronement of the Serbian Orthodox Church metropolitan, opposition parties and the Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society, and Media called on the AEM to ban the broadcast.

On September 15, the AEM Council asked the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media in Serbia to initiate a procedure to determine the liability of the Happy TV and Pink TV channels, based in Serbia, for violating professional and ethical journalistic standards. The AEM asserted that the broadcasters continuously aired content that incited hatred, intolerance, and discrimination towards ethnic Montenegrins. The AEM further specified that those stations used derogatory, insulting, or disturbing language, denying the national identity of Montenegrins, and warned that if violations continued after 15 days it would restrict the rebroadcasting of the controversial programs in Montenegro. There were no official reactions by the Serbian regulator nor any subsequent actions by the AEM.

Violence and Harassment: Violence and harassment against journalists continued to be a problem. Heightened political tensions in the country posed a risk for journalists who were targets of physical and verbal attacks while reporting or commenting on election rallies, political and religious gatherings, and protests. Unsolved attacks from previous years contributed to an atmosphere of intimidation against media.

On March 20, a group of five or six opposition demonstrators threatened and then physically assaulted TV Vijesti journalist Sead Sadikovic. Police detained two attackers, and the basic prosecutor filed charges against them. On November 19, the trial began in the Basic Court of Bijelo Polje against Edin Dizdarevic (age 18) and Nermin Omerovic (age 21), the two attackers accused of insulting and physically assaulting Sadikovic.

On May 25, a columnist of the private Radio Antena M, Dragan Bursac, a strong critic of the Serbian Orthodox Church, received death threats through social media. From the same account, similar threats were sent to Antena M and its editor in chief, Darko Sukovic. Media outlets reported that on June 4, police arrested Srdjan Misovic, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina residing in Montenegro, on suspicion of threatening the journalists, and prosecutors opened an investigation into his activities. On October 25, the Basic Court of Kotor sentenced Misovic to a suspended sentence of four months in prison, which would not be executed if he did not commit a new crime in the next two years.

Protesters at antigovernment demonstrations sometimes verbally assaulted or obstructed journalists from reaching a demonstration, including TV Vijesti journalist Ljubica Milicevic and her crew on August 24, another TV Vijesti crew, led by reporter Danijela Lasica and an N1 TV crew, on September 5, the day of the enthronement of Serbian Orthodox Church metropolitan Joanikije.

On September 1, RTCG journalist Tanja Sukovic and cameraman Dragan Tomasevic filed criminal reports against several Serbian Orthodox priests for preventing them from filming a group of citizens in Cetinje who were holding a protest performance at the entrance of the Cetinje Monastery. Sukovic told media that the priests were aggressive and insulted her (as a Montenegrin) because of her ethnicity. The Serbian Orthodox Church responded that the RTCG crew did not have permission to film on church property.

Condemning the series of attacks and threats against journalists, the NGO HRA noted 14 cases of verbal and physical attacks, threats, insults, and humiliation of journalists and other media professionals over the first six months of the year with most taking place while journalists performed their work. On November 2, the NGO Center for Civic Education reported 17 attacks or threats against journalists and media crews over the first 10 months of the year. The NGO called it a concerning trend of intensified threats and assaults against journalists and media.

On May 27, the 17th anniversary of the murder of Dusko Jovanovic, the editor in chief of the daily newspaper Dan, Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic and Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic announced that the investigation was being reopened and that the case would finally be solved. As of November, no updates on the investigation had been made public.

There was also no progress in solving the 2018 shooting of Vijesti investigative reporter Olivera Lakic in Podgorica. Although media speculated about the alleged progress during the year and police announced in 2019 that they had solved the case, identifying a criminal ringleader and eight members of his gang as the perpetrators, formal charges in the case have not been brought.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent and pro-opposition media complained about unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies. Unprofessional journalistic behavior, combined with low salaries and political pressure, contributed to self-censorship and biased coverage of events.

Libel/Slander Laws: There is no criminal libel law, but media outlets faced libel charges in civil proceedings.

On March 29, the Court of Appeals confirmed the 2020 ruling of the High Court of Podgorica to sentence investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic to one year in prison for facilitating drug trafficking. Martinovic, an investigative freelance journalist who covered organized crime, spent 14 months in pretrial detention from 2015 to 2017 and therefore was not expected to serve additional time. In 2019 the High Court sentenced Martinovic to 18 months in prison for being part of an international drug smuggling network, but an appellate court overturned the verdict in September and sent the case back for retrial. Martinovic claimed his contact with convicted criminals was solely in the context of his work reporting on organized crime. Martinovic called the Appellate Court’s decision politically motivated. Twelve local and international media organizations, including Reporters Without Borders and International Federation of Journalists, condemned the verdict and regretted that the Court of Appeals “has not seized the opportunity to acquit the internationally awarded journalist and send a message of support to investigative journalism in Montenegro.”

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Media: In July 2020 parliament adopted two new media laws, a general law on media and a law on the public broadcaster RTCG to increase the RTCG’s transparency. The NGO Media Center claimed that, despite the then government’s declared intention to decrease political influence over the public broadcaster, the way the law defined the parliament’s role in the appointment and dismissal process of the RTCG managing council, including allowing members of parliament to vote on the NGO-proposed candidates, showed that it wanted to retain control over the RTCG.

Parliament ignored the NGO Media Center’s complaints over the mechanism to select council members and on June 11, elected nine new members of the RTCG council. On August 6, out of four candidates who applied, the council elected civil activist Boris Raonic as RTCG director general. Media Center stated that four of the nine council members had conflicts of interest with Raonic, which was denied by Raonic and the council members.

Internet Freedom

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. COVID-19-derived public health restrictions included occasional bans on intercity travel and other movement restrictions, which some citizens protested.

Ministry of Interior statistics indicated that between 2009 and September 2021, a total of 15, 258 displaced persons (DPs) from the former Yugoslavia applied to resolve their residency status. Of these, 15,123 completed applications, 11,781 received permanent resident status, 616 received temporary resident status, and 135 applications remained pending. Individuals with temporary residence still needed support to acquire permanent residence because they still needed to acquire identity documents, such as birth and citizenship certificates, to get their passports.

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 internally displaced persons (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.

In April the government announced changes in criteria for receiving Montenegrin citizenship by admittance as well as amendments to the Law on Registries of Temporary and Permanent Residency. The proposed residency related amendments included an obligation that persons temporarily living abroad renounce their permanent place of residence in the country. Furthermore, removal from the temporary registry was understood as an interim step towards deletion from the voter registry and loss of suffrage. The initiatives sparked immediate protest, with some media outlets calling them an attempt at “demographic engineering” allegedly to offer citizenship to several thousand residents while revoking residency to thousands of Montenegrins temporarily living abroad. Following fierce reactions from the opposition, minority parties, and the diaspora community, the government suspended its decision to amend the conditions for acquiring citizenship while it prepared new draft amendments to the law to send to parliament for consideration.

With support of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the government, together with the government of Kosovo, continued to assist displaced Roma and Balkan-Egyptians in obtaining personal identification documents under a Montenegro-Kosovo agreement on late registration of births of persons born outside the hospital system. By the end of 2019, approximately 1,400 persons received assistance through this cooperation, while 40 others remained in need of Kosovo documents to acquire permanent residence status in Montenegro. The process, supported by UNHCR, facilitated the registration of births of persons born in Montenegro or Kosovo, especially Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children.

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed cooperation between Montenegro and Kosovo. During the year there were no organized returns of IDPs to Kosovo.

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’s livelihood study launched in 2018, many remained vulnerable, in need of support to become self-reliant, and continued to live below the poverty line. The COVID-19 pandemic additionally affected livelihood prospects and earnings of refugees from the former Yugoslavia, especially members of the Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian population. In April, more than a year into the pandemic, access to food and hygiene kits remained the most pressing needs of refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

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. DPs and IDPs continued to live in substandard dwellings, struggled to pay rent for private accommodation, faced problems obtaining sustainable livelihoods, or feared eviction from illegally occupied facilities known as informal collective centers, mostly in the coastal municipalities.

Restricted access to employment pushed many DPs into gray-market activities. Poor economic prospects particularly affected Roma, Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptians, and IDPs from Kosovo in urban areas due to their low levels of schooling and literacy, high unemployment, and other obstacles to full integration in society. The high unemployment rate affected the aging population across the country.

Although the law gives foreigners with permanent residence the full scope of rights of citizens except for the right to vote, DPs and IDPs 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 IDPs and DPs to return to their places of origin, but repatriation was essentially nonexistent due to the preference of many IDPs and DPs to remain in the country because they feared reprisals in their countries of origin, a lack of resources, or the lost bond with their country or place of origin. During the first eight months of the year, the situation worsened due to movement restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19 and related health concerns.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

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. Authorities did not employ methods for managing mixed migration movements effectively, such as prioritization or accelerated procedures. Observers noted that attention and readiness to address the increased mixed flow of migrants remained focused on border control aspects, as authorities reported 2,351 illegal border crossings during the first eight months of the year, an increase from 2020.

During the first eight months of the year, the country continued to record transitory movements of migrants and refugees along the Western Balkans route and a smaller number of applications for asylum. As of August, 190 persons (8 percent) applied for asylum out of the 2,328 who had declared an intention to do so when crossing the border. The borders remained open for asylum seekers.

From January 1 to October 31, UNHCR registered 3,313 pushbacks into Albania on the country’s border. They also registered approximately 191 pushbacks from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, or Croatia into the country. The two facilities for accommodation of asylum seekers – one in Spuz, fully funded by the government, and one in Bozaj, partially funded by the government – were generally sufficient to accommodate all asylum seekers.

In response to processing delays caused by COVID-19, the Ministry of Interior Directorate for Asylum in conjunction with UNHCR undertook an initiative to resolve asylum applications that had been outstanding for more than six months. During the first eight months of the year, authorities conducted 41 interviews, compared with a total of 56 interviews in 2020. Of the total applications filed, as of the end of August, 55 asylum seekers had actively pursued their asylum claim; the claims had been pending for two to 31 months. Although the deadline for a decision is set at six months, it may be extended up to 21 months. Of the 190 asylum applications, only 10 (5.2 percent) were approved; inadequate follow-through on applications contributed significantly to this figure.

Access to Basic Services: Once the asylum procedure is initiated, asylum seekers are granted access to free health care and education for minor applicants in line with international standards, although barriers to access, including language and cultural differences, sometimes limited practical access. As of September 2020, asylum seekers residing in the country for more than nine months could get a personal identification number, which allowed them to register with the Employment Agency and be legally employed. This system, however, was functional only in a small number of municipalities. UNHCR continued its advocacy with the Ministry of Interior to issue personal identification cards to at least those asylum seekers eligible to work. Many refugees had difficulties obtaining documents, and thus accessing services such as health care, due to language barriers. Throughout the year, newly recognized refugees continued to face problems with the Ministry of Interior in obtaining identification documents after receiving refugee status, limiting their access to social and economic rights and benefits.

Durable Solutions: A path to citizenship for refugees is 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 DPs from countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed access to basic services and naturalization in the country. Naturalized citizens were eligible to vote two years after naturalization.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided international protection (called subsidiary protection) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. During the first 10 months of the year, authorities did not approve subsidiary protection for any of the 231 requests submitted for international protection, while 11 persons were granted refugee status.

As of the end of August, 423 persons were at risk of statelessness or in a stateless-like situation. Since 2009 the government addressed the problem through simplified procedures for obtaining documents for refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Through reforms in 2015 and 2019 the government improved birth registration procedures, including for children abandoned by their mothers or whose mothers were without identity documentation.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

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, although the law permits lower sentences in cases where there are exceptionally extenuating circumstances or a significant lack of evidence. Actual sentences were generally lenient, averaging three years. Judges often used questionable methods, including forcing confrontations between victims and perpetrators, to assess the credibility of victims. NGOs expressed concern about the security of the courtrooms where victims were often forced to meet with abusers. On more than one occasion, the NGO Safe Women’s House has reported perpetrators physically attacked domestic violence survivors in the courtroom during the trial and in view of the judge. The NGO emphasized the problem of very small courtrooms where victim and perpetrator sit very close to one another without police protection.

Domestic violence is generally punishable by a fine or a one-year prison sentence. According to UNICEF data, 42 percent of Montenegrin women experienced intimate partner violence during their lifetime, while just 12 percent of survivors reported the violence to authorities. According to NGO reports, domestic violence survivors continued to experience difficulties having their cases prosecuted in the judicial system, promoting an atmosphere of impunity for abusers. This problem was further compounded by the additional constraints on prosecutors and the courts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases police were quick to dismiss allegations of domestic violence, particularly for young couples, noting that the problems would be resolved over time. When their cases were tried in court and they received a judgment in their favor, survivors noted the sentences imposed on perpetrators were lenient and dominated by suspended sentences and fines. Lengthy trials, economic dependency, societal norms, and a lack of alternative housing often forced survivors and perpetrators to continue to live together.

Police response to domestic violence was also reported to be substandard, with officers often counseling women to “forgive” their attackers or to “not harm their (the attackers) job prospects.” Cases involving perpetrators who were also public officials remained problematic. In the case of a police officer who attacked and injured a woman in a nightclub in 2019, the Basic Prosecutor’s Office stated that in his actions there were no elements of a criminal offense, and charges were not pressed, so police filed a misdemeanor report against him. Other institutions’ responses were also problematic. According to NGOs, social centers have increasingly taken actions to keep victims and abusers together in order to preserve the family structure or pay one-time assistance for rent, rather than accommodating victims in licensed shelters and providing other needed support to them, including psychological and legal support.

On September 30, a 19-year-old woman was killed by her common-law husband, who also severely injured her father. Her husband subsequently turned himself in to police after protesters gathered in Tuzi to demonstrate support for the victim’s family and push authorities to investigate, a call echoed by the prime minister. At year’s end it remained unclear whether charges were filed over the killing. The victim had previously filed a complaint in August against her husband, from whom she had separated, for constant harassment and threats. In response, police filed a complaint against the man for threatening his wife. The Basic Prosecutor’s Office in Podgorica, however, determined that there were no elements of a criminal offense, sending the case to the Misdemeanor Court, which acquitted the suspect.

On October 21, a husband killed his wife in their family house in Petnjica and then committed suicide. According to police, their 15-year-old daughter was seriously injured in the incident. A month later, the minister of interior acknowledged failures by police officers in this case. The minister explained that the victim’s son had reported an incident of violence involving his parents to the Center for Social Work months prior to the killing, which the center forwarded to police. Despite this, police did not visit the scene of the incident, electing instead to conduct a telephone interview of the husband without interviewing the wife or her children. Based on this interview, police concluded that there was no reason to go to the scene and the situation was calm. The case was closed until the killing occurred a few months later. At year’s end the officers involved were under internal review to determine responsibility.

In July President Milo Djukanovic pardoned Tomas Boskovic, who had been sentenced in June to 30 days in prison for illegally preventing his former wife from seeing their minor children for three years. The former wife was a victim of domestic violence. The president signed the pardon according to the opinion of the head of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the minister of interior. NGOs dealing with human rights and protection from domestic violence and violence against women strongly protested the president’s decision to pardon convicted family abuser Tomas Boskovic, who, according to them, continuously abused his parental rights, disrespected the law and court decisions, and worked against the interests of his minor children by not allowing them to have contact with their mother for three years. With this decision, NGOs stated, the president encouraged illegal behavior and disrespect for court decisions to the detriment of children and discouraged all parents who struggle to contact their children in accordance with court decisions. They also stated that by this act, the government committed outrageous institutional discrimination against women and children who are victims of violence and violated legally binding international standards, primarily the standards of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Istanbul Convention.

Domestic violence remained a persistent and common problem. The law permits survivors to obtain restraining orders against abusers. When the abuser and survivor live together, authorities may remove the abuser from the property, regardless of ownership rights. This was rarely done, and NGOs reported that, as a result of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 restrictive measures, women were spending more time with abusers. Domestic violence was a serious problem in all communities.

According to NGOs and the ombudsman, female survivors 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 survivors.

The government, in cooperation with an NGO, operated a free hotline for victims of family violence. The NGO SOS Line Niksic, which ran the hotline, reported a steady rise in domestic violence cases since 2019, driven by both increased reporting and the economic and psychological stresses of COVID-19. From January to May, they hosted 38 possible survivors of domestic violence (both women and children) in their shelter, 55 percent higher than the same period in the previous year. The government promoted use of the NGO SOS Hotline in Niksic, and the UN Development Program (UNDP) developed the mobile application “Be safe” as tools for domestic violence survivors to call for help. NGOs continued to report that, despite some progress, particularly in the law, government agencies responded inadequately to prevent domestic violence and help survivors recover.

According to NGOs, because of the restrictive COVID-19 measures, authorities failed to address domestic violence in a timely manner, leaving survivors with limited support. The NGO Women’s Rights Center stated that perpetrators often confiscated victims’ cell phones and not all survivors were able to use digital tools, which limited reporting. The NGO Women Safe House stated that the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic exposed women who lived with violent partners to even greater control and violence. According to a Women’s Safe House focus group survey, key reasons why women decided not to report the violence were fear of the perpetrator, uncertainty over the pandemic, lack of family support, and lack of trust in state institutions. More than two-thirds of women who participated in the focus group believed that bad economic conditions, isolation, and feelings of uncertainty contributed to the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic.

In 2020 local NGOs reported a case in which police in Niksic refused to accept a complaint and call for help of a Romani survivor of domestic violence seeking safe refuge at a police station, despite being accompanied by a caseworker from the NGO Center for Roma Initiatives. The survivor, a trafficking victim who entered the country illegally in 2019 after escaping a forced marriage in Kosovo, had been forced to marry a man in Bar, then marry a man in Herceg Novi. During both marriages, the survivor faced domestic violence, including seizure of her personal documents. Upon fleeing to stay with acquaintances in Niksic, she faced an attempted rape by a family friend. While in Niksic, the survivor was advised by the Center for Roma Initiatives to file a complaint with police concerning her abuse. Because the survivor was from Kosovo, police refused to act without first receiving permission from a health inspector due to COVID-19 restrictions. The inspector required the survivor and the NGO caseworker to self-isolate for 14 days, a period later extended to 28 days. Homeless and unable to find accommodation due to the self-isolation requirement, the survivor spent the night in front of the police station with her infant, after which she returned to her abuser, as she risked facing criminal charges for violating public health measures. The Center for Roma Initiatives continued to advocate on her behalf with police, who finally allowed her to be accommodated at an NGO-run shelter in mid-April 2020. The Ministry of Interior’s Department for Combatting Trafficking in Persons took up the survivor’s case, and in June 2020 she was transferred to the Shelter for Victims of Trafficking in Persons. Officials investigated the case as human trafficking rather than as domestic violence; the Higher Court in Podgorica prosecuted one man for trafficking in persons in connection with the case.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Child marriage continued to be a problem in Romani communities (see section 6, Children, subsection on Child, Early, and Forced Marriage). Although illegal, 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, then 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 led to girls withdrawing from 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 in the workplace 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.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The country continues to require sterilization to confer legal recognition of gender identity for transgender individuals. While free health care was available to citizens, health-care costs acted as a barrier for noncitizens and those lacking identification documents to access regular prenatal care. Due to poor education and living conditions, Romani and Balkan-Egyptian women seldom visited gynecologists, obstetricians, or any other doctors and had the least access to family planning counseling and gynecological services. Seeking to improve knowledge of reproductive rights within the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian community, the Center for Roma Initiatives organized a series of focus groups with the intention of developing a targeted action plan on improving Romani and Balkan-Egyptian reproductive health. Romani and Balkan-Egyptian women able to access these services often reported discriminatory treatment, including verbal harassment. Women outside these communities also reported verbal harassment when accessing reproductive health services. NGOs noted that such harassment was often unreported due to inadequate victim support mechanisms. Depending on the location, there was one gynecologist per 5,000 to 8,000 women, which affected women’s access to routine health services during pregnancy and childbirth.

Although there were no legal barriers to contraception, a 2020 UNFPA report indicated the country had enacted only 37 percent of legislation and regulations necessary to provide for full and equal access to contraceptive services. According to NGOs, there was a lack of publicly available information and appropriate educational programs, and economic status and restrictions by partners were barriers preventing women from using contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but that did not include emergency contraception. NGOs stated that these services were often not tailored to those experiencing sexual violence and that persons performing examinations sometimes lacked the necessary expertise to prepare a valid forensic report. Victims also often wait up to seven days for an examination, and there is no specialized center for supporting victims of sexual violence.

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, however, that women often had trouble 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. Men consequently tended to be favored in the distribution of property ownership, sometimes limiting a woman’s options in the cases of domestic violence or divorce. Women continued to experience discrimination in salaries and access to pension benefits (see section 7.d.).

The Department for Gender Equality worked to inform women of their rights, and parliament has a committee on gender equality. The government has a 2017-21 strategy on gender equality. In 2020 the government published the Gender Equality Index for Montenegro, one of a series of indices that measures inequalities in EU member states and countries in the EU accession process. On a rating scale of zero to 100, the index measured labor, money, knowledge, time, power, health, and violence. The largest inequality between men and women was noted in the category of power (35.1), followed by time (52.7), knowledge (55.1), money (59.7), and work (65.2). The greatest level of equality was reported in health (86.9).

Female judges who were forced to retire two years ahead of their male peers, per existing law, brought a complaint against the Judicial Council on the ground of discrimination. Throughout the year female political figures were the target of public, misogynistic insults, and occasional death threats, both online and by public figures. For example, in April the minister of education, science, culture, and sport, Vesna Bratic, was depicted in sexist and vulgar caricature with then bishop Joanikije. Local NGOs condemned this incident, stating that the mockery and shame to which Minister Bratic was exposed because of her gender did not, nor could not, have any justification and represented a brutal misogynistic attack on Bratic as a person with the intention to hurt, insult, and humiliate her.

According to Romani rights NGOs, one-half of Romani women between the ages of 15 and 24 were illiterate. Romani women often faced double discrimination based on their gender and ethnicity.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: Although illegal, medical professionals noted that gender-biased sex selection took place, resulting in a boy-to-girl ratio at birth of 110 to 100. The government did not actively address the problem.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Some reporting by Serbia-based media outlets, popular among Montenegrin-Serb populations in the country, contributed to rising tensions between ethnic groups. Tabloid television stations, portals, and online media continued to report intensively about Montenegro and its internal political developments during the year frequently using ethnically charged, inflammatory language playing on ethnic and national differences and disinformation, particularly over local elections in Niksic on March 14 and Herceg Novi on May 9, as well as around the enthronement of the country’s Serbian Orthodox Church metropolitan Joanikije on September 5.

Following the September 5 enthronement of the Serbian Orthodox metropolitan in Cetinje, ethnic tensions between Montenegrins and Serbs increased. The NGO Civic Alliance stated that the event deepened the already existing divisions in Montenegrin society.

Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained the most vulnerable victims of discrimination, mainly because of prejudice and limited access to social services due to a lack of required documentation. The law on citizenship and its accompanying regulations make obtaining citizenship difficult for persons without personal identity documents or those born outside of a hospital. Access to health-care services, including childbirth, remained challenging for members of these communities due to their lack of medical-care cards.

According to the Roma Education Fund, the poverty rate among Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained higher than 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. NGOs reported that several Romani neighborhoods did not have running water, which prevented, for example, the Vreli Ribnicki Romani community from complying with health recommendations. The NGO Young Roma stated that one of the biggest problems for the Romani community living in illegal squatter settlements was the risk of eviction, especially in the southern part of the country. According to the NGO Center for the Affirmation of Roma and Egyptian Population, the Roma and Balkan-Egyptian population, particularly children, faced discrimination during schooling, problems arising from unresolved legal status, the lack of employment opportunities, and poor housing (also see section 6, Children, subsection on Education). Albanians and Bosniaks in the southern and northeastern parts of the country also frequently complained about central government discrimination and economic neglect.

On February 11, the Hadzi-Ismail Mosque in Niksic was defaced with graffiti saying “Srebrenica,” “Turks,” and “Niksic will be Srebrenica.” The Hadzi-Ismail Mosque is the only mosque for Niksic’s Muslim population of approximately 1,500. The government, NGOs, and other religious groups condemned the graffiti.

Government-supported national councils for Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians, Muslims, Croats, and Roma represented the interests of those groups. NGOs, legal observers, and media outlets continued to accuse the government of misappropriating money from a fund established to finance the national councils.

The Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights stated that the government continued to provide housing for marginalized groups, including Roma. During the year the government adopted a new Strategy for Social Inclusion of Roma and Balkan Egyptians 2021-2025 and the Action Plan for 2021. The previous government’s strategy resulted in some improvement in the number of Romani children attending school, access to health care, and access to housing.

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. Enrollment in secondary education starts at the ages of 14 or 15. NGOs reported that the end of elementary education represented one of the most vulnerable moments for Roma and Balkan-Egyptian children, especially girls, since without school attendance monitoring, children were left to their parents and were vulnerable to “traditional” marriages. UNICEF data indicated that during 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a socioeconomic crisis, and children became more vulnerable to poverty, violence, and social exclusion and less able to acquire knowledge as schools closed and education went digital. A Rapid Social Impact Assessment by the UN, co-led by UNICEF and the UNDP, found that in April and June 2020, the country’s poorest households were increasingly unable to meet their children’s most basic needs, particularly affecting Roma and Egyptian children, children with disabilities, and refugee and migrant children. Half of the Roma and Balkan-Egyptian children dropped out of primary school, and only 3 percent completed high school. UNICEF noted there was not sufficient data on children with disabilities to assess their participation in and access to schooling.

NGOs reported that, although the number of Romani children attending school increased, they continued to face limitations in education. The NGO Young Roma reported that its research showed the average score of Romani children in schools was 2.23 out of five – just above passing – which reduced their chances of continuing their education later. The enrollment rate for Roma primary school pupils slightly increased in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19, compared to the higher birth rate. There was a persistent lack of data on the overall number of Romani children who should be enrolled in the education system, especially in obligatory primary education. In the 2019-20 school year, a total of 1,803 Roma and Egyptian children were enrolled in primary schools (compared with 1,793 in 2018-19), only 142 in secondary school and there were 13 high school students. The NGO Pihren Amenica stated that Romani children were additionally disadvantaged due to the shift to online schooling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, since not all families had access to electricity or computers to facilitate virtual learning.

Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from a year in prison for violence without a weapon to 12 years’ imprisonment for actions that result in the victim’s death; however, severe penalties were rarely imposed and short prison stays, suspended sentences, or small fines were the norm.

The Ministry of Health reported that child abuse remained a problem, with every third child 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 ages 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. To address the problem of child abuse, the government developed, in conjunction with UNICEF, a document called the Strategy for Exercising the Rights of the Child 2019-2023. The strategy set out a comprehensive “whole of government” approach to improving the conditions for exercising children’s rights in all areas covered by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols.

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 in the orphanage in Bijela.

In September the Basic Court in Podgorica convicted a man and sentenced him to the maximum sentence of two year’s imprisonment for the criminal offense of prolonged illicit sexual activity with a 12-year-old girl. The man was in custody since the beginning of April, which was extended after the verdict; the time spent in custody was expected to be included in his prison sentence.

In April several thousand individuals protested in Podgorica against extremely low penalties for sexual offenses against children. The law prescribes that the perpetrator be punished by a fine or maximum two years of imprisonment for illicit sexual activity committed against a child; imprisonment for two to 10 years, if the act caused grievous body injures to the person or if an act was committed by several persons or in a particularly cruel or particularly degrading manner. If, as a result of the act, the child died, the perpetrator is punishable by imprisonment for a term between three and 15 years.

Child, 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 a court or a parent. Punishment for arranging forced marriages ranges from six months to five years in prison, but convictions were rare, generally due to a lack of evidence or poor understanding of the law.

Child marriage was a serious problem in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities. According to UNICEF, 32 percent of Romani girls and one in six Romani boys between ages 15 and 19 were married. There continued to be reports of underage girls being sold into “traditional” or “arranged” marriages without their consent, including to persons in neighboring countries. 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.

In 2020 the government launched the “Children are Children” campaign to raise awareness of the harmful effects of child marriage in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities and explain the applicable regulations and procedures for protecting children from arranged marriages. The campaign was conducted by the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, and the Police Administration in cooperation with the NGO Center for Roma Initiatives, and it focused on working with members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities in Podgorica, Niksic, Tivat, and Berane.

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, and the country partially enforced the law. 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


The Jewish community population was estimated to be approximately 400 to 500 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities did not have access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. 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 it did not do so effectively. During the year a network of 10 NGOs that worked with persons with disabilities continued to coordinate and monitor implementation of the government’s strategy. The NGO Youth with Disabilities (YWD) stated that although the Ministry of Finance and Social Welfare oversees the register of persons with disabilities established pursuant to the strategy, there were problems consolidating information on persons with disabilities that had been collected by different state institutions and included new data from persons who had not previously registered with any institution. Government information and communication were not provided in accessible formats.

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, according to NGOs, approximately 65 percent of polling stations remained inaccessible during the 2020 national parliamentary elections. In addition ballot templates for persons with visual disabilities were missing in 17 percent of polling stations. Individual abuses of the right to vote with a proxy voter were also reported. After the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the provision on legal capacity as a precondition for exercising the right to vote, all citizens deprived of legal capacity were returned to the voter list by the Ministry of Interior, at the initiative of the YWD. The inaccessibility of polling stations led several persons with disabilities to initiate court proceedings to establish discrimination had occurred and, according to the YWD, there was some improvement in the accessibility of polling stations used during local elections in Niksic and Herceg Novi during the year, following active civil advocacy.

Some renovations of existing government buildings took accessibility into account, such as the construction of a central elevator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was completed in January 2020. The renovation of parliament’s plenary hall made it more accessible, including installation of an elevator and wheelchair-compatible seating space. Despite legal protections, persons with disabilities often hesitated to file charges 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. Discrimination cases that the YWD initiated against the Ministry of Finance, a health center in Podgorica, the Montenegrin Fund for Solidarity Housing Construction, and social centers in Podgorica, Tivat, and Budva continued through the year, with three of the cases concluding in rulings in favor of persons with disabilities.

According to NGOs, the Council for Care of Persons with Disabilities, chaired by the minister of labor and social welfare, which has responsibility for policies protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, did not meet during the year. The NGO Association of Youths with Disabilities noted that the failure of this body to hold any sessions led to a lack of institutional mechanisms for persons with disabilities to engage with the government and their subsequent exclusion from decision-making processes.

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. There are three models of education for children with disabilities in the country: mainstream schools, segregated classes at mainstream schools, and resource centers (public educational institutions that provide children with disabilities with necessary academic and social tools, training, and support), of which there were three in the country. The laws governing education also provide for the creation of special commissions by municipalities to provide guidance in the educational process for children with disabilities. Such guidance does not apply to other children. The YWD stated that the last two models are tantamount to segregation of students with disabilities, which is considered a form of discrimination under the law. NGO monitoring of the education of children and young persons with disabilities showed that commissions often referred them to a limited number of primary and secondary schools and that no child with a disability was admitted to a gymnasium (the most prestigious type of preparatory school for students who were expected to continue in postsecondary education), which the NGO found unacceptable.

NGOs also stated that supported-living assistance at home and similar services were not provided to families and parents of children with disabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the schooling of children with disabilities, many of whom remained without adequate teaching assistance. Paid leave was not ensured to some parents of children with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities were often institutionalized or encouraged towards institutions, which perpetuated stigmatization. Persons with physical disabilities also had difficulty in obtaining high-quality medical devices to facilitate their mobility through health and social insurance.

The NGOs Juventas and the Montenegrin HIV Foundation stated that persons with HIV/AIDS were stigmatized and experienced discrimination, although most discrimination was undocumented. Observers believed fear of discrimination, societal taboos relating to sex, and the lack of privacy of medical records discouraged many persons from seeking testing for HIV. NGOs reported patients often faced discrimination by medical personnel and received inadequate treatment. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals had difficulty or were unable to access HIV testing and medication, which was available only in Podgorica, and medical personnel failed to provide adequate treatment

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law forbids incitement of hatred based on sexual orientation and prohibits discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The presence of an anti-LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex) bias is an aggravating circumstance when prosecuting hate crimes.

In the first eight months of the year, the NGO LGBT Forum Progress submitted more than 60 complaints to police regarding online discrimination, hate speech, and verbal abuse, including comments on social media, and asked authorities to press charges against the commenters. The NGO stated that the total number of charges filed in the first half of the year was somewhat lower when compared with the same period in 2020 or 2019 but noted a significant rise of hate and hate speech online targeting different communities and groups, based on their nationality, ethnicity, and religious beliefs, which corresponded to the rise of tensions and divisions in the society throughout the year.

According to NGOs, as a result of COVID-19-related restrictions on movement, many LGBTQI+ persons returned to their primary residences where they experienced an increase of hate, abuse, discrimination, and rejection by family members. Many of them searched for psychosocial and legal support. One LGBTQI+ center was operational during the second half of 2020 and throughout 2021. It was run by an NGO and relied solely on small emergency grants and funds without government support.

Every police station had an officer whose duties included monitoring observance of the rights of LGBTQI+ persons. During the year a “team of confidence” between police and LGBTQI+ NGOs continued working to improve communication between police and the community. The government also formed the National Focal Point Network composed of representatives from local municipalities to promote LGBTQI+ rights at the local level.

During the year the national team formed by the Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights to monitor implementation of the National Strategy for the Improvement of the Quality of Life of LGBTI Persons in Montenegro 2019-2023 worked to increase the capacity of institutions involved in the protection of individuals against discrimination, particularly in the judicial system. COVID-19 prevented the team from meeting more than twice, but it coordinated and remained informed on all ongoing activities. The NGO Spectra reported that realization of most of the planned activities would be continued next year, again due to COVID-19 delays. The NGOs Juventas and Queer of Montenegro reported they cooperated with the team to help local authorities create and approve local action plans to fight homophobia and transphobia and improve the quality of life for LGBTQI+ persons. The government did not provide funds for operating the LGBTQI+ shelter in 2022, although the 2019-23 national strategy anticipated that the shelter would be fully funded for the duration of the strategy.

The NGO Spektra reported that transgender women and men in the country had been unable to access hormone therapy for the previous four years, which led to significant risks to their physical and mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the ordering of hormone therapies from neighboring countries. Spektra also noted that the health system experienced a periodic shortage of testosterone supply since the beginning of the pandemic, which resulted in a direct threat to the health and well-being of transgender persons. The NGO alleged the situation violated the basic human rights provided by the country’s constitution and laws concerning access to health care and health insurance.

North Macedonia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. According to the country’s Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM), however, law enforcement and judicial authorities’ response to instances of third-party violence toward and intimidation of journalists was slow and inefficient.

As of September 20, the Skopje Public Prosecutor’s Office reviewed 17 criminal complaints alleging threats and physical or online attacks against journalists. The prosecutors found three of those complaints merited further prosecutorial inquiries and three were referred to the Ministry of Interior for qualifying as misdemeanors. The remaining 11 did not merit prosecutorial review for lack of evidence proving criminal conduct.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits speech that incites national, religious, or ethnic hatred and provides penalties for violations. Individuals may criticize the government publicly or privately. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and other human rights and media freedom activists reported an increase in hate speech. On August 16, the committee issued a press release condemning insults and belittling of medical doctors, voiced during August 15 antivaccination protests in Skopje. In a press release, the AJM condemned vulgar messages and insults against media crews that covered the protests.

As of September 20, the Skopje Public Prosecutor’s Office had reviewed eight criminal complaints alleging conduct criminalized as “spreading racist and/or xenophobic materials via computer system” under the criminal code. Prosecutors dismissed three of the cases and ordered further inquiries into the remaining five.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While outlets and reporting continued to be largely divided along political lines, the number of independent media actively expressing a variety of views without overt restriction continued to increase. Laws that restrict speech inciting national, religious, or ethnic hatred also cover print and broadcast media, publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

Central government advertising on commercial channels is banned, but local government advertising is permissible. The state continued to subsidize print media. Budget funds were allocated to media to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. The state subsidized paid political ads in commercial media for the campaign leading to the October 17 municipal elections.

On April 1, media reported that on March 31, based on financial police criminal reports, the Skopje Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a summary indictment on tax evasion charges against a company that reportedly owns Alfa TV, a commercial television station with national coverage. According to the charges, the company evaded approximately 62.5 million denars ($1.2 million) in taxes on 2013/2014 income. In a May 19 press release, Alfa TV complained about pressure from the financial police for investigating the station’s financial and program operations in 2019 and 2020 and from Ministry of Interior inspectors for inspecting the station’s 2013-2020 commercial operations. The actions were reportedly executed in accordance with OCCPO orders.

In December 2020, following an open call, the government allocated 30 million denars (approximately $570,000) to 11 print media outlets to cover part of the 2020 printing and distribution expenses. In response to a recommendation in the State Anticorruption Commission’s National Anticorruption Strategy, advising the government to introduce more specific subsidizing criteria to avoid “not purposeful spending of awarded funds,” the government mandated beneficiaries submit expenditure reports in the second half of the year.

The Media Ethics Council continued to work on promoting self-regulation. As of August 25, the council had received 95 complaints of unethical reporting and fake news, which was 10 percent lower than the number received in the same period in 2020. More than 90 percent of the complaints were related to unethical reporting. On March 5, with assistance from the OSCE Mission to North Macedonia, the council launched a set of ethical guidelines for online media to help develop credible online media self-regulation and to strengthen independent, professional, and accountable reporting. The guidelines urged transparent ownership of online outlets and appointing editor(s) who would be accountable for published content, including from third parties.

Violence and Harassment: There were cases of physical violence, alleged threats, and harassment against journalists during the year.

As of August 27, the AJM registered two cases of attacks on journalists. One was a physical attack against a MIA state news agency cameraman by protestors attending a February 26 protest against the court verdicts in the “Monster” trial. The other case involved repeated death and rape threats made by a person identified as Arben Esati on Facebook in March against several local journalists from Tetovo. Esati was reportedly the son of a retired anesthesiologist from Tetovo who offered his help to Serbia’s president to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Following a request from the AJM, police filed criminal charges against the individual for threatening violence and as of August 27, the case was pending before the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The AJM received 20 additional complaints from journalists related to insults received while on duty, inappropriate conduct of central and local government officials or political party members, as well as a lack of institutional transparency.

The Skopje Criminal Court reported there were three pending cases involving journalists as of August 25. During the year the Skopje Appellate Court upheld a Skopje Criminal Court verdict sentencing two defendants to one-year-and-two-months each, and another defendant to a three-year prison sentence for participating in a violent crowd that attacked and seriously injured a television cameraman, among others, during protests.

Tanja Milevska, a Brussels-based correspondent for state news agency MIA, continued to receive death and rape threats from anonymous Twitter and Facebook users, which she reported to police in December 2020 and again on August 23. As of August 25, the Ministry of Interior’s motion to request international legal assistance to obtain information from the social media platforms was pending with the Skopje Public Prosecutor’s Office.

In December 2020 the Skopje Civil Court denied several civil compensation lawsuits filed by a group of journalists and media staff in April 2020, in which they requested financial and moral compensation from the state for violating their right to freedom of speech in connection with the April 2017 storming of parliament. The court denied the lawsuits from journalists Dushica Mrgja and Natasha Stojanovska, citing lack of evidence.

On April 15, the European Federation of Journalists joined its affiliate, the AJM, in a motion challenging the court’s 2020 ruling denying former journalist Goran Trpenoski’s related lawsuit. The two organizations claimed the ruling violated European legal standards on press freedom and appealed to the court to revise it. As of August 27, the three cases were pending review before the Skopje Appeals Court, and related lawsuits from four other journalists were pending before the Skopje Civil Court.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The ombudsman received two complaints alleging violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. One complaint alleged that police officers prevented protesters from marching along an authorized route during February 26 protests against the “Monster” trial verdict. The Ministry of Interior advised the ombudsman that disciplinary action could not be taken due to the ministry’s inability to identify the police officers involved. The other complaint alleged the police interfered with a June 8 protest by members of the VMRO-DPMNE political party by unlawfully arresting one protester. The Ministry of Interior took disciplinary action against one police officer and referred the case to the OCCPO for further investigation.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

A “state of crisis” has been in force for border areas adjacent to Greece and Serbia since 2015. It has been extended by the government every six months, most recently on April 20. The state of crisis is in effect until December 31. The state of crisis allows the government additional authorities to regulate the entry and transit of migrants and deploy additional resources as needed. Since the closure of the “Western Balkans route” in 2016, migrants apprehended in these areas were regularly sheltered in temporary transit centers, near the border, and returned to the country from which they entered within days. No freedom of movement was ensured for migrants while in the transit centers or the reception center for smuggled foreigners, nor was a formal removal or readmission procedure established.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities designated the Vinojug Temporary Transit Center as a quarantine facility for asylum seekers, migrants with medical needs, and migrants identified as witnesses in criminal proceedings against migrant smugglers. Overall responsibility for the transit centers was divided between the Crisis Management Center, the Ministry of Labor, and the Border Police, but the legal status of both the Vinojug and the Tabanovce transit centers had not been defined as of September 15.

There was no judicial oversight regarding the decision to accommodate migrants and asylum seekers in Temporary Transit Center Vinojug, which became a closed center, with the persons accommodated there subjected to limited freedom of movement for the duration of the COVID-19 quarantine period. When the government lifted most COVID-19 restrictions related to freedom of movement, measures remained in effect for some migrants and asylum seekers.

A total of 1,397 persons were temporarily accommodated in transit centers in the first nine months of the year: 1,094 in Tabanovce, near the border with Serbia; and 303 in the Vinojug transit center, near the border with Greece.

As of September 30, only 70 migrants remained in the country, including seven from Afghanistan, although Afghans represented the highest number of migrants (more than 40,000) attempting to enter from Greece. The other migrants went northward through Serbia or were pushed back into Greece.

The law provides that freedom of movement may only be restricted in extraordinary circumstances. It permits, for example, movement restrictions to allow time to determine an individual’s identity and citizenship, or to establish the facts and circumstances of his or her asylum request, particularly if the subject has been determined to be a flight risk. The law also permits restrictions to protect order and national security, and when a foreigner is retained for the purposes of initiating a procedure for his or her return or expulsion.

Authorities did not exert pressure on migrants to return to their country of origin.

The ombudsman determined that the Ministry of Interior sometimes made arbitrary decisions to restrict freedom of movement, including in cases involving unaccompanied minors. During the year the ombudsman reviewed two cases alleging restricted freedom of movement of two unaccompanied minors, both foreign nationals.

In-country Movement: There were no in-country movement restrictions for residents, nor for any person under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), though a lack of personal identification documents (such as an identification card, birth certificate, etc.) by stateless persons often made them unable to exercise their right to freedom of movement.

Convention Travel Documents (CTD) are regulated by law; however, the CTD forms are not machine readable and therefore not compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization standards. The UNHCR office in Skopje was not aware of CTDs being used for travel outside the country.

The UNHCR office in Skopje estimated that approximately 14,000 persons transited the country from January 1 to August 31, but neither UNHCR nor the International Organization for Migration (IOM) registered any hate crimes against them. UNHCR did not note any in-country movement restrictions for internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, or stateless persons. According to the EU’s border and coastguard agency, Frontex, 22,600 migrants, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, were encountered along the so-called Balkans route that includes North Macedonia during the first seven months of the year. This was twice as many individuals as were encountered in the same period in 2020.

Citizenship: Several resident ethnic Albanians’ citizenship applications were pending resolution. Some Roma were still assumed to be noncitizens, despite persistent efforts of the state to regulate their status, according to civil society organizations (CSOs). Estimates were that approximately 800 Roma did not have citizenship. The majority of these were unable to obtain citizenship in the period following the country’s independence from the former Yugoslavia, due to illiteracy or lack of awareness of relevant bureaucratic processes. Consequentially, a few Roma were unable to obtain new national identification documents or provide proof of the required residency.

The ombudsman monitors the implementation of the Law on Citizenship, including amendments adopted in July and designed to facilitate granting citizenship to undocumented persons who were residents in the country before its independence in 1991. The ombudsman received 16 complaints alleging unjustified delays in citizenship applications. According to him, most of those delays resulted from the National Security Agency’s “arbitrary and subjective” adjudications that protracted security vetting procedures.

The Ministry of Interior reported that 71 long-time residents had applied for citizenship under the amended Law on Citizenship’s provisions; as of September 30, 13 of those had been approved.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, as of September 30, 109 persons from 26 families remained displaced from the 2001 internal armed conflict. Of them six individuals from three families lived in collective housing centers, and 103 individuals from 23 families lived in private accommodations or with host families. Permanent housing remained a problem for IDPs, although the government covered their monthly rent.

The government provided protection and assistance and supported safe, voluntary, and dignified returns as well as resettlement or local integration of IDPs. There were no reports of IDPs suffering abuses.

Despite having no national policy document specific to IDPs, the government generally observed the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. On January 5, the government adopted a Social Protection Program which instructed the Ministry of Labor to focus on programs designed to assist with the sustainable return of IDPs to their places of origin.

The government cooperated with UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, stateless persons, persons granted subsidiary protection, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

UNHCR assessed asylum processes continued to improve, and previous concerns regarding a practice of arbitrarily denying access to asylum seekers had been addressed. UNHCR reported, however, that the mechanism for adjudicating refugee status failed to provide basic procedural guarantees and proper determinations as prescribed in the law.

As of June 30, a total of 30 persons had applied for asylum. No one was granted international protection during the year, and no one has been granted refugee status since 2016. All asylum requests registered in the country were processed through the Reception Center for Foreigners. Due to COVID regulations, all asylum seekers were initially placed in a two-week quarantine at Temporary Transit Center Vinojug before transfer to the reception center for asylum seekers in Skopje. The country’s legal framework provides for procedural safeguards and review during the asylum procedure.

There were several disputes concerning the application of some safeguards, including at the judicial level. For instance, although legally permissible, in practice the court refused all hearing requests made by asylum seekers. Likewise, the administrative courts continued to avoid ruling on the merits of asylum applications, despite having the requisite authority. Instead, they routinely returned cases to the Ministry of Interior for further review, which resulted in the ministry endorsing its initial decisions.

The practice of returning migrants apprehended in North Macedonia to the country from which they entered North Macedonia continued. Authorities resumed proper screening and registration of all migrants as of end of January after the process had been put on hold in March 2020 due to COVID measures.

UNHCR and partner organizations had limited access to migrants accommodated in the two temporary transit centers close to the border. Protection information was not always made available to individuals in the centers.

The government issued identity documents to recognized refugees and persons under subsidiary protection, but authorities frequently delayed issuance of identity documents to new asylum seekers. Once issued, these identity documents often did not contain a personal identification number, which in turn limited individuals’ access to several government services, including access to education and social welfare programs.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adopted a list of safe countries of origin, comprising all EU member states, neighboring countries, and several other countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, and Nepal. The concept has yet to be applied.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Authorities took measures to combat and detect cases of migrant smuggling and trafficking by utilizing the support of mobile teams and a task force consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Interior and prosecutors from the OCCPO. The October 2020 European Commission report noted that individuals transiting the country without authorization remained targets of organized criminal groups engaged in people smuggling, who often extorted or abused them.

According to UNHCR, there were reports of violence against migrants from smugglers or other with whom they were traveling. In some instances there were reports of border guards acting violently towards migrants.

According to the ombudsman, the government placing migrants at the Vinojug Transit Center without issuing individual written detention decisions was a problem in that it limited the freedom of movement of those persons without adequately documenting each case. The ombudsman maintained that most migrants placed in the transit center were simply kept there to ensure their testimonies in the trials against their smugglers, based on requests and oral orders from case prosecutors.

The IOM stressed the movement of migrants through the Western Balkans route was facilitated by smuggling networks, which exposed migrants to significant risks of abuse and exploitative practices, including trafficking in persons.

There were infrequent reports of incidents of sexual and gender-based violence against migrants, allegedly by smugglers. Most migrants in transit were working-age single men.

Authorities provided adequate mechanisms to protect migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons from abuse. A multisector system and standard operating procedures (SOPs) were in place to provide adequate protection to vulnerable individuals from gender-based violence, including SOPs for Processing Vulnerable Categories of Foreign Nationals, SOPs for Dealing with Unaccompanied and Separated Children, and SOPs for Treatment of Victims of Trafficking. UNHCR and the European Commission noted the system needed strengthening to ensure universal and systemic application of the SOPs, especially regarding case identification.

Freedom of Movement: According to UNHCR, authorities continued to detain individuals intercepted while traveling through the country without documentation. The grounds for detention decisions were arbitrary. As a rule individuals are supposed to be detained only until their identity can be established. They were routinely detained after identification, however, to prevent them from departing the country prior to providing legal testimony against their smugglers.

The average detention period of asylum seekers during the year was 15 days, with the longest period being 45 days and the shortest period one day.

Employment: There are no restrictions on refugees’ ability to work, and the law allows asylum seekers whose asylum procedure is not completed within nine months to apply for a work permit.

Recognized refugees and persons under subsidiary protection with work permits were able to access the active labor market. Nevertheless, asylum seekers faced restrictions because of conflicting laws. Refugees also faced practical difficulties, such as language barriers and a lack of procedures for recognizing skills or validating foreign diplomas. By law a foreigner needs to have a unique identification number assigned to be issued a work permit. Although an asylum seeker has the legal right to apply for a work permit nine months after applying for asylum, she or he has no right to be assigned a unique identification number until asylum is granted. Consequently, an asylum seeker has the right to work but is unable to exercise it. This represents a serious gap in protection since cases sometimes remain pending for two to three years.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers had the right to basic health services while their claims were pending. The same applied to the right to education. Refugees have the right to full health care provided under the same conditions as it is to citizens.

Durable Solutions: The law provides for naturalization of refugees residing in the country under preferred conditions. Individuals under subsidiary protection may naturalize after eight years of legally residing in the country. During the year, one refugee and one person under subsidiary protection were naturalized. The country does not allow children to automatically acquire North Macedonia’s citizenship at birth if they are also citizens of another country.

Under the law the Ministry of Labor, in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and UNHCR, should facilitate the voluntary return of asylum seekers to their home countries. There were no cases of assisted voluntary repatriation during the year.

During the year none of the more than 200 individuals who remain in the country from the 1999 conflict in Kosovo returned to Kosovo with UNHCR assistance.

UNHCR continued to assist rejected asylum seekers from Kosovo, whom the government allowed to stay in the country. The government issued them provisional identification documents to secure access to services. The Ministry of Labor provided integrated, durable solutions with the support of UNHCR for 138 refugees who applied for integration into the country. The ministry provided social assistance, housing assistance, and access to education, health care, and the labor market.

Temporary Protection: The government could provide subsidiary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of September 30, one person was granted subsidiary protection during the year.

The country lacks a comprehensive, official data collection system and statistics on the number of stateless persons in its territory. The 2002 census recorded 17,652 individuals “without citizenship.” A new census was conducted in September, and final results are expected in 2022. Some habitual residents remained legally stateless. According to consolidated statistics from the government, UNHCR, and NGOs, there were 554 stateless persons registered in the country at the end of July. Children born in the country to stateless persons have access to birth registration and certification. They are considered nationals, provided they reside legally or permanently in the country for at least six years.

A government program to register persons without documents was initiated in late 2018. In February 2020 parliament adopted an interim law to facilitate their registration in the Public Birth Registry. On June 3, the deputy ombudsman said the law’s implementation was inconsistent due to a series of practical obstacles, and she recommended the interim law, which was set to expire on June 30, be extended for another year. According to the deputy ombudsman, as of April, 70 percent of the identified unregistered persons had not yet applied for registration; 659 individuals had applied, of whom 397 (60 percent) were children and had been entered in the Public Birth Registry. The Ministry of Labor estimated that most individuals lacking both civil registration and documentation were Romani children at risk of statelessness.

On July 29, parliament amended the Law on Citizenship to provide long-time residents additional paths to obtain citizenship. The amendments were made after ethnic Albanian opposition parties claimed more than 7,000 ethnic Albanians resident in the country had been unjustly denied the right to possess citizenship.

A local NGO, the Macedonian Young Lawyers’ Association, criticized the law for being adopted in a “nontransparent way.” The NGO further characterized the law as being ill-targeted to solve the problem of stateless persons, noting it placed individuals with citizenship of another country in a more favorable position relative to stateless individuals.

Despite basic protections against arbitrary detention and some safeguards to prevent and reduce statelessness, there is no mechanism to identify and determine statelessness in the country, no stateless protection status, nor any route to acquiring citizenship for the stateless in the country. Significant gaps remain, which hindered the country’s progress towards compliance with international standards for the protection of stateless persons and prevention of statelessness. Barriers to universal birth and civil registration continued to disproportionately affect minority groups, including Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians.

Stateless persons could not benefit from legal employment and did not have access to the courts or governmental services. There were no reports of physical violence against stateless persons because of their lack of identity documents but they were not able to access COVID-19 vaccination or any rights for which an identity document and a personal identification number are required (e.g., health insurance, education, social assistance, etc.).

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women, including spousal rape, is illegal. Penalties for rape range from one to 15 years’ imprisonment, but those laws were poorly enforced. Domestic violence is illegal but was a persistent and common problem. Penalties range from six months to five years imprisonment for lower-level offenses and one to 10 years imprisonment for crimes resulting in grave or permanent bodily injury. Offenders could receive up to life imprisonment if their actions resulted in the death of their victim. Additionally, courts may impose fines. The law is enforced in cases where victims press charges, but many do not.

In January parliament adopted a Law on Prevention of and Protection from Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. The law was designed to help prevent and protect against gender-based and domestic violence and guard victims’ fundamental human rights and freedoms.

From January to June, the Ministry of Labor registered ‎789 victims of domestic violence, of which 530 were women.

CSOs reported that as of May, the courts had reviewed 171 motions from victims of violence against women or domestic violence who requested protection orders; the courts granted 123. Skopje, Ohrid, and Tetovo courts reported that most of the motions requested orders for protection from physical violence. Gostivar and Kavadarci courts each reported one case of femicide. The Ohrid Basic Court sentenced one defendant to a two-year prison sentence for a femicide.

The government operated eight regional centers for victims of domestic violence that accommodated 34 victims during the year, of which 19 were women and 15 were children. In cooperation with the civil society sector, the government funds one center for victims of domestic violence and one crisis center, which cares for victims for 24 to 48 hours after an assault. A national NGO operated a hotline in both the Macedonian and Albanian languages and ran two crisis centers to provide temporary shelter for victims of domestic violence. According to the CSO National Network to End Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, government measures in March 2020 to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic deepened existing gender differences and pushed the burden of the crisis primarily onto women. Many of the measures remained in force during the year. Violence against women increased during the COVID-19 state of emergency, and access to support services decreased as a result of government-issued quarantine measures. CSOs opened hotlines in March 2020 to take calls from victims who were otherwise unable to access resources and reported receiving calls every day.

The Ministry of Labor’s National Free Mobile SOS Line for Victims of Domestic Violence continued to operate throughout the year. The SOS Line and the campaign provided round-the-clock, accurate, timely, and confidential assistance, including information on victim protection, available services, and telephone counseling to victims of gender-based and domestic violence.

The ombudsman characterized the courts’ sentences against convicted offenders as “overly lenient” and said they did not contribute to a reduction and elimination of severe forms of domestic violence nor provide sufficient protection to victims.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace of both men and women and provides a sentencing guideline of three months to three years in prison for violations. When victims pursued legal remedies, the government effectively enforced the law. Nonetheless, sexual harassment of women in the workplace remained a problem, and victims generally did not bring cases forward due to fear of publicity and possible loss of employment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Women from rural areas had limited access to family planning counseling and gynecological services. Romani women faced barriers to accessing family planning counseling and gynecological services due to discrimination, high poverty levels, and the low numbers of family doctors and gynecologists in their communities.

In April with assistance from the Ministry of Health, a local medical specialist opened a primary care, out-patient gynecological practice in Shuto Orizari, providing easier access to medical care and family planning services to some 20,000 predominantly Romani women.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape. There were three centers for survivors of sexual violence in Skopje, Kumanovo, and Tetovo; during the year the centers were integrated with and funded by the state hospitals in each city. A shelter in Skopje for trafficking victims also provided reproductive health care.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status as men under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, nationality, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property. The laws were effectively enforced. In some communities the practice of men directing the voting or voting on behalf of female family members disenfranchised women.

No complaints were pending before the ombudsman or the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy for unequal treatment of women in political life as of August 31.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The country has civil and criminal laws and affirmative action regulations to protect members of racial or ethnic groups from violence and discrimination. The constitution and laws refer to ethnic minorities as communities. According to the ombudsman’s office, the smaller ethnic minorities except Serbs and Vlachs remained underrepresented in the civil service and other state and public institutions.

According to credible reports, members of the Romani community were subject of discrimination in some urban areas’ public facilities and public infrastructure. The Commission for Prevention and Protection Against Discrimination took effective action to sanction those instances, issuing public warnings or imposing corrective measures. On September 25, the Ministry of Interior PSU suspended and then filed criminal charges against a police officer. On November 10, the Bitola Basic Court sentenced the police officer to one year in prison for using excessive force against a Romani citizen in September 2020.

On June 24, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against North Macedonia, finding a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights’ Article 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination) in conjunction with Article 3 (Prohibition of Torture) in a case concerning a Romani applicant. The ECHR found that authorities failed to conduct an effective investigation into possible racist motives behind alleged physical abuse by members of the “Alpha” unit during a 2013 police intervention in a Romani neighborhood in Skopje.

Roma reported widespread societal discrimination. NGOs and international experts reported that employers often denied Romani applicants job opportunities, and some Roma complained of lack of access to public services and benefits. On April 7, to mark Roma Day, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev announced a 61 million denars ($1.1 million) investment to support the government’s Roma Strategy and the establishment of a Matching Fund for Romani Entrepreneurs with initial seed funding of 122 million denars ($2.2 million). Zaev also announced the government, in collaboration with the EU, secured 20 million denars ($385,000) for a housing and social assistance project for 20 Romani families in Kochani.

On April 8, a group of protesters demanded local authorities reverse the decision to construct apartments for Romani families in Kochani. The protesters carried banners with slogans “Over our dead bodies”, and “There is no room for them here.” The Romani families whose housing was at issue have lived in military barracks in substandard conditions for more than two decades.

The Roma Movement AVAJA and Stanica 5 Association reported a case of discrimination against a group of Romani children who were not allowed into a public swimming pool in Prilep on June 24. The case was reported to the Commission for Prevention of and Protection against Discrimination. Prilep’s mayor and Roma-led CSOs condemned the event in a joint press conference on June 25. Subsequently, the commission found that the Prilep City Public Pool staff discriminated against this group of Romani children and recommended the pool management extend a public apology to the victims via traditional and social media within 30 days and provide antidiscrimination training to its staff or face misdemeanor charges. As of September 20, the commission also found the Skopje Public Bus Transportation Company’s staff had discriminated against Romani passengers on at least two separate occasions. The commission recommended the company provide antidiscrimination training to its staff.

Birth Registration: The law determines citizenship primarily by the citizenship of the parents. It also allows orphans found in the country to obtain citizenship, unless authorities discover before the orphan reaches the age of 18 that his or her parents were foreigners. The government automatically registers the births of all children in hospitals and medical institutions, and the law requires that parents register the births of all children born in other places, including those born at home, with magistrate offices within 15 days of birth. Some Romani families delayed the registration of newborns, making it difficult for them to access educational, medical, and other benefits later in life due to lack of proper identity documents.

Education: The law provides for primary education in the Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, and Bosnian languages, and for secondary education in Macedonian, Albanian, and Turkish. Romani and Vlach children in some primary education schools are offered an elective subject studying their native languages and cultures. The number of minority students who received secondary education in their native language continued to increase.

In September press reported that parents of students in Brnjarci, Vizbegovo, and Idrizovo complained again that the Ministry of Education and Science and local governments did not provide an opportunity for their children to attend school in the Albanian language in their place of residence. Their children were provided transportation to a nearby village where they were able to receive instruction in their native language.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, and penalties for conviction include fines, imprisonment, and closure of businesses. Child abuse was a problem in some areas. The government operated a hotline for domestic violence, including child abuse. The Ministry of Interior registered 83 street children who were forced by their parents or other adults to beg, wash cars, or sell small items. All 83 children were referred to day-care centers for children at risk.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. A court may issue a marriage license to persons between the ages of 16 and 18 if it finds them mentally and physically fit for marriage. Early and forced marriage occurred occasionally in the Romani community and, to a much lesser extent, in some Albanian communities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy documented 32 early marriages, in which one or both parties were 16 or 17 years old.

The Ministry of Health reported the pregnancy rate for girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19 in 2020 was 18.9 percent, while the birth rate for the same age group was 16.7 percent. The national birth rate is 4.9 percent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children and provides penalties of 10 to 15 years in prison for violations. The law prohibits child pornography and provides penalties of five to 15 years in prison for violations. Authorities enforced the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

Authorities considered child commercial sexual exploitation a problem but did not know its extent. As of December 1, the Center for Social Work and the Ministry of Interior identified five minor victims of trafficking, of whom three were victims of forced marriage, one of forced begging, and one of sexual exploitation. The country had an online registry, searchable by name and address, of convicted child traffickers and sex offenders that listed photographs, conviction records, and residential addresses. Offenders could ask authorities to remove them from the register 10 years after they completed their sentence, provided they did not commit a new offense.

As of June 30, the registry listed a total of 281 offenders (12 women and 269 men), seven of whom were sentenced during the year. As of September 3, 166 had been released from prison and the rest were serving prison sentences of between two and 20 years. One person was a fugitive.

Institutionalized Children: Since August 2020 children have been housed in small group homes with five to six children per home and 24-hour oversight by social workers and childcare providers. All orphans younger than three were in foster homes. The Ministry of Labor also took steps to shorten the time required to adopt orphaned or abandoned children. There were no reports of child abuse in these household accommodations during the year.

The educational-correctional facility for juveniles in Volkovija-Tetovo opened in November 2020 and housed 16 juveniles during the year. The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights attended the facility’s opening and characterized it as a well-equipped and organized facility that fully met established criteria for accommodating juveniles and provided adequate rehabilitation and medical services.

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


The Jewish community assessed that approximately 250 Jewish persons resided in the country. The community reported no violent acts against them but said that during the escalation of conflict in Gaza, some of its members complained their children had been bullied for their Jewish identity, especially those attending international schools alongside the children of diplomats and businessmen from the Arab world.

Anti-Semitic speech and incidents in the country occurred rarely and sporadically, usually on social media. A March research paper by the NGO Metamorphosis on COVID-19-related disinformation in the country revealed disinformation and conspiracy theories also led to anti-Semitic and hate speech on the internet.

Some antivaccination protesters used the yellow Star of David symbol against government measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, comparing their treatment by the government to the treatment of Jewish people in the Holocaust.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could not always access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The constitution and law protect the rights of persons with disabilities (physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities), including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services, but these legal requirements are not always enforced effectively. A separate law governs the employment of persons with disabilities and supplements the labor law. The law requires persons with physical or mental disabilities to obtain approval from a government medical commission to serve in supervisory positions in the private and public sectors. Disabilities’ experts maintained that this requirement violated persons with disabilities’ right to equal treatment and employment based on merit.

The government does not have a strategic framework regarding the rights of persons with disabilities nor an action plan for effective implementation of the comprehensive strategy on deinstitutionalization. Persons with disabilities and their families experienced stigmatization and segregation due to entrenched prejudice and lack of information, including to some information communicated by the government due to lack of accessible formats.

During the pandemic, persons with disabilities were marginalized and their needs were not addressed, according to disability NGO Inclusiva, other NGOs, and the ombudsman. COVID-19 information and vaccine application web sites were not provided in formats accessible to persons with sensory disabilities and most COVID-19 testing facilities were inaccessible for persons with physical disabilities.

On September 15, parliament amended the electoral code to permit persons with some types of intellectual disabilities to vote, provided their right to vote had not been removed by court order.

The law establishes accessibility standards for new buildings; existing public structures were to be made accessible for persons with disabilities by the end of 2015. NGOs reported many public and government buildings and other infrastructure, including shelters for victims of violence did not comply with the law. Although all buses purchased since 2013 by the government for Skopje were accessible to persons with physical disabilities, in practice many buses remained inaccessible due to insufficient maintenance, a lack of training, and the failure to sanction drivers who sometimes refused to extend the ramps. Public transportation remained largely inaccessible outside of Skopje.

The Ministry of Education and Science made efforts to provide suitable support to enable children with disabilities to attend mainstream schools. The 2019 Primary Education Law mandates inclusion of children with disabilities in regular/mainstreamed schools and envisages transforming “special” schools into resource centers for teachers, parents, and students. Nonetheless, most schools remained unprepared to implement the law, and continued to struggle to provide appropriate support to children with disabilities, despite the Ministry of Education’s efforts. Most schools remained inaccessible for persons with physical disabilities and lacked wheelchair accessibility ramps, accessible toilets, and elevators. Advocates reported the 2019 law benefited children with autism, as there was more mainstream acceptance of their presence in schools, where they were often accompanied by teaching assistants. Despite some progress, many students with disabilities continued to attend separate schools. There were no reports of violence, harassment, or intimidation targeted at persons with disabilities.

Social stigma and discrimination against persons living with HIV and AIDS remained a problem.

The Ministry of Health did not include people living with HIV in the categories of citizens with priority for COVID-19 vaccination, despite CSOs’ written request for their inclusion. The pandemic exacerbated systemic problems of social exclusion, limited access to public services and justice, and inadequate protection from discrimination and violence against people living with HIV. Restrictions on movement and public transportation directly affected people living with HIV, especially those residing outside the capital, as health care for this group is centralized and antiretroviral therapy is administered only in the State Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions in Skopje. The organizations for support of people with HIV, in cooperation with the Clinic for Infectious Diseases, supported free distribution of antiretroviral therapy to all HIV patients in need, and particularly to those living outside the capital.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. When victims filed complaints, the government generally enforced the law.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community remained marginalized and activists supporting LGBTQI+ rights reported incidents of societal prejudice, including hate speech. The antidiscrimination law explicitly protects individuals against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in education, employment, housing, and health care; there is no protection against hate speech based on sexual orientation or gender identity within the criminal code and other laws covering freedom of expression.

As of November 26, the State Commission for Prevention of and Protection against Discrimination had reviewed nine complaints alleging discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. The commission determined there was sufficient evidence to substantiate five of the nine claims and recommended corrective action to the responsible entities. The committee’s recommendations included public apologies to the concerned individuals and obliging employers to provide sensitivity training to staff. One of the cases, brought forward by the CSO Coalition Margins, involved a transgender woman who was discriminated against in a pharmacy. The commission recommended the pharmacy conduct training for its employees on working with LGBTQI+ clients.

In June ahead of the Skopje Pride Parade, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy Arjanit Hoxha made a public statement that characterized LGBTQI+ persons as “immoral” and “unhealthy.” The NGO Subversive Front complained, noting among other things that the minister’s comments could instill fear among LGBTQI+ persons in coming out to their family members.

There were no involuntary or coercive medical or psychological practices specifically targeting LGBTQI+ individuals. Conversion therapy is practiced, but information about specific cases rarely reached advocates. Activists reported psychologists and other educational professionals in schools often asked LGBTQI+ students to conform to heteronormative standards and to act in accordance with the roles expected of the gender they were assigned at birth.

Violence against members of the LGBTQI+ community remained an issue. Coalition Margins documented 29 violations of LGBTQI+ persons’ rights, including 18 cases of hate speech. Two of the documented cases that likely constituted hate crimes were reported to the police. On his way home after the Pride Parade, one participant was physically attacked because of his sexual orientation. The case was reported to the police. The attack was recognized as a hate crime, but no information was available on any subsequent prosecution. In another case, a couple reported being attacked in a city park, but alleged the police refused to register their complaint. Police wrote in the report that the victims were “two female friends,” not a couple. Other reported cases involved homophobic and sexual harassment in the workplace and domestic violence. On November 29, LGBTQI+ and other human rights activists protested before the Public Prosecutor’s Office for lack of an investigation into five separate attacks in 2012 and 2013 against LGBTQI+ individuals, including a violent attack against an LGBTQI+ activist, and the demolishing of an LGBTQI+ community center in Skopje. According to the LGBTQI+ community, the impunity of the attacks instilled fear among LGBTQI+ individuals and incited direct and public threats against members of this community and their families and friends.

In June local CSOs organized the third annual Skopje Pride parade. Government officials, including the president and the ministers of defense, education, culture, and social policy, participated in pride events. Opposition politicians did not participate, and opposition party VMRO-DPMNE issued a statement accusing the government of hypocrisy by supporting the parade on account of it “brutally violating” the fundamental rights of other citizens. Pride events coincided with a rise in incidents of hate speech and targeting of LGBTQI+ individuals. Seven cases were reported to the police and public prosecutors. As of October 4, none of these cases had been processed by the authorities.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, but threats and attacks on journalists, a lack of transparency of media ownership, and the oversized role of the state in the country’s oversaturated media sector undermined these freedoms.

The Nations in Transit 2021 report from the watchdog organization Freedom House labeled the country as a “transitional or hybrid regime” and assessed that “the state of fundamental freedoms and democratic institutions in Serbia continued to deteriorate, with no sign of improvement.”

The NGO Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym, RSF) in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index report stated, “Serbia is a country with weak institutions that is prey to fake news spread by government-backed sensational media” and that the government used the COVID pandemic to limit press freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution prohibits the expression of beliefs that provoke or incite religious, ethnic, or racial hatred. Those who provoke or incite this intolerance face various degrees of punishment, ranging from months to years in prison under the Criminal Code. Article 75 of the Law on Public Information and Media bans hate speech noting, “ideas, opinions, and information published in media must not incite discrimination, hatred or violence against individuals or groups based on their (non)belonging to a certain race, faith, nation, sex, due to their specific sexual preferences, or other personal quality, regardless of whether their publishing constituted criminal offence.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active but were limited in their ability to express a wide variety of views by the oversaturation of the media market and government support of progovernment outlets. The media market was oversaturated with more than 2,500 registered outlets, many of which were not profitable.

Television was the most influential media format due to concentration of viewership and popularity. The largest distributors of paid media content were the United Group and Telekom Serbia, a majority state-owned firm. General regulations on the protection of competition were applied by government regulators, but they did not prevent the creation of a duopoly in media content distribution, with the United Group and Telekom Serbia fighting for audiences by limiting content availability on competing networks. Media dependence on government advertising revenue strongly benefited political incumbents, who observers noted could leverage this for their political gains, and made it difficult for opposition leaders, who lacked broad access to media outlets and finances, to reach potential voters.

Tabloids remained popular and powerful conduits of disinformation. Many of the targets of tabloid “hit pieces” were political leaders of opposition parties or civic activists and independent journalists. Such stories were often presented with false or misleading headlines on the front page. A detailed analysis published in April by the Belgrade-based fact-checking portal Raskrikavanje showed Belgrade’s five major tabloids published a total of 1,172 “fake, unfounded, and manipulative” news stories on their front pages in 2020. There were no effective sanctions for unprofessional journalism.

One new daily newspaper, Nova, owned by the United Group, began publishing during the year, despite being unable to find a printing press in the country willing to print its editions. Nova is printed in Croatia.

Violence and Harassment: The law prohibits threatening or otherwise putting pressure on public media and journalists or exerting any other kind of influence that might obstruct their work. The Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia reported 95 registered attacks on journalists during the year, of which one was a physical attack, one was an attack on journalists’ property, one was a threat to a journalist’s property, and the remaining were verbal or online threats or intimidation. In 2019, authorities detained Aleksandra Jankovic Aranitovic without bail for vulgar criticism of President Vucic on Twitter. In January 2020 the High Court of Belgrade gave her a suspended sentence of six months imprisonment. According to the court verdict, the judge determined the tweet constituted a threat. Authorities released Aranitovic on the day of the verdict since she had been held in detention during the six-month procedure. On March 16, the Appellate Court in Belgrade overruled the High Court’s conviction and issued a final judgment acquitting Aranitovic of the charges. Aranitovic was seeking damages for time spent in prison.

On February 23, the Second Basic Court in Belgrade sentenced former Grocka mayor Dragoljub Simonovic to four years and three months of prison for ordering an arson attack on journalist Milan Jovanovic’s house in 2018. The court also sentenced two of Simonovic’s associates to four years in prison. Simonovic appealed his conviction, and on December 24, the Court of Appeals in Belgrade overturned the verdict, and the case was expected to go to trial again.

On April 16, attackers pepper-sprayed radio host Dasko Milinovic while he was walking to work in the city of Novi Sad and knocked him to the ground and beat him with metal rods. Milinovic hosted a daily talk show, where he commented on local and national political issues. Police quickly arrested the perpetrators. The Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Novi Sad charged two individuals with violent behavior and one individual with incitement to violent behavior related to the attack.

In March, following a widespread smear campaign against the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) during which government-affiliated tabloid media accused KRIK journalists of cooperating with organized crime elements to endanger the country’s president, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, the Media Association, the Online Media Association, and the Association of Independent Local Media withdrew from the government’s Working Group on Security and Protection of Journalists. These associations accused the working group of ignoring serious attacks and endangering the safety of journalists and media in the country.

In 2019 four former members of the security apparatus were sentenced to 100 cumulative years of detention for their role in the 1999 murder of Slavko Curuvija. Curuvija, a vocal critic of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, was shot and killed outside his house in Belgrade. In September 2020 the verdict sentencing the four officers for his murder was overturned on appeal. According to the Belgrade Appeals Court, the trial court verdict convicting the men was quashed “due to significant violations of the provisions of the criminal procedure.” A new trial started in October 2020. On December 2, the Special Court in Belgrade again convicted and sentenced these individuals to 100 cumulative years in prison for their role in Curuvija’s murder.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports that the government actively sought to direct media reporting on several issues. Economic pressure sometimes led media outlets to practice self-censorship, refraining from publishing content critical of the government due to a fear of government harassment or economic consequences, according to media association representatives.

In part due to the saturation of the media environment, outlets continued to rely heavily on public funding to stay afloat. Direct government funding to media outlets was distributed in an opaque manner that appeared aimed at supporting entities loyal to the ruling party rather than bolstering independent journalism.

Government representatives continued to receive far more media coverage than opposition politicians. The law mandates equal coverage during campaign periods, but the Regulatory Authority of Electronic Media (REM) often considered campaign-style rallies by government officials to be official activities and therefore outside the scope of the law. Opposition leaders and civil society activists contended REM did not pursue its mandate effectively and continually sided with the ruling party, ensuring an unfair media environment. According to the NGO Bureau for Social Research media monitoring, most outlets were openly progovernment in their coverage, with President Vucic being presented positively in 85 percent of his appearances. In one five-month period, for example, Vucic received five hours of coverage on the main news program of Radio Television Serbia, while the nine largest opposition parties were given a total of nine minutes, according to analysts cited by independent daily Danas.

A member of REM resigned in December 2020 due to the way in which the new president of the council was elected, calling it a violation of democratic procedures in the council and emphasizing that analyses by both domestic experts and relevant international organizations indicated that REM was not performing its basic function.

Nongovernmental Impact: During the year several media outlets published articles that accused numerous journalists, NGO activists, and independent institution representatives of being “traitors” to the country and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. NGOs and their employees received frequent threats that often mirrored or amplified rhetoric employed by public figures on social media. They were often targeted by distributed denial of service attacks against their websites.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these rights in some cases. The platform Three Freedoms for Preserving the Space for Civil Society in Serbia continued to register and report cases of alleged violations of freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expression.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The law provides protection to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, but implementation fell short in some areas. According to data from the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration (SCRM), 196,140 displaced persons from Kosovo resided in the country during the year. These displaced persons were predominantly Serbs, Montenegrins, Roma, Egyptians, Ashkali, Gorani, and Bosniaks who left Kosovo, then an autonomous province of Yugoslavia, because of the 1998-99 war. Of these displaced persons, the SCRM considered more than 68,000 extremely vulnerable and in need of assistance, because they met one or more of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) vulnerability criteria. The criteria included households that had income below the poverty line; persons living in undignified conditions; persons with mental or physical disabilities; single parents; and elderly persons, women, and children or adolescents at risk.

According to UNHCR research, the 20,000 displaced Roma were the most vulnerable and marginalized displaced population in the country. They lived in informal settlements without access to basic infrastructure, electricity, water, and sanitation and were in constant fear of forced evictions. Internally displaced Roma had a 74 percent unemployment rate, and 98 percent of displaced Romani households were unable to satisfy basic nutritional needs or pay for utilities, health care, hygiene, education, and local transport. According to UNHCR, almost 90 percent of displaced Roma lived in substandard housing, and the vast majority had not been able to integrate into society or return home. The Romani communities were mostly in urban areas; some of the most vulnerable were in the informal settlements Cukaricka Suma in Belgrade, Veliki Rit in Novi Sad, and others in urban areas.

The situation of Romani communities worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s subsequent state of emergency. Vulnerable IDPs’ earnings, especially members of the Romani population, had almost completely disappeared due to limited freedom of movement during the state of emergency and the subsequent lack of work opportunities.

IDP children faced difficulty in accessing education when it switched to distance learning models such as television broadcasts and online platforms. This especially affected those who lived in informal settlements and collective centers and did not have access to internet or even electricity. According to UNICEF, less than 2 percent of IDP students had access to alternative modes of education, such as studying from printed materials. Of the 2 percent, approximately 25 percent were Roma, 20 percent were children with disabilities, and 13 percent were students from other vulnerable groups.

During the past 21 years, the SCRM, with financial support from the international community, implemented measures to provide adequate living conditions to displaced persons from Kosovo. According to the SCRM, as of 2020 the government provided displaced persons from Kosovo 5,759 housing units, generally defined as living spaces for one family. The SCRM did not have records on how many of the units were given to displaced Romani families.

While government officials continued to state publicly that displaced persons from Kosovo should return, senior government officials also claimed that it was unsafe for many to do so.

To assist refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as displaced persons from Kosovo, the government established a National Strategy on Refugees and Internally Displaced People, but it expired. The strategy was not comprehensive and failed to provide the technical and financial capacity to ensure durable solutions for displaced persons.

In 2020 the government provided 194 housing units (153 building material packages and 41 village houses) to displaced persons. There were no income-generation packages provided during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Local NGOs and international organizations provided additional housing, economic assistance, and free legal assistance for civil registration, resolution of property claims, securing work rights, and obtaining personal documents.

The housing situation of many displaced persons remained a source of concern. As of 2020, the last year that data was available, many of the more than 68,000 extremely vulnerable displaced persons from Kosovo lived in substandard private accommodation. In 2020 the SCRM reported 68 displaced persons from Kosovo (all of whom were Roma) remained in the “Salvatore” collective center in Bujanovac, a minimally habitable facility originally constructed for only temporary accommodation. These individuals were particularly marginalized and, according to UNHCR, did not have access to social assistance or economic empowerment programs. According to the SCRM, an additional 600-800 displaced persons continued to live in 22 informal collective centers scattered throughout the country in 2020; these centers were not funded by the state. According to research by UNHCR’s local NGO partner, the A11 Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, living conditions of displaced persons in informal collective centers were extremely difficult due to the lack of or limited electricity, drinking water, and access to bathrooms, as well as health problems, lack of health care, and unemployment.

The government cooperated with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status or subsidiary protection, and the government has established a system for giving protection to refugees. The Asylum Office within the Ministry of Interior (Border Police Department) is responsible for refugee status determination but lacked sufficient capacity, resources, and trained staff to do so effectively. Additionally, the law does not provide for a court assessment of appeals, making the appeals procedure ineffective and cumbersome. A rejected asylum seeker can only file a lawsuit before the Administrative Court after an unsuccessful appeal before the Asylum Commission.

Through September a total of 1,326 persons expressed the intention to seek asylum, and 127 submitted asylum applications initiating the formal asylum procedure. UNHCR estimated that most unaccompanied children did not have adequate protection services due to the government’s lack of capacity, especially regarding accommodation. UNHCR noted improvements regarding the provision of guardianship services, but appropriate models of alternative childcare, including effective fostering arrangements, were not established. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Policy was responsible for overseeing three government institutions for unaccompanied migrant children with a total capacity of 45 beds and two NGO-run institutions with a combined capacity of 30 unaccompanied minor children. In August 2020, 163 unaccompanied children were accommodated in two SCRM asylum centers and 21 in social protection institutions and NGO-run shelters.

The government had the capacity to accommodate approximately 6,000 persons in the 19 state-run asylum and reception centers, where the population of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants was mixed, although only 13 centers were operational. The number of asylum seekers and migrants fluctuated through the year from as low as 4,700 in July to more than 7,100 in January.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Under the asylum law, UNHCR reported the Asylum Office had only applied the “first country of asylum” or “safe third country” concepts to reject two asylum cases since 2018. All other cases had been judged based on the merits of the individual claim. For example, the Asylum Office granted international protection to a stateless Palestinian fleeing persecution from Hezbollah in Lebanon, although the individual had unsuccessfully sought asylum in Hungary, which rejected his case on appeal. Rather than also rejecting the case based on the “first country of asylum” or “safe third country” concept, the Asylum Office granted the individual refugee status.

Refoulement: Humanitarian organizations noted the government lacked the resources and expertise to consistently provide sufficient protection against refoulement. Various press and humanitarian reports indicated that authorities pushed back irregular migrants without screening them to determine whether they were seeking asylum and in at least one case even expelled them from an asylum center into a neighboring country. The situation at the Belgrade International Airport had not materially changed since the 2018 report of the UN special rapporteur on torture, who noted several problems regarding the assessment of needs for international protection and risk of refoulement. There was no systematic monitoring of the situation at the airport. Providers of free legal aid, however, were at times granted access to the transit zone for counselling of asylum seekers upon request.

The government’s Mixed Migration Group met in March to adopt the group’s annual contingency plan.

Employment: Asylum seekers have the right to work nine months after an asylum application is submitted. Employment is also available once an applicant is recognized as a refugee at the end of the country’s refugee determination process.

Access to Basic Services: Asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees have the right to access health and education services, although barriers including language and cultural differences limited access. The country provided accommodation, food, and basic health assistance to all migrants and asylum seekers in need. These activities were mostly EU-funded. Children had access to government-funded education. Refugees and asylum seekers generally needed support from NGOs to access these services.

Durable Solutions: The government provided support for the voluntary return and reintegration of refugees from other countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration in Serbia rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed the same rights as citizens, including access to basic services such as health care and education, and had access to simplified naturalization in the country. They did not have the right to vote unless their naturalization process was complete.

Together with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro, Serbia participated in the Regional Housing Program (RHP) to provide housing for vulnerable refugee families who had decided to integrate into their countries of residence. In 2020, 1,089 housing units were provided in Serbia (236 building material packages, five prefabricated houses, 39 village houses, and 809 apartments). As of 2020 a total of 5,103 houses were built through the RHP since its inception.

For refugees who originated from countries outside the former Yugoslavia, refugee status did not provide a pathway to citizenship. The government did not issue travel documents to recognized refugees, although it is provided for under the law. The government provided integration assistance that included financial assistance for accommodation for a period of one year and obligatory Serbian language courses. Despite harmonization of bylaws providing for individualized integration plans, which UNHCR considered a good model, coordination between relevant line ministries remained insufficient.

Temporary Protection: The government made no decisions on temporary protection during the year.

According to UNHCR, an estimated 2,141 persons, primarily Roma, Egyptians, and Ashkali, were at risk of statelessness in the country; several hundred of these remained without birth registration. The country has laws and procedures that afford the opportunity for late birth registration and residence registration as well as the opportunity to gain nationality. Children whose parents lacked personal documents (identification cards) could not, however, be registered into birth registry books immediately after birth, creating new cases of persons at risk of statelessness.

Poverty, social marginalization, lack of information, cumbersome and lengthy bureaucratic procedures, difficulty in obtaining documents, lack of an officially recognized residence, and lack of birth registration limited the ability of those at risk of statelessness to gain nationality. The Romani population needed legal assistance in the civil registration procedure, obtaining documentation, and the procedures for acquisition of nationality needed to access basic socioeconomic benefits of citizenship and be fully included into society.

Under existing regulations, children of undocumented parents can be without birth registration for upwards of a year. Until they are registered, children remained legally invisible, at risk of statelessness, and deprived of access to numerous rights, such as health care and social protection. The Ministry for Public Administration and Local Self-Government, the Ombudsperson’s Office, and UNHCR have a memorandum of understanding to resolve problematic birth registration cases through a case-by-case approach proposed by UNHCR and NGOs.

Persons at risk of statelessness do not have access to social protection rights such as cash assistance, child and parental allowances, or soup kitchen services. They also were excluded from COVID-19 response measures since they were not included in the social protection records and lacked identification cards.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. While the law provides women the right to obtain a restraining order against abusers, the government did not enforce the law effectively. Media outlets reported that through late June, 11 women had been killed in family/partnership violence. From November 2018 to October, the Ministry of Justice registered 64,335 victims of violence. In 73 percent of cases (47,136 persons) the victims were women, and in 27 percent (17,199 persons) cases the victims were men.

The law provides that authorities may protect domestic violence survivors by temporarily removing the perpetrator from a home from a minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of 30 days. This law requires that police, prosecutors’ offices, courts, and social welfare centers maintain an electronic database on individual cases of family violence and undertake emergency and extended measures. NGOs criticized the government’s lack of a single electronic database on gender-based violence and femicide despite a legal obligation to have them. Women’s groups and independent institutions reported that fear from reprisal and lack of trust in institutions were the main obstacles to women reporting instances of violence. NGOs called for authorities to take urgent action to provide accommodation for women who leave abusers and hence lose shelter. The NGOs Autonomous Women’s Center (AWC) and Joint Action Roof over One’s Head warned that women who could not provide alternative accommodation and quality of life for themselves and their children were at greater risk of becoming victims of violence and not reporting violence and its perpetrators. The AWC noted that less than one-third of women who received legal assistance from the organization reported having shared or exclusive ownership of the residence where they lived.

The ombudsman stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the risk of violence against women with disabilities, older women, women in rural areas, and Romani women. In May, Ana Ilic was killed in front of her apartment in Valjevo. Her former partner, an unnamed former police officer, was suspected in her killing and had previously stalked Ilic. The man had previously been given a suspended sentence, banned from approaching and communicating with Ilic, and was removed from his police job. He committed suicide the day after Ilic’s killing.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment of women and men is a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to six months in cases that do not involve domestic abuse or a power relationship, and for up to one year for abuse of a subordinate or dependent. According to women’s groups in the country, sexual innuendo in everyday speech and behavior was perceived as a joke and generally accepted as a form of communication and not considered serious harassment.

The former mayor of Brus, Milutin Jelicic, who was sentenced in 2020 to three months in prison for sexually harassing Marija Lukic in the country’s first prominent prosecution of a powerful individual for harassment, served his sentence and was released.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

According to a 2018 UN report on sexual and reproductive rights in the country, women with disabilities and Romani women lacked equal and equitable access to information regarding reproductive health. There were no legal barriers to contraception. According to research conducted in 2017 by the ombudsman, 4 percent of Romani girls had their first child by the age of 15 and 31 percent before the age of 18. The report also indicated that Romani women were the most vulnerable population with a maternal mortality rate 10 percent higher than average.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all areas, but the government did not always enforce these laws. Women were subject to discrimination, both at home and in the labor force, regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to employment, labor, access to credit, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, inheritance, and access to housing. According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, women on average did more than twice as many hours of domestic work as men.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

According to the equality commissioner, Roma were subject to many types of discrimination; independent observers, and NGOs stated that systemic segregation and discrimination of Roma continued. According to the report Roma in the Republic of Serbia: Challenges of Discrimination, funded by the EU’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program, Roma usually do not report discrimination except when it is accompanied with violence. Roma perceived discrimination “as a usual life situation” and refrained from reporting it to avoid subsequent confrontation and pressure from perpetrators.

Ethnic Albanians were subject to discrimination and disproportionate unemployment. The addresses of numerous Albanians from three municipalities in southern Serbia were “passivized” (rescinded), resulting in the loss of personal documents and access to health, educational, and social services.

According to the Council of Europe’s Report on Use of Hate Speech in Media in Serbia, the use of hate speech was on the rise and many politicians and officials used offensive and inflammatory language. Roma, Albanians, and Croats were most often targeted by hate speech and discrimination. The report also noted that prosecutors often did not recognize hate speech, criminal charges were dismissed without grounds, and regulatory bodies rejected citizens’ complaints. Minister of Interior Aleksandar Vulin continued to publicly use a pejorative term for Albanians.

On November 30 during a live program, a guest commentator on TV Pink criticized an opposition leader because of her Romanian heritage and said she was an enemy of the state. The incident was widely condemned, including by President Vucic, who said individuals should not be insulted because of their nationality. On December 1, the National Regulatory Body for Electronic Media launched an investigation of TV Pink regarding this incident.

Ethnic Albanian leaders in the southern municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac along with Bosniaks in the southwestern region of Sandzak complained they were underrepresented in state institutions at the local level. There were 23 National Minority Councils representing the country’s ethnic minority groups. The councils had broad competency over education, media, culture, and the use of minority languages. New council members were seated following the 2018 minority council elections and were to serve four-year terms.

The government took some steps to counter violence and discrimination against members of minority groups. The Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue supported minority communities. Its department for antidiscrimination and national minorities prepared, monitored, and analyzed the implementation of regulations and strategic documents pertaining to the advancement and protection of minority rights and supported the work of National Minority Councils. Civic education classes, offered by the government as an alternative to religion courses in secondary schools, included information on minority cultures and multiethnic tolerance.

According to the Ministry of Education and Science, 45,683 school children in elementary and secondary schools (5.6 percent of all schoolchildren in the country) received education in their mother tongue. There were no textbooks in the Albanian language for secondary school students.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from a child’s parents. The law on birth records provides for universal birth registration. Some Romani children were not registered at birth. Subsequent birth registration was possible but complicated (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). Children who were not registered did not have access to public services, such as health care, education, and social welfare. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 99.9 percent of children overall and 98.5 percent of Romani children were registered at birth.

Education: Education was free through the secondary level, but compulsory only from preschool through the age of 15. Ethnic discrimination and economic hardship discouraged some children from attending school. In Romani and poor rural communities, girls were more likely than boys to drop out of school and normally did so at an earlier age. Romani children were also disproportionately identified as having mental or intellectual disabilities and were often sent to segregated schools that limited their educational outcomes. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 92 percent of Romani children enrolled in elementary school and 64 percent completed it, while only 28 percent continued to secondary education, and only 61 percent of that group completed it. Access to and quality of education differed in urban and rural areas, often disadvantaging rural students.

By law ethnic minority populations have the right to be educated in their minority language, but this right was not always respected.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse with penalties for the offense ranging from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. According to research and reports, children were exposed to direct and interpersonal violence, physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse, and neglect within family, schools, institutions for protection of children, digital space, and the wider community. According to the National Statistical Bureau, 45 percent of children younger than age 14 suffered abuse in their family; in Romani communities, 67 percent of children younger than 14 suffered abuse. According to the Justice Ministry, 1,715 children were registered from 2017 to 2020 as either victims or at risk of becoming victims of family violence. Children also suffered violence stemming from existing patriarchal social structures that enabled marginalization of children and made them vulnerable to child abuse, discrimination, child marriage, and child labor.

Children in historically marginalized groups, such as Roma, suffered various types of social exclusion and were more prone to marginalization. The country’s efforts to prevent child abuse largely focused on protection of victims rather than prevention of child abuse through targeted intervention; these programs included training for police, schools, and social workers as well as hotlines and other platforms for reporting violence.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. A court may allow a minor older than 16 to marry if the minor is mature enough to “enjoy the rights and fulfill the responsibilities of marriage.” Child marriages occurred in Romani communities but were not legal marriages. The National Statistical Bureau reported that 16 percent of Romani women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married for the first time before age 16 and 56 percent before age 19.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and practices related to child pornography; the government enforced the law but abuses nonetheless occurred. Evidence was limited, and the extent of the problem was unknown. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

Displaced Children: According to local NGOs and media reports, an estimated 2,000 homeless children lived on Belgrade’s streets.

Institutionalized Children: Children in orphanages and institutions were sometimes victims of neglect and physical and emotional abuse by caretakers and guardians and of sexual abuse by their peers. The law on social protection prioritizes the deinstitutionalization of children, including those with mental or physical disabilities, and their placement in foster families, but the country had not adopted a comprehensive deinstitutionalization strategy.

According to the Disabilities Rights International Serbia branch (MDRI-S), 80 percent of institutionalized children were those with developmental disabilities, and 79 percent of children remained in institutions for more than 10 years, with death being the main cause of ‘leaving’ the institution. The MDRI-S report Serbias Forgotten Children, released in June and based on findings from 2019, alleged numerous ongoing violations of children’s rights and inhuman living conditions in social welfare institutions and the lack of government measures to sanction those responsible for the abuse, neglect, and inhuman treatment.

Children with disabilities who were housed in institutions faced additional problems, including isolation, neglect, and a lack of stimulation. In one institution, MDRI-S researchers reported finding approximately 100 children, mostly with cerebral palsy, lying in metal beds with bars and only able to leave when they were bathed and fed. The report also noted that some institutes used tube feeding despite the risks it posed if used for extended periods. Institutions were often overcrowded, and children were mixed with adults in the same facility. Most children with mental disabilities remained excluded from the educational system due to structural obstacles and prevalent discrimination that prevented them from entering formal education.

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


According to the 2011 census, 787 persons in the country identified as Jewish. The World Jewish Congress estimated the number of Jews in the country to be between 1,400 and 2,800. While the law prohibits hate speech, Jewish community leaders reported that translations of anti-Semitic literature were available from ultranationalist groups and conservative publishers. Anti-Semitic works, such as the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were available for purchase from informal sellers or used bookshops or posted online. Right-wing groups maintained several websites and individuals hosted chat rooms (although many were inactive) that openly promoted anti-Semitic ideas and literature. In May posters with anti-Semitic content appeared in downtown Belgrade. The Federation of Jewish Communities filed charges with the public prosecutor and Ministry of Interior against the unknown perpetrator. The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue condemned the incident and called on citizens to demonstrate zero tolerance for hate and anti-Semitism in the country. In June an anti-Semitic message was written on a basketball playground in the Novi Beograd municipality in Belgrade, but authorities have not found the perpetrator.

In February 2020 the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism. Holocaust education continued to be a part of the school curriculum at the direction of the Ministry of Education, including in the secondary school curriculum. The role of the collaborationist National Salvation government run by Milan Nedic during the occupation by Nazi Germany was debated. Some commentators continued to seek to minimize and reinterpret the role of the national collaborators’ movements during World War II and their role in the Holocaust.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities were unable to access education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services on an equal basis with others. Laws requiring such access exist, but the government did not enforce them. Persons with disabilities and their families experienced stigmatization and segregation because of deeply entrenched prejudices and a lack of information. In April the government adopted an Action Plan for the Implementation of the Strategy to Improve the Status of Persons with Disabilities for 2021-2022. The plan focuses on promoting inclusion of persons with disabilities; equal rights and protection from discrimination, violence, and abuse; inclusion from the perspective of persons with disabilities in child adoption; and the implementation and monitoring of public policies. The EC’s Serbia 2021 Report noted continued government delays in adopting a strategy on deinstitutionalization and a law to protect persons with mental disabilities in social welfare institutions.

In May the equality commissioner stated that persons with disabilities filed the highest number of complaints and highlighted accessibility as the biggest issue in their daily lives. Information and communication in formats accessible to persons with sensory disabilities was also problem. A high number of persons with disabilities were poor or at risk of becoming poor, had difficulty getting a job, and lacked adequate education.

The law requires all public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but public transportation and many older public buildings were not accessible. Many children and adults with intellectual disabilities remained in institutions, sometimes restrained or isolated. According to UNICEF, children with developmental disabilities were accommodated in institutions for long periods and often together with adults. Three of four children in institutions (73.9 percent) had developmental disabilities.

During the 2020-21 school year, there were 18,319 children with disabilities in elementary schools in the country. Of these, 15,184 attended regular schools and 3,135 attended schools dedicated for those with disabilities. There were 2,356 students with disabilities in secondary schools; 670 attended regular schools and 1,686 attended schools dedicated for those with disabilities. Some NGOs observed that schoolteachers were not trained to work with children with developmental disabilities and did not have professional assistance from trained individuals who could help them learn how to approach work with these children.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Issues; the Ministry of Education; and the Ministry of Health had sections with responsibilities to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor had a broad mandate to engage with NGOs, distribute social assistance, manage residential institutions, and monitor laws to provide protection for the rights of persons with disabilities.

The National Employment Agency funded several employment programs for persons with disabilities.

According to government officials and NGOs, there was significant prejudice against persons with HIV or AIDS in all aspects of public life, including employment, housing, and access to public services. Access to medical treatment was hampered due to COVID-19. The National Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health urged the Health Ministry and directors of Infectious Diseases clinics to find ways to continue with regular checkups for persons with HIV, which had stopped since the beginning of the pandemic. The center noted that the lack of regular medical oversight of and treatment for patients with HIV and information on (dis)continuation of therapy and its effects presented a risk for the individual and public health. According to the country’s Public Health Institute, there were 4,217 individuals with diagnosed HIV infection in the country. Since the beginning of the year, 120 persons had been diagnosed with HIV. The equality commissioner’s reports noted that persons with HIV or AIDS were extremely vulnerable to discrimination but were often unwilling to submit a complaint, making the scale of the problem difficult to define.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, sex characteristics and gender identity, the law does not describe specific areas in which discrimination is prohibited but was generally interpreted as applying to housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, and violence and discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community were serious problems. According to available research, most LGBTQI+ persons experienced psychological problems, physical attacks, problems in family and school, in employment, public spaces, and institutions. They also reported suffering from depression, anxiety, and receiving death threats.

NGOs stated that members of the LGBTQI+ community were exposed to threats, violence, discrimination, marginalization, and rejection but also noted a positive change in public perception of LGBTQI+ persons. Research by the civil rights NGOs Geten and the Center for Rights of LGBT Persons, respectively, noted increased support for the protection of the community from discrimination and violence and the adoption of gender identity laws. On May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, the ombudsman stated that existing laws needed to be amended and new laws adopted to allow members of the LGBTQI + community to fully enjoy their rights, including legal regulation of adjusting sex and gender identity. On May 27, the antidiscrimination law was amended to include recognition of sex characteristics as a basis for the prohibition of discrimination.

In response to a recommendation from the commissioner for equality, the Health Ministry removed persons with a history of homosexual relations from the list of “banned” donors of reproductive cells and embryos. NGOs noted that despite this positive step, discrimination against gay and bisexual men continued as persons who self-declared as engaging in anal sex remained banned as donors. In 2018 the courts issued their first verdict under the country’s hate-crime provisions. Hate crimes are not stand-alone offenses but can be deemed an aggravating factor to be considered during sentencing. The case involved multiple episodes of domestic violence perpetrated against a gay man by his father in the family home. The perpetrator received a three-year suspended sentence. Activists criticized the sentence as being too light because the perpetrator would not serve prison time if he met the conditions of his suspended sentence.

The annual Belgrade Pride parade was held on September 18 without the incidents of violence that had marred previous parades. Right-wing organizations held a protest march in which individuals shouted slurs against the LGBTQI+ community and burned rainbow flags, but police prevented them from interfering with the Pride Parade. On three separate occasions during Belgrade’s September 14-20 Pride Week, the office of an organization whose members participated in Pride Week events was vandalized with spray-painted homophobic slurs and Nazi symbols.