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Albania

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.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

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.”

Anti-Semitism

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

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.

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.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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.

Anti-Semitism

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.

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.

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.

Kosovo

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.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

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.

Anti-Semitism

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

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.

Montenegro

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.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

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.

Anti-Semitism

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

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.

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.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

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.

Anti-Semitism

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.

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.

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.

Serbia

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.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

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.

Anti-Semitism

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.

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.

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.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future