Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Throughout the year the government continued to discuss publicly the 1999 disappearance and murder of Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi, three Kosovar-American brothers taken into custody by Serb paramilitary groups. Senior Serbian officials made numerous claims that new evidence was found in the case. Despite this, the government made no significant progress toward providing justice for the victims.
The special war crimes chamber of the Belgrade District Court continued to try cases arising from crimes committed during the 1991-99 conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. The War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office (WCPO) worked with its counterpart organizations in Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo to exchange information and evidence pertaining to investigations and transfer cases for prosecution.
In August 2015 the Belgrade-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) filed a criminal complaint with the WCPO about the alleged involvement of Dragan Obradovic in war crimes committed by the 86th Detachment of the Special Police Unit of the Ministry of Interior during the 1999 Kosovo conflict. In an October 13 official note to the HLC, the WCPO stated that because the case had an unknown perpetrator, it should be transferred to the Ministry of Interior’s War Crimes Investigative Service for further investigation into perpetrators. By year’s end no further action was taken on the case.
In January the WCPO and defendant Brano Gojkovic reached a plea agreement whereby the defendant pleaded guilty to committing war crimes against a civilian population by participating in the killings of several hundred Bosniak men between the ages of 17 and 65 after the fall of Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995. On January 27, the Higher Court in Belgrade rendered a judgment in the case, accepting the agreement and the proposed sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. The judgment became final on February 9.
The WCPO conducted investigations into another case related to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre (the Srebrenica-Kravice case). In September 2015 it filed an indictment against eight former members of the Ministry of Interior of Republika Srpska for the alleged murder of more than 1,000 Bosniak civilians in Kravice, Bosnia, in 1995. The War Crimes Department of the Higher Court confirmed the indictment in March.
In April the First Basic Court in Belgrade fined human rights activist Natasa Kandic 550,000 dinars ($4,700) to be paid to General Ljubisa Dikovic for “falsely alleging” Dikovic failed to prevent alleged war crimes during the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo. Kandic described the case as politically motivated and accused the court of refusing to hear proposed defense witnesses. On October 11, the Appellate Court dismissed Kandic’s complaint and confirmed the ruling of the First Basic Court.
In May the public prosecutor filed an administrative complaint against the commissioner for information of public importance and the protection of personal data, Radoljub Sabic. The prosecutor alleged the commissioner violated the law when he instructed the Ministry of Defense to provide specific information to the HLC about a Serbian officer who may have played a role in the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo. The Ministry of Defense refused to comply with the commissioner’s instructions, claiming that revealing the information would “have adverse consequences on the defense capabilities of the Serbian Army and endanger national defense and public security.”
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution prohibits such practices, police allegedly at times beat detainees and harassed persons, usually during arrest or initial detention, with a view towards obtaining a confession, even though such evidence is not permissible in court.
Impunity for abuse or torture during arrest or initial detention remained a problem, and there were few prosecutions and even fewer convictions of officials for abuse or torture. Physical abuse of detainees was compounded by procedural irregularities in the treatment of prisoners that made it difficult to identify and substantiate detainees’ allegations. These included failure to perform medical examinations of inmates after the use of force, failure to determine whether the examined person was subjected to mistreatment, and lack of knowledge of how best to provide health care to a person against whom force had been used.
In June the Council of Europe’s European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published a report on its May-June 2015 visit to the country that highlighted a significant number of allegations the CPT received of physical mistreatment of criminal suspects. The allegations concerned primarily slaps, punches, truncheon blows, and prolonged handcuffing in stressed positions but also acts that could amount to torture, such as placing plastic bags over the head of suspects to induce a sensation of suffocation and blows to the soles of the feet with nonstandard objects, such as wooden floor tiles. The CPT report also noted authorities had made no progress in implementing formal safeguards against mistreatment, such as notifying relatives that a person had been taken into custody or ensuring the quality of assistance provided by ex officio lawyers.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Many prisons and detention centers did not meet international standards and were severely overcrowded, had generally poor sanitation, lacked proper lighting and ventilation, and had poorly disciplined and trained custodial staff.
Physical Conditions: Prison conditions in maximum-security prisons were harsh due to gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
In early March there were 10,065 persons in prisons with a total capacity of 9,459 inmates. In the report on its May-June 2015 visit to the country, the CPT reported the situation was further aggravated by serious levels of overcrowding. For example, at Pancevo District Prison, six inmates were being accommodated in cells measuring only 26 square feet. Then justice minister Nikola Selakovic stated in March that prison capacities had increased 50 percent over the previous four years and that prison conditions improved in line with European standards.
The mortality rate during the year was 68.8 for every 10,000 inmates.
During its 2015 visit, the CPT received numerous allegations of physical mistreatment of inmates by staff including at the Valjevo Juvenile Correctional Institution. These consisted primarily of slaps, punches, and blows with truncheons. Furthermore, violence among prisoners and intimidation was a frequent occurrence in particular at the Sremska Mitrovica Correctional Institution and the Pancevo District Prison. A number of factors, including chronic understaffing, illicit drug use, poor material conditions, and lack of activities, exacerbated the problem. The CPT noted authorities needed to provide confidential medical examinations of prisoners and ensure accurate reporting of injuries.
The CPT report found that material conditions of detention were particularly poor in most of the prisons visited and included unacceptable hygienic conditions and dilapidated infrastructure. In the CPT’s view, the detention conditions in the Hospital and Odmaraliste buildings in the Sremska Mitrovica Correctional Institution and in the closed sections of the Pancevo District Prison could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. The CPT noted authorities needed to reinforce the number of health-care staff, notably at Sremska Mitrovica Correctional Institution, to improve psychiatric care for inmates, and to review the placement and treatment of inmates, including juveniles, subject to enforced supervision measures. The deputy ombudsman noted the majority of prison-related complaints the ombudsman received were due to poor material conditions, food, and health care.
Deputy Ombudsman Milos Jankovic noted inmates had nothing constructive to occupy themselves with in prison because there were no opportunities for cultural or sports activities that could help preserve physical and mental wellbeing.
Administration: Record keeping on prisoners was inadequate.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent observers. The ombudsman has the right to visit prisoners and make recommendations concerning prison conditions.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The country’s approximately 32,000 police officers are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the five main departments that supervise 27 regional police directorates reporting to the national government. Despite a sustained effort by prosecutors and police to tackle corruption, abuse, and fraud, significant problems and abuses in these areas remained. There was no specialized governmental body to examine killings at the hands of the security forces. The police, the Security Information Agency (BIA), and the Directorate for the Enforcement of Penal Sanctions examined such cases through internal audits.
The effectiveness of the police force varied. While most officers were ethnic Serbs, the force included Bosniaks (Slavic Muslims), ethnic Hungarians, ethnic Montenegrins, a small number of ethnic Albanians, and other minorities, including Roma. The government took steps to minimize the underrepresentation of minorities in police departments in multi-ethnic communities, but NGOs stated these efforts had not gone far enough.
Police corruption and impunity were problems. During the year experts from civil society noted that the quality of police internal investigations continued to improve, primarily because of the implementation of the new criminal procedure code. There were 147 charges brought against police officers between January 1 and October 31. The Ministry of Interior maintained a hotline for citizens to report police corruption. During the year the government, in cooperation with international organizations, sponsored more than 50 anticorruption training events, which included police, border patrol officers, prosecutors, and customs officers.
During the early morning of April 25, a group of masked men, using bulldozers, demolished residential and commercial buildings in Belgrade’s Savamala neighborhood. The incident occurred next to the construction site for the Belgrade Waterfront, a major multibillion dollar construction project. Victims reported that the masked men harassed them, tied them up, interrogated them, and took their personal belongings. Although the victims sought police assistance in response to these incidents, police failed to respond. When the victims called the police, they were referred to a different department, the Belgrade Communal Police, which also failed to respond. Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic released a report that alleged police deliberately did not respond to witness requests for assistance and alleged other police misconduct. The head of the Communal Police, Nikola Ristic, claimed the victims had not called the Communal Police, despite contradictory evidence. Jankovic publicly alleged the Belgrade Police Department was party to an orchestrated operation to destroy the buildings to pave the way for the development project.
The media reported the death in a local hospital of Slobodan Tanaskovic, a night watchman and guard who was tied up during the attack but who witnessed much of the demolition. Media reports stated he died from a heart condition, not foul play. In response to police failure to respond to citizens’ calls for help, there were several mass protests involving tens of thousands of demonstrators. In June Prime Minister Vucic stated the highest authorities in the City of Belgrade were responsible, and the Belgrade Prosecutor’s Office undertook an investigation into the incident. By year’s end, however, there was no public report of progress in the investigation.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Authorities generally based arrests on warrants. The law requires a judge to approve any detention lasting longer than 48 hours, and authorities generally respected this requirement. Immediately after questioning, the prosecutor decides whether to release the arrested person or request that the judge, for preliminary proceedings, order pretrial detention.
Activists expressed concern over the practice of detaining subjects of an investigation longer than 48 hours without filing formal charges. In at least one case resulting from a major anticorruption operation conducted in December 2015, a subject was ordered detained and held for approximately 50 days in administrative detention at the Belgrade District Prison. On February 12, the subject was released but was required to surrender his passport and not leave the country. At year’s end charges against the individual were pending.
The law provides the possibility of pretrial release for some detainees. Nonetheless, pretrial release frequently was not used as an alternative to detention. There were instances when authorities used detention in questionable circumstances. The law allows bail, but detainees rarely used it. There appeared to be a trend towards greater use of bail and home detention in organized crime, high-level corruption, and war crime proceedings.
The constitution provides that police must inform arrested persons immediately of their rights, and authorities generally respected this requirement. According to the law, police cannot question a suspect without informing the suspect of the right to have counsel present and detainees can obtain access to counsel at government expense, if necessary. The prosecutor can elect to question directly the suspect or be present during police questioning. Authorities generally allowed family members to visit detainees. Authorities may hold suspects detained in connection with serious crimes for up to six months before indicting them.
The law prohibits excessive delays by authorities in filing formal charges against suspects and in conducting investigations. By law investigations should conclude within 12 months for cases of special jurisdiction (organized crime, high corruption, and war crimes). It was nonetheless possible for investigations to last longer than the prescribed time limits, as there was no clear consequence for not meeting the deadline.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. As of September approximately 14 percent of the country’s total prison population was in pretrial detention. The average length was not reported and could not be reliably estimated. The court is generally obliged by law to act with urgency when deciding on pretrial detention. The constitution and the law limit the length of pretrial detention to six months, but there is no statutory limit to detention once a trial begins. There is also no statutory limit for detention during appellate proceedings. Due to inefficient court procedures, some of which the law requires, cases often took extended periods to come to trial. Once begun, trials often took several months to many years to complete. The government used house arrest in some cases, which helped relieve overcrowding in pretrial detention centers.
The law allows for indefinite detention of prisoners who are deemed a danger to the public because of mental disability.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other charges, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Between January and June 2015, the Damages Commission of the Justice Ministry received 7,232 claims of alleged unlawful detention. Settlements were reached with 16 percent of claimants.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the courts remained susceptible to corruption and political influence.
In June 2015 a judicial disciplinary panel reversed an earlier ruling and found Judge Vladimir Vucinic guilty of violating disciplinary rules. The panel reprimanded Vucinic, who had first been charged in 2013, purportedly for improper contacts with the press, when he alleged that his supervisor had pressured him to change the bail conditions for a defendant in a corruption case. In December 2015 Vucinic was demoted from Belgrade’s Special Court to a lower court, a move activists alleged was politically motivated and aimed at curbing judicial independence. In March Vucinic resigned his position and was readmitted to the Serbian Bar Association.
The constitution and the law grant defendants the presumption of innocence. Authorities must inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have a right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, although authorities may close a trial if the trial judge determines it is warranted for the protection of morals, public order, national security, the interests of a minor, the privacy of a participant, or during testimony of a state-protected witness.
Lay judges sit on the trial benches in all cases except those handled by the organized crime and war crimes authorities. Defendants also have the right to have an attorney represent them at public expense for cases in which defense is legally mandatory or a defendant lacks resources to acquire representation and the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare defense. Defendants have the right to access government evidence, to question witnesses, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Both the defense and the prosecution have the right to appeal a verdict.
The government generally respected these rights, although some defendants complained about not being able to present evidence at court and not being able to depose their witnesses. Poorer defendants struggled to get legal representation, as the country does not have a functional system of free legal aid for all situations. Free legal aid was granted only in more serious cases, where the law mandates representation.
In 2015 parliament adopted the Law on the Protection of the Right to Trial within a Reasonable Time, which entered into force on January 1. The law provides for free and urgent judicial protection and legal remedies in the case of violations of this right to all parties in the proceedings before the courts, with the exception of proceedings before administrative authorities and for the public prosecutor in criminal proceedings.
Regional cooperation on war crimes prosecutions remained a problem for all the states involved in the conflicts of the 1990s, including Serbia, where the position of chief prosecutor in the WCPO became vacant at the end of 2015 and remained so at year’s end. For the first time in 10 years, the country did not send a delegation to the annual regional conference of state attorneys from former Yugoslav states aimed at improving cross-border cooperation in the prosecution of war crimes.
The legal framework and practice of respect for the right to reparation for victims of human rights violations committed during the 1990s remained inadequate. For example, according to the HLC, the majority of victims are forced to claim their right to reparation before the court in a civil litigation based on the provisions of the Law of Contracts and Torts. The proceedings are long, have limited chances of success, and do not conform with a number of human rights guarantees of the constitution of Serbia and the European Convention on Human Rights. The courts in these proceedings often refused to accept statements given by victims, while accepting and privileging those given by police officers. The courts dismissed most of the compensation lawsuits, usually due to narrow interpretations of the provisions regulating the statute of limitations, despite the possibility of applying provisions prescribing the extended statute of limitations. The HLC also alleged the courts dismissed lawsuits to avoid making any connections between the state and the tortures committed. In cases in which the courts granted compensation, the amounts awarded were very low, according to activists.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no confirmed reports of political prisoners or detainees. There were, however, reports that the government arrested persons on corruption charges for political reasons. Between December 2015 and April 2016, in three separate police operations, police arrested 175 persons, including some politicians and officials from ministries and state-owned companies, on the suspicion of corruption, money laundering, forgery, bribery, and abuse of office committed since 2004. Opposition leaders stated the arrests were politically motivated, as the majority of those arrested belonged to opposition parties, and only a few arrested individuals were from the ruling party coalition.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution grants individuals the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court based on a violation of human rights. In addition to ruling whether a violation occurred, a decision of the court also can serve as grounds for seeking restitution. The government generally respected decisions rendered by the Constitutional Court. Once all avenues for remedy through domestic courts are exhausted, citizens may appeal cases involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.
The law provides for restitution of private property and communal religious property confiscated by communist authorities following World War II. Restitution can include the return of the property, substituted property, or compensation in the form of government bonds. Compensation, scheduled to start in 2014, was delayed until 2018. According to the government Restitution Agency, 88 percent of religious community and 55 percent of private property claims had been processed by year’s end. The restitution of agricultural land was particularly controversial, however, and progressed more slowly. In February the government adopted a law to address restitution of heirless property confiscated as a result of the Holocaust. In July the Restitution Agency approved the return of the first two properties to the Belgrade Jewish Community under this law.
On April 23, the Restitution Agency rejected the property restitution claim of Radmila Pavkovic, a descendant of Milan Nedic, leader of the collaborationist National Salvation government during the Nazi occupation. The agency also rejected her request to postpone its decision on her restitution claim until the final verdict was announced in the separate rehabilitation case before the Higher Court. The Restitution Agency found that her restitution claim was unfounded. According to the Property Restitution Law, individuals who were members of occupying forces were not entitled to property restitution (nor were their descendants). The decision also stated that any positive ruling in the rehabilitation case before the Higher Court would not have affected the agency’s decision, since Nedic was clearly a member of occupying forces.
While the constitution prohibits such actions, there were reports that the government failed to respect prohibitions on interfering with correspondence and communications. The law requires the Ministry of Interior to obtain a court order before monitoring potential criminal activity and police to obtain a warrant before entering property except to save persons or possessions. Police occasionally failed to respect these laws.
Human rights leaders and independent journalists alleged that authorities monitored their communications, and most expert observers alleged that authorities selectively monitored communications, eavesdropped on conversations, and read mail and e-mail.
In his annual report to parliament submitted on March 15, Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic reported that the Military Security Agency had monitored the communications, activities of, and cooperation between certain political parties and movements without indicating the circumstances or legal justification for exercising this power. In 2015 the ombudsman revealed, and the Ministry of Defense subsequently confirmed, that the Military Security Agency had unlawfully monitored the communications of some opposition political parties, union leaders, and judges.
The law allows the government to access communications data without previous approval under certain special circumstances. Even with these special circumstances taken into account, the BIA must submit a request for a retroactive warrant justifying surveillance.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A variety of independent domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their questions, the groups were subject to criticism, harassment, and threats from nongovernmental actors, including progovernment media outlets, for expressing views critical of the government or contrary to nationalist views regarding Kosovo, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the wars of the 1990s.
On January 21, unidentified perpetrators broke the windows of the office of the Human Rights House in Belgrade, which included the offices of several prominent NGOs. Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic condemned the attack. As of year’s end, authorities had made no progress in identifying any suspects in the case.
In March the director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, Jelena Milic, was given police protection after receiving threats for more than a year. Interior Minister Stefanovic condemned the threats against Milic and stated that police were working intensively on the case. There were no arrests during the course of the investigation.
In 2015 a coalition of Serbian NGOs conducted an independent “self-evaluation” of the country’s implementation of its human rights commitments. The coalition concluded that the protection of the rights of individuals belonging to minority communities and the principle of voluntary self-identification had not been fully implemented. The coalition reported that segregation was the de facto result of minority rights policies in the country. According to NGOs, the government did not complete any follow-up activities related to the self-evaluation during the year.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for identifying problems within state institutions and making recommendations on ways to remedy them. The ombudsman continued to operate branch offices in three municipalities with significant ethnic Albanian populations. Vojvodina Province had its own ombudsman, who operated independently during the year. The commissioner for the protection of equality has legal authority to bring civil lawsuits against businesses and government institutions for violations of the law.
During the year Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic faced personal attacks from a number of media outlets that had close ties to the ruling SNS. The attacks began after Jankovic filed criminal charges against two members of the military police in January 2015. The charges stemmed from an incident during the 2014 Belgrade Pride Parade in which two members of the military police, the prime minister’s brother, and the brother of the mayor of Belgrade clashed with members of a special police unit. Several high-level government officials criticized the ombudsman publicly for filing the charges. Verbal attacks on Jankovic continued throughout year. In April the minister of interior publicly read a police record from 1993 about a suicide that took place in a house that was then owned by Jankovic without him being present. Information from the same record was distributed by tabloid media the day before the interior minister officially presented it. The tabloid outlet Informer continued for months to print articles calling on authorities to investigate Jankovic’s role in the case. State officials, members of parliament, and tabloid media continued to accuse Jankovic of politicizing his position and office. In August the media reported that the website Youtube had blocked one of its channels featuring the ombudsman’s appearance in various television programs due to the large number of complaints about offensive and violent content. When the Ombudsman’s Office appealed the suspension of the channel, its petition was rejected. After the ombudsman tweeted about his case, Youtube lifted the suspension.
The commissioner for information and personal data protection, Rodoljub Sabic, received threats following his public insistence that police investigate the midnight destruction of a neighborhood in the Belgrade district of Savamala on April 25 (see section 1.d.). The Office of the High Prosecutor investigated the incident and declared that the commissioner had “refused to cooperate” during the investigation, a claim that the commissioner later refuted.
NGOs expressed concern that continuous attacks against the ombudsman and the commissioner were aimed at undermining independent institutions.
The ombudsman’s 2015 report asserted that statements by government officials questioning the ombudsman’s mandate to investigate certain cases damaged efforts by the Ombudsman’s Office to prevent and combat impunity for torture.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Advocates believed that only a small percentage of rape victims reported their attacks because of fear of reprisal from their attackers or humiliation in court.
Violence against women continued to be a problem. Domestic violence is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. While the law provides women the right to obtain a restraining order against abusers, the government did not enforce the law effectively. Domestic violence cases were difficult to prosecute because of the lack of witnesses or evidence and the unwillingness of witnesses or victims to testify. While authorities generally acknowledged high levels of domestic violence, there were no reliable statistics on the extent of the problem. On November 23, parliament passed the Law on Prevention of Family Violence. The law strengthens protective measures for domestic violence victims by temporarily removing the perpetrator from the home for a minimum of 48 hours to a maximum of 30 days. Implementation of the law was scheduled to begin in June 2017.
According to media reports, through October family violence had claimed the lives of 24 women. In August the ombudsman established that, in 12 of 14 reported cases of killings of women, the relevant institutions failed to respond to reported violence against the women prior to the incident. The ombudsman alleged that there were attempts to cover up these failures by authorities. According to the Autonomous Women’s Center in 2015, an estimated 1,200 women moved to safe houses throughout the country while only 71 perpetrators were removed from their residences. According to the commissioner for the protection of equality, the majority of cases filed with that institution dealt with discrimination against women.
The few official agencies dedicated to combatting family violence had inadequate resources. In 2015 there were 14 safe houses for women in operation, most operated by NGOs. In a few cases, local municipalities contributed financial support. All safe houses also accommodated the children of the women in residence. According to the assessments of NGOs, women returned to their abuser from seven to 11 times before making the final decision to leave. Some safe houses reported that up to half of their resident victims returned to their abuser.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a crime punishable by imprisonment for up to six months in cases that do not involve abuse or a power relationship and for up to one year for abuse of a subordinate or dependent. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Public awareness of the problem remained low, and women filed few complaints during the year.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but the government did not always respect these laws in practice. Women experienced widespread discrimination in employment, access to credit, wages, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. The law on birth records provides for universal birth registration. Some Romani children were not registered at birth. Subsequent birth registration was possible but complicated (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Children who are not registered do not have access to public services, such as health care.
Education: Education was free through the secondary level but compulsory only from preschool through age 15. Ethnic discrimination and economic hardship discouraged some children from attending school. In Romani and poor rural communities, girls were likely to quit school earlier than boys.
Child Abuse: Children were often victims of family violence, and there were a growing number of reports of child victims of parental neglect. In 2015 the Centers for Social Work removed 50 children from their families, either because of neglect or labor exploitation. According to Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin, during the same period the Centers for Social Work reported 2,890 cases of child neglect and/or exploitation. The University Children’s Hospital maintained a team for protection of children from abuse and neglect. According to data from the clinic, the national health system in 2015 registered 634 instances of child abuse and 201 of child neglect.
The media reported it was easier for authorities to act in cases of obvious physical abuse. Police usually responded to complaints, and authorities prosecuted child abuse cases during the year. Psychological and legal assistance was available for victims. Children were accommodated in safe houses for victims of family violence.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. A court can allow a minor older than 16 but younger than 18 to marry if the minor is mature enough to “enjoy the rights and fulfill the responsibilities of marriage.” While the rate of early and forced marriage of children among the general population was low, it was a problem in some communities, including among some Romani communities and in rural areas of the southern and eastern parts of the country. The most recent census, conducted in 2011, suggested that early marriage occurred among individuals from a variety of economic and social backgrounds. In the Romani community, boys and girls generally married between the ages of 14 and 18, with 16 as the average. Boys generally married a few years later than girls, and some girls married as early as age 12. Nearly 44 percent of Romani girls in the 15-19 age group were married or in a long-term relationship, compared with only 19 percent of Romani boys in the same age group.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: While the law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and the government enforced the law, commercial sexual exploitation and the use of children in production of pornography occurred. Evidence of these activities was limited, and the extent of the problem was unknown. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.
Displaced Children: According to local NGOs and media reports, an estimated 2,000 homeless children lived on Belgrade’s streets. Most of these children were not registered at birth, and the government did not provide them any systematic support.
UNHCR reported that 3,094 unaccompanied minor migrants or asylum seekers (predominantly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan) had entered the country during the year. The whereabouts of these unaccompanied children was not known, as the government did not track migrant or asylum seeker departures. The government grants guardianship of unaccompanied minors to social welfare centers, but most minors chose to transit the country with other families when they were able to do so.
Institutionalized Children: Children in orphanages and institutions were sometimes victims of physical and emotional abuse by caretakers and guardians and of sexual abuse by peers. The law on social protection places priority on deinstitutionalization of children, including those with developmental problems, and their placement in foster families. Children with disabilities who were housed in institutions faced problems including isolation, neglect, and a lack of stimulation and were mixed with adults in the same facility. According to government data, nearly 80 percent of children in institutions in the country in 2014 had disabilities and, according to NGO reports, approximately 70 percent of children with intellectual disabilities were placed in institutions. In June Human Rights Watch released a report on children with disabilities in institutions that found they received inappropriate medication and psychiatric treatments, lacked privacy, and had limited or no access to education. Approximately 60 percent of children with disabilities in institutions were not enrolled in schools, according to government figures. Those who were enrolled attended schools exclusively for children with disabilities.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
According to the 2011 census, 787 persons in the country declared themselves to be Jewish. While the law prohibits hate speech, translations of anti-Semitic literature were available from ultranationalist groups and conservative publishers. Anti-Semitic books were widely available in bookshops. Right-wing youth groups and internet forums continued to promote anti-Semitism and use hate speech against the Jewish community.
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 Nazi occupation was debated. Some commentators continued to seek to minimize and reinterpret the role of national collaborators’ movements during World War II and their role in the Holocaust. The court case, brought by Nedic’s family, for his rehabilitation was in progress before the Higher Court in Belgrade.
On January 27, the government organized an official commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, at which the country’s president spoke. The City of Belgrade, in cooperation with the Jewish Community of Serbia, commemorated Belgrade Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 10.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The government did not enforce these laws effectively. Persons with disabilities and their families suffered from stigmatization and segregation because of deeply entrenched prejudices and the lack of information. Persons with disabilities were among the most vulnerable social groups and were marginalized with little access to education, other basic services, employment, and participation in social and political life.
The criminal code defines “sexual intercourse with a helpless person” as a crime separate from rape. Under the law, taking advantage of persons with disabilities when the person is “incapable of resistance” has a shorter minimum prison sentence than rape of a person not defined as “helpless.”
A CPT report criticized the treatment of residents at the Veternik Residential Facility for children with developmental issues (see section 1.c.). The CPT reportedly received allegations of physical mistreatment of residents by staff, consisting mainly of slaps and frequent interresident violence related in part to low staffing levels. The report also described the situation of a group of residents who were subjected to periods of prolonged mechanical fixation and seclusion and the widespread recourse by staff to psychoactive medication for residents who did not have a mental health disability. The report also noted poor material conditions and overcrowding in some wards, with some residents forced to share the same bed, and a limited range of therapeutic and occupational activities for residents.
The law provides for 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. An NGO reported 70 percent of children with intellectual disabilities were in institutions.
NGOs reported that 59 percent of polling stations for the early parliamentary elections in April were not accessible to persons with disabilities.
In February parliament amended the law on preventing discrimination against persons with disabilities to allow persons with permanent physical or sensory disabilities to sign official documents using a special seal that contains their personal data or a seal with their engraved signature.
The law also prohibits physical, emotional, and verbal abuse in schools. Children with disabilities (institutionalized and noninstitutionalized) generally attended school and, depending on parents’ preferences, could enroll in regular or special schools. Parents found that enrolling children with intellectual disabilities in regular schools was challenging and often chose to enroll their children in special schools. NGOs noted that children with disabilities faced discrimination in access to education and health care. Individualized support in education for children with disabilities was a problem because there are no clear and specified legal regulations for it.
The Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Issues, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Health had sections with responsibilities to protect persons with disabilities. The labor ministry had a broad mandate to liaise with NGOs, distribute social assistance, manage residential institutions, and monitor laws to ensure protection for the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministries of Health and Education offered assistance and protection in their respective spheres.
On August 3, the Center for Independent Living signed a contract with Belgrade city authorities to provide personal assistance services for 50 individuals. The program was funded by the city of Belgrade.
Numerous observers noted the existence of a climate of hostility toward members of national and ethnic minorities. Discrimination with respect to employment and occupation was also reported. According to the 2011 census, members of these minorities constituted approximately 17 percent of the country’s population and included, in order of size, ethnic Hungarians, Roma, Bosniaks, Croats, Slovaks, Vlachs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Albanians, Ashkali, Egyptians, and others. According to census figures, 21 distinct ethnic groups lived in the country.
Independent observers and NGOs stated that Roma continued to be subject to the greatest discrimination of any ethnic minority in the country. Many Roma lived in informal settlements that lacked basic services, such as water, sewage facilities, access to medical care, and schools. NGOs reported that the lack of legal regularization of housing in informal Romani communities remained a major problem that blocked the access of Roma to state services. While the educational system provided nine years of free mandatory schooling, including the year before elementary school, ethnic prejudice, cultural norms, and economic hardship prevented some Romani children, especially girls, from finishing mandatory schooling.
Bodies known as national minority councils represented the country’s ethnic minority groups and had broad competency over education, media, culture, and the use of minority languages. Ethnic Albanian leaders in the southern municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac and Bosniaks in the southwestern region of Sandzak complained they were underrepresented in state institutions at the local level. According to the European Commission progress report for 2015, the Bosniak community continued to be underrepresented in the local administration, judiciary, and police. The same report found Albanians were also underrepresented in public services. Ethnic Albanians lacked sufficient textbooks in the Albanian language for secondary education. On May 9, the Albanian National Minority Council and the Education Ministry signed an agreement to provide an adequate number of Albanian language textbooks.
The law requires all residents to record changes of residency. Authorities denied some displaced persons (mostly Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians) access to government services because they lacked regular identification documents, which could be difficult to acquire if adequate documents were not filed at birth or if the registry books with their registration were lost during the conflicts of the 1990s. To meet the address change requirement and deregister from their original addresses, displaced persons from Kosovo were required to travel to the location of relocated civil registries from Kosovo that were held in municipalities scattered throughout the country. The law provides a special court procedure for the ex post facto establishment of time and place of birth in order to facilitate subsequent civil registration.
The government took some steps to counter violence and discrimination against minorities. The stand-alone government Office for Human and Minority Rights supported minority communities. Civic education classes, offered by the government as an alternative to religion courses in secondary schools, included information on minority cultures and multi-ethnic tolerance.
The government, with support from several international organizations, continued efforts to improve the teaching of Serbian as a nonmother tongue in Albanian-language primary schools.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, violence and discrimination against members of the LGBTI community were serious problems.
While attacks against LGBTI individuals happened often, few were reported to authorities because victims were afraid of further harassment. During the year the NGO Egal reported 20 attacks against LGBTI persons. LGBTI activists maintained that LGBTI persons did not report many violent attacks to police because the victims did not believe the cases would be addressed properly and they wanted to avoid victimization by police and the publicity that would be generated by their complaints.
Members of the community were frequently exposed to threats and hate speech. The majority of attacks were never resolved and perpetrators never identified. NGOs stated that attacks against activists remained unsolved because of a lack of political will to punish perpetrators. LGBTI activists also claimed that the inadequate government response to violent acts against the LGBTI community encouraged perpetrators to target them for abuse. In one incident, on August 22, two men physically attacked Boban Stojanovic, one of the organizers of the Belgrade Pride event, in downtown Belgrade. Police opened an investigation but had not arrested any suspects as of year’s end.
The commissioner for the protection of equality stated that homophobia and transphobia were present in society and asked the media to report on transgender and other individuals with different sexual orientation without sensationalism and discriminatory language. She noted that some media outlets continued to report inappropriately on the subject. The ombudsman stated that public authorities and society in general needed to pay more attention to the protection and physical and psychological integrity of LGBTI persons as well as to prevent discrimination and hate speech.
There were some positive trends during the year. On September 18, the Belgrade Pride parade was held for the third year in a row to promote LGBTI rights in the country. Police, who greatly outnumbered participants in the parade, shut down a large portion of central Belgrade to secure the route and ensure there was no contact between parade participants and hooligans. Nearly 1,500 demonstrators marched through central Belgrade amid a heavy security presence of 5,000 law enforcement personnel. No security incidents were reported.
In August Ana Brnabic, an openly LGBTI businesswoman, was appointed minister for state administration and local self-government, making her the first openly LGBTI individual to serve as a government minister.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The commissioner for the protection of equality’s annual report for 2015 stated that persons with HIV/AIDS were one of the most marginalized and stigmatized social groups in the country. They suffered from discrimination in health care, work, and employment as well as from negative reactions from family and friends. NGOs reported acts of discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, including job loss and harassment from neighbors. NGOs and health workers reported that some medical workers discriminated against persons with HIV/AIDS.
In May the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Developments began soliciting applications for scholarships for graduate-level students from Nonaligned Movement countries. Under the program, applicants must submit a medical certificate not older than six months confirming that the prospective student did not have a contagious disease, including HIV. The Umbrella Organization of Serbian Youth called on the ministry to revoke the requirement. The commissioner for the protection of equality issued a press statement calling on authorities to rescind the requirement for submission of a medical certificate.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. These rights are subject to restrictions, such as the requirement that the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Affairs approve union leaders. Employers must verify that union leaders are full-time employees. Essential service employees constituted more than 50 percent of the workforce and faced restrictions on the right to strike. These workers must provide 10 day’s advance notification of a strike as well as provide a “minimum level of work” during the strike. In addition, by law strikes can be staged only on the employer’s premises. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of trade union membership but does not provide any specific sanctions for antiunion harassment, nor does it expressly prohibit discrimination against trade union activities. The law provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, and fired workers generally returned to work quickly.
The Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia, a federation of unions that operated independently of the government, had more union members than independent labor unions in the public sector. Independent trade unions were able to organize and address management in state-owned companies on behalf of their members.
The labor law protects the right to bargain collectively, and this right was effectively enforced and practiced. The law requires collective bargaining agreements for any company with more than 10 employees. In order to negotiate with an employer, however, a union must represent at least 15 percent of company employees. In 2014 the government amended the labor law to extend collective bargaining agreements to employers who are not members of the employers association or do not engage in collective bargaining with unions. The new law stipulates that employers subject to a collective agreement with employees must prove they employ at least 50 percent of workers in a given sector to apply for the extension of collective bargaining agreements to employers outside the agreement.
The government generally enforced the labor law, but there were allegations of physical attacks against trade union protesters in recent years. Both public- and private-sector employees freely exercised the right to strike. Violations of the labor law could incur fines of up to two million dinars ($17,200). These fines were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Inspectorate lacked adequate staffing and equipment, which made enforcing the labor law difficult.
Allegations of antiunion dismissals and discrimination persisted. According to the NGOs Felicitas and the Center for Democracy as well as the Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Affairs, the most common violations of workers’ rights involved work performed without an employment contract; nonpayment of salary, overtime, and benefits; employers not following procedures in terminating employment contracts; nonpayment of obligatory pension and health contributions; employers withholding maternity leave allowances; discrimination based on gender and age; discrimination against persons with disabilities; unsafe working conditions; and general harassment.
Labor NGOs worked to increase awareness regarding workers’ rights and to improve the conditions of women, persons with disabilities, and other groups facing discrimination in employment or occupation.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution prohibits forced and compulsory labor. The law also prohibits all forms of labor trafficking and “slavery or a relationship similar to slavery.” The government enforced the law, but forced labor still occurred. Serbian nationals, particularly men, were subjected to labor trafficking in labor-intensive sectors, such as the construction industry in Russia, other European countries, and the United Arab Emirates. Penalties for violations ranged from one to 15 years’ imprisonment and were stringent compared with those for other serious violations.
A number of children, primarily from the Romani community, were forced to engage in begging, theft, other forms of labor and even commercial sexual activities (see section 7.c.).
See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 15, and youths under 18 require written parental or guardian permission to work. The labor law stipulates specific working conditions for minors and limits their workweek to 35 hours, with a maximum of eight hours work per day without overtime or night work. Penalties for violations include fines of up to 1.5 million dinars ($12,900), which was sufficient to deter violations.
The Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry for Labor, Employment, Veterans, and Social Policy was responsible for enforcing child labor laws. According to the inspectorate, in 2015 inspectors did not register any labor complaints involving children under 15 but registered 36 cases involving employment of youths between the ages of 15 and 18 without parental permission.
The government effectively enforced laws protecting children from exploitation in the industrial sector but did not prevent exploitation in informal workplaces or individual households. In villages and farming communities, underage children commonly worked in family businesses. In urban areas children, primarily Roma, worked in the informal sector as street vendors, car washers, and garbage sorters.
With regard to the worst forms of child labor, traffickers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation, used children in the production of pornography and drugs, and sometimes forced children to beg and commit crimes (see section 6, Children). Some Romani children were forced into manual labor or begging. Many of these children lived in substandard housing and go to school.
Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate to enforce the law effectively in the informal sector. The law provides penalties of three months to five years in prison for parents or guardians who force a minor to engage in begging, excessive labor, or labor incompatible with his or her age, but it was inconsistently enforced.
Labor laws prohibit direct and indirect discrimination in employment and occupation on the basis of sex, birth, language, race, skin color, age, pregnancy, disabilities, health conditions, nationality, religion, marital status, family obligations, sexual orientation, political or other beliefs, social status, property status, membership in political organizations or trade unions, or other personal relations. The government enforced these laws with varying degrees of success.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, and HIV-positive status. In 2015 labor inspectors issued 24 decisions regarding discrimination and two decisions related to gender equality.
The commissioner for the protection of equality’s annual report, released in March, showed that complaints of gender-based discrimination made up the plurality of all complaints received, at 22.1 percent. It stated that the majority of the complaints concerned discrimination during the employment process or in the workplace.
NGO experts reported that women, and Romani women in particular, were subject to the most discrimination of any group in the country. A study by the Center for Free Elections and Democracy found discrimination was most frequent in hiring and employment, with the state and its institutions as the major discriminators. The law provides for equal pay, but employers frequently did not observe these provisions in practice. Women earned on average 20 percent less per month than their male counterparts, their career advancement was slower, and they were underrepresented in most professions. Women also faced discrimination related to maternity leave (see section 6, Women). Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.
The monthly net minimum wage was approximately 21,000 dinars ($180). The relative poverty line per household was 13,680 dinars ($118) per month. According to the Republic Statistical Office, in 2015 approximately 25 percent of the country’s households were at risk of falling below the poverty line and 10 percent of the population lived in poverty.
The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. Companies with a trade union presence generally enforced the minimum wage because of monitoring by the union. Employers in smaller private companies, however, often were unwilling or unable to pay minimum wages and mandatory social benefits to all their employees, leading those companies to employ unregistered, off-the-books workers. Unregistered workers, paid in cash without social or pension contributions, did not report labor violations because they feared losing their jobs. Informal arrangements existed most often in the trade, hotel and restaurant, construction, agriculture, and transport sectors. The most frequently reported legal violations in the informal sector related to contractual obligations, payment of salaries, changes to the labor contract, and overtime. Independent estimates suggested the informal sector may represent up to 30 percent of the economy. According to Serbia’s Labor Force Survey data, informal employment represented 20.4 percent of total employment in 2015.
The law stipulates a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for paid leave, annual holidays, and premium pay for night and overtime hours. A worker may have up to eight hours of overtime per week and may not work more than 12 hours in one day, including overtime. One 30-minute break is required during an eight-hour workday. At least a 12-hour break is required between shifts during a workweek, and at least a 24-hour break is required over a weekend. The standard workweek and mandatory breaks were observed in state-owned enterprises but not in private companies where the government had less ability to monitor practices.
The labor law requires that the premium for overtime work be at least 26 percent of the base salary, as defined by the relevant collective bargaining agreement. While trade unions within a company were the primary agents for enforcing overtime pay, the Labor Inspectorate also had enforcement responsibilities.
The law requires that companies must establish a safety and security unit to monitor observance of safety and security regulations. These units often were focused on rudimentary aspects of safety (such as purchasing soap and detergents), rather than on providing safety equipment for workers. In cases in which the employer does not take action, an employee may call the Labor Inspectorate. Employers may call the Labor Inspectorate if they think that an employee’s request related to safety and health conditions is not justified. In case of a direct threat to life and health, employees have the right to take action or to remove themselves from the job or situation without responsibility for any damage it may cause the employer and without jeopardy to their employment.
The government protected employees with varying degrees of success. The Labor Inspectorate employed 242 inspectors and was responsible for worker safety and health, but its 242 inspectors were insufficient to fully enforce compliance. In 2015 the inspectorate completed 32,692 labor inspections involving almost 700,000 employees and uncovered 16,408 informal employment arrangements within legal entities. Following the inspections, formalized employment contracts were granted to 12,250 workers. The country had an estimated 337,789 registered businesses, meaning that there was one inspector for 1,396 businesses. In 2015 the inspectorate completed 16,640 inspections relating to safety and health that involved nearly 217,000 employees. Of this total, 947 inspections related to injuries in the workplace, including 24 cases in which the employee died immediately and 14 cases in which severe injuries eventually resulted in the employee’s death. Cases of death and injury were most common in the construction, agricultural, and industrial sectors of the economy.