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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Impunity for some crimes committed during the 1992-1995 conflict continued to be a problem, especially for those responsible for the approximately 8,000 persons killed in the Srebrenica genocide and for approximately 7,600 other individuals who remained missing and presumed killed during the conflict. Authorities also failed to prosecute most of the more than 20,000 instances of sexual violence alleged to have occurred during the conflict.

Lack of resources, including insufficient funding and personnel, political obstacles, poor regional cooperation, and challenges in pursuing old cases due to the lack of evidence and the unavailability of witnesses and suspects led to the closure of cases and difficulties in clearing the significant backlog.

During the year national authorities made limited progress in processing of war crimes due to long-lasting organizational and financial problems. In 2020 the Council of Ministers adopted a Revised National War Crimes Strategy, which defines new criteria for selection and prioritization of cases between the state and entities, provides measures to enhance judicial and police capacities to process war crime cases, and updates the measures for protection of witnesses and victims. The revised strategy provides for prioritizing category “A” cases, in which the evidence is “sufficient by international standards to provide reasonable grounds for the belief that the person may have committed the serious violation of international humanitarian law” and provides additional measures to enhance regional cooperation. The implementation of the revised strategy was delayed because the Council of Ministers failed to appoint a supervisory body, mainly due to the opposition of Bosniak victims’ associations to the nomination of RS Center for Investigation of War and War Crimes Director Milorad Kojic as a member of the body. The Special Department for War Crimes within the Prosecutor’s Office has 28 prosecutors and a total of 110 employees, including nonprosecutorial staff. Six regional teams were formed. The courts transferred less-complex cases from the state-level to entity-level or Brcko District courts. During the year the Prosecutor’s Office transferred 13 cases with 27 persons charged to the entities and Brcko District judiciary. The Prosecutor’s Office submitted criminal reports or ordered investigations on 351 cases and worked on 1,522 additional cases with unknown perpetrators or crime (meaning the prosecutor has not finalized a decision on how to qualify the crime). During the year, four guilty verdicts were brought against seven persons who were sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment in total. The Prosecutor’s Office, through the Ministry of Justice, sent a legal assistance request to Croatia with a request to take over the criminal proceedings against 14 Croatian generals who had been reported by the RS police in 2007 for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Western Slavonia during the Flash military operation in 1995. Croatia has not responded to the request.

Some convictions were issued or confirmed over the past year. The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) rejected the appeal of the 20-year prison sentence handed down to Radomir Susnjar for participating in mass killings in Visegrad during the war. The appeals chamber of the Court of BiH upheld the verdict sentencing former soldiers Branko Cigoja, Zeljko Todic, and Sasa Boskic to 14 years in prison each for crimes against civilians in Oborci near Donji Vakuf in September 1995.

In January 2020 the Court of BiH sentenced in the first instance Sakib Mahmuljin, a commander in the former Army of the Republic of BiH to 10 years imprisonment for war crimes committed in the areas of Vozuca and Zavidovici. The verdict is subject to appeal. It prompted strong reactions from Bosniak ethno-nationalist leaders, and BiH Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic called his conviction “a verdict to all who defended their country” and expressed pride in commanders of the BiH army, declaring that “we are all Sakib.” On November 10, the Appellate Chamber of the Court of BiH revoked Mahmuljin’s first-instance war crimes verdict. The Appellate Chamber of the Court of BiH will hold a new hearing in this case.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices. While there were no internal reports that government officials employed such measures, there were no concrete indications that security forces had ended the practice of severely mistreating detainees and prisoners reported in previous years.

On September 14, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released findings from its 2019 visit to the country in which it reported receiving numerous allegations of physical and psychological mistreatment, including of a severity which, in the CPT’s view, amounted to torture. The reported mistreatment consisted of falaka (beating the soles of the feet), rape with a baton, and mock execution with a gun of detained persons by law enforcement officials. The CPT also received allegations of police officers inflicting kicks, punches, slaps, and blows with batons (as well as with nonstandard objects such as baseball bats, wooden tiles, and electrical cables) on detainees. The CPT stated the mistreatment was apparently inflicted by crime inspectors with the intention of coercing suspects to confess as well as by members of special intervention units at the time of the apprehension of criminal suspects. The CPT found the situation in the Republika Srpska (RS) to have improved considerably since its visits in 2012 and 2015, although the CPT received a few allegations of physical and psychological mistreatment of criminal suspects by police officers, notably in rural areas. The CPT report stated that the high number of credible allegations of police mistreatment, particularly by members of the Sarajevo Cantonal Police, was a source of “deep concern” for the CPT.

The country has not designated an institution as its national mechanism for the prevention of torture and mistreatment of detainees and prisoners, in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. In 2019 the Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman in BiH (Ombudsman Institution) received 129 complaints by prisoners regarding prisoner treatment in detention and prison facilities. The number of complaints fell by 10 percent compared with 2018; most of the complaints concerned health care, denial of out-of-prison benefits, transfer to other institutions, use of parole, and conditions in prison and detention facilities. A smaller number of complaints referred to misconduct by staff or violence by other prisoners.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The September 14 CPT report stated that investigations into alleged police mistreatment “cannot be considered effective, as they are not carried out promptly or thoroughly and neither can they considered to be impartial and independent.” The report was critical of the internal control unit of the Sarajevo Cantonal Police and of the role of prosecutors who, in several cases examined by the CPT, had delegated all investigative acts to police inspectors from the same unit as the alleged perpetrators of the mistreatment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical and sanitary conditions in the country’s prisons and detention facilities varied depending on location; some met the need for accommodation of prisoners and detainees, while others did not.

Physical Conditions: In its September 14 report, the CPT stated that conditions were acceptable in police detention facilities in Banja Luka and Sarajevo but unacceptable in Mostar (poor daylight and ventilation in cells, inadequate conditions for rest, and small beds for overnight stays). The CPT criticized RS police for holding detainees in the offices of police criminal inspectors, especially in Banja Luka. The CPT reported that conditions in Sarajevo prison had improved since the appointment of a new director in 2017 but that poor ventilation and sanitary installations continued to present a problem. In Mostar, the CPT reported some improvements, including painting the walls, installation of video surveillance, and installation of air conditioning in the cells. Maintenance of the prison and especially hygiene and ventilation in the prison were substandard. The report found that material and hygienic conditions generally improved in medical units of the Sarajevo prison detention unit and in Mostar prison.

Health care was one of the main complaints by prisoners. Not all prisons had comprehensive health-care facilities with full-time health-care providers. In such instances, the institutions contracted part-time practitioners who were obligated to regularly visit institutions and provide services. Prisons in Zenica, Tuzla, Sarajevo, East Sarajevo, Foca, and Banja Luka employed full time doctors. There were no prison facilities suitable for prisoners with physical disabilities. In some instances, prisoners in need of expensive and more complex medical services faced problems obtaining such services due to limited budgets of the institutions. The CPT report found there is no coherent approach to prisoners who were drug addicts. For example in Sarajevo, only prisoners who were already prescribed substitute therapy before entering the prison were able to continue with the therapy. In Mostar and RS prisons, such treatment would stop when inmates started serving their prison term.

Administration: In its September 14 report, the CPT stated that investigations by authorities into allegation of police mistreatment “cannot be considered effective… and neither can they [be] considered to be impartial and independent” (see Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, above, for details).

Units in both entities and the Brcko District had internal units for professional standards, which were under direct supervision of the district, cantonal, or entity police units to which citizens can report cases of mistreatment or abuse of persons deprived of liberty. Only a small number of reported allegations of police brutality were judged to be justified by police authorities and then processed. For example, only two of 20 allegations of police brutality in Sarajevo Canton in 2019 were deemed justified, and only one of the two was forwarded to a prosecutor for further investigation.

The country’s prison system was not fully harmonized nor in full compliance with European standards. Jurisdiction for the execution of sanctions was divided between the state, entities, and Brcko District. Consequently, in some instances different legal regulations governed the same area, often resulting in unequal treatment of convicted persons, depending on the prison establishment or the entity in which they served their sentence.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent human rights observers to visit and gave international community representatives widespread and unhindered access to detention facilities and prisoners. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the CPT, the Ombudsman Institution, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to have access to prison and detention facilities under the jurisdiction of the ministries of justice at both the state and entity levels. In 2019 the CPT visited prisons and detention facilities, including psychiatric institutions, and provided its findings to the BiH government.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police generally arrested persons based on court orders and sufficient evidence or in conformity with rules prescribed by law. The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the charges against them immediately upon their arrest and obliges police to bring suspects before a prosecutor within 24 hours of detention (72 hours for terrorism charges). During this period police may detain individuals for investigative purposes and processing. The prosecutor has an additional 24 hours to release the person or to request a court order extending pretrial detention by court police. The court has a subsequent 24 hours to decide.

Court police are separate from other police agencies and fall under the Ministry of Justice; their holding facilities are within the courts. After 24 or 48 hours of detention by court police, an individual must be presented to a magistrate who decides whether the suspect shall remain in custody or be released. Suspects who remain in custody are turned over to prison staff.

The law limits the duration of interrogations to a maximum of six hours. The law also limits pretrial detention to 12 months and trial detention to three years. There is a functioning bail system and restrictions, such as the confiscation of travel documents or house arrest, which were ordered regularly to ensure defendants appear in court.

The law allows detainees to request a lawyer of their own choosing, and if they are unable to afford a lawyer, the authorities should provide one. The law also requires the presence of a lawyer during the pretrial and trial hearings. Detainees are free to select their lawyer from a list of registered lawyers.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for the right to a fair hearing in civil and criminal matters while entity constitutions provide for an independent judiciary. Nevertheless, political parties and organized crime figures sometimes influenced the judiciary at both the state and entity levels in politically sensitive cases, especially those related to corruption. Authorities at times failed to enforce court decisions.

Trial Procedures

The law provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always enforce this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary; the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay; and the right to be present at their trial. The law provides for the right to counsel at public expense if the prosecutor charges the defendant with a serious crime. Courts are obliged to appoint a defense attorney if the defendant is deaf or mute or detained or accused of a crime for which long-term imprisonment may be pronounced. Authorities generally gave defense attorneys adequate time and facilities to prepare their clients’ defense. The law provides defendants the right to confront witnesses, to have a court-appointed interpreter and written translation of pertinent court documents into a language understood by the defendant, to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and to appeal verdicts. Authorities generally respected most of these rights, which extend to all defendants.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for individuals and organizations to seek civil remedies for alleged human rights violations through domestic courts and provides for the appeal of decisions to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). To date the government failed to comply with many previous decisions pertaining to human rights by the country’s courts. The court system suffered from large backlogs of cases and the lack of an effective mechanism to enforce court orders. Inefficiency in the courts undermined the rule of law by making recourse to civil judgments less effective. In several cases the Constitutional Court found violations of the right to have proceedings finalized within a reasonable time. The government’s failure to comply with court decisions led plaintiffs to bring cases before the ECHR. The RS National Assembly and Brcko District Assembly adopted the Law on the Protection of the Right to a Trial within Reasonable Deadline, while the state level and Federation have not yet done so.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The four “traditional” religious communities (Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish) had extensive claims for restitution of property nationalized during and after World War II. In the absence of a state restitution law governing the return of nationalized properties, many government officials used such properties as tools for ethnic and political manipulation. In a few cases, government officials refused to return properties, or gave religious communities a temporary right to use them, even in cases in which evidence existed that they belonged to religious institutions before confiscation.

The government has no laws or mechanisms in place for resolution of Holocaust-era claims, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government had not made progress on these claims, including for foreign citizens.

In the past the absence of legislation resulted in the return of religious property on an ad hoc basis, subject to the discretion of local authorities, often in favor of the majority religious group in that local community. While the four traditional religious communities unanimously supported adoption of a law on restitution, political disagreement over whether the competencies for restitution lie with the state or the entities blocked progress on the law. While the RS asserted that the competency for restitution rests with the entities, the Federation maintained that it is a state competency. Advocacy groups and legal experts highlighted the need for at least a framework legislation at the state level to prevent discriminatory practices in the implementation of the law.

The Jewish Community had restitution claims involving at least 54 properties that were seized in different ways (through nationalization, expropriation, liquidation, or illegal gifts). For example, one Jewish Community building in the center of Sarajevo, formerly owned by the Jewish charity La Benevolencija, housed the Cantonal Ministry of Interior offices. In addition, the Stari Grad municipality in Sarajevo used the process of land “harmonization” to list itself as the owner of centrally located land owned by members of the Jewish community or their heirs and subsequently authorized construction of commercial real estate on that land. During the year the construction of an apartment and commercial building on the disputed land continued at a rapid pace. The BiH Jewish Community reported that the last living member of the community with claims to the property was compensated in September, thus ending the dispute over the property.

The Department of State’s 2020 Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, which provides further details on the restitution of Holocaust-era communal, private and heirless property as well as a country’s activities for Holocaust remembrance, education and archival access, is available on the Department’s website at:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.


Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities; however, a significant number of cases of missing persons from the 1991-95 conflict remained unresolved. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs reported that as of November 23, 1,455 persons remained missing, and the government was searching for the remains of 398 individuals known to be deceased, for a total of 1,853 unsolved missing persons’ cases. The ministry reported that during the year field searches were conducted in 31 locations in eight different counties, and remains of five individuals were exhumed from four locations. Remains of 20 persons were identified. Progress on missing persons remained slow primarily due to lack of reliable documents and information regarding the location of mass and individual graves, as well as other jurisdictional and political challenges with neighboring countries.

On May 12, Veterans Minister Tomo Medved attended the opening of a newly renovated DNA laboratory at the Institute of Forensic Medicine and Criminology in Zagreb. The government invested 5.08 million kuna ($829,000) in the lab.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but, according to the Office of the Ombudsperson, there were several reports of physical and verbal mistreatment among prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Some prison conditions were inadequate due to overcrowding, a propensity for violence among inmates, and a lack of health professionals working in the prison system.

Physical Conditions: The ombudsperson’s 2020 annual report stated that the COVID-19 pandemic and two devastating earthquakes that hit Zagreb and Sisak-Moslavina county in March and December 2020, respectively, affected the prison system. The March 2020 earthquake in the city of Zagreb caused minor damage to the prison hospital building while the earthquake in Sisak-Moslavina county caused significant damage to the prisons in Sisak and Glina. COVID-19 exacerbated some prison conditions, including a lack of organized social activities for inmates. The ombudsperson’s report stated overcrowding remained a problem in some prisons and that many detained persons resided in conditions that did not meet legal and international standards. Some inmates reported physical, sexual, and psychological violence perpetuated by other inmates. Those individuals often belonged to vulnerable groups, such as the Romani community or individuals with intellectual challenges. Some prisons, for example in Lepoglava, sought to suppress violence among prisoners by transferring abused prisoners to other facilities and collecting relevant data regarding incidents better. The ombudsperson’s report stated that such actions were often considered reactive and insufficient. The ombudsperson’s report noted a lack of adequate facilities and employees, especially health workers within the prison system.

In addition the ombudsperson reported the most frequent complaints were inadequate health care, followed by inappropriate conduct of prison officials, inadequate accommodation conditions, inadequate legal remedies for complaints, and violence among inmates. The ombudsperson’s report described regular site visits to 20 police stations and three detention centers in the country. The report described partial compliance with the standards of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) at seven police stations. Although the standards stipulate that detention facilities must be equipped with water and flush toilets, some facilities did not have them. Video surveillance in some police stations included coverage of a sanitary facility located outside the detention room, which endangered the right to privacy. In some stations, due to lack of space, medical examinations were carried out in the corridors, contrary to medical confidentiality standards. After observing these issues during initial visits, the report noted that some police stations implemented recommendations regarding the conditions in follow-up visits.

Administration: The ombudsperson’s report stated detained persons frequently turned to the ombudsperson to address these issues due to the ineffectiveness of legal remedies. The ombudsperson investigated credible allegations of mistreatment and issued recommendations to improve conditions for detained persons. During 2020 the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) conducted 26 visits of locations housing persons deprived of liberty, including 20 police stations, three police detention units, one educational institution, and restricted psychiatric wards in two hospitals.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent, nongovernmental observers. The ombudsperson carried out tasks specified in the NPM and is authorized to make unannounced visits to facilities where individuals are deprived of liberty. The CPT and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions also made visits in recent years.

Improvements: In November 2020 the reconstruction of the water system and sanitary facilities and renovation of 22 prison rooms in Osijek prison was completed at a cost of approximately 1.8 million kuna ($294,000).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Other than those apprehended during the commission of a crime, persons were arrested with warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence. Prosecutors may hold suspects for up to 48 hours in detention. Upon the request of prosecutors, an investigative judge may extend investigative detention for an additional 36 hours. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them. The law requires a detainee be brought promptly before a judicial officer, and this right was generally respected. The law limits release on bail only in cases of flight risk. In more serious cases, defendants were held in pretrial detention. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or, if indigent, to one provided by the state.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Cases of intimidation of state prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers were isolated.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence. They must be informed promptly of the charges against them. Defendants have a right to a fair, public, and timely trial and to be present at their trial. Despite an overall decrease in the number of backlogged court cases during the past 10 years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on court operations and the March and December 2020 earthquakes which damaged some court buildings, the backlog in domestic courts (508,578 cases as of September 30) increased from the 462,200 backlogged cases reported at the end of 2020. This continued to raise concerns regarding judicial effectiveness, efficiency, legal uncertainty, and the rule of law.

Lengthy trials remained one of the main problems in the judiciary. The European Commission’s rule of law report in July and the report of the Office of the Ombudsperson also both noted the deleterious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the earthquakes in Zagreb and Sisak-Moslavina county on the speedy delivery of justice in the country. The European Commission’s report stated, “the Croatian justice system has seen improvements in reducing length of proceedings and backlogs, but further improvements are still needed to address serious efficiency and quality challenges.” The report also noted that the level of perceived judicial independence remained very low. In the commission’s survey, 68 percent of respondents cited interference or pressure from government and politicians as the main reason they felt the courts lacked independence, while 63 percent cited pressure from special interests.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have one provided at state expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Any defendant who cannot understand or speak Croatian has free access to an interpreter from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and prosecutors may file an appeal before a verdict becomes final. During 2020, the latest year for which data was available, the ombudsperson received 206 complaints regarding the judiciary, 6 percent more than in 2019. Of these, 94 related to the work of the courts, an increase of 12 percent. Most of the complaints were related to procedural delays, while others related to accusations of abuse of position by officers of the court, complaints regarding case outcomes, and court performance in general.

Political Prisoners and Detainee

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may seek damages for, or cessation of, an alleged human rights violation. They may file an application (appeal) to the European Court of Human Rights after all domestic legal remedies have been exhausted or after a case has been pending for an excessive period in domestic courts. Administrative remedies were also available.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The government has endorsed the Terezin Declaration but does not have adequate legal mechanisms in place to address Holocaust-era property restitution. The country has not effectively compensated claimants for property seized during the Holocaust period (1941-45) and has inconsistently permitted noncitizens to file claims.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported the government did not make significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The law limits restitution of property seized during the Communist era to individuals who were citizens of the country in 1996 and permitted claims to be filed only within a specified window, which closed in January 2003. Consequently, the law does not provide effective compensation to persons, including Holocaust survivors, whose property was expropriated but who left the country and obtained citizenship elsewhere. A 2002 amendment to the law allows foreign citizens to file claims if their country of citizenship has a bilateral restitution treaty with Croatia. In 2010, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot require such a treaty as a necessary condition for restitution. In 2011 the Ministry of Justice attempted unsuccessfully to amend the legislation to reflect this finding and reopen claims. At the time the government estimated the amendment might benefit between 4,211 and 5,474 claimants. As of year’s end, the government had taken no subsequent steps to amend the law.

The government reported 70,000 property restitution claims filed as of year’s end. The government reported approximately 66,200 of those claims (almost 95 percent) were resolved, but cases were not broken down by religion, ethnicity, or nationality, making it impossible to determine precisely which were linked to Jewish Holocaust victims. In September the government reported the resolution of 294 claims, mainly from the postwar period, worth a total of 749 million kuna ($122.4 million), involving Jewish claimants. Of the 101 pending cases monitored by the government since 2018, 46 were resolved; some in cash compensation 14.7 million kuna ($2.4 million) and some in returned property compensation (estimated worth 42.2 million kuna or $6.9 million, based on present real estate market values). Of those pending cases monitored since 2018, 55 remained outstanding.  Restitution of communal property remained a problem for the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia. The government reported that since 1999 it resolved 344 property claims related to the Serbian Orthodox Church, which included the right to compensation in bonds. The Serbian Orthodox Church and representatives of the Catholic Church stated that several claims remained outstanding. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.


Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Police Inspectorate of Kosovo (PIK) is responsible for investigating allegations of arbitrary or unlawful killings by the Kosovo Police; however, the Kosovo Police is responsible for investigating allegations against government officials or its agents, and State Prosecution is responsible for prosecuting such cases. The EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) monitored selected criminal and civil cases and trials in the judicial system, advised the Correctional Service, and provided logistics support to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) are Kosovo institutions, created by Kosovo law and staffed with international judges, prosecutors, and officers, to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes, or other serious crimes committed between 1998 and 2000. The SPO and its predecessor, the EU Special Investigative Task Force, were established following the 2011 release of the Council of Europe report, Inhuman Treatment of People and Illicit Trafficking in Human Organs in Kosovo, which alleged that individual Kosovo Liberation Army leaders had committed acts that could constitute war crimes in Kosovo between 1999-2000. In November 2020 the Kosovo Specialist Chambers publicly confirmed an indictment filed by the SPO charging then president Hashim Thaci, former Assembly speaker Kadri Veseli, and two others with crimes against humanity and war crimes. In October the specialist chambers rejected the defendants’ request for conditional release from pretrial detention citing concern that the defendants would seek to abscond and a high risk that the defendants might continue attempts to intimidate or interfere with witnesses or their family members. At year’s end, trials against the defendants had not yet started. There were also three other cases pending against former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

As of September the Special Prosecutor of the Republic of Kosovo (SPRK) had 12 war crime cases under formal investigation. During the year the SPRK issued one ruling for initiation of an investigation. One high-profile war crimes case known as “Drenica I” was sent for retrial in 2017 but was delayed several times. As of December no hearing had taken place.

In July the basic court in Pristina sentenced former Serb police officer Zoran Vukotic to three and a half additional years in prison for the wartime rape of a pregnant Kosovo-Albanian woman and for participating in the expulsions of Kosovo-Albanian civilians from the town of Vushtrri/Vucitrn in 1999. Since 2019, Vukotic had been serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence for the war crimes of illegally detaining and torturing Kosovo-Albanian prisoners in the Mitrovica/e region. The additional sentence marked the first time a Kosovo court has convicted a defendant of rape in connection with the war.

In March the basic court in Pristina sentenced Kosovo-Serb Zlatan Krstic and Kosovo-Albanian Destan Shabani, both former Serbian police officers, to 14-and-a-half and seven years of imprisonment, respectively, for war crimes against Kosovo-Albanian civilians in 1999. The indictment charged Krstic with direct involvement in an attack against civilians in 1999 in Ferizaj/Urosevac, including the expulsion of a local Kosovo-Albanian family, torture, destruction of property, and taking four civilians as hostages and subsequently killing them. The court convicted Shabani for ordering the burial of the four victims in 1999 without dignity and in violation of international humanitarian law.

In February the Basic Court in Pristina sentenced Kosovo-Serb Zoran Djokic to 12 years of imprisonment for war crimes against Kosovo-Albanians committed between March and April 1999. According to the indictment, Djokic, as a member of a Serbian paramilitary group, took part in attacks on and forced displacement of Kosovo-Albanians in Peje/Pec.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

As of September the government’s Missing Persons Commission listed as missing 1,632 persons who disappeared during the 1998-99 conflict and the political violence that followed. By law the government’s missing persons database does not include the ethnicity of missing persons unless voluntarily reported by their family. The commission estimated that approximately 70 percent were ethnic Albanians and 30 percent were Serbs, Roma, Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptians, Bosniaks, Goranis, Montenegrins, and others.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and laws prohibit such practices, but the laws are inconsistently implemented and there were continuing allegations by some detainees of mistreatment by police and, to a lesser degree, correctional service personnel.

As of July the Ombudsperson Institution reported receiving 12 registered complaints: seven against police concerning mistreatment and five against the correctional service. The complaints against the correctional service included one concerning mistreatment, three regarding health care, and one of inhuman living conditions. In addition four police officers from the special police unit were detained in June for excessive use of force in 2019.

The National Preventive Mechanism against Torture, which operates under the Ombudsperson Institution, resumed normal operations after suspending activities in 2020 due to COVID-19 mitigation measures. The National Preventive Mechanism carried out 31 visits to all places of deprivation of liberty, such as prisons and pretrial detention centers, psychiatric facilities, social care homes, asylum reception centers, police stations, and the Administrative Detention Center. It reported it had not uncovered any credible evidence of torture by security forces during the year.

The Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture reported that mistreatment of detainees by police continued to be a problem. In January, three police officers were arrested in Pristina after a PIK investigation discovered video of the officers using excessive force during an arrest. In August, the PIK arrested a police officer in Ferizaj/Urosevac for excessive use of force and for detaining an individual for more than 48 hours.

On July 5, the basic court in Gjilan/Gnjilane sentenced a police officer to six years’ incarceration for sexually assaulting an intellectually disabled minor female.

The government sometimes investigated abuse, although the mechanisms for doing so were not always effective or were subject to political interference. Security forces did not ensure compliance with court orders when local officials failed to carry them out. Although some police officers were arrested on corruption charges during the year, impunity remained a problem.

The PIK is responsible for reviewing and investigating complaints of police criminal actions, and for inspecting police processes.  As of November PIK had received 1,862 complaints, 617 of which were forwarded for criminal investigation.  The complaints were primarily for mistreatment in exercise of official duty, abuse of official duty, bodily injury, threat, and domestic violence.  The PIK reported 158 police officers were under investigation, 78 were suspended, and 31 had been arrested.  The inspectorate forwarded 91 of the complaints for prosecution; the rest of the cases remained under investigation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions met some international standards, but problems persisted in penitentiaries, specifically, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, corruption, exposure to radical religious or political views, substandard medical care, and inadequate treatment for prisoners with mental disabilities.

Physical Conditions: According to the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture, physical conditions in the Peje/Pec detention center did not meet international standards due to inadequate ventilation and a lack of natural light in the cells. Similar shortcomings continued at the Prizren detention center and prison facilities in Dubrava as well. The National Preventive Mechanism noted a significant decrease in the prison population, especially in Dubrava prison.

The Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture reported that authorities provided adequate protection for both prisoners and corrections officials. Rehabilitation Center officials received complaints from prisoners alleging verbal harassment, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and physical mistreatment by correctional officers, mainly at the Dubrava prison, the High Security Prison in the Podujeve/Podujevo municipality, and the juveniles’ unit of the Lipjan/Lipljan correctional center. The Rehabilitation Center noted instances of inmates blackmailing and harassing other inmates at the Dubrava prison and the High Security Prison in Podujeve/Podujevo. It reported prisoners and detainees had difficulty accessing medical care. There were allegations of corruption and the use of transfers between detention facilities as disciplinary measures. The Rehabilitation Center reported that convicts at times harmed themselves to draw attention to their needs, including for medical care, transfers, or privileges. Rehabilitation Center officials reported alleged instances of corruption and nepotism, including by correctional and health staff, especially at the correctional center in Dubrava.

As of July the National Preventive Mechanism reported receiving 10 medical reports from prison health authorities of prisoner injuries due to interprisoner violence and five cases of prisoners claiming injuries sustained from correctional officers. The National Preventive Mechanism checked medical files sent by authorities but did not visit or interview, either in person or virtually, the prisoners involved in the alleged incidents, citing COVID-19 restrictions.

The National Preventive Mechanism noted a lack of structured therapeutic and rehabilitative activities for patients at the Dubrava Prison Hospital, with treatment consisting essentially of pharmacotherapy. Due to a lack of space, prisoners with mental disorders were housed with the general prison population.

Following the delivery of a Swiss forensic report to authorities in late 2019, the chief state prosecutor reopened an investigation into the 2016 prison death of Vetevendosje party activist Astrit Dehari and assigned the case to Kosovo’s Special Prosecution. Dehari was arrested on suspicion of involvement in an attack on parliament. Authorities investigated whether Dehari committed suicide, while members of his family and Vetevendosje party representatives claimed he was killed due to his political activism. The government requested Swiss assistance in 2018; the 2019 Swiss report noted forensic analysis could not exclude other possible causes of death and recommended further investigation. As of December an investigation of the case was ongoing.

Due to poor training and inadequate staffing, authorities did not always exercise control over facilities or inmates. There was a lack of trained staff to facilitate drug treatment programs. There was no drug-addiction testing within the correctional service and the classification system of inmates with addiction-related issues was not fully functional. The Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture reported that drugs, mostly marijuana, were regularly smuggled into these facilities, despite a ban on in-person visits to prisoners due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rehabilitation Center documented delays and errors in medical care of prisoners as well as a lack of specialized treatment outside correctional institutions, especially at the Dubrava prison. In many instances conditions forced prisoners to procure needed medications from private sources. The Rehabilitation Center observed gaps in the prison healthcare system at the Dubrava facility and reported an insufficient number of mental health professionals. The Ministry of Health is responsible for providing medical care and health personnel in correctional facilities.

The Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture reported the Correctional Center for Juveniles in Lipjan/Lipljan housed adult inmates, although in a separate building, to engage them in work. The Rehabilitation Center reported the settlement of adult convicts in a juvenile institution is prohibited by law.

Facilities and treatment for inmates with disabilities remained substandard. The Kosovo Forensic Psychiatric Institute’s capacity for treatment and shelter for detained persons with mental disabilities was limited to only 24 patients. Any additional detained individuals with mental disorders were placed in prison cells with other prisoners. While pretrial detainees were held separately from the convicted prisoner population, advocates for persons with disabilities faulted the government for regularly housing pretrial detainees with diagnosed mental disabilities together with other pretrial detainees. The law requires convicted criminals with documented mental health issues to be detained in facilities dedicated to mental health care, but these prisoners were often housed in standard prisons due to overcrowding at mental health institutions. Apart from drug therapy and regular consultations with a psychiatrist, inmates with mental health issues were not provided with any occupational or therapeutic activities.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of mistreatment. The Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture noted the internal complaint mechanism (as opposed to the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture) mandated by law did not function effectively, with officials responding too slowly to complaints. In addition, inmates often did not report abuses due to lack of confidentiality and fear of retribution. The Rehabilitation Center noted, however, that authorities regularly provided inmates with written decisions justifying solitary confinement and information on deadlines for appeals. The Rehabilitation Center noted the general director of the correctional service did not respond to the Center’s request for information regarding inmate transfer requests.

Independent Monitoring: Although all visits were hampered by COVID-19 conditions, the government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. Only the national Ombudsperson Institution and EULEX had unfettered access to correctional facilities throughout the year. The Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture and the Center for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms were required to provide 24-hour advance notice of planned visits.

Improvements: The Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture reported improvements in housing conditions at the Dubrava prison, the Pristina high-security prison, and at the Pristina correctional center. The Rehabilitation Center noted the Prison Health Department hired additional staff. Rehabilitation Center officials also noted some prisons received new beds and mattresses, resolving a long-standing problem.

During police station inspections, the National Preventive Mechanism noted an improvement in medical screening, with an increasing number of stations providing medical checks for arrestees upon entering and leaving custody.

The National Preventive Mechanism against Torture noted an increasing number of opportunities for work, education, training, and recreational activities at Dubrava Prison, the Correctional Center for Minors, the Correctional Center for Women, and the Educational Correctional Center in Lipjan/Lipljan.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government, EULEX, and NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) generally observed these prohibitions. EULEX and KFOR personnel were not subject to the country’s legal system but rather to their missions’ and their countries’ disciplinary measures.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law, except when a crime is in progress, police may apprehend suspects only with warrants based on evidence and issued by a judge or prosecutor. Within six hours of an arrest, prosecutors must issue the arrested person a written statement describing the alleged offenses and the legal basis for the charges. Authorities must bring arrested persons before a judge within 48 hours and must provide detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or one provided by the state. There is a bail system, but courts seldom used it. They often released detainees without bail, pending trial.

Suspects have the right to refuse to answer questions, except those concerning their identity, at all stages of an investigation. Suspects have the right to the free assistance of an attorney and interpretation, as well as medical and psychological treatment. Suspects may have a family member notified of their arrest and may, at all stages of the process, communicate with their legal representation.

Following an initial ruling, a court may hold individuals in pretrial detention for 30 days from the date of their arrest and may extend pretrial detention for up to one year. After an indictment and until the conclusion of trial proceedings, only a trial judge or a trial panel can order or terminate detention. The law allows a judge to order house arrest, confiscate travel documents, and use bail or other alternatives to pretrial detention.

Although in some instances police operated undercover, they generally carried out arrests using warrants. There were no confirmed reports that police abused the 48-hour rule, and prosecutors generally either provided arrested persons with documents describing the reasons for their detention or released them. While officials generally respected the requirement for prompt disposition of cases, the Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture reported detainees occasionally faced delays when attorneys were temporarily unavailable.

The Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture reported that authorities did not always allow detained persons to contact attorneys when initially arrested and in some cases authorities permitted consultation with an attorney only once police investigators began formal questioning. In several cases detainees were allowed access to an attorney only after their formal questioning had completed. Some detained persons complained that, despite requests for lawyers, their first contact with an attorney took place at their initial court appearance.

The law limits police use of force only in order “to protect a person’s life, to prevent an attack, to prevent a criminal act, to prevent the flight of a perpetrator, or, when other measures are not successful, to achieve another legitimate police objective.” The law also provides that when using force, police “shall attempt to minimize the intrusion into a person’s rights and freedoms and to minimize any detrimental consequences.”

The Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture reported that the PIK was more vigorous in pursuing cases of abuse during the exercise of official duties compared to previous years. The inspectorate arrested 27 and suspended 65 police officers in the first half of the year; “ill treatment” and “abuse of official authority” were listed as the two most common offenses for these officers.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy detentions, averaging six months, both before and during judicial proceedings, remained a problem. The law allows judges to detain a defendant pending trial if there is a well-grounded suspicion the defendant is likely to destroy, hide, or forge evidence; influence witnesses; flee; repeat the offense; engage in another criminal offense; or fail to appear at subsequent court proceedings. Judges routinely granted pretrial detention without requiring evidentiary justification. Lengthy detention was also partly due to judicial inefficiency and corruption.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary did not always provide due process. According to the European Commission, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the Ombudsperson Institution, the administration of justice was slow and lacked the means to ensure judicial officials’ accountability. Judicial structures were subject to political interference, disputed appointments, and unclear mandates.

Although backlogs once presented a substantial problem, judicial efficiency in resolving pending cases continued to improve.

The Judiciary Council issued nonpublic written reprimands or wage reductions for four judges, although these sanctions were considered insufficient to significantly deter future misconduct. The Prosecutorial Council initiated four investigations and rendered two decisions, including one finding of guilt which the Supreme Court subsequently overturned. Both the Judiciary and Prosecutorial Councils published final disciplinary decisions on their respective webpages, although publication by the Prosecutorial Council was often delayed.

Authorities sometimes failed to carry out court orders, including from the Constitutional Court. Some Kosovo-Serb representatives claimed government institutions failed to execute court rulings in favor of Kosovo Serbs, particularly in property-related disputes. Central and local authorities in Decan/Decani continued to refuse to implement the 2016 decision of the Constitutional Court confirming the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ownership of more than 24 hectares of land adjacent to the Visoki Decani Monastery. In September the Constitutional Court noted the government’s continued refusal to implement the court decision and referred the issue to the state prosecutor. As of December the prosecutor had not initiated criminal proceedings. None of the officials failing to carry out the court order have been sanctioned.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for a fair and impartial trial, and while there were severe shortfalls in the judicial system, including instances of political interference, it generally upheld the law. Trials are public and the law entitles defendants to: the presumption of innocence; the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them; a fair, timely, and public trial where they can address the court in their native language; the right to be present at their trials; to remain silent and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; the right to confront adverse witnesses; the right to see evidence; and the right to legal representation. Defendants have the right to appeal. These rights extend to all citizens without exception. The country does not use jury trials.

The constitution defines free legal aid as a basic human right, and the law guarantees free legal aid in civil cases, administrative cases, minor offenses, and criminal procedure to individuals who meet certain legal and financial criteria. The government’s Free Legal Aid Agency provides free legal assistance to low-income individuals. During the year it undertook outreach campaigns targeting disadvantaged and marginalized communities and expanded the availability of legal aid information through online platforms.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There are civil remedies for human rights violations, but victims were unable to avail themselves of this recourse due to complicated bureaucratic procedures and a large backlog of cases. Individuals may appeal to courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

Individuals may turn to the Constitutional Court for review of alleged violations by public authorities of their individual rights and freedoms provided by the constitution, but only after exhaustion of all other legal remedies.

Property Seizure and Restitution

A complex mix of laws, regulations, administrative instructions, and court practices, as well as the illegal reoccupation of properties and multiple claims for the same property, continued to hamper resolution of property restitution cases arising from the war and its aftermath. More than 95 percent of these claims were filed by ethnic Serbs. Private citizens and religious communities were largely unsuccessful in petitioning for the return of properties seized or confiscated during the Yugoslav era.

By law the Kosovo Property Comparison and Verification Agency has authority to adjudicate claims regarding the extent, value, and ownership of land parcels and to resolve discrepancies between cadastral documents. The absence of cadastral records, which Serbia removed from Kosovo in 1999 and continues to retain, prevented the agency from fully fulfilling its mandate. Claimants have the right to appeal decisions in the courts.

The property comparison and verification agency had some difficulties enforcing the eviction of illegal occupants and, in general, failed to remove illegal structures built on land after claimants had their rights confirmed. The majority of the claimants were ethnic Serbs. Following a 2020 administrative instruction to remove illegal structures, only one demolition took place, in October 2020 in Pristina. As of July, there have been no additional removals. Re-usurpation of property continued to be an issue, although the numbers have reportedly declined. In June the Kosovo-Serb-led NGO Aktiv published a report suggesting problems such as document forgery, noncompliance with court decisions, intentional damage or complete destruction of property, and property usurpation prevent some Kosovo Serbs from enjoying their property rights. In an effort to strengthen protection of property rights, the Kosovo-Serb-led NGO Advocacy Center for Democratic Culture launched a website in November offering legal assistance and information to property claimants.

In September 2020 Prime Minister Hoti and Serbian president Vucic separately signed commitments which included pledges to continue restitution of Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed Jewish property. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, which covers property restitution as well as Holocaust remembrance, research, and education by the countries that endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009, was released publicly on July 29, 2020, and can be found on the Department’s website at: The country did not endorse the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and is not included in the JUST report.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government, EULEX, or KFOR failed to respect these prohibitions.


Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.

On October 25, Special Prosecutor Lidija Vukcevic filed charges against a Montenegrin citizen, Slobodan Pekovic, for allegedly killing two Bosniaks and raping a civilian in the southeast Bosnian town of Foca in 1992 while serving as a soldier for the Bosnian Serb Army. A spokesperson for the Special Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that an indictment proposal had been forwarded to the court for further adjudication after Pekovic was arrested on October 18. According to media outlets, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Prosecutor’s Office transferred the case to Montenegro judicial authorities following a several months’ long exchange of information. Pekovic, who may be detained for up to 30 days, denied having committed crimes against humanity in Foca. In a related development, media outlets quoted Special Prosecutor Vukcevic as stating that since the 2015 adoption of the Strategy for Investigation of War Crimes in Montenegro, the country has held seven trials for war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. The nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) Human Rights Action (HRA) and Civic Alliance both noted a significant lack of progress on war crimes prosecution, despite the government’s 2015 adoption of the strategy.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports alleging that police tortured suspects and that beatings occurred in prisons and detention centers across the country. The government prosecuted some police officers and prison guards accused of overstepping their authority, but there were delays in the court proceedings. NGOs noted that several police officers found to be responsible for violating the rules of their service, including cases of excessive use of force, remained on duty. In 2020 the Office of the Ombudsman received complaints regarding police torture, noting that most complaints involving criminal proceedings did not result in heavy penalties.

On July 28, local news portal Vijesti released video of police in Cetinje stepping on the head of and kicking a local resident who was offering no resistance during a raid on his business. Police conducting the raid belonged to the Sector for the Fight against Crime and wore masks covering their faces and did not wear visible identification. The beaten individual filed a police complaint against the police officer. The day after the incident, police reported that they had evidence that one police officer exceeded their authority and that they would investigate the case.

In July the NGO HRA issued a press release stating that foreign forensic experts of international renown prepared reports on the injuries of Jovan Grujicic and Marko Boljevic. The pair had reported police torture in May 2020, when they were arrested as part of the investigation into the cases of so-called bomb attacks in 2015. The bomb attacks targeted the bar Grand and the house of former National Security Agency officer and current police officer Dusko Golubovic. The suspects were arrested in May 2020 and later reported that they were victims of police torture at the time of the arrest. Jovan Grujicic, the main suspect in the bombings, was later acquitted of charges by the Basic Court; the charges against Benjamin Mugosa, initially accused of participation in the attacks, were subsequently dropped when it was revealed that he was in prison at the time of the bombings. A third suspect, “MB,” was an alleged witness who was said to have testified that Mugosa and Grujicic executed the attacks before the charges were dropped. All three submitted separate reports to the Basic State Prosecution Office in Podgorica containing identical allegations of police torture by application of electroshock devices to their genitals and thighs, brutal beatings using boxing gloves and baseball bats, and other cruel methods, such as threatening to kill them and playing loud music to drown out their screams during the interrogation to extract their confessions. The State Prosecutor’s Office was investigating the case.

Foreign forensic experts observed traces of torture in the form of “physical and psychological symptoms” during the examination of Grujicic and Boljevic and stated that they were “highly consistent” with the allegations that they had been tortured by police with beatings, electric shocks, humiliation, and intimidation. The HRA provided the reports in collaboration with the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and the Independent Forensic Expert Group, which operates within the council.

Media outlets and NGOs also cited the findings from a 2017 visit by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which noted allegations of police mistreatment, including “punches, slaps, kicks, baton blows, and strikes with nonstandard objects, and the infliction of electrical shocks from handheld electrical discharge devices.” Most abuses were alleged to have occurred either at the time of apprehension or during the preinvestigation phase of detention for the purpose of extracting confessions.

In March the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a judgment in the case of Baranin and Vukcevic v. Montenegro, finding that Montenegro violated the procedural aspect of the prohibition of torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights) due to ineffective investigation of police abuse of Momcilo Baranin and Branimir Vukcevic in 2015. The applicants were beaten by several police officers in a street in the center of Podgorica following the dispersal of a protest organized by the Democratic Front political coalition. The incident was recorded on video, with footage shared online. The ECHR found that the competent state authorities, primarily the prosecutor’s office and police, failed to conduct an efficient and effective investigation to identify the perpetrators of the abuse and punish them adequately.

Impunity remained a problem in the security forces, particularly among police and prison officers. Domestic NGOs cited corruption; lack of transparency; a lack of capacity by oversight bodies to conduct investigations into allegations of excessive force and misuse of authority in an objective and timely manner; and the ruling political parties’ influence over prosecutors and officials within the Police Administration and the Ministry of Interior as factors contributing to impunity. Despite the existence of multiple, independent oversight bodies over police within the Ministry of Interior, parliament, and civil society, NGOs and the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations noted a pervasive unwillingness of police officers to admit human rights abuses or misuses of authority committed by themselves or their colleagues. To increase respect for human rights by the security forces, authorities offered numerous training sessions, often in conjunction with international partners, as well as working group meetings dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

According to domestic NGOs, authorities made little progress in addressing the problem of police mistreatment and other shortcomings in the Internal Control Department of the Ministry of Interior. They cited a lack of strict competitive recruitment criteria and training for police officers; the absence of effective oversight by the Internal Control Department; and the need for prosecutors to conduct more thorough and expeditious investigations into cases of alleged mistreatment by police officers as areas where there were continuing problems. NGOs also noted there was an ongoing need for prosecutors to carry out timely investigations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were some reports regarding prison and detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were some poor conditions in prisons and pretrial detention facilities due to overcrowding and access to medical care. In the report issued following its 2017 visit to Montenegro, the CPT noted problematic levels of prison overcrowding, i.e., less than 32.3 square feet of space per inmate in multiple-occupancy cells in certain sections and remand prisoners confined to their cells for 23 hours a day without being offered activities for months or years. The CPT noted that material conditions in police stations it visited were not suitable for detaining persons for up to 72 hours due to structural deficiencies, such as poor access to natural light, inadequate ventilation, poor conditions of hygiene, and irregular provision of food. NGOs reported that detainees who were addicted to drugs, had mental disabilities, or had other disabilities continued to face difficulties in obtaining adequate treatment while detained.

The CPT also noted the level of serious interprisoner violence was a long-standing and persistent problem at the remand prison and the Institute for Sentenced Prisoners. During the year there were reports of cases of violence in the country’s primary prison attributed to the long-standing “war” between the country’s two main organized criminal groups, which prison authorities managed by taking preventive measures, such as providing separate accommodations and preventing contact between persons who are members of opposing criminal groups as well as other operational and tactical measures and actions, such as providing close personal supervision of individuals and conducting random periodic searches of their persons and accommodations. There were widespread reports that prison employees cooperated with members of organized criminal groups, including one in prison. Some such employees were prosecuted by authorities.

In 2020 the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations noted poor conditions in the pretrial detention rooms in the security center in Niksic. In addition to lacking water and being equipped with damaged and dirty mattresses, overcrowding was a problem because there were only seven beds for the nine detainees. In other inspections of the security centers in Podgorica and Niksic, the council noted similar problems with overcrowding and a lack of capacity to provide basic services to detainees.

The Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights stated that all prisons and detention centers were accessible for persons with disabilities.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, but they usually did so only in reaction to media campaigns or upon the ombudsman’s recommendation. Results of investigations were generally made available to the public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent nongovernmental observers, including human rights groups and media, and international bodies such as the CPT. Even when monitors visited on short notice, prison authorities allowed them to speak with the prisoners without the presence of a guard. The Justice Ministry’s Directorate for the Execution of Criminal Sanctions noted positive working relationships with NGOs, including those who were critical of the organization.

Improvements: Improvements in the physical facilities, staffing levels, and training for guards continued throughout the year. According to NGO reports, some improvements were made to nutrition and health-care services, family visits, staffing, and the work environment. Additional measures were also taken to address shortcomings noted by the CPT, including the renovation of select rooms in the central prison and detention centers, construction of a protective fence, procurement of additional security cameras, and construction of a recreational basketball court and walking paths for prisoner use.

According to the European Commission’s 2020 Progress Report on Montenegro, material conditions of detention remained poor and serious shortcomings were exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Overcrowding in Podgorica’s temporary detention prison continued to diminish. The government continued programs designed to focus on rehabilitation and providing inmates with skills to increase employment prospects upon release, including apprenticeship programs to cultivate farming skills. The Ministry of Justice stated that the Bureau for the Execution of Criminal Sanctions provided vaccines for all prisoners and guards and immunization started in March.

In 2020 parliament passed an amnesty law aimed at relieving the problem of overcrowding in the prison system and ensuring the safety of prisoners threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The law provides for a 15 percent reduction in prison sentences and a 10 percent reduction of sentences for those who have not yet begun serving their sentences. The amnesty does not apply to the most serious crimes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government usually observed these requirements. Detainees have a right to be compensated in cases of unfounded detention, and the government generally follows these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Arrests require a judicial ruling or a “reasonable suspicion by police that the suspect committed an offense.” Police generally made arrests using warrants issued by judges and based on sufficient evidence. Police and prosecutors may detain suspects for up to 72 hours before bringing them before a judge and charging them. Although the law prohibits excessive delay in filing formal charges against suspects and in conducting investigations, delays sometimes occurred. At arraignment, judges make an initial determination about the legality of the detention, and arraignment usually occurred within the prescribed period.

Courts increasingly used bail. Judges may also release defendants without bail and limit their movements, impose reporting requirements on them, or retain their passports or other documents to prevent flight. The law permits a detainee to have an attorney present during police questioning and court proceedings, and detainees generally had prompt access to a lawyer. Although legal assistance is required to be available for persons in need, financial constraints sometimes limited the quality and availability of assistance. Authorities must immediately inform the detainee’s family, common-law partner, or responsible social institution of an arrest, and they usually did so.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police continued to summon witnesses and suspects to police stations for “informational talks” and often used this practice to curb hooliganism during soccer matches or to reduce participation in opposition political rallies. This practice generally did not involve holding suspects longer than the six hours allowed by law, nor did it typically result in charges.

Pretrial Detention: Courts frequently ordered the detention of criminal defendants pending trial. The law sets the initial length of pretrial detention at 30 days but permits prosecutors to increase it by five months. When combined with extensions granted by trial judges, authorities could potentially detain a defendant legally for up to three years from arrest through completion of the trial or sentencing. The average detention lasted between 90 and 120 days. The length of pretrial detention was usually shorter than the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. Authorities stated that pretrial detainees on average accounted for 30 percent of the prison population. Police often relied on prolonged pretrial detention as an aid to investigate crimes. The backlog of criminal cases in the courts also contributed to prolonged detention. The courts continued to reduce the backlog gradually.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. While the government expressed support for judicial independence and impartiality, some NGOs, international organizations, and legal experts asserted that political pressure, corruption, and nepotism influenced prosecutors and judges. The process of appointing judges and prosecutors remained somewhat politicized, although the constitution and law provide for a prosecutorial council to select prosecutors and a judicial council to select judges.

The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) stated that outstanding issues remain about strengthening the Judicial Council’s independence against undue political influence, including the ex officio participation of the minister of justice. GRECO described as “alarming” the lack of progress on the composition and independence of the Judicial Council, the body charged with upholding the independence and autonomy of courts. GRECO was particularly concerned by the ex officio participation of the minister of justice on the Judicial Council and the council’s decision to reappoint five court presidents for at least a third term. While some progress was made in providing the public with information concerning disciplinary proceedings against prosecutors, the anticorruption monitoring body criticized the lack of similar progress in reviewing the disciplinary framework for judges.

In May parliament adopted amendments to the Law on State Prosecution, the government body tasked with selecting prosecutors. The amendments adjusted the composition of the council by reducing the number of prosecutors on the council by one and adding a civil society representative. The new Prosecutorial Council composition has 11 members: four prosecutors elected by the Conference of Prosecutors; two positions reserved for a representative of the Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights and the supreme state prosecutor; four “distinguished lawyers” elected by parliament; and one civil society representative elected by parliament. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission warned that the proposed changes could lead to increased politicization of the Prosecutorial Council. The amendments also stipulated the cancellation of the previous council members’ mandates once the new council was formed. On August 5, Speaker of Parliament Aleksa Becic proclaimed a new, partial Prosecutorial Council, consisting solely of six members, notwithstanding parliament’s failure to elect new distinguished lawyers or a civil society representative. Although no new distinguished lawyers were named, Speaker Becic stated that the proclamation of the new, partial council automatically terminated the mandate of all previous council members and that the new, partial council had enough members to form a quorum. Prominent NGOs, legal experts, and other political parties and coalitions, including the Democratic Party of Socialists, United Reform Action, and the Democratic Front, criticized the proclamation of the partial council, with some alleging that the term of office of the existing distinguished lawyer members of the council had not and could not end until a full council is formed. The Venice Commission, in its opinion on the then draft Law on the Prosecution, discouraged arbitrarily terminating the mandates of existing council members.

Inadequate funding and a lack of organization continued to hamper the effectiveness of the courts. The law provides for plea bargaining, which is available for all crimes except war crimes and those related to terrorism.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial and the judiciary generally enforced that right, although many trials were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By law, defendants are presumed innocent. Authorities are required to inform detainees of the grounds for their detention. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay and to be present at their trial. Courts may close certain sessions during the testimony of government-protected or other sensitive witnesses. Authorities also close juvenile trials. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner in pretrial and trial proceedings. The law requires authorities to provide an attorney at public expense when a defendant is a person with disabilities or is already in detention, destitute, facing a charge carrying a possible sentence of more than 10 years, being tried in absentia, engaged in a plea-bargaining process, or being questioned solely by police or Customs Authority officials during the preliminary investigative phase, upon the approval of a prosecutor. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals; and to confront prosecution witnesses, present their own witnesses and evidence, and remain silent. Both the defense and the prosecution have the right of appeal.

The judiciary was unable to hold all criminal trials publicly due to a shortage of proper facilities. The shortage also affected the timeliness of trials. Systemic weaknesses, such as political influence and prolonged procedures, inconsistent court practices, and relatively lenient sentencing policy, diminished public confidence in the efficiency and impartiality of the judiciary. Lenient sentencing policies also discouraged the use of plea agreements, since they left little maneuvering room for prosecutors to negotiate better terms, thereby contributing to inefficiency in the administration of justice.

Courts may try defendants in absentia but by law must repeat the trial if the convicted individuals are later apprehended.

From May 24 through the end of July, the country’s Bar Association went on strike in protest of proposed changes to the Law on Fiscalization, resulting in the suspension of court operations and the postponement of trials. The law regulates issuing of bills for products and services in real time through the internet and a fiscal service. Attorneys opposed the changes, claiming that they would violate client confidentiality, since bills submitted by attorneys would have to list the specific reason for the service. The changes would also create the possibility that fiscal inspectors could access protected client files during audits. Several NGOs involved in judicial matters, including the Association of Lawyers of Montenegro, European Association for Law and Finance, Human Rights Action, Women’s Rights Center, Center for Civic Education, Association of Youth with Disabilities of Montenegro, Committee of Young Lawyers of Montenegro, Prima, Association of Parents, ADAMAS, and Alliance of Youth Workers released a statement noting the deleterious impact of the strike on the quick resolution of trial proceedings.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: There were credible allegations that the country attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country.

In August 2020 Interpol’s Commission for Control of International Arrest Warrants adopted the appeal filed by fugitive businessman Dusko Knezevic and revoked the arrest warrant issued for him in 2019. In 2019 and 2020, the country’s special prosecutor filed six indictments against Knezevic for several crimes, including organizing a criminal group, money laundering, and tax evasion. In July the Special State Prosecutor’s Office filed charges against businessman Knezevic and 12 other persons, including the Central Bank vice governor, for creating a criminal organization, abuse of official position in business, money laundering, and tax evasion. The charges remained pending at year’s end.

Knezevic, who fled to London, accused President Milo Djukanovic of corruption, claiming the arrest warrant was issued upon pressure from persons close to the president and his family who were trying to take over Knezevic’s business and properties. Knezevic had claimed that Interpol’s arrest warrants against him were not in line with the organization’s legal regulations. His legal representative, Zdravko Djukic, told media that revoking the arrest warrant against Knezevic proved that the indictments against him were politically motivated.

Toby Cadman, a London-based lawyer specializing in criminal law, human rights law, and extradition, told local A1 Television that Interpol also revoked its international red notice against British-Israeli political consultant Aron Shaviv, whom he represented. Montenegro prosecutors accused Shaviv of assisting an alleged 2016 coup attempt in the country. In 2020, after hearing arguments from both the defense and the prosecution, Interpol concluded, per Cadman, that the Montenegro-initiated red notice for Shaviv constituted “abuse of process” and was “politically motivated.”

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions without court approval or legal necessity and prohibit police from searching a residence or conducting undercover or monitoring operations without a warrant. The law requires the National Security Agency and police to obtain court authorization for wiretaps. Similarly, a 2018 Constitutional Court decision proclaimed that some provisions in the criminal procedure code regarding secret surveillance measures were unconstitutional and all requests must be approved by a court.

There were no official reports the government failed to respect these requirements for conducting physical and property searches. Human rights activists, such as the NGOs Network for Affirmation of the NGO Sector (MANS) and Institute Alternativa, continued to claim, however, that authorities engaged in illegal wiretapping and surveillance.

On May 27, one of the ruling parties, the Democrats, published a secretly recorded conversation between Tamara Nikcevic, a journalist for the public broadcaster Radio and Television Montenegro (RTCG), and her guest before they went on the air. The Democrats then filed criminal charges against Nikcevic for allegedly abusing her official position as a public television journalist by expressing critical views about the Democrats. Several NGOs criticized the Democrats for releasing the unauthorized recording.

On February 25, the Special Police Department filed criminal charges against former National Security Agency director Dejan Perunicic and former agency agent Srdja Pavicevic for abuse of office, illegal wiretapping, and surveillance carried out from January to September 2020 on several the then opposition leaders, the Serbian Orthodox metropolitan, and two journalists critical of the former government, Petar Komnenic (TV Vijesti) and Nevenka Boskovic Cirovic (RTCG).

North Macedonia

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and laws prohibit such practices, but there were some reports police abused detainees and prisoners and used excessive force. The government acted to investigate and prosecute legitimate claims. The Ministry of Interior’s Professional Standards Unit (PSU) reported that during the first seven months of the year, it acted upon 38 complaints referring to use of excessive force by police officers. The unit deemed six of the complaints unfounded, dismissed 30 for insufficient evidence, and upheld two. In the latter two cases, the PSU filed criminal reports against two police officers for “harassment while performing duty.”

As of August 1, the PSU had filed criminal complaints with the prosecutor’s office against two police officers for excessive use of force. The PSU seized the officers’ weapons and ordered them to undergo psychological and psychiatric evaluations. Two separate 2020 PSU disciplinary complaints against two police officers for excessive use of force resulted in the disciplinary commission fining one officer and terminating the other’s employment. On November 10, the Bitola Basic Court sentenced one police officer to one year in prison for use of excessive force against a Romani citizen in September 2020.

As of August 20, the ombudsman had received 51 complaints against the police, including two for police brutality. On the ombudsman’s recommendation, the Organized Crime and Corruption Prosecution Office (OCCPO) opened a preliminary investigation into one of the complaints on charges of “mistreatment in the conduct of duty.” The ombudsman’s review of the second complaint alleging brutality was ongoing as of August 30.

In 15 instances, complainants requested the ombudsman’s intervention with the PSU for unlawful, unprofessional, and inappropriate interactions with citizens. Two complaints alleged police misconduct during protests. The ombudsman determined both complaints were well founded and recommended the PSU take disciplinary action against the officers involved. In the first case, the PSU said it could not act because it could not positively identify the involved officer from available video footage. In the second case, it took disciplinary action against the officer for serious violations of established protocols and filed a criminal complaint with the OCCPO. The 51 complaints represented a significant decrease in comparison to the 130 complaints received in the same period in 2020.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Despite physical improvements at some facilities, Idrizovo Prison, which held approximately 45 percent of the country’s prison population, continued to operate units that were dilapidated, severely overcrowded, and exposed some inmates to inhuman and degrading conditions. Pervasive prison staff corruption was a significant problem in the prison system.

Physical Conditions: In its most recent ad hoc visit to the country in December 2020, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported that, while conditions of detention were generally acceptable in the new open and semi-open regime areas of Idrizovo Prison, squalid, decrepit, and overcrowded conditions continued in the prison’s two-story Ambulanta section. Cells were also poorly heated (60 degrees Fahrenheit) and were humid.

The CPT’s report on the visit, published on July 29, also noted finding that Idrizovo’s “old semi-open unit,” which should have been demolished in 2018, was still functioning inside the prison grounds “next to the crumbling ruins of former workshops and admission unit.” Concerning the semi-open unit, the CPT report stated, “at the time of the visit, there were 91 prisoners accommodated in 14 rooms, several of which were severely overcrowded; for example, 16 persons in a 32 square meter (345 square foot) space. The rooms were in a state of advanced deterioration (crumbling walls, broken window frames and furniture, dangerous improvised electric wiring, holes in the floor and ceiling) and squalid hygiene (vermin infestation, piles of uncollected garbage in cells, and water penetration). The communal sanitary facilities were in a deplorable state with the first-floor toilets emitting a foul stench and covered in feces, dripping taps and water installations, flooded floor, and no functioning artificial lighting.” The CPT report stated: “The conditions within this unit as well as those within the Ambulanta could certainly be described as inhuman and degrading.”

Prison authorities held inmates for long periods without opportunity for movement. For example the July 29 CPT report stated that at Skopje prison, “the regime on offer still resembled a relic of the past. Remand prisoners continued to remain confined in their cells for more than 23 hours per day with no activity on offer apart from 30-45 minutes per day in one of two courtyards, which had still not been equipped with any gym equipment.” While a gym with weight-lifting machines and exercise bikes had been set up, its use was extremely limited and the vast majority of prisoners had not been informed of its existence or that they could access it.

In its 30th General Report covering 2020 and published on May 27, the CPT noted a numerous problems, including poor management, endemic corruption among prison staff, interprisoner violence, inadequate health care, poor living conditions (particularly at Idrizovo Prison), and the practice of appointing prison directors and their deputies based on political affiliation. The CPT’s report was in line with the ombudsman’s 2020 National Preventive Mechanism’s findings regarding prisons.

Although the corrections system had sufficient capacity, the ombudsman reported overcrowding again became an issue during the year, particularly in some wards of the Idrizovo Prison. The prison system continued to suffer from lack of funding and understaffing. Poor conditions persisted in most police stations, social care facilities, shelters, and psychiatric institutions.

The ombudsman reported August 20 that authorities had renovated Bitola Prison and opened the new Volkovija Juvenile Correction Home, enabling the transfer of 16 juvenile offenders from other prisons to this specialized facility. The ombudsman reported, nonetheless, that prison conditions continued to be generally inadequate, primarily due to insufficient health care and educational/rehabilitation services and a lack of trained staff.

As of August 20, the ombudsman’s National Preventive Mechanism had visited nine prisons and correctional facilities, focusing on the treatment of drug addicts as especially vulnerable to cruel and degrading treatment. The ombudsman found that authorities did not provide adequate protection, health care, or treatment to this category of inmates, especially in the Kumanovo Prison. The ombudsman filed a special report with recommendations for mitigating actions to the Ministry of Health. In a follow-up visit to Kumanovo on May 5, the ombudsman noted that authorities had not taken any measures to improve health care for and treatment of inmates suffering from drug addiction since his previous visit.

The Justice Ministry’s Directorate for Execution of Sanctions (DES) reported five persons had died in custody as of August 17. DES said one death was a suicide, and the others occurred following prolonged periods of ill health. The ombudsman opened inquiries into the deaths of all five individuals. The investigations were pending as of August 20.

DES received 18 internal notifications of the use of force against inmates by prison police. In all cases the department found the officers acted in accordance with standard operating procedures. There were two complaints alleging torture and inhuman treatment of inmates in Bitola and Kumanovo prisons, the latter alleging guards used excessive force while responding to inmate violence. DES’s extraordinary inspection of Bitola Prison could not determine whether the use of force was justified, while the inspection in Kumanovo Prison found the use of force was justified and in line with standard policy and procedures.

Administration: As of August 20, the ombudsman had received seven complaints from detained or convicted persons alleging excessive use of force, brutality, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, and had reviewed four of them. Two complaints were filed against police officers and five against prison police or guards. Three accused prison guards of brutality in Prilep, Idrizovo, and Bitola prisons. After conducting field visits, the ombudsman found the complaints involving the Prilep and Bitola prison police were unfounded. Following a complaint against Idrizovo prison police for allegedly mistreating a prisoner during transport to court, the ombudsman issued recommendations to the prison authorities regarding transportation protocols. The ombudsman regularly visited prisons where complaints had been filed to look for evidence supporting allegations of abuse in view of recommending further action.

The ombudsman noted that in general, authorities accepted his recommendations but did not take sufficient action to duly implement them. The ombudsman had full and unimpeded access to all prisons and detention facilities.

Independent Monitoring: The law allows physicians, diplomatic representatives, and representatives from the CPT and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to pretrial detainees with the approval of the investigative judge. In accordance with a 2018 memorandum of understanding, the government granted the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights unrestricted access to convicted prisoners. The ombudsman visited the country’s prisons monthly and investigated credible allegations of problematic conditions and treatment.

Improvements: The Ministry of Justice reported making improvements at Idrizovo Prison. The Juvenile Corrections Unit at the Idrizovo Prison female ward was renovated to fully separate juvenile inmates from adults. DES also reported completing renovations at Tetovo Prison.

DES continued training newly employed prison police officers in the Center for Training and Education. The center trained 35 officers on standard operations in institutional settings, the officers’ code of conduct, and use of force.

In a July 29 report, the CPT noted DES was restructured to improve its efficiency and prioritize staff training and the probation service. The CPT raised concerns, however, about the continued practice of appointing prison directors and deputy directors from outside the prison system and questioned whether adequate chains of accountability existed that were based on more than political affiliation.

The CPT noted that a decision to award prison staff a 30 percent salary increase, as well as additional pension entitlements, amounted to recognition of the challenging work carried out by prison officials and was aimed at attracting and retaining qualified candidates to work in prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, as well as to receive compensation for unlawful detention. The government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires that a judge issue warrants for arrest and detention of suspects based on evidence, and police generally followed this requirement. The law prohibits police from interrogating suspects without informing them of their status and their rights and enabling them to obtain a lawyer. The law states prosecutors must arraign a detainee within 24 hours of arrest. A pretrial procedure judge, at the request of a prosecutor, may order detention of suspects for up to 72 hours before arraignment. Police generally adhered to these procedures. Authorities generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Detention prior to indictment may last a maximum of 180 days. Following indictment, pretrial detention may last a maximum of two years.

There is a functioning bail system. In addition to bail, the law allows the substitution of pretrial detention with house arrest or other measures for securing defendants’ presence at trial. Common measures include passport seizure, a prohibition on leaving one’s place of residence, and an obligation to report to the court on a weekly basis.

The law allows defendants to communicate with an attorney of their choice, but defendants sometimes complained authorities did not provide sufficient time to consult with an attorney prior to arraignment. Indigent detainees have the right to a state-provided attorney, and authorities generally respected this right. Judges usually granted permission for attorneys to visit their clients in detention. Authorities did not practice incommunicado detention. The law provides advisory deadlines to avoid protracted criminal proceedings. Prosecutors should generally complete investigations within six months, although the deadlines can be extended to 12 months in more complex cases and 18 months in organized crime cases with a supervisor’s consent. In practice, prosecutors sometimes exceeded those deadlines citing lack of adequate resources, or cases’ complexity. In April the Chief Public Prosecutor instructed prosecutors to review cases in which investigative deadlines were exceeded, resolve any outstanding issues, and improve cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and other institutions.

A June 25 report from the ombudsman’s National Preventive Mechanism stated that from January to September 2020, only 15 of the 1,080 persons arrested exercised their right to an attorney at public expense. The report found police officers almost never advised arrestees that indigent persons had a right to request an attorney at public expense, and that many police stations used outdated lists of defense attorneys, with some dating back to 2012. Police stations visited by the ombudsman also did not have updated lists of defense attorneys that had completed specialized juvenile justice training.

In addition to investigating allegations of police mistreatment, the PSU conducted all internal investigations into allegations of other forms of police misconduct. The unit has authority to impose administrative sanctions, such as temporary suspension from work, during its investigations. The unit may not take disciplinary measures, which require a ruling from a disciplinary commission, nor may it impose more serious criminal sanctions, which require prosecutorial action, but it may refer cases as appropriate.

As of August 27, the OCCPO had investigated 68 cases of misconduct by identified police officers and prison guards, including one for unlawful arrest. It also investigated an additional 19 cases allegedly involving criminal misconduct by unnamed police officers or prison guards and reviewed another 115 criminal complaints.

Pretrial Detention: In most cases the courts adhered to the law for pretrial detention procedures. Prosecutors across the country requested detention in 5 to 10 percent of all cases. Usually, prosecutors requested, and the court issued, preventive measures instead of detention orders for suspects and defendants to mitigate flight risk, evidence tampering, and repeating or committing new crimes.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for “autonomous and independent” courts, supported by an autonomous and independent Judicial Council. Instances of judicial misconduct, undue pressure on judges, protracted justice, and inadequate funding and staffing of the judiciary continued to hamper court operations and effectiveness and affected public confidence in the judiciary. Courts continued to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but with reduced dockets and significant delays. Both the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office remained underfunded and understaffed. On September 15, the Judicial Council president said general understaffing of both judges and support staff affected efficient administration of justice. As of August 30, the Supreme Court operated with 18 of 28 justices, resulting in heavier workloads than intended, especially for justices from the court’s Penal Cases Division.

A functional analysis by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) found that the Public Prosecutor’s Office operated with 20 percent fewer prosecutors and 31 percent fewer administrative staff compared to its needs assessment. In its 2020 progress report on the country, the EU noted “a decrease of 15 percent for the Public Prosecutor’s Office in allocations of the 2020 state budget.” The law mandates at least 0.4 percent of the state budget be allocated for prosecutors’ budgets.

As of August 31, the Judicial Council had received 479 citizen complaints alleging issues in judicial proceedings. The allegations involved alleged biased or unethical conduct, procedural errors, recusals, and exceeded deadlines. As of November 15, the Judicial Council had not received any complaints by judges alleging threats or case-related pressure.

As of August 20, the ombudsman had registered 187 citizen complaints concerning the judicial system, of which 133 concerned proceedings before the courts and 54 before the Public Prosecutor’s Office. This represented an increase compared with 2020. Most of the complaints concerning proceedings before the courts alleged denial of the right to a fair trial by repeated trial delays, judicial bias, or misconduct, violations of due process, denial of access to effective legal recourse, and failures to respond to discovery. Upon initial review of the complaints, the ombudsman found the majority did not merit further review. In one instance the ombudsman found a violation of the right to trial in a reasonable time before the Administrative Court and advised the court to take remedial action. Most of the complaints concerning proceedings before the Public Prosecutor’s Office alleged protracted inquiries, failure to communicate the status of cases to concerned parties, and discontent with case outcomes. Upon review of the complaints, the ombudsman’s office determined it lacked the authority to examine many of the allegations and was often unable to identify any violation of rights.

In December 2020 the Judicial Council adopted methodologies for reviewing judges’ performance, also known as “judicial filtering methodologies.” According to then Judicial Council president and Supreme Court justice Kiro Zdravev, the methodologies provided an operational framework and timeline for enforcing the Judicial Council’s existing legal authority rather than introducing a new vetting mechanism to substitute for the regular four-year performance evaluation cycles of judges. The new filtering methodologies provide specific guidelines for examining subjective and objective reasons for case delay, case obsolescence due to lapsed statutes of limitations, the quality of judicial opinions, including quality rationale or lack thereof, due diligence, court decorum practices, among other reasons.

On September 28, the NGO All for Fair Trials released an analytical report on the Judicial Council’s operations, according to which several judges reported that the council did not adequately represent, promote, or defend their interests or judicial independence in general. The report also revealed a perception that the Judicial Council lacks transparency. Interviewees specifically cited the lack of publicly available reasoning to justify the council’s decisions for appointing, promoting, disciplining, and dismissing judges.

Between January 2019 and August, the Judicial Council dismissed five Supreme Court justices, mostly for misconduct involving review of the former Special Prosecutor’s Office’s cases. During the same period, the council also dismissed a dozen other appellate and trial judges for misconduct involving unprofessional and reckless judicial work. Seven dismissals occurred during the year. Many of them have been upheld by Supreme Court-led appellate panels, but a panel reversed July dismissals of a Supreme Court Justice and two appellate court judges in decisions issued in late November and early December. The Judicial Council will re-review their cases.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.

The law presumes the defendant innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, in a language the defendant understands, and to be provided an attorney if unable to pay. Sometimes defendants complained about lack of adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have right to fair, timely, and public trial and to be present at their trial, although the law includes an exception to try fugitives in absentia. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They may not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have a right to appeal.

Trials were generally open to the public. Citizens continued to complain about insufficient civil enforcement practices, resulting in violations of citizens’ rights.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the courts operated with reduced schedules and frequent delays caused by parties, judges, and prosecutors testing positive for the virus or having to quarantine after exposures.

For certain criminal and civil cases, judicial panels of three to five individuals, led by a professional judge, are used. Lay judges assist in all cases where defendants face potential prison sentences of more than five years. Their involvement in cases sometimes created challenges, particularly in cases of their resignation or retirement. One lay judge retirement, combined with the dismissal of a career trial judge in July, led to 20 trials restarting, many of which were in advanced stages, and some of which involved alleged high corruption and were initiated by the former Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO). During the year, high-profile trials were often prolonged on various procedural or health-related grounds.

On February 23, the Skopje Criminal Court found three “Monster” case defendants guilty of terrorism, sentencing them to life imprisonment for the 2012 murder of five ethnic Macedonians. Two of the defendants were tried in absentia as fugitives and were believed to be in Kosovo. The court found two other defendants guilty of accessory and acquitted the sixth for lack of evidence. In 2014 the Skopje Basic Criminal Court initially convicted all six defendants. The convictions were overturned on appeal, necessitating the retrial.

On July 26, the Skopje Criminal Court issued prison sentences of approximately six years to former speaker of parliament Trajko Veljanoski, former education minister Spiro Ristovski, former transport minister Mile Janakieski, and former Counterintelligence and Security Administration director Vladimir Atanasovski, after finding them guilty of organizing and inciting violence in the April 2017 violent attack on parliament. Related charges against former prime minister Nikola Gruevski and former counterintelligence official Nikola Boshkoski, both fugitives, remained pending. The case prosecutor announced appeals against the sentences for being too lenient since they fell below the proscribed minimum 10-year sentence for this crime. The public raised questions of proportionality, comparing the sentences to the seven to 18-year prison sentences that were initially imposed on 16 defendants convicted of direct participation in the 2017 attack.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens had access to courts to submit lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals may file human rights cases in the criminal, civil, or administrative courts, and in the Constitutional Court, depending upon the type of human rights violation in question and its alleged perpetrator. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions. The law provides the right to timely adjudication of cases and a legal basis to appeal excessive judicial delays to the Supreme Court. The government generally complied with domestic courts’ civil decisions. Individuals may appeal cases involving alleged state violations to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all domestic legal options.

Backlogs in some civil trial courts and the Administrative Court persisted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of judges because of judicial retirements and a lack of qualified applicants for judicial positions.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The government did not evict persons from their places of residence nor seize their property without due process. The government has laws and mechanisms in place for citizens of the country. The government has no specific laws or mechanisms in place related to the resolution of Holocaust-era claims by foreign citizens, but they may still seek property restitution via civil proceedings. The government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era restitution claims for citizens of the country, particularly after the 2000 Denationalization Law and the 2007 compensation agreement.

In 2000 the Denationalization Law accorded the right to denationalization of property seized after August 1944 to former owners and their successors, in accordance with the provisions related to the right to inherit. It required claimants to have citizenship of the country at the time of the law entering into force.

Advocacy groups reported a small number of foreign citizens, not covered by the 2000 law, still sought restitution. Foreign citizens may apply for restitution in civil proceedings. The Islamic Religious Community of North Macedonia (IRC) continued to claim the government failed to provide appropriate and timely restitution for property seized during the period of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, often alleging this was due to the high value of objects allegedly taken. Among the disputed property is the Husamedin Pasha Mosque in Shtip that was nationalized in 1955. The IRC claimed the government prevented it from regaining rightful ownership of the mosque complex. The IRC also continued to seek restitution for properties in Skopje’s old bazaar.

In April the Constitutional Court rejected a petition to rule on the constitutionality of Article 64 of the Denationalization Law following the Ministry of Transport and Communications’ sale of property in central Skopje that had been the subject of a denationalization process since 2003.

As of mid-August the ombudsman had received 28 complaints concerning denationalization of property seized by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, compared with 14 in the same period in 2020 (27 at year end). The ombudsman noted there were major difficulties and procedural oversights in denationalization cases and ascribed many delays to lax work by the Ministry of Finance’s denationalization commission, as well as ineffective collaboration with the Administrative Court and other government agencies. This situation persisted even though the 2000 Denationalization Law stipulates the denationalization procedure is urgent in nature. According to the ombudsman, the Ministry of Finance’s denationalization commission was ineffective in acting on the ombudsman’s recommendations to address outstanding issues.

Members of 36 families in Ohrid protested several times during the year, including in June, claiming that authorities had failed to properly compensate them for land parcels nationalized by the state in 1957.

In February the government allocated approximately 707 million denars ($13.3 million) in bonds to compensate citizens whose denationalization claims were approved in 2019. It allocated an additional 492 million denars ($9 million) in August for citizens whose applications were approved in 2020.

The country is party to the 2009 Terezin Declaration. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website at:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions during the year.

The law prohibits the possession, processing, and publishing of any content, including wiretapped conversations, that violates the right to privacy involving personal or family life. The law also prohibits the use of such materials in election campaigns or for other political purposes. The Operational Technical Agency is responsible for conducting lawful intercepts in the country. It serves as the technical facilitator of operations for legal interception of communications, operating with its own budget separately from the Ministry of Interior.

Although there was a Council for Civilian Oversight of Wiretapping, it was not functional as of September 16. In June 2020 the president and the deputy of the council resigned, citing lack of operational resources. Parliament endorsed their resignations March 25.

On February 26, the Skopje Criminal Court convicted former Administration for Counterintelligence and Security director Sasho Mijalkov and 10 of his associates in the former SPO-initiated “Target-Fortress” trial for orchestrating the illegal wiretapping of more than 20,000 citizens between 2008 and 2015 and for destroying evidence. The court sentenced Mijalkov to 12 years in prison and remanded him in custody pending appeals. Former minister of interior Gordana Jankulovska, already serving a four-year prison sentence in the SPO-initiated “Tank” case, was sentenced to four years in prison. Two former counterintelligence staffers and current fugitives, Goran Grujevski and Nikola Boshkovski, were sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison.


Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There was no specialized governmental body to examine killings at the hands of the security forces. The Security Information Agency and the Directorate for the Enforcement of Penal Sanctions examined such cases through internal audits.

Throughout the year media outlets reported on the 1999 disappearance and presumed killing of Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi, three Kosovar-American brothers taken into custody in Serbia on the Kosovo border by Serb paramilitary groups and buried on the grounds of a police training center in Petrovo Selo, Serbia, a facility commanded by Goran Radosavljevic. According to the war crimes prosecutor, the Bytyqi case was in the investigative phase, and officials were gathering new facts to establish the perpetrators’ identity and raise the indictment for crimes against prisoners of war. Nevertheless, the government made no significant progress toward providing justice for the victims, and it was unclear to what extent authorities were actively investigating the case.

During a public ceremony on June 30, Ministry of Interior official Dejan Lukovic awarded a public service medal to Goran Radosavljevic, who was credibly implicated as having been involved in the killing of the Bytyqi brothers when he was a Ministry of Interior official. In December the Ministry of Defense decorated with a military service medal retired General Vinko Pandurevic, who was convicted in 2010 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for his involvement in crimes against humanity and war crimes, including killings, persecution, and forced displacement. Human rights organizations criticized this action as indicative of the country’s continued glorification of war criminals and historical revisionism regarding the conflicts of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia. Criminal proceedings related to the 1995 Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina continued, with three hearings held during the year. The proceedings took place before the Higher Court in Belgrade against eight individuals, charged by the war crimes prosecutor, for war crimes against civilians in Srebrenica/Kravica in 1995.

Trial and appeals courts passed several sentences related to wartime atrocities in the 1990s. Hearings that occurred often resulted in further delays and limited tangible progress, according to independent observers. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international bodies criticized the slow pace of war crimes prosecutions in the country.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, police routinely beat detainees and harassed suspects, usually during arrest or initial detention with a view towards obtaining a confession, notwithstanding that such evidence is not permissible in court. In its most recent 2018 report on the country, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, which has visited the country regularly since 2007, stated, “The Serbian authorities must recognize that the existence of ill-treatment by police officers is a fact; it is not the work of a few rogue officers but rather an accepted practice within the existing police culture, notably among crime inspectors.”

In December 2020 the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions’ Subcommittee on Accreditation decided to defer the review of the country’s ombudsman for reaccreditation for one year and cited, among other issues, the ombudsman’s “approach to dealing with allegations of abuse by police authorities and information received from civil society organizations that the number of visits carried out (by the ombudsman) to police stations has declined significantly in recent years.” In June the ombudsman released a statement on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture noting that torture and other forms of abuse might take place in closed institutions, away from the public eye. The statement also noted that during the first half of the year, the National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture visited 62 locations that host detained persons and issued more than 90 recommendations to institutions and relevant ministries.

On June 26, the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Belgrade Center for Human Rights (BCHR) stated that offenses allegedly involving torture and other forms of abuse in the country were characterized by a high degree of impunity and noted that authorities did not convict any police officials of abuse during 2020 protests.

Police corruption and impunity remained problems, despite some progress on holding corrupt police officials accountable. During the year experts from civil society noted the quality of police internal investigations continued to improve.

In the first eight months of the year, the Ministry of Interior’s Sector of Internal Control filed three criminal charges against police officers based on reasonable suspicion that they had committed a crime of abuse and torture. During the same period, the ministry’s Internal Control Office filed 106 criminal charges against police officers and civilian employees of the ministry.

Government efforts to investigate and punish criminal acts were less effective when high-level police officials were accused of wrongdoing. In these cases criminal charges rarely reflected the seriousness of the offense and were often filed after lengthy delays. For example, in 2008 rioters attacked and set fire to a foreign diplomatic mission that supported Kosovo’s independence. In 2018, following a 10-year lapse, charges were filed against five high-level police officials, three of whom had since retired, who were charged with failing to protect the mission, endangering public safety, and abusing their offices. Two hearings in the case were held during the year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were sometimes harsh due to physical abuse and overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Physical abuse by police and prison staff occurred, and there were reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. According to the Ministry of Justice, prison capacity was 11,451 inmates; the average prison population decreased from 10,543 in September 2020 to 10,436 in August. The mortality rate in the country’s prisons was 56.9 per 10,000 inmates in 2019. According to the BCHR, approximately 30 percent of inmates in prisons were pretrial detainees.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. In two cases courts accepted protection requests from prisoners concerned for their lives or personal safety.

Independent Monitoring: Independent monitoring of prison conditions was allowed under the law, and the government provided access to independent monitors. The ombudsman, judges appointed for the enforcement of criminal sanctions, parliament’s Committee for Control of Enforcement of Criminal Sanctions, and members of the National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture visited and monitored prisons in Cuprija, Novi Sad, Zrenjanin, Sabac, Sombor, Pozarevac, Krusevac, and Leskovac. They expressed concern regarding prison staff shortages, lack of training for staff regarding special categories of prisoners, and lack of activities for prisoners. Training of prison staff was improving through cooperation with EU, the Council of Europe, and the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe.

Improvements: Although prisons remained overpopulated, construction of new prisons and wider use of alternative sanctions (for example, conditional release, community service, house arrest, and other measures) reduced overcrowding.

In cooperation with the German program “Help,” authorities purchased tablet computers (iPads) for prisoners in Krusevac who were minors to facilitate communication with their families during the pandemic. In its October report on the country’s EU accession progress, European Commission (EC) staff observed that the prison renovation program continued in several locations and treatment programs in prisons and prison medical facilities continued to improve. The report also noted the use of alternative measures to detention continued to increase, but a large percentage of convicted persons were under house detention rather than serving community sanctions. According to the report, the share of alternative measures to detention – 35 per 100,000 of the population, including those under electronic monitoring – remained low.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person 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. The government generally observed these requirements. Despite improvements to pretrial procedures, prolonged pretrial confinement remained a problem.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Law enforcement authorities generally based arrests on warrants issued by a prosecutor or a judge. The constitution states that police must inform arrested persons of their rights immediately at the time of arrest, and authorities generally respected this requirement. Police may not question suspects without informing them of their right to remain silent and have counsel present. A prosecutor can elect to question a suspect or be present during police questioning. Statements given by suspects to police without a prosecutor present are admissible evidence only if given in presence of a defense attorney.

The law requires a judge to approve pretrial detention lasting longer than 48 hours, and authorities generally respected this requirement. The law provides alternatives to pretrial detention such as house arrest or bail, although in practice prosecutors and judges applied pretrial detention. The most frequently used alternative was house arrest, with or without electronic monitoring. Authorities generally allowed family members to visit detainees. The law allows for indefinite detention of prisoners deemed a danger to the public because of a mental disability.

Detainees can obtain access to counsel at the government’s expense only if they are charged with offenses that carry a possible prison sentence of at least three years and establish that they cannot afford counsel or if the law specifically requires it for that type of case and circumstances. For offenses with sentences of eight or more years, access to counsel is mandatory. Detainees who are eligible for social welfare qualify for free legal aid regardless of the seriousness of the charge they face.

The law prohibits excessive delays by authorities in filing formal charges against suspects and in conducting investigations. Authorities may hold suspects detained in connection with serious crimes for up to six months before indicting them. By law investigations should conclude either within six months or within 12 months in cases of special jurisdiction (organized crime, high corruption, and war crimes). If a prosecutor does not conclude an investigation within six months, or within 12 months in cases of special jurisdiction, the prosecutor is required to inform the higher-level prosecutor’s office, which is then required to undertake measures to conclude the investigation. In practice investigations often lasted longer because there were neither clear timelines for concluding investigations nor any consequences for failing to meet prescribed deadlines.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. The average length of detention was not reported and could not be reliably estimated. Courts are generally obliged by law to act with urgency when deciding on pretrial detention. The constitution and laws limit the length of pretrial detention to six months, but there is no statutory limit to detention once the defendant is indicted. There is also no statutory limit for detention during appellate proceedings. Due to inefficient court procedures, some of which are legally required, cases often took extended periods to come to trial. The law provides a right to request compensation for the time spent in wrongful detention, i.e., pretrial detention during trials that ended in acquittal. From January to August, 517 requests for compensation for damages related to wrongful detention were filed with the Ministry of Justice, which paid approximately 50 million Serbian dinars ($463,000) as compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but courts remained susceptible to corruption and political influence. On November 25, parliament adopted the Law on Referenda, dropping a 50 percent turnout threshold needed for any referendum to pass. Some media outlets and civil society organizations were critical that the positions of chief state prosecutor in the Republic Public Prosecutor’s Office and chief justice in the Supreme Court of Cassation, the country’s highest appellate court, were appointed with only one candidate applying for each position, which they claimed reflected a lack of judicial independence.

Political pressure on the judiciary remained a concern, and there were reports of government pressure against figures who were critical of the judiciary. Government officials and members of parliament continued to comment publicly regarding ongoing investigations, court proceedings, or on the work of individual judges and prosecutors.

The EC’s Serbia 2021 Report stated that the country had a very weak track record in processing war crime cases and called for improved cooperation between the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals and the Serbian Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor. Although bilateral agreements exist between the Prosecutor’s Office in Serbia and its counterparts in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, and Montenegro, regional cooperation on war crimes was limited. The report noted cooperation with Croatia had not led to tangible results and that the country has yet to enforce the BiH’s final judgment in the case of Novak Djukic, who fled to the country following his conviction.

Mutual judicial cooperation between the country and Kosovo, meanwhile, was extremely limited in war crimes cases. The implementation of the 2016 National Strategy for Processing of War Crimes continued at a slow pace. The 2016 strategy expired in December 2020, and on October 14, the government adopted a new National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes. Authorities continued to provide support and public space to convicted or suspected war criminals and were slow to respond to hate speech or the denial of war crimes. During the year convicted or suspected war criminals participated in public events alongside the president, interior minister, local government officials, and officials in the Interior Ministry.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and laws provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.

The constitution and laws grant defendants the presumption of innocence. Authorities must inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free translation throughout criminal proceedings, if necessary. Defendants have a right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, although authorities may close a trial to the public 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 the 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, when a defendant lacks resources to acquire representation and one of two conditions is met: either the crime is punishable by three or more years of imprisonment and the defendant cannot afford a defense attorney, or a defense attorney is mandatory under the law. Defendants and attorneys were generally given ample time and sufficient facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their own trials, access government evidence, question witnesses, present their own witnesses and evidence, and not 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. The length of trials, transparency of procedures, and judicial efficiency, however, remained points of concern.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution grants individuals the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court regarding an alleged violation of human rights. In addition to ruling whether a violation occurred, the court can also issue a decision that can serve as grounds for seeking restitution. The government generally respected decisions rendered by the Constitutional Court. Once all avenues for remedy in the 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.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

In accordance with the country’s participation in the Terezin Declaration, in 2016 parliament adopted a law on the restitution of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property seized during the Holocaust. This law allows the Jewish community to file restitution claims based on these seizures, without restricting the rights of future claimants. The law defines “heirless property” as any property that was not the subject of a legitimate claim for restitution under the General Restitution Law. The community must prove the former owner of the property was a member of the Jewish community and the property was confiscated during the Holocaust. The law also stipulates financial support from the state budget for the Jewish community in the amount of 950,000 euros ($1.1 million) per year for a 25-year period; the government made four payments since 2017.

The claims period under the 2016 law ended in 2019. A provision exists that protects heirs’ rights to claim restitution indefinitely in the event they were unaware or unable to establish a claim before the law’s deadline.

The Serbian Agency for Restitution reported that during the year it returned more than 2,268 acres of land and 32 objects, including 17 business premises, six apartments, and nine buildings. Since the implementation of the law, 134 objects and 6,821 acres of land had been restituted to Jewish communities in Serbia. The overall estimated value was more than 36 million euros ($41 million).

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, which covers Holocaust-era property restitution as well as general Holocaust remembrance, education and archival access activities in Serbia is available on the Department’s website at:

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

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 frequently failed to respect these laws.

Human rights activists and NGOs reported a lack of effective parliamentary oversight of security agencies. The extent of government surveillance on personal communications was unknown. Civil society activists and independent journalists alleged extensive surveillance of citizens’ social media posts and of journalists and activists critical of the government.

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