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Strasbourg, 13 Septembrer 2013 – The Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has published its third Opinion on Kosovo* together with the comments submitted by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Source: Council of Europe

 

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Discrimination against Roma, Jews, and Other National Minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina

4 April 2012 – This 62-page report highlights discrimination against Roma, Jews, and other national minorities in politics and government. Much of this discrimination stems from Bosnia’s 1995 Constitution, which mandates a system of government based on ethnicity and excludes these groups from high political office. The report also shows the wider impact of discrimination on the daily lives of Roma in accessing housing, education, healthcare, and employment.

Source: Human Rights Watch

The report is available here.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Informal settlements in Kosovo are widely characterized by a lack of access to basic infrastructure and social services. As such, inhabitants often live in very poor conditions and hold a marginalized position within society. A lack of security of tenure is also a prominent characteristic of informal settlements, which are typically not built in compliance with spatial plans, lack the necessary construction permits, and are not registered in the cadastral records. Notably, it can be particularly difficult to gain security of tenure in cases where homes are constructed on municipal or socially-owned property, which can leave inhabitants especially vulnerable to forced eviction.

While many municipal officials have a robust understanding of informal settlements, there is still a degree of misunderstanding with regards to the meaning and definition of the concept. A number of municipalities use either too restrictive or too broad a definition, which can be an obstacle to properly identifying all informal settlements in their areas of responsibility. As such, those settlements where inhabitants are most vulnerable might not be prioritized for regularization plans and projects.

Throughout Kosovo several municipalities are undertaking the drafting of spatial plans. This is one of the primary mechanisms through which municipalities can identify and regularize informal settlements in their areas of responsibility. Most municipalities did include the identified informal settlements in their spatial plans, which is an important step towards resolving security of tenure and access to basic infrastructure and social services. The policy framework foresees that regularization in situ should be the norm while regularization by relocation should only be a last resort pursued in exceptional circumstances where security of tenure or adequate housing cannot be met in place. In line with this, municipalities generally opt for in situ regularization. However, there are some exceptions in which relocation of inhabitants occurred because security of tenure could not be provided or the settlement is located in an environmentally hazardous area. Such a strategy of relocation has been shown to work well in cases where inhabitants are empowered through effective consultation with the municipality and participation in decision-making.

The importance of participation and inclusion of informal settlement inhabitants in the processes of identification, spatial planning and regularization should not be underestimated. Where formal mechanisms for participation exist (such as committees established for the purpose of including all stakeholders in the regularization process), the affected communities generally feel more positive towards their respective municipalities, more informed about municipal initiatives affecting their homes, and more included in the decision-making processes. Conversely, where no such formal or informal mechanisms exist, inhabitants are often ill-informed and feel that their opinions and concerns are disregarded by the municipality.

All informal settlements throughout Kosovo should be identified and included in municipal spatial plans, and in situ regularization should be undertaken where possible. Moreover, it is of paramount importance that local institutions develop means to include inhabitants in the processes related to the regularization of informal settlements. Furthermore, municipalities should look for ways to establish mechanisms to exchange information and best practices regarding regularization. To support these processes, there is an evident need for continued technical and financial support to local-level institutions throughout the identification, spatial planning and regularization processes.

December 2011

The full document is available here.

Serbia urged to stop forced evictions of Roma

The authorities act as if it was our fault that we live in the settlements, that it is our choice. What other choice have we got? If you are Roma you haven’t got many choices.

A Romani woman speaking to Amnesty International in August 2010

The Serbian authorities must halt forced evictions of Roma in the capital Belgrade and provide them with adequate housing, Amnesty International said on the eve of International Roma Day.

A new report, Home is more than a roof over your head: Roma denied adequate housing in Serbia, documents an increasing series of forced evictions of Roma since April 2009 that has left some housed in metal containers in segregated settlements and others returned to living in poverty in southern Serbia, often to inadequate housing.

“Instead of halting forced evictions the Serbian authorities in Belgrade are carrying out more and more, driving Roma communities from their homes and forcing them to live in inadequate housing,” said Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s Serbia researcher.

“They must stop this practice if they are to abide by their international obligations. This includes guaranteeing Roma the right to housing provided with sanitation, within reach of public facilities and employment and secure from future forced evictions.”

Since April 2009 at least seven forced evictions of informal settlements have taken place.

At the end of March 2010, 20-25 families were evicted from an informal settlement in the Čukarica area of the capital.

The following month, about 38 Romani families were evicted from an informal settlement in the same area, and then subsequently sent back to southern Serbia.

Roma living at another site in Čukarica remain at risk of forced eviction. In October and December 2010, another 62 people were evicted from different parts of New Belgrade.

The planned “resettlement” in early 2011 of the residents of a settlement at Belvil in Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) was temporarily suspended following pressure from various organisations.

Many of the forced evictions are part of a 2009 City of Belgrade Assembly plan envisaging large scale infrastructure projects funded by loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank.

The plans are set to affect the residents of at least 50 of the 100 Roma settlements within the City of Belgrade.

Denied the right to adequate housing, around a third of Belgrade’s Roma population have no option but to live in informal settlements, where they have no regular water supply, no sanitation and other basic services.

Unable to register as citizens of Belgrade, they are often denied access to employment, social security, health care and education.

Roma disproportionately – almost exclusively – make up the population of informal settlements across Serbia.

Within these communities, there are many vulnerable groups, including Roma who fled the 1999 war in Kosovo. Other Roma who have sought work or international protection in west European countries, and are now being forcibly returned to Serbia, also end up living in these informal settlements.

“Authorities in Serbia must ensure that Roma communities are consulted on any proposals, or possible options for resettlement, and given the opportunity to propose alternatives, should they wish to do so,” Sian Jones said.

“The authorities should also identify social housing and other housing options in locations not segregated by ethnicity to ensure that Roma families have the choice of housing outside Roma only-settlements.”

In its report Amnesty International makes a series of recommendations to the Serbian authorities to prevent evictions in breach of international standards in the future, and to ensure the right to adequate housing for Roma, including:

– Stop all forced evictions, and guarantee that infrastructure projects do not result in any further forced evictions;

– Ensure that the eviction of the Belvil settlement, and any further evictions in Belgrade are carried out according to international standards, as reflected in the UN Basic Principles and guidelines on Development-Based Evictions;

– Ensure evicted Roma access to effective legal remedies including compensation and adequate alternative accommodation;

– Establish a legal framework to prohibit forced evictions and ensure that any further resettlements by the City of Belgrade do not constitute forced evictions.

Background

Roma are documented as living in Serbia from at least the 14th century. According to government estimates, their number is between 250,000 and 500,000. The majority of Roma suffer widespread and systematic discrimination in Serbia.

This report is based on research carried out by Amnesty International in Serbia between 2010 and 2011, including interviews with Roma affected by forced evictions in Belgrade; Serbian Roma and non-Roma non governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals working to protect the rights of Roma; government and municipal officials; international NGOs and others.

Source: Amnesty International

Date: 7 April 2011

The full report is available here.

Introduction

Amnesty International submits the following information for consideration by the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (the Committee) in advance of its examination of Serbia’s initial report, submitted under Article 9 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (the Convention).1 This briefing summarizes Amnesty International’s assessment of Serbia’s implementation of Articles 5 and 6 of the Convention, focussing on its failure to guarantee the right to adequate housing to Romani people in Serbia, without discrimination.

The organization has documented a pattern of forced evictions of Romani communities in Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia. It has also found that the resettlement provided to communities who have been forcibly evicted, in a number of cases does not meet international standards relating to the adequacy of housing and contributes to further segregation of these communities.

Further, the lack of safeguards under national law has particular consequences for Romani communities who – almost uniquely – are at high risk of forced evictions. The organization considers that Serbia is failing to guarantee the right to adequate housing without distinction on the basis of ethnicity.

Amnesty International has also documented violations of the rights to freedom of movement and residence of Romani people who have been forcibly internally displaced to Southern Serbia as well as discrimination against internally displaced Roma from Kosovo and forced returnees.

Amnesty International regrets that in a number of fundamental respects Serbia has failed to honour its obligations under the Convention. The present briefing focuses on discrimination against members of the Romani community in Serbia in relation to the right to adequate housing, and in particular on the rights of those living in informal settlements, where the organization focuses on the following concerns:

· The forced eviction of Romani people from informal settlements in Belgrade, and the consequent denial of other convention rights, before during and after eviction;

· The denial of the right to freedom of movement and residence;

· Failure to guarantee the rights of internally displaced Roma.

Date: February 2011

The document is available here.

Pristina, 28 October 2010 – Roma and related minority groups deported from Western Europe to Kosovo face discrimination and severe deprivation amounting to human rights abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 77-page report, “Rights Displaced: Forced Returns of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians from Western Europe to Kosovo,” documents the serious human rights problems faced by those who left Kosovo for Western Europe but were subsequently sent back. They experience problems getting identity documents as well as regaining possession of any property they own. They also have difficulties accessing housing, health care, employment, and social welfare services. Many end up in places where they are separated from family members. The deportations are especially hard on children, few of whom stay in school due to the lack of language skills, curriculum differences, and poverty.

“Europe is sending Kosovo’s most vulnerable people back to discrimination, exclusion, poverty, and displacement,” said Wanda Troszczynska-van Genderen, Western Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If Europe’s leaders are serious about improving the plight of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, they should suspend the deportations to Kosovo and ensure adequate support to those who have already been sent back.”

About 50,000 Roma, most of them Serbian-speaking, and two Albanian-speaking minorities –  Ashkali and Egyptians, who claim origins in ancient Egypt – have been deported to Kosovo since 1999. The numbers look set to rise, with as many as 12,000 people facing deportation from Germany alone. Lack of assistance from international donors and the Kosovo government to those who are deported means that the burden of helping them once they arrive in Kosovo falls on the Kosovo communities of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, the majority of whom live in acute poverty.

Kosovo’s Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians are historically its poorest and its most economically, politically, and socially marginalized minority. In recent years, many have been displaced because of the war, ethnic conflict, extreme poverty, and political instability. Their numbers decreased from more than 200,000 before the war in 1999 to 38,000 today. The Roma have often been the targets of violent attacks, spurned by some Kosovo Albanians – the largest ethnic group in Kosovo – as “collaborators” with the minority Serb population.

Some of them have obtained refugee status abroad, while others remain under temporary protection mechanisms. While living in Western Europe, Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians experience living conditions that are incomparably better than those in Kosovo. Their children, often born abroad, learn the language and adopt the culture and lifestyle of the host Western European countries. They often grow up not speaking their parents’ mother tongues.

Nevertheless, some who go to other countries fail to obtain asylum or their temporary protection expires, exposing them to deportation. Some of the forced returnees are unable to obtain Kosovo identity documents and have no Yugoslav or Serbian identity documents establishing prior residence in Kosovo, which makes them de facto stateless, often for prolonged periods.

In April, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the deportations, saying they destabilize Kosovo’s security situation and exacerbate the problems faced by these minority groups in Kosovo. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Thomas Hammarberg and the European Parliament also have called this year for suspending the returns until conditions improve.

UN refugee agency guidelines call on countries not to deport Roma and say that Ashkali and Egyptians should only be returned after an individual risk assessment and in a phased manner, taking into account Kosovo’s limited capacity to absorb them.

“There is a growing consensus that these deportations are putting Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians at risk and making life worse for those already in Kosovo,” Troszczynska-van Genderen said. “EU governments’ responsibilities don’t end at their own borders. They and other donors need to focus on improving conditions on the ground rather than sending people back to face despair.”

Since 2009, the Kosovo government has signed readmission agreements with Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Norway, with further agreements being negotiated. Kosovo is keen to strengthen its ties with EU and other European countries. These agreements, and the absence of screening by Kosovo prior to the forced returns, open the door to ever greater numbers of deportations, create a real risk of human rights abuse, and escalate crisis conditions for deportees, their families, and the broader Kosovo community.

The report finds that the Kosovo government contributes to the problems for the returned Roma and others by failing to insist that the deporting governments help create adequate conditions in Kosovo for those forced to return. Kosovo also has not taken adequate steps to regulate the returns and to assist those who return to reintegrate into society.

A strategy created in 2007 for reintegrating forced and other returnees has not been carried out, and the Kosovo government has made little progress on its wider strategy, also designed in 2007, to improve the rights of the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities as a whole.

The report recommends:

  • An immediate moratorium on forced returns until conditions improve;
  • Urgent steps to provide assistance to those who have been returned;
  • Full implementation of the Kosovo government’s strategies for integrating forced returnees and the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities as a whole.

Deportations from Germany have proved particularly controversial, with a recent hearing in the German Bundestag leading to condemnation of the policy by opposition parties and nongovernmental organizations.

A recent policy shift on deportations to Kosovo by the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where almost 40 percent of Kosovo Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians in Germany are living, suggests that reform is possible. In September, the state’s Interior Ministry issued a decree, which, while stopping short of suspending deportations entirely, recognizes the need for special protection of the Kosovo groups, requires individual screenings prior to return, and recommends not deporting school-age children.

Source: Human Rights Watch

22 January 2010 – Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 created new uncertainty for 230,000 IDPs from Kosovo residing in Serbia and the 19,700 displaced within Kosovo; this overview focuses on the latter group. Despite initial fears of the contrary, there have been no major incidents targeting minority communities and no further displacement since 2008. Serbia has not recognised the independence of Kosovo, continuing to regard it as a UN-governed entity within its sovereign territory.

Few of those displaced in 1999 have found durable solutions, and prospects are limited: the political, security and economic situation is not conducive to return, and many IDPs face difficulties in repossessing property and obtaining legal documentation. Widespread discrimination against Serbs and Roma people has made it difficult for them to return to areas in which they were in a minority. The rate of return decreased further in 2008 from an already low level, as IDPs waited to evaluate the approach of the Kosovo authorities towards Kosovo Serbs and other non-Albanian communities, and increased only slightly in 2009. Many reconstructed houses remain empty or are being sold as people do not dare to return.

National and international actors have developed projects to help minority communities, whether displaced or not, improve their living conditions, and to prevent further displacement. An increasing number of projects are offering permanent housing in the place of displacement.

Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

The report is available for download here.

Pristina, 6 April 2009 – Kosovo courts still face difficulties in addressing disputes over immovable property rights, in particular disputes over ownership of immovable property, according to an OSCE report released today. 

The report, Litigating Ownership of Immovable Rights, analyses the handling of ownership disputes in Kosovo courts over the last five years. It found that courts often give greater weight to the testimony of interested parties than to documentary evidence; that they fail to cite legal provisions supporting their decisions and that they appoint temporary representatives for absent respondents without following proper procedures.

“Courts are essential to ensure that people do not lose their property without proper court processes. Property owners need to know that their rights are secured and that their property disputes are processed in a fair way,” said Markku Laamanen, Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo.

“Proper adjudication of disputes over immovable property is important because it enforces the rule of law, it promotes human rights and it enables the return of displaced persons. In Kosovo as anywhere, the effective protection of property rights is essential for economic development.”

The report, based on the OSCE Mission’s monitoring of courts, found that the legal framework covering immovable property rights is complex, often unclearly drafted and scattered throughout a variety of instruments, negatively affecting the courts’ ability to fairly and efficiently process property disputes.

The report includes recommendations to the responsible authorities on how the process could be improved. It forms part of the OSCE Mission’s efforts to support the development of a functioning and more effective justice system.

The report is available here (in English/in Serbian).

Source: OSCE

Strasbourg, 11 March 2009 – The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, published a report on his visit to Serbia.

Extracts on Roma, refugees and IDPs

Serbia does not yet have a general anti-discrimination law covering all forms of discrimination, jeopardizing the effective protection of minorities and vulnerable groups. The situation of the Roma population in Serbia is precarious. They constitute the most discriminated and marginalised minority in the country suffering from social exclusion and often enduring inhumane living conditions. Many Roma, especially refugees and displaced persons, lack personal identity documents which hinders their access to basic human rights, and increases their susceptibility to statelessness.

145. Roma children in Serbia suffer from a combination of poverty, discrimination and social exclusion. Many Roma children are living in difficult or very difficult living conditions without appropriate access to adequate health, safety and security conditions. The rate of infant mortality is also higher among Roma. Many Roma children do not attend school, are placed in special schools or drop out early. An increased focus should be placed on mainstreaming early education for Roma children in order to begin to normalise a routine of regular school attendance.

150. Social, material or administrative obstacles to education exist for many children, especially children suffering from poverty and social exclusion, such as Roma, refugee children and children with disabilities (particularly mental and intellectual disabilities).

151. Only 3.9% of Roma children and 1% of children with disabilities have access to pre-schooling. 84% of IDP children and 98% of Roma IDP children are not included in any form of pre-school education. According to UNICEF, the majority of children with disabilities do not have access to education, with only 1% integrated into mainstream schooling and approximately 15% attending special schools. Very few disabled children have the opportunity to receive a full cycle of primary and secondary education.

152. Segregation of Roma students from others is still practised and must be actively avoided. According to UNICEF, over half of the pupils in special schools are from the Roma population. Attendance and full integration of all Roma students into mainstream schooling should be the goal, and the Commissioner would urge the authorities to take all feasible measures to realise this goal.

153. During the delegation’s visit to the Salvatore Roma Refugee camp in South Serbia, it was noted that the authorities make limited efforts to ensure that Roma are aware of enrolment requirements for school. Furthermore, there was a feeling that at the local level, schools did not actively seek to inform socially excluded Roma.

156. The human rights situation of national minorities is largely dependent on the economic context, and the region, in which the minorities live. Minority rights in the province of Vojvodina, for example, are comparatively better protected than in other parts of the country. The Roma community remain the most disadvantaged minority group in Serbia, and their position is precarious vis-à-vis the rest of the Serbian population in terms of all social indicators – education, health, housing and employment.

165. The South Serbia municipalities of Preševo, Bujanovac and Medvedja are inhabited by 90% of the ethnic Albanians in Serbia. The regions are comprised of largely Albanian, Serbian and Roma ethnic groups. Relations between the ethnic groups are largely stable and improving throughout the three municipalities, with the exception of the Roma who continue to be marginalised.

167. The situation of the Roma population in Serbia is very precarious. They are subjected to prejudice, systematic discrimination, marginalization and exclusion. Negative stereotyping by the majority of the population, often due to insufficient knowledge about their history, culture and tradition and a lack of personal contact with Roma, perpetuates a cycle of discrimination.

168. According to the 2002 census, 108 193 persons identify themselves as Roma, or approximately 1.44% of the total population, although the actual number is deemed to be much higher. According to some studies there are 247 591 Roma in Serbia, while Roma leaders claim that there are between 400 000 to 800 000 Roma, or up to 10% of Serbian population. The reason for the lack of clarity may be that in many cases the Roma identify themselves as Serbs rather than Roma.

169. In 2008, Serbia took over the Presidency of the Roma Decade until 30 June 2009. There had been rather limited investment in the Roma cause nationally until then. In discussions with the executive, the Commissioner was encouraged by their openness to accept that the problems facing Roma remain one of the great challenges in Serbian society. The Commissioner was encouraged by the notification from the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Božidar Đelić, in November 2008 that over 1 billion dinars would be allocated for the improvement of the position of Roma in Serbia in 2009. The Commissioner hopes that these funds will be managed and utilised in a targeted manner based on the most pressing concerns.

170. There are approximately 600 Roma settlements in Serbia, with the largest concentration of Roma in southern and central Serbia. Large numbers live in informal or unofficial settlements with intolerable living conditions, which lack basic utilities and services. Access to education and healthcare are severely restricted for most. As a result, women and children are the most vulnerable and at-risk minority sub-group. According to information provided by the Ministry of Health, funds have been made available to the Institutes of Public Health to carry out projects aimed to assess the hygienic and epidemiological status of Roma settlements in eight cities in Serbia. As a result, a set of measures have been proposed to the Ministry of Health and local self-governments for improving the living conditions of Roma settlements. In 2009, the same analysis will be conducted in three new cities and will be continued in two.

171. The Commissioner visited one Roma settlement just minutes away from Belgrade’s newest shopping mall. Apparently, there are 150 such settlements in Belgrade alone. The settlement was located on a plot of land adjacent to a large office-building site. Approximately 200 families lived in makeshift shelters with cardboard roofs. These Roma were internally displaced persons from Kosovo. They had left everything behind and the majority have lost relatives. There was neither electricity nor running water. In the summer, the living conditions are truly appalling, because of the lack of water and terrible heat. In the winter, the inhabitants suffer from the cold and rain, lacking even blankets. The Commissioner was told that the settlement was a breeding ground for infectious diseases. None of the children who live in the settlement went to school and this had been the case for the 8 years during which they had lived there. For the most part, they were all unemployed, except for a few who earned a small amount by collecting cardboard or scraping.

172. The representatives in the settlement told the Commissioner that they could not meet with any local or municipal representative to discuss their living conditions, as no door was open for them. They would like the local authorities at least to supply them with water once a week. Apparently, the Commissioner was the first official person to visit their settlement.

173. Some of the Roma on the settlement had identification papers. Others were without a single document. The majority of the children were unregistered and had not received any vaccinations or immunizations. The conditions in the settlement were truly appalling and were some of the worst that the Commissioner has seen during his various visits to Council of Europe member states.

174. In response to the problem of identification papers, the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights has launched an initiative for a new law on Legal Subjectivity. The aim of the law is to resolve the problem of those persons who have not been registered at birth and as a result are not legally recognised. A draft law has been prepared and a number of round tables have been organised to discuss the text, in co-operation with international partners, one NGO, and in the presence of all relevant government representatives. In 2009, the National Council of the Roma Ethnic Minority will conduct a project “Become a citizen” to support the issuance of personal documents, such as health cards.

175. There is strong public opinion against relocating Roma. One specific problem is that when the Serbian authorities propose that the Roma will be re-located to appropriate housing, local populations protest and refuse to agree to a Roma population moving in as their neighbours. The government cite this as a reason for their inactivity. The Commissioner recommends that the Serbian authorities make concerted efforts to sensitive local populations to the needs and rights of the Roma population who live side by side them.

176. Discrimination has become so common for most Roma that they themselves have a lower threshold of defining discrimination, and put up with more intolerant attitudes than other groups in Serbian society. It appears that very few cases of discrimination or intolerance towards Roma are brought to the notice of the authorities. Indeed, at times, high-ranking public officials, including Mayors, have spoken about Roma in a discriminatory way. The authorities must be vigilant towards such unacceptable intolerance, and political leaders must assume responsibility to promote tolerance, inclusion and cultural diversity within the communities they serve.

177. 62% of Roma children have either dropped out or not attended school at all. Many have not enrolled owing to financial limitations and a lack of the necessary documents such as birth certificates and proof of residence. Only 9.6% of Roma have completed post-primary education. Roma children without any learning disabilities are also overrepresented in schools for children with special needs and mental health problems, often because of their insufficient knowledge of the Serbian language. The Commissioner has been made aware that on occasion there have been financial incentives encouraging Roma parents to enrol their children in such schools.

178. Roma education is a priority in the Strategy for Education (2005-2010) and while the Ministry of Education have pushed forward a number of positive projects within the confines of extremely limited funding, much remains to be done. An expansion of pre-school education and active encouragement of Roma to remain in primary and secondary schooling should be enhanced by the authorities. In addition, further training is needed for all teaching and other staff who engages with Roma.

179. Although the National Strategy for Employment (2005-2010) and the National Action Plan for Employment (2006-2008) have programmes specifically for Roma, the unemployment rate in the community is very high and few have full-time jobs. When they do, these jobs are frequently in low-skilled sectors. Roma who live in unregistered settlements find it difficult to register with the National Employment Service in their local area. Societal discrimination further compromises employment perspectives while a lack of formal education is also a predominant barrier to gaining full employment. The Commissioner stresses the need to ensure positive measures are taken to increase the employment of Roma.

180. The Serbian Government has made efforts to address the economic and social situation of Roma in recent years, particularly in terms of access to healthcare. According to the Law on Health Insurance, the right to health care is provided for persons from vulnerable population groups, which include the Roma. Thus, for these persons the State budget covers the contributions for the compulsory health insurance scheme. In 2009, the Ministry of Health will educate health professionals in order to increase their understanding of the needs of the Roma population and to improve communication with vulnerable groups.

181. In January 2005, an action plan for Roma Health was adopted within the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 – 2015 and given a budget line for its implementation. Aiming to improve the health and health care of the Roma, the Ministry of Health encouraged project proposals from health institutions in co-operation with Roma NGOs. As a result in 2007 and 2008 113 projects were implemented covering 17 345 Roma. In addition, 31 projects will be conducted in 2009. Furthermore, in 2009, the Ministry of Health will finance four projects with the aim of educating and providing health care for Roma working with waste materials.

182. The Ministry of Health also informed the Commissioner of 15 Roma mediators who have been appointed as the interface between Roma and the Ministry – engaging directly with the Roma community on a local level. These mediators were appointed in line with the Roma Decade and the National Action Plan on healthcare protection, within the Ministry of Health’s Programme for the Health Advancement of Special Population Groups. This initiative is something, which the Ministry has found to be successful and intend to develop further. The Commissioner would recommend that local authorities become more actively involved in this process.

183. On a regional level, some positive developments must be noted. A Roma Inclusion Office with a dedicated budget was set up in Vojvodina in 2005. It carried out three studies on the situation of the Roma in the province, in the areas of housing and the position of teachers from the Roma community. Although understaffed, the office represents a strong commitment to inclusion of Roma in that region. The office was also involved in the framing of the Strategy for improving the situation of Roma and works closely with the regional ombudsman. Also on a local level, international organisations such as the ICRC, the OSCE and the United Nations teams are implementing numerous awareness-raising projects throughout the country. The Commissioner encourages the government and local actors to work together with international and non-governmental organisations in the delivery of these projects.

Rights of Roma (Recommendations)

24. Adopt proactive measures to provide opportunities for Roma, Refugees and disabled children to access mainstream education.

25. Take immediate action to resolve the precarious living conditions of the Roma, particularly displaced Roma, and those living in informal settlements.

26. Implement and expand programmes to ensure that Roma have access to education, healthcare and employment. Capitalise on Serbia’s presidency of the Decade of Roma Inclusion. Actively cooperate with Roma civil society organisations.

27. Support and facilitate birth and citizenship registration of both domicile and displaced Roma from Kosovo, in order to minimise the risk of statelessness.

XIII. Concerns of Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Asylum Seekers

184. During the periods of conflict in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), Serbia faced a serious refugee crisis, and responded by receiving huge numbers of refugees and displaced persons. The financial cost of responding to these refugees has been huge for the government. During the 1996 Census of Refugees and War Affected Persons, 538 000 refugees and 72 000 war affected persons were registered. The number of refugees decreased to 346 000 in 2001 and 104 246 in 2004/5. In 2008, approximately 210 000 IDPs were registered in Serbia.

185. The UNHCR has identified three major groups of persons who remain vulnerable in Serbia: refugees who came because of the disintegration of the former SFRY, asylum-seekers and mandate refugees from outside of the former SFRY and IDPs from Kosovo.

13.1. Legislative framework

186. Article 57 of the Constitution establishes the right of asylum for anyone outside the country of their nationality with a reasonable fear of persecution based on race, religion, and nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. While a Law on Refugees was adopted by Serbia in 1992, the Parliament adopted an Asylum Law44 in November 2007, which marked a turning point in the fulfilment of international obligations in the area of refugee protection. The adoption of national legislation consistent with international norms and standards represents one of the accession commitments the country made to the Council of Europe and the process of association with the EU.

187. The Commissariat for Refugees is the main governmental institution concerned with refugee and IDP issues and there are two national strategies, the National Strategy for resolving issues of Refugees and IDPs of 2002 and the Poverty Reduction Strategy of 2003. In principle, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is in charge of ensuring the integration of IDPs, refugees and others into Serbian society in appropriate cases.

13.2. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

 188. A large number of persons were displaced from Kosovo during and after the conflict in the late 1990s. More than 75% of the IDPs in Serbia are of Serbian ethnicity, followed by Roma and more than 10 other ethnicities. 55% of the registered IDPs from Kosovo have settled in the southern part of Serbia and have not returned.

189. IDPs have three possible durable solutions to their situation and status in Serbia, namely to return to their homes in their place of origin, to return elsewhere in Kosovo, or to integrate into their place of displacement. There is a need for a renewed effort by all stakeholders to enable those who wish to return to do so as soon as possible, recognising repatriation as the most satisfactory solution, and to facilitate integration for those unable or unwilling to return. According to the Commissariat for Refugees, the most vulnerable IDPs are provided with temporary accommodation in collective centres. They can also access special employment programs of the National Employment Service but the reintegration into the job market is very difficult with a general unemployment rate of some 30%.

190. The most vulnerable of the displaced population are the Roma IDPs, who are in a more precarious position than domestic Roma. Large numbers of Roma IDPs are living in terrible conditions, often in unregistered settlements without appropriate access to the most basic services, and suffering from intolerance and discrimination by the local community. The Commissioner’s delegation visited one such camp – Salvatore – in South Serbia. At the time of visit, the camp – originally designed to host 250 persons – housed more than 700 persons with no more than 222 persons holding identification and civil registration documents.

191. The IDP Living Standard Measurement Study (LSMS) conducted in 2007 has established that almost 30% of Roma IDPs lack identification documents, hindering their access to rights. This has the effect of creating situations of de facto statelessness. According to the authorities, IDPs are able to exercise their right to register because of Article 1 of the Law amending the Law on Registers. A procedure of re-registration of births, marriages or deaths was introduced in 1999 and is still on going. Accordingly, all those who had not been entered in the birth register were entitled to subsequent registration (although the deadline provided by the law has already expired). A draft law on Registers, which provides for the recording of the fact of birth in the birth register, is currently in the parliamentary process.

192. The Commissioner urges the Serbian authorities to simplify administrative procedures to obtain civil registration documents, as well as to adopt measures to provide free legal assistance to IDPs.

193. Although almost a decade has passed since the end of the Kosovo conflict, the situation of IDPs in Serbia continues to deteriorate, as they remain stuck between an uncertain future in Kosovo and considerable obstacles to integrate into Serbian society. Kosovo’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence also appears to have stalled progress on this issue. The Commissioner calls upon the authorities to identify an inter-ministerial coordination body, which will assume responsibility to address IDP issues in a coordinated and effective fashion. The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights would appear to be the most suitable candidate

212. Romani children and children from poor rural communities are most vulnerable for the purpose of coercion into street begging, labour exploitation or to be lured into theft rings.

The full report is available here.

This 2008 Status Report on fulfilling the commitments made in the Action Plan is published by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

From the report:

“A number of challenges and concerns regarding RAE in Kosovo persist, including security and freedom of movement for minorities, discrimination in obtaining identification documents, and denial of access to remedies for violent crimes committed against RAE communities.

Furthermore, RAE face racially motivated violence and threats of further violence and systemic and pervasive racial discrimination. RAE communities in Kosovo live in substandard conditions. IDPs and refugees, especially the elderly, women, and children, are particularly vulnerable in Serbia, as well as in other countries such as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, and they continue to experience severe problems linked to their unclear civil status, as well as the lack of adequate housing, education, and employment. International organizations play an important role in providing support and protection, as well as in raising awareness of the issues faced by these communities.

Kosovo’s political, social, and economic stability has not yet improved, and limited results can be expected in the short and medium term. The economy is growing at a rate of 2 per cent per year, while its population is growing by an estimated 3.5 per cent annually. There has also been a decrease in available employment opportunities, with far more job-seekers entering the employment market every year compared to the number of jobs created. Political instability is also preventing private investment from taking place in the foreseeable future.

About 15 per cent of the population of Kosovo is estimated to be extremely poor, defined as individuals who have difficulty meeting their basic nutritional needs (with daily incomes under $1). About 45 per cent report a consumption level below the poverty line (under $2 a day). These poverty rates are very high compared to neighbouring countries, and, unlike many countries in the region, they have not improved over time (in fact, poverty rates have gotten worse since the last measurement, which indicates that about 12 per cent of the population are extremely poor). Given these conditions, the prospect for improving the situation of RAE communities is precarious.

The Roma communities living in enclaves rely principally on parallel administrative structures for public services in the areas of health, education, and social assistance. These structures are funded by the Serbian government in municipalities where there is a significant Serb presence. School attendance by Roma children continues to be poor A majority of the RAE have been residing in informal settlements. Problems relating to the restoration of property rights are particularly acute for the RAE community, as many of the deeds to the properties where they lived prior to the conflict were not formalized.

In Kosovo, the RAE IDP community, as with other ethnic minorities, continues to feel insecure. Confidence in law-enforcement authorities, both international and local, remains low. As described in the last UNHCR position paper on the protection needs of people from Kosovo, the RAE, and especially those of Roma ethnic origin, continue to fear discrimination and revenge, as well as limitations on freedom of movement, including access to economic and social services.

The pace of returning property to RAE and rebuilding their mahalas has been slow and is being carried out on a small scale. The voluntary return of Roma to Kosovo is closely related to the resolution of property disputes.  The relocation of several hundred RAE IDPs to the Osterode camp (from lead-contaminated camps in northern Mitrovica) remains unresolved after more that seven years of living in camp conditions.

The difficult issues of the return of RAE refugees or forced returnees from Western countries remain unresolved. Many RAE from Kosovo, who have temporary protection status in other states, live in anxiety because of their uncertain future. Overall, the return process stagnated in 2007, with roughly the same number of returnees as in 2006.

Spontaneous returns decreased slightly, while organized returns saw a rise. The return trend in the first quarter of 2008 was below expectations (28 Roma and 55 Ashkali and Egyptians).”

24 September 2008

The full report is available here.

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