Human Rights Watch/Helsinki condemns in the strongest terms the authoritarian and racist actions of the Serbian government and calls on the government of Slobodon Milosevic to:
On November 17 local elections were held throughout the Yugoslav republics of Serbia and Montenegro. Opposition parties were victorious in fourteen of the nineteen largest cities in Serbia. Following their victory, the central election commission declared that there had been "unspecified irregularities" in those areas where the ruling Socialist Party had lost.
Shortly thereafter, demonstrators took to the streets of Belgrade. Most recently, on December 4, an estimated 150,000 people protested the decision to annul the vote and called for the government's resignation. Especially students are peacefully expressing their dissatisfaction with the Serbian state.
From the beginning, the Serbian government took steps to prevent the public from finding out about the demonstrations. The state-run television and radio -- the main source of information for those outside of Belgrade -- gravely understated the degree of public discontent. Meanwhile, the government made deliberate efforts to silence independent media outlets.
On November 27, the Belgrade-based independent radio station B-92 had its transmission signal blocked four times during a news broadcast about the protest marches. From November 28 to December 2, B-92's transmission was blocked entirely from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.. Then, on December 3 at 3:00 p.m., both Radio B-92 and the student station Radio Index were taken off the air. B-92 then received a letter from the Ministry of Transportation and Communication saying the station was operating "illegally" because it did not possess a license, even though the station had been operating on that frequency for the past five years. On December 5, B-92 and Radio Index began to broadcast again. But the government continues to block other independent stations, like Radio Boom 93.
Radio B-92 has also reported that, on November 29, the Yugoslav Federal Inspector for Traffic and Communications banned five radio stations: Radio Ozon, Radio Soliter, Dzoker Radio, Radio 96 and Star FM. Some of the stations had broadcast news programs from Radio B-92. The station also reported that the authorities in Montenegro are threatening not to extend the frequency license of Antenna M, Montenegro's only independent radio station.
At the same time, the government has harassed the print media. On November 27 the state-owned Borba publishing house refused to print more than 70,000 copies of the daily Blic, which had printed 250,000 copies since the beginning of the demonstrations. Other independent newspapers and magazines are reporting government attempts to restrict their supply of newsprint.
Peaceful protesters have also been directly harassed by the government. On December 4, the Belgrade police arrested an estimated fifty demonstrators, both supporters of the political opposition and students. Although there were no reports of violence by the police, the government arrested and detained individuals who were peacefully expressing criticism of the state.
Lastly, outside of Serbia proper, the violence and discrimination against non-Serbs continues unabated. Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina and Muslims in Sanzak are the victims of varying degrees of persecution solely on the basis of their ethnicity. Forthcoming reports by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki will document the many abuses committed by the Serb authorities in these regions over the past two years.
In light of these abuses, the international community should maintain the outer wall of sanctions, which prohibits Yugoslavia's readmission into the major international institutions. Lifting the outer wall while human rights violations are taking place would demonstrate the international community's total disregard for the basic principles of international law, such as free elections, free expression and non-discriminatory treatment, as well as remove any leverage the international community has to improve the human rights record of Serbian President Slobodon Milosevic. In addition, the outer wall should not be lifted until the Serbian government cooperates fully with the War Crimes Tribunal on Former Yugoslavia and provides adequate treatment, as guaranteed by international law, to the estimated 700,000 refugees currently in Serbia.
For further information contact:
Fred Abrahams (212) 972-8400 ext. 273
Holly Cartner (212) 972-8400 ext. 219