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Montenegro: Progress on situation of Roma and fighting hate crimes

September 19th 2017

A new 2012-2017 report on Montenegro published by the Council of Europe’s Anti-racism Commission commends the authorities for strengthening protection against hate crimes, empowering the Ombudsman and improving the situation of Roma. Yet, LGBT persons are still targets of violence, Roma remain at risk of social exclusion and segregation, and no reliable data on hate crimes exists.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said that Montenegro, in general, is a good example of multi-ethnic tolerance and speech, despite occasional intolerant statements by politicians, media and clergy. ECRI welcomed the introduction into legislation of a new provision making racist and homo/transphobic motivation an aggravating circumstance, and banning racial discrimination and hate speech in law. The Ombudsman has been empowered to investigate complaints as well as to initiate and participate in court proceedings.

The ECRI report stresses that a late birth registration procedure regulating the legal status of internally displaced Roma lacking personal documents has been introduced. More than half of Roma children attend primary school; pupils receive school supplies, books and financial assistance for transport and meals. Alternative housing has been provided to residents of the Konik camp which is now being closed down, in line with ECRI’s previous recommendation.

However, despite the progress achieved, some issues still give rise to concern.

There is no reliable data on hate speech and hate-motivated violence. New anti-hate crime legislation is rarely applied due to the lack of expertise among the law enforcement and the judiciary.

While a certain progress in the respect for LGBT rights and the acceptance of LGBT persons has been made, they are still the most common target of hate speech and violence, including from high-level church leaders.

The national Roma strategies have not been fully implemented. Roma remain at risk of social exclusion and segregation. Data suggests that their access to employment is alarmingly low and the school drop-out rates are still high.

ECRI gives a number of recommendations to the Montenegrin authorities, including the following two which should be implemented as a matter of priority and will be followed up within two years: setting up a comprehensive data collection system for racist and homo/transphobic hate speech and violence incidents; and institutionalising and increasing the number of Roma mediators/assistants at pre-school and primary school level to ensure Roma children attendance and decrease the drop-out risk.

Effectiveness of the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms

The Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms (Ombudsman) has been empowered to investigate complaints as well as to initiate and participate in court proceedings.
The Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms (Ombudsman), which was set up in 2003, is an autonomous administrative body; it is independent and cannot be instructed in the performance of its duties; and its budget constitutes a separate title within the state budget. In its first report, ECRI recommended that the authorities give the Ombudsman investigative powers or the specific right to initiate, and participate in, court proceedings, in line with GPR No.7. Following legislative amendments in 2014, the competences of the Ombudsman were expanded to include, inter alia, investigating complaints, giving opinions and recommendations on concrete cases of discrimination, providing advice to plaintiffs and initiating court cases or appearing as intervener. ECRI is pleased to note that the powers of the Ombudsman are now in line with its GRP No. 2 on specialised bodies to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance at national level and § 24 of its GPR No. 7.

ECRI recommends that the authorities further strengthen the capacity of the Ombudsman to carry out its antidiscrimination mandate effectively. This should include, inter alia, freedom to appoint its own staff and sufficient funding to provide for additional human resources and to promote awareness-raising, including conduct of research and field activities.

ECRI recommends that the authorities amend the legislation concerning the election and dismissal of the Ombudsman to further strengthen its independence and to ensure public confidence in the institution.

The report was prepared following ECRI’s visit to Montenegro in October 2016 and takes account of developments up to 23 March 2017, except where expressly indicated.

For more, visit the ECRI website