The U.S. State Department’s Annual Report on Human Rights in Serbia claimed that “discrimination and societal violence against members of minority groups, especially Roma” remain the most critical human rights issues in the country.
The report, which the U.S. Department of State issues on an annual basis since the 1970s by congressional mandate, was released on March 3. The study monitors and assesses human rights practice in Serbia as well as across the world for 2016.
The report also highlighted that Serbia’s “inefficient judicial system”, characterized by “lengthy and delayed trials,” “long periods of pretrial detention”, and often inadequate and severely overcrowded prisons and detention centers “adversely affected citizens’ access to justice.”
“Corruption existed in health care, education, and multiple branches of government, including the police”, the report said.
Although “the government took steps to prosecute officials […] following public exposure of abuses”, many cases of corruption and violence continue to go “unreported and unpunished”, the report added.
High levels of family violence and discrimination of ethnic minorities
According to 2011 census figures, minorities make up 17 percent of Serbia’s population, with ethnic Hungarians and Roma as the largest minority groups.
The report pointed out that “a climate of hostility toward members of national and ethnic minorities” persists in the country and generally entails “discrimination with respect to employment and occupation”.
The study noted that “independent observers and NGOs stated that Roma continued to be subject to the greatest discrimination of any ethnic minority in the country.”
The informal settlements in which many Roma live block the access of the Romani communities to basic state services, “such as water, sewage facilities, access to medical care, and schools.”
Moreover, “societal and domestic violence against women, child abuse, and discrimination and abuse of persons with disabilities occurred” in 2016, the report claimed. In particular, high levels of domestic violence remain a major cause for concern in the country.
In November 2016 the Serbian Parliament passed new legislation that reinforces protective measures against family violence that is scheduled to be implemented in June 2017. Similarly, “the government took some steps to counter violence and discrimination against minorities” especially in the field of education, the report added.
Freedom of speech and press at risk
“A lack of transparency of media ownership, continuing government involvement in media ownership, and threats and attacks on journalists” undermined constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and press, the report claimed.
“During the year some reporters and media organizations were the victims of vandalism, intimidation, and physical attacks,” and were exposed to direct pressure from the government.
In fact, the study stated, “there were reports that the government actively sought to direct media reporting on a number of issues.”
The significant percentage of the press’ overall advertising revenue financed through state-controlled funds gave “the state correspondingly strong leverage over media outlets,” it said.
Reports of biased media coverage of the April 2016 parliamentary elections, which allegedly offered “an undue advantage for incumbents” and contributed to blur “the distinction between state and party activities”, were pointed out in the report as well.