Human Rights Watch: Attacks on journalists still a problem in the Western Balkans

Media; Photo: European Union

NEW YORK – There was little improvement in human rights protection in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2019, while tensions between Serbs and Albanians are still high in Kosovo, recently published Human Rights Watch annual report found.

War crimes prosecutions in domestic courts were listed as one of the main problems for Serbia, which also has a flawed asylum system, with low recognition rates.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the state fails in practice to protect women from gender-based violence or hold most of those responsible for it to account, the report highlights. A decade after provisions in the constitution were ruled discriminatory by a human rights court, they have yet to be changed.

Particular emphasis was put on Belgrade-Pristina dialogue which remains stalled in November 2018 after Serbia blocked Kosovo from joining Interpol, followed by the introduction of tariffs.

Tensions between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians continued, particularly in the north. Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian communities continued to face discrimination, the Report finds.

Journalists continue to face attacks and threats

Pro-government media outlets in Serbia frequently smear independent outlets and journalists, describing them as “traitors” and “foreign mercenaries.” Media plurality was compromised by majority of media being aligned with the ruling party, Human Rights Watch emphasised.

Between January and late July, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) registered 27 incidents of violence, threats, or intimidation against journalists, including eight physical attacks and 19 threats. Serbia dropped from 76th to 90th place on the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index list out of 180 countries.

Threats and attacks against journalists continued in Kosovo as well, while investigations and prosecutions were slow. Threats on social media platforms remained a widespread problem. Between January and September, the Association of Journalists of Kosovo registered 11 cases of threats and violence against journalists and media outlets, including four physical attacks and seven threats. Police were investigating four of the reported cases at time of writing.

Journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as those in Serbia, continued to face interference with their work. As of August 2019, the BiH journalists’ association BH Novinari recorded 41 violations of journalists’ rights, including three verbal threats, eight instances of political pressure, six physical assaults, and five death threats. Most of the cases were reported to police and at time of writing 15 were with the relevant prosecutor’s office. Although the number of solved cases has not significantly increased, BH Novinari reported police were more engaged and proactive with cases than in the past, and that other relevant state institutions communicated better regarding attacks on journalists.