Nato strikes worsened YU human rights

BELGRADE, Apr 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) Human rights standards in Yugoslavia deteriorated during last year's NATO air strikes and have continued to decline, a Serbian watchdog group said on Friday.

"Our impression is that the situation is bad and worsening. Regulations that have been adopted are obviously contradictory to international law," Vojin Dimitrijevic, director of the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, told a news conference.

Vladan Joksimovic, the Center's legal expert, added that contradictory federal and republican regulations and lack of an independent judiciary had prevented any rule of law in Yugoslavia before as well as after the air war.

Yugoslavia declared a state of war on March 24, 1999 when NATO launched an 11-week bombing campaign to stop Belgrade's repression of majority ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Special measures were adopted by the Serbian nationalist authorities giving broader powers to the army and police and curbing individual rights, Dimitrijevic said, citing the Center's new report, "Human Rights in Yugoslavia 1999".

Some of the most serious abuses had occurred in Kosovo, where attempts to rule the province by police alone had aggravated violations of ethnic Albanians' human rights.

The report said over a million Kosovo Albanians were either expelled or displaced last year. Yugoslav authorities denied responsibility and blamed the exodus on NATO's bombing.

Dimitrijevic said that when the air strikes began, repression spread to Serbia itself, with changes in legislation allowing discrimination against opponents of the government.

"Serbia's constitution gives its president (during a state of war) the right to abolish almost all civic rights," said Joksimovic. In such times, police could confine for up to 60 days those seen as a security risk, conduct searches without a warrant and silence independent media.

The post-bombing period saw a reversal in Kosovo, with its remaining non-Albanian population - mainly Serbs - fleeing reprisals from Albanians repopulating the Yugoslav province.

Dimitrijevic said the international community bore part of the responsibility for the flight of some 200,000 Serbs, gypsies and other non-Albanians from Kosovo since mid-1999, when NATO peacekeepers and UN administrators took charge.

"When Kosovo was ... (made) an international protectorate, it became clear that the most prominent opponents (among the Albanians) to the Serb regime in the province actually wanted an ethnically cleansed Kosovo," Dimitrijevic said.

The report also dealt with violations of media freedom in Serbia, varying from police shutdowns of opposition and private radio and television stations to heavy fines imposed on independent newspapers under the strict information law.

Original article