Amnesty International Fights Forced Evictions of Roma in Belgrade

Photo: Roma Lady in SerbiaHuman rights organisation Amnesty International has mobilised its three million plus members in the struggle to protect Roma communities in Belgrade. On November 23rd 2011, Amnesty e-mailed an urgent action to its activists asking them to contact Milan Markovic, Serbia's Minister for Human and Minority Rights. They are seeking a halt to a series of evictions, illegal under international law, from traveller sites around the capital. If unsuccessful, twenty-seven families will be made homeless, as winter approaches.

A previous campaign resulted in over 20,000 letters, postcards, telegrams and telephone calls to the deputy prime minister, but there was no response.

Why is Amnesty International Opposing the Forced Evictions of Serbian Roma?

In their background information, Amnesty have stated that the evictions are illegal, targeted and inhumane. On November 1st 2011, the gypsy community in Belgrade's Block 61 were given just 48 hours to vacate their camp. Most had lived there for over ten years, after fleeing from Kosovo during the war. They were told that the land was needed, as the government had approved a project for settled housing upon the site.

The Roma families were not part of the consultation process, nor were they offered alternative accommodation. They were in Block 61 because there was nowhere left to go and no other sites on offer. Two similar eviction notices had already been served during the previous month. It would render them without shelter on the streets of the capital city.

The Block 61 Roma Evictions are Illegal Under International Human Rights Law

As Serbia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the evictions are illegal. General Comment 7 states 'evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, said, "Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Serbian government to introduce a law prohibiting forced evictions. We are very concerned that the government, instead of preventing evictions, now appears to be complicit in their conduct."

Worst still, the Serbian government have not been respecting the rights of these Roma under another provision. They are mostly refugees from Kosovo and therefore should have received assistance under UN regulations.

IDP Gypsies Fled Murder and Arson as Kosovo Refugees

Many of the Roma, facing illegal eviction in Serbia, have been recognised as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) by the government. These were individuals who were forced to flee Kosovo, between 1996-2000, following the withdrawal of the Serbs from that country.

In the war-torn Kosovo of the early '90s, travellers had struggled to survive in their traditional employments of crafts, construction and selling recycled products. They had been forced to seek government food parcels, which aligned them firmly with the ruling Serbs, in the common perception of ordinary Kosovos.

Once Serbia was driven back out of Kosovo, the Roma communities quickly followed. Albanian retribution against the travellers had been swift and brutal. A traveller, known only as KK, told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, that he had fled after being beaten up and hearing threats that his daughter would be kidnapped. His home had also been burnt to the ground. Roma such as KK faced an arduous and dangerous trek into the relative safety of Serbia. His mother refused to go with him.

"An acquaintance told me that Albanians had driven through our neighbourhood shouting that we gypsies had to leave because we support Milosevic. Then they went inside my mother's house, they slit her throat and threw her body in the well of our neighbour Aisa Kamberi."

United Nations Guidelines on Internally Displaced Persons

Inside Serbia, the Roma Kosovo refugees joined their Serbian counterparts on their settlements. They were given IDP status, but received none of the protections nor benefits for which this should have entitled them.

The United Nations agreed on its Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in 1998. Serbia is amongst those nations which signed the document, thus is bound by its principles. This includes providing housing, food, water, sanitation and medical services to those people recognised as IDPs. The Roma communities facing eviction have not received any of this during the past decade. Now they face the provision that they made for themselves being stripped away too.

United Nations Representative Condemns Serbian Treatment of Roma Communities

In 2009, Walter Klin, the UN Secretary-Generals Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, launched a scathing criticism of Serbia's treatment of its gypsy communities. He highlighted the fact that the Roma could not access schools; nor could they claim housing, social or health care benefits, as they lacked an address. But his greatest alarm was voiced over their settlements.

"These people live in the immediate vicinity of toxic waste that poisons their blood with lead. This is a humanitarian emergency and a very serious human rights issue. The lives and health of these sick children must not be abused for political purposes.

This report, like the Amnesty International calls, was ignored.

The Future for the Serbian Roma and Gypsy People

Unless human rights activists are successful in opposing this latest round of evictions, then one more traveller community will be homeless in Serbia. Yet even if they manage to achieve a stay of eviction, their plight continues to be desperate.

As long as the government of Boris Tadic is allowed to continue ignoring its legal obligations, then the persecution program against the gypsies will go on. In many ways, it is a subtle alignment with the position of the wartime Ustae policies. Thousands more gypsies were executed in Yugoslavia, during the Porajmos, than in Nazi Germany. Those which face an uncertain future in Serbia and Kosovo are the children and grandchildren of the survivors.

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