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Serbia-Montenegro: Council Of Europe Sees Scant Progress

Prague, 17 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Council of Europe says Serbia and Montenegro has made "very little progress" in fulfilling the commitments it made on joining the human rights body earlier this year.

But the organization says it hopes its newest member will be able to fulfill most of those commitments over the next few months.

The findings come in the Council of Europe's second monitoring report on Serbia and Montenegro, made public in Strasbourg on 14 November.

Jean-Louis Laurens is the body's director of strategic planning. He said one of the few examples of progress was the adoption in August of a decree enabling conscientious objectors to opt for a civil alternative to military service.

"Except for the adoption of a decree on objectors of conscience, practically no concrete results have been achieved up to now. However, we very much hope that thanks to the renewed effort in cooperation, before the end of the first year of membership Serbia and Montenegro will have achieved most of the commitments undertaken in this period of the first 12 months," Laurens said.

The report lists several concerns in the areas of human rights, media, rule of law, and cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

It says authorities did not honor their promise to sign the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture this summer, and urges them to sign and ratify the document as soon as possible.

And it says authorities should take "specific measures" to address all alleged cases of torture or ill-treatment of detainees, especially in connection with the clampdown on organized crime following the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic earlier this year.

In the rule of law, the report cites as a positive step Serbia and Montenegro's ratification of a convention on money laundering.

But it says Serbia has made no substantial progress to strengthen the judiciary and ensure its independence.

And it says authorities need to make more progress in arresting war crimes suspects indicted by The Hague tribunal.

Laurens said the Council of Europe is hopeful Serbia and Montenegro will make progress before April, when it will mark one year in the organization. But he said Serbia's failed presidential election yesterday and parliamentary elections in December may make that harder.

"We are also conscious that the political situation both in Serbia and Montenegro at present and in the coming months might not be very profitable for launching major legislative and institutional reforms," he said. "It's quite clear that when you are in an electoral campaign it's difficult to introduce new legislation, it's difficult to ratify new conventions and treaties, which are required by the commitments undertaken by Serbia and Montenegro in joining the Council of Europe."

The Council of Europe issues its monitoring reports quarterly. (The report can be found at: Documents/Information_documents/ 2003/SGINF(2003)38E.asp#TopOfPage)