Romani Community Threatened with Eviction by Serbian Authorities
28 August 2003
On August 28, 2003, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a letter to the Mayor of the Belgrade, Ms Radmila Hrustanovic, to express concern at recent threats of eviction of a longstanding Romani community from their homes in the informal Grmec settlement in the municipality of Zemun, a part of the Serbian capital. The full text of the ERRC letter follows:
Honourable Mayor Hrustanovic,
The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is concerned about the recent threat of eviction of a group of Roma from the informal Grmec settlement in the Municipality of Zemun within the Serbian capital Belgrade.
According to ERRC field research, conducted in partnership with the Belgrade-based non-governmental organisation Minority Rights Center (MRC), Romani residents of the Grmec settlement were informed by municipal authorities that they would be evicted from their thirty-four homes on August 19, 2003 and that their homes would be demolished at a later date. The affected Roma, most of whom live in solid houses and pay for utilities, reported that they have not been offered alternative accommodation, though they had requested it. Mr Vladan Janicijevic, the mayor of the Municipality of Zemun, was quoted by Belgrade-based radio station B92 on August 17, 2003, as having stated that some of the Roma whose homes were to be destroyed have lived in the settlement for more than twenty years. ERRC/MRC research found that some residents have lived in the Grmec settlement for as many as thirty years. Residents of the Grmec settlement told the ERRC/MRC that earlier, they entered sublet contracts with the lessor of the property. Municipal officials now claim that these contracts are invalid, as the person who leased the property to the group did not have the authority to sublet the property and, in any case, the land on which the settlement is located is now zoned only for industrial purposes. B92 reported on August 20 that, in 1995, the Roma from Grmec applied to legalise their houses, but never received a reply. According to ERRC/MRC research, several other non-Romani communities also live in settlements on land zoned for industrial use, but they have not been threatened with eviction. B92 quoted Mr Severdzan Alijevic, a representative of the Roma Congress Party, who stated that a representative of the Directorate for City Land informed the Romani inhabitants that the local government had sold the land on which their settlement is located to foreign investors.
On August 15, approximately one hundred Roma protested against their ensuing forcible eviction in front of Belgrade's Federation Palace; on August 16 and 17, several dozen Roma continued to protest. According to B92 of August 18, Belgrade Deputy Mayor Ljubomir Andjelkovic stated that the Roma were protesting the demolition of houses built without legal permission. When asked to comment on the groups request for alternative accommodation, Deputy Mayor Andjelkovic was quoted as having said, "When people embark upon illegal building construction, they run a high risk of some consequences. One of the consequences is the removal of such buildings. They have no right to request compensation for something that legally does not exist. They have no right to put demands before the city and the republic [...]."
B92 also reported that Mr Rasim Ljajic, Minister for Human and Minority Rights of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro, agreed to delay the demolition of the Romani homes by at least one week on August 18. However, Romani residents informed the ERRC/MRC that on August 19, a man dressed in police uniform entered the settlement and threatened, "I'm going to kill all you Gypsies". On August 20, Minister Ljajic visited the settlement and confirmed that the settlement would not be demolished until the entire case had been investigated in detail, according to B92 of August 21. During a visit on August 22, 2003, representatives of the municipal office in Zemun were unable to explicitly state to the ERRC/MRC who holds legal title to the land on which the Grmec settlement is located, and did not give an exact date for the pending eviction.
Mayor Hrustanovic, the threatened evictions, should they be carried out, violate a number of international laws to which Serbia and Montenegro is a party. Most notably, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), states, at Article 11(1), "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right [...]." Further, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which monitors States' compliance with the ICESCR, has stated in its General Comment 4, "Notwithstanding the type of tenure, all persons should possess a degree of security of tenure which guarantees legal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats. States parties should consequently take immediate measures aimed at conferring legal security of tenure upon those persons and households currently lacking such protection, in genuine consultation with affected persons and groups". The CESCR also stated, "instances of forced eviction are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant and can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances [...]."
The ERRC is alarmed by the threatened forcible eviction of Roma from the Grmec settlement who have lived on the land for several decades. The Roma in question have demonstrable ties to the land and community and the ERRC is concerned that the decision to evict the residents may be infected with racial animus. Moreover, the municipal authorities have refused the group's request for alternative accommodation. The ERRC respectfully requests that you take all necessary measures to stop the forcible eviction of Roma from the Grmec settlement and to ensure legal security of tenure to all individuals there currently facing forcible eviction. The ERRC is also concerned by the report of threats of extreme violence against this group and ask you to take steps to ensure the safety of this group. We urge your office to ensure that the police investigate this incident and that appropriate action is taken against the perpetrator. We kindly ask to be informed of all actions undertaken by your office.
Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:
Ms Radmila Hrustanovic, Mayor of Belgrade
Dragoslava Jovanovica 2
Serbia and Montenegro