Longstanding Romani Residents Threatened with Eviction in Serbia and Montenegro
07 February 2004
According to ERRC field research, conducted in partnership with the Minority Rights Center (MRC), Romani residents of the Grmeč settlement in the Municipality of Zemun were informed by municipal authorities that they would be evicted from their 34 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 had not been offered alternative accommodation, though they had requested it. Mr Vladan Janicijević, president 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 are to be destroyed have lived in the settlement for more than 20 years. ERRC/MRC research found that some residents have lived in the Grmeč settlement for as many as thirty years. Residents of the Grmeč settlement told the ERRC/MRC that, earlier, they had entered lease contracts for their homes 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.
On August 15, 2003, approximately 100 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, 2003, Belgrade Deputy Mayor Ljubomir Andjelković stated that the Roma were protesting the demolition of houses built without legal permission. When asked to comment on the group's request for alternative accommodation, Deputy Mayor Andjelković 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 Minorities Minister Rasim Ljajić agreed to delay demolition of the Romani homes by at least a week on August 18, 2003. However, Romani residents informed the ERRC/MRC, on August 19, 2003, a man dressed in police uniform entered the settlement and said, "I'm going to kill all you Gypsies directly."
B92 reported on August 20, 2003, that, in 1995, the Roma from Grmeč 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 Severdžan Alijević, 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 20, 2003, Minorities Minister Ljajić visited the settlement and confirmed that the settlement would not be demolished until the case had been investigated in detail, according to B92 of August 21, 2003. During a visit on August 22, 2003, representatives of the municipal office in Zemun were unable to explicitly state to the ERRC/MRC who held legal title to the land on which the Grmeč settlement is located, and they did not give an exact date for the pending eviction. As of December 15, 2003, the eviction had not yet taken place and the future remained uncertain for the Romani residents.
Earlier, on July 29, 2003, the six-member Romani family of Mr Tahir Demirović was evicted from the apartment they had occupied since 1992, according a press release of the Belgrade-based non-governmental organisation Humanitarian Law Center (HLC), dated September 12, 2003. The eviction rendered the family, with children ranging in age from two-months to 13-years-old, homeless. The Demirović family had reportedly illegally occupied rooms in an apartment building owned by Belgrade's Stari Grad municipality since 1992. According to the HLC, the municipality waived its property rights after finding the rooms inadequate and handed responsibility over to the building's Residents' Committee. At this time, the Committee sought the Demirović's eviction. On August 6, 2003, the Stari Grad Social Welfare Center informed the municipality of the family's situation, recommending that alternative accommodation be provided. On September 12, 2003, the HLC appealed to the Belgrade City and Stari Grad municipal authorities to secure housing for the family. On December 15, 2003, the HLC informed the ERRC that local authorities had provided the Demirović family with a 27-square-metre flat and some money to fix it up. A joint ERRC/United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights memorandum on Roma rights in Serbia and Montenegro, focussing in particular on housing rights issues, is available on the Internet at: www.errc.org.
(B92, ERRC, MRC)