No propaganda will hide problems in the work of the Council for protection against discrimination

We are happy that the story about the work of the Council for protection against discrimination has finally been opened in the Montenegrin media. As members of the Council, we also use this opportunity to contribute to the establishment of clear operating procedures of this body, its transparency, non-selectivity in the consideration of topics and initiatives, as well as the consistent condemnation of all forms of discrimination that our citizens are facing. Unfortunately, this space has been narrowed for us, especially in the last half a year in the Council itself, and we usually remain alone in these efforts. In addition, we even become targets of severe attacks that were orchestrated precisely after these sessions, and which we believe that have been inspired by our principle efforts at the Council sessions.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Council represents a burden for the Government of Milo Đukanović and himself personally, and predominantly due to the fact that we refuse to nod to reports and information submitted to us at these sessions, or to raise hand for in advance prepared conclusions that are of such nature that anyone who read them might ask: what is the purpose of the Council for protection against discrimination in Montenegro when discrimination according to these reports and information doesn’t even exist?

To what extent are the members of the Council from the Government “committed” to its affirmation illustrated the recently held roundtable “Human rights and protection against discrimination in the EC’s Montenegro Progress Report 2013”. This event was a part of the work programme of the Council for 2013, but had not been held then so it needed to be “done” in January in order to be found as “checked” obligation in the Annual work report for 2013. The Council members have not been deciding on a regular meeting about its date, agenda, participants, location, etc. At the roundtable itself appeared neither the Council President Milo Đukanović, nor the members – ministers (Duško Marković, Slavoljub Stijepović, Predrag Boškovic, Miodrag Radunović), except for Suad Numanović who was present there only to open the meeting and to listen the address of two ambassadors who were also speaking at the opening. He had more important work afterwards. As well as the Prime Minister. As well as the other ministers. A state employee Jovan Kojičić remained, and he was was in his capacity as an adviser to Prime Minister and Secretary of the Council the highest level of the government representation.

When it comes to the transparency of the Council’s work, this was the first event since the establishment of the Council (spring 2012) in which its effects should be presented to the public. Evidently, the members of the Government could not or dared not to stand personally behind these effects, nor they wanted to talk directly to many of those who may have had unpleasant questions to ask them. Considering that precisely the two of us have once suggested organization of this event with the intention of it to be one form of presentation of the Council in full capacity to the public at least once a year, it gives us the right to say publicly that this objective has not been fulfilled. The meeting was, due to the absence of virtually all members of the Government, except for the state employee Kojičić, and his irresponsible moderation for which everything has been prolonged to such an extent that many were losing patience and interest, followed with the denial of the NGO representatives to open up discussion (under unsustainable justification of disturbing the agenda, which he himself has already disrupted!), turned into its opposite. The NGO representatives walked out in protest against the kind of discrimination that occurred at the meeting, which is the continuation of never more visible climate in the Government to stimulate discrediting and eroding the reputation of the part of the NGO sector that is perceived as unsuitable. Leaving the meeting was a legitimate act that has fulfilled the purpose – the public now knows that in the Council everything is not all as rosy as some employees and members of the Council have tried to present at this promotional meeting instead of opening a space for meaningful discussion.

That the responsibility for lack of the Council’s transparency lies within the Government itself, indicates also the fact that the information related to the Council is difficult to be found on the website of the Government, except for scarce press statements after previous sessions. The only place where adopted minutes of meetings of the Council can be found (until today) is website of the CCE These minutes of meetings are valuable testimony about what positions who was standing for, as well as which majorities have rejected all our initiatives or suggestions about guests who might have contributed to the quality of discussion.

Statistics of the issues that the Council has dealt with clearly indicates favoring one form of discrimination – against LGBT people. Although we are one of the most recognizable initiators to actualize the rights of LGBT persons in Montenegro, we will never agree that the work on improving these rights covers up problems in the protection of human rights and freedoms of many vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, women, Roma, youth, victims of political discrimination, former drug addicts, etc. It is obvious that opening of some of these topics or processing the individual cases would directly point to the responsibility of the members of the Government, and perhaps even some members of the Council.

Recognition of initiatives from the NGO sector is almost insignificant and this especially refers to the period after the session in June 2013, which was, on our insisting, devoted to political discrimination. Fortunately, the European Commission acknowledged all of our argumentation that the members of the Council have rejected then, so the affair “Recording” is still an issue that needs to be addressed. The Council was not sensitive enough to take into consideration numerous other issues, such as freedom of expression and discrimination of critically oriented media who suffer a continuous pressure and escalation of violence against them, to which maybe the Council could have preventively acted.

In addition, these days we have found out from colleagues about some of the initiatives that have been duly filed with the Secretary of the Council but which the Council members have never received, by which they have also been discriminated.

Furthermore, the Council has never decided not to declare itself about individual cases, although it is sought to be presented this in such a manner to the public. Especially, since the cases submitted to the Council are those on which the conclusions of the Council should be used as further guidelines for conduct of many government bodies. But, when these cases or complaints became related to the highest government officials, the approach of brute out-voting in order to ignore these legitimate initiatives was applied. We are sorry that this voting majority was joined by certain number of civil society representatives.

We remain open to further clarification of the so far effects of the Council’s work based on the arguments. Also, we hope that this public discussion will help the Council to start dealing with its business taking into full consideration all different opinions or that it is ascertained that there is no longer need for its existence. In this part, we will initiate again organization of the new roundtable, where all members of the Council will appear and openly discuss the application of the legal framework on prevention of discrimination in Montenegro, the effectiveness of existing mechanisms, the real challenges that Montenegro encounters in the fight against discrimination and the contribution of the Council to this fight.

Members of the Council for protection against discrimination

Daliborka Uljarević                                                            Milan Šaranović
Executive Director of the CCE           Director General of the Centre for Anti-Discrimination EKVISTA