Stop violating the rights of Montenegrin seafarers

The non-governmental organizations Human Rights Action (HRA) and the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) provided free legal aid to the seafarer Boris Nikolić, who has been in quarantine at the Institute Dr. Simo Milošević in Igalo for already five days, assessing that his right to personal liberty was violated and that he is discriminated by being sent to quarantine for 14 days.

With the support of lawyer Dalibor Tomović, the HRA filed a habeas corpus appeal to the President of the Basic Court in Herceg Novi, Ivan Perović, for revocation of the quarantine decision and release of Nikolić, invoking Article 5 paragraph 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and Article 9 of the Constitution of Montenegro. These articles provide to persons deprived of their liberty in any way the right to initiate proceedings in which the court will urgently examine the legality of their deprivation of liberty and order their release if it finds that they have been unlawfully deprived of their liberty. The complaint pointed out that the measure of deprivation of liberty by sending to quarantine, which was imposed on Nikolić by the health and sanitary inspector, was not necessary because it was not considered whether the same aim could be achieved by milder measures such as acknowledgment of the negative result of the test taken three days ago in France, allowing the same test to be repeated in Montenegro at his own expense or referring to self-isolation at home. Different treatment of persons arriving in Montenegro by private planes and yachts was also emphasized, which indicates that quarantine is not a necessary measure.

With the support of lawyer Siniša Gazivoda, the CCE filed an appeal to the Ministry of Health against the decision on determining institutional quarantine measures due to violation of the rules of procedure, then the fact that the health and sanitary inspector did not determine the specific circumstances of the case and due to violation of the right to liberty and security under Article 5 of the ECHR.

Montenegrin sailor Boris Nikolić also addressed Siniša Bjeković, the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms. The CCE sent a request to the Ombudsman for urgent action due to restrictions on human rights and freedoms and discrimination against Nikolić. Nikolić is directly discriminated against his foreign colleagues – the crew of foreign yachts that sail into Montenegro and foreigners who are the owners or lessees of these yachts or aircraft with a capacity of up to 10 seats. In this request, the CCE stated to the Ombudsman that prescribing measures of obligatory institutional quarantine to Montenegrin seafarers returning to the country, who have conditions for home self-isolation, is illegal, discriminatory and contrary to international standards, as this represent a violation of the Constitution of Montenegro, the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The HRA and the CCE expect the Ombudsman to address in particular the part of Mr. Nikolić’s complaint concerning conditions under which he is in quarantine, and especially in terms of constant keeping indoors, without the possibility of going out for recreation in the yard, which is against to the Rulebook on the conditions of the quarantine measure.

It is important to note that the institutional detention of Montenegrin seafarers returning from ships for 14 days is a unique practice in the region. For example, according to the measures of the Croatian Institute of Public Health, Croatian seafarers who disembarked with the Montenegrin seafarer on the same day did not go to institutional quarantine or home self-isolation, but were instructed to comply with mandatory measures 14 days upon arrival and to respect the ban on leaving the place of residence, except for the necessary outings with the obligatory wearing of a mask and keeping the prescribed distance, but also the obligatory control of temperature and respiratory condition. In that context, the CCE and the HRA addressed Milutin Simovic, President of the National Coordination Body for Communicable Diseases (NCT) and Kenan Hrapović, Minister of Health with an initiative to abolish the measure of obligatory quarantine for Montenegrin seafarers and to apply the practice from neighboring Croatia or to ensure testing of everyone on the coronavirus. According to currently available data, there are about 625 Montenegrin sailors and crew members of cruisers sailing in the world (doctors, technicians, cooks, waiters, maids, etc.). Out of that number, 264 people have returned to Montenegro so far, either by government special flights or under their direction, by alternative routes. As per the available number of tests, we do not see a justified reason why basic rights and freedoms of these persons would be jeopardized when there are all the conditions for them to be respected without endangering public health.

The HRA and the CCE expect all competent state authorities to act urgently under international human rights treaties, and hence to stop the systematic violation of rights of Montenegrin seafarers and other returnees to the country.

Tea Gorjanc Prelević, Executive Director, Human Rights Action (HRA)
Daliborka Uljarević, Executive Director, Centre for Civic Education (CCE)