Date: Mon, 23 Feb 98 23:28:54 CST
From: Panayote Elias Dimitras <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Serious Human Rights Problems in Slovenia
Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia, a non-governmental and non-profit organization for the protection and promotion of human rights, was established in Ljubljana in 1994. Since then, the Helsinki Monitor has worked continuously in protecting human rights through hundreds, if not thousands, of individual cases and by informing the relevant institutions of the Slovenian government and international institutions through statements, internal documents as well as verbally.
Beginning with this statement, Helsinki Monitor would like to announce that, apart from press conferences, interviews, articles and appeals, it will, in the future, inform the public about the particular cases on which it is working through regular public statements, as is the common practice of similar organizations.
In this first statement, Helsinki Monitor would like to inform the public about the particulars of the public debate currently taking place in Slovenia, the catalyst for which was the publishing of a study by Mrs. Maggie Gillian Grace of the European Parliament on the human rights situation in Slovenia. The study, concerning the question and problems of citizenship for a large number of individuals residing on the territory of the Republic of Slovenia, was prepared on the basis of a report by the Slovenian Helsinki Monitor under the auspices of the IHF (International Helsinki Federation) and a report by the OSCE, whose advisory body is the IHF.
Since the right to citizenship inherently gives rise to a whole series of other rights, such as rights to residency, pension, allowances for the handicapped, employment, tenancy rights, etc., we believe that the right to citizenship is, therefore, the basic problem with respect to the protection of human rights and a problem which Slovenian society should pay serious attention to resolving, which has not been the case in the previous seven years.
On December 6th, 1990, when the Yugoslav federation was breaking apart, the Slovenian authorities, through the words of the President of the Parliament, Mr. Franc Bu ar, promised citizenship (and all forms of legal protection) to all citizens of Slovenia who were of non-Slovenian ethnicity but who had legal permanent residence in Slovenia and who would decide to remain in Slovenia.
In a Letter of Good Will, Mr. Bu ar stated the following, “The state of Slovenia, Italian and Hungarian nationalities all the rights which are currently guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws and by the international acts which have been agreed to and are recognized by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Additionally, we guarantee all members of other nationalities and peoples the right to general, cultural and language development and we also guarantee everyone who is currently a legal resident of Slovenia the right to citizenship, if they so choose.” Unfortunately, the actual practice in the Republic of Slovenia didn’t comply with the promises contained in the Good Will Letter. Immediately following the international recognition of the Republic of Slovenia, as early as February 1992, Slovenia broke the international obligations it had undertaken as a result of the partition of the SR of Yugoslavia. The Slovenian government, while not recognizing the obligations towards its own citizens to which it has been bound as a consequence of the ‘succession process', is nonetheless demanding a share of assets from the SR of Yugoslavia on the basis of that same process.
In February, 1992, unidentified individuals, on the basis of no known law, deleted the names of 130,000 Slovenian citizens from the computer and Registry of Permanent Residents. These individuals all had legal residence in Slovenia and, according to the promises made by the Slovenian authorities prior to the referendum on independence, should have been granted citizenship. The deletion of permanent residents was carried out without any legal basis, and without the knowledge and consent of the individuals thus affected. On page 2, paragraph 3 of an internal document of the Ministry of Internal Affairs dated March 4th, 1996, and signed by the then minister Andrej ter, the ministry acknowledges that the deed was committed in secrecy on February 26th, 1992, during the mandate of the then Minister of Internal Affairs Igor Bav ar (who has recently become the Minister of the Office for European Affairs for integration into the EU). We quote: “Ex lege they (permanent residents of Slovenia who are of non-Slovenian ethnicity-op.ed.) were also deleted from the central registry of Slovenian citizens.”
That is not all. Numerous citizens deleted from the computer, as a result of the decision of the Slovenian authorities, participated in the referendum for Slovenian independence, thereby consummating one of their basic rights of citizenship-the right of suffrage-not knowing that this right, as well as other rights and freedoms, would be stripped from them in an independent Slovenia.
With this act, the Slovenian government also violated international conventions, such as Article 15 of the General Declaration on the Rights of Man adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 12, 1948 which states that “Everyone has the right to a nationality” (Sec.1) and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality (citizenship) nor denied the right to change his nationality (citizenship).” (Sec. 2); Article 14 of The International Pact on Citizen's and Political Rights adopted on March 23, 1976 which talks about prohibitions on exile; Protocol IV, Article 4 of the European Convention of 1950 which states that “the collective expulsion of foreigners is prohibited,” and Protocol VII, Article 1 of the same Convention.
According to data from an UNHCR report dated April 3rd, 1997, there are currently 70,000 individuals on the territory of the Republic of Slovenia who are without documents. These individuals are not refugees who have escaped from Bosnia and Herzegovina as a result of war, but individuals who had previously been permanent residents in Slovenia.
The Slovenian government's arbitrary decision, in 1992, to take away these individuals' status as legal residents, thereby denying these individuals the right to citizenship which had been promised to them, had incalculable consequences. A number of these individuals went to third countries, mostly to countries of the European Union where they have been, in otherwise already difficult circumstances resulting from the great number of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, an added burden to the budgets of these countries. It is interesting to note that the larger part of these refugees from Slovenia have already become legal residents (some have even received citizenship) in these European countries as have those who have emigrated to Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand.
Some of these individuals have been unlawfully exiled by the Slovenian authorities since, with the exception of a treaty signed between Slovenia and Macedonia in January, 1998, no treaties regarding the exile of citizens from the successor states of the former Yugoslavia have yet to be signed. The exile of these individuals has so far been accomplished by transporting them across the Croatian border with the help of bus drivers, transporting them by plane to Macedonia in handcuffs, surreptitious agreements between ministries of internal affairs without the knowledge of their respective ministries of external affairs, as well by transporting them by ferry to Monte Negro and other such means. (A typical phenomenon of the post-Yugoslav functioning of state institutions is that officials of the ministries of internal affairs of the new states communicate directly, when it is in their interest, leading to vast corruption and bribery). There is a blossoming trade amongst the successor states of the Yugoslav federation in ‘certificates of citizenship renunciation’ which are currently being 'sold’ for between two and four-thousand marks apiece.
The third paragraph on the third page of the aforementioned document of the Ministry of Internal Affairs states, “…article 28 of the Law on Foreigners makes it possible to, in the event that a foreigner does not leave the territory of Slovenia within the timeframe prescribed by the relevant authority, allow an individual with official authority from internal affairs to escort the foreigner to the state border, or to the appropriate foreign embassy or consulate to extradite him across the border or hand him over to a consular or diplomatic representative of that individual's state. With respect to the definition of foreigner, these are according to the opinion and practice of the Ministry of Internal Affairs as contained in that document, “those foreigners who were born in Slovenia.” (Quoted from the last paragraph on page 6) Therefore, these individuals are foreigners in their country of birth.
Regarding the rest of the citizens of the Republic of Slovenia who are of non-Slovenian or of mixed ethnic origin, and who found themselves on the territory of the Republic of Slovenia but who were arbitrarily, and with no respect to international obligations, denied all their fundamental civic and human rights by the authorities of Slovenia, Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia wishes to inform the public about the following:
The Slovenian government tried to evict almost 1,200 families of mainly non-Slovenian and mixed ethnic origin from apartments for which they had gained tenancy rights during the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Since they have not acquired citizenship rights, the Slovenian government wishes to take away their tenancy rights (their own or of family members who have remained in Slovenia).The Slovenian authorities carried out some evictions, but most of them were temporarily prevented by, above all, the intercession of Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia and international institutions and with the help of media coverage. Unfortunately, the Slovenian government, over four years, has yet to solve this problem. Despite continued pressure on behalf of the Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia, they are still threatening with a new wave of evictions.
A great number of pensioners and the handicapped, whose citizenship status has been denied, or who are not of Slovenian origin, have not been able to obtain their right to their pensions or disability allowances for the last 7 years. In the middle of Europe, (a fact to which many political parties in Slovenia constantly refer and of which they are proud) there are people who are starving. At the beginning of 1996, Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia asked a foreign embassy to assist them with humanitarian aid. People who, due to a lack of food have health problems, are still in need of humanitarian aid.
Citizens without citizenship papers do not have the right to obtain ID cards, passports, health insurance cards, and their children are segregated according to their ethnicity and do not have the right to free education, as do other Slovenian children after they complete elementary school. This is how a whole ghetto of suppressed people was created in Slovenia on the basis of their non-Slovenian ethnicity (these are all “Southerners”; Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Albanians, Roma). From 70,000-100,000 people live on the edge of existence in Slovenia depending solely on charity and the goodness of their neighbors and humanitarian organizations.
The Slovenian government hides the correct data on these cases, and that is why Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia calls upon all authorities in charge to, in accordance with the provisions and principles of a legal state, inform the public of the exact number of deprived citizens, who are still not able to obtain citizenship, and all the other rights arising from it. The data, which has been published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs recently, is not credible, when compared to the numbers in its own document from April 3, 1996. Quoting from the 4th page:
|80,181 persons classified as “FOREIGNER” (444 deceased).|
|35,260 persons with foreigner status (with valid visas).|
|20,432 persons with an expired or non renewed visa.|
|24,489 persons who have never asked for visas (have never applied for foreigner status)|
|950 persons who have applied for permanent residence.|
|2,005 persons who have applied for temporary residence.|
Adding the numbers above, we get a sum of 83,136 persons and not 80,181. Three thousand people are lost somewhere here. Furthermore, quoting from page 4: “The abovementioned information shows that according to the computer evidence there are 44.921 individuals classified as foreigners whose residence permits have expired and whose status in Slovenia is thus not resolved and, at the same time, we do not know whether they are even still residing in Slovenia (when leaving foreigners usually do not report this). In most cases it is these so-called foreigners who found themselves in the country before February 26, 1992 (i.e. at the time of the secession), and who were listed in the Registry of Permanent Residents who are now “weighing down” the registrar of foreigners. We are assuming that most of these foreigners do not reside in Slovenia any more, since more than half of them never applied for foreigner or temporary refugee status.
On page six in the next to last paragraph the Ministry of Internal Affairs states that “it is not possible to process the requests any faster” and that:” The unusual delays in processing the applications is a consequence of an excessive number of requests—for 1995 the ministry received 1,290 requests” for citizenship. On the basis of this data it seems that, at this pace, it will take the Ministry all of 44 years to process the applications of the 44,921 people who are marked as “foreigners”. Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia has both publicly and through internal documents appealed to the Slovenian government to resolve the citizenship of these tens of thousands of people collectively and now appeals to the international community for support and urgent intervention.
Despite the attempts of Helsinki Monitor in 1996 to pique the media's and the public's interest regarding the destiny of these tens of thousands of people by distributing internal documents of the Ministry of Internal Affairs dated March 4, 1996, their status has not been resolved, even after two years. Furthermore, we cannot be satisfied with the colloquial and unprofessional and pretentious report of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which, in the third paragraph of the second page, states that. “on the basis of computer evidence the Ministry of Internal Affairs estimates that in the Republic of Slovenia there are a few thousand people who resided here before independence and who have yet to resolve their foreigner status for various reasons”. In any serious state the authors of this text would not only be replaced because it is not certain whether a few thousand or 100,000 people are in question , but they would also be criminally charged because of falsifying and withholding official information.
As Slovenia is currently a member of the U.N. Security Council and one of the most serious candidates for membership in the European Union where the principles of the rule of law as well as statistical data are the most important guarantees for respecting the human rights of individuals from state repression, we ask ourselves whether Slovenia can, with such a policy, actually enter and participate in the processes of European integration. Finally, we ask, are the individulas, who in this manner damage the reputation of the Slovenian government, aware of the fact that in doing so they are slowing down the European integration processes which are of most vital interest to Slovenia.
Concerning the citizens themselves, who have not realized their citizenship rights, they are left with court processes—not only their cases against the Slovenian state, but sadlly enough, the cases of the Slovenian government against them since the Slovenian government is engaged in thousands of court cases for denying citizenship, tenant's rights, pensions, visa's, etc. According to a statement given by the Minister of Justice, Mete Zupan i , given in January, 1996 to members of Helsinki Monitor during discussions, the Slovenian courts are overloaded with as much as 860,000 unsolved cases, while this number has already reached one million out of the two million inhabitants of Slovenia—it becomes clear that most of these people will die of hunger before receiving a court decision.
As it is obvious that this serious problem is the consequence of a political decision on the part of the Slovenian authorities, the Helsinki Monitor calls on the Parliament and the government of the Republic of Slovenia to reconsider its decisions and that it urgently solves the requests for citizenship in a package. The Slovenian government must respect the guarantees given in the process of secession to all citizens by the President of the Slovenian parliament, who promised them citizenship status before the independence referendum.
Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia appeals to non-governmental organizations, public workers, independent intellectuals, artists, scientists, religious communities, and especially representatives of the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches, as well as political parties, to raise their voices in defense of, first of all, the rights of the individual—MAN.
Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia appeals also to the Slovenian ombudsman, Mr. Ivo Bizijak, who as former minister of internal affairs is well informed about the problem of citizenship, to commit himself to the solution of this question. Up to now he had rather dealt with cases of complaints “from prisoners and detainees”, to quote Agenda 2000, opinion of the Commission on Slovenia's request for membership in the European Union, page 11, fourth paragraph. Actually, Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia is in a paradox position that it has to deal with the huge problem of de facto stateless persons all alone, without adequate equipment or resources and personnel consisting exclusively of volunteers. After the press-conference on January 27, 1998, when journalists were handed out for the second time in two years the mentioned document of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the office of the Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia was broken into. In this context we have to interpret the burglary as an instrument of intimidation in the enclave of suppressed information.
Without intense commitment of national and international community, Slovenia will turn into one of these states, where all citizens become hostages of high nationalistic ideologies. Slovenia must face the fact that it has, like many other countries in the world, and especially countries in transition, problems with human rights. These problems cannot be solved by shoving them under the carpet, but by solving each individual case, and the problems of all minorities together. Otherwise Slovenia will resemble more and more to its Southern neighbor Croatia, which with seductive tourist posters “Croatia - paradise on earth” tried to hide the rude reality which originated first of all from fundamental disregard of the human being.
Neva Miklavi Predan
The only option which the Slovenian authorities are offering to residents of non-Slovenian or mixed ethnic heritage is that of foreigner or refugee. t is thus confirmed that there are refugees in Slovenia who have been given this status due only to their ethnicity, something which the Helsinki Monitor has noticed in the work on the field.