Human Rights Situation in the Armed Forces of Montenegro

EUROMIL is gravely concerned by the worsening human rights situation in the armed forces of Montenegro, where the human rights and fundamental freedoms of members of the armed forces and especially their trade union rights and their right to freedom or religion or belief are under attack. EUROMIL is equally worried at the latest news coming from Montenegro, indicating that the independence and neutrality of the Montenegrin armed forces are under threat.

The list of incidents EUROMIL was informed about is too extensive to be summarized here, but a number of these give a clear picture of the atmosphere in which one acts:

–        In August 2017, about 30 soldiers had to leave the armed forces after their contract was not renewed. It was astonishing that a great majority of those involved were members of the “Trade Union of Defence and the Army of Montenegro” (SOVCG), itself a member of EUROMIL.

–        At the end of 2017, a procedure was launched to retire the then chairman of SOVCG, Lieutenant Colonel Nenad Čobeljić, with the main motivation: “the unfavorable age structure of professional staff”.

–        On Saturday, 22 December 2018, in the morning hours (6-8 am) and without the presence of anyone from SOVCG, the SOVCG office was unannounced and violently opened. On the order of the Minister of Defence, the front door was blocked, the lock replaced and the SOVCG inscription removed from the front door. SOVCG’s office was sealed and was no longer accessible.

–        Despite various efforts with the support of various institutions such as the ILO, the national ombudsman and persistent efforts to maintain a social dialogue, the situation remained very tense and persisted after the replacement of Nenad Čobeljić by Zdravko Kasalica at the head of SOVCG.

–        On Thursday, 2 July 2020, Zdravko Kasalica, president of SOVCG, and his wife Makedonka Kasalica, a lawyer by profession, were deprived of their liberty and transported as serious criminals, detained and interrogated. On Monday, 6 July they were released under conditions. Regarding this case, we refer to a statement by Zdravko Kasalica regarding his and his wife’s deprivation of liberty. Zdravko Kasalica asked the inspectors not to harass his family, emphasizing that “he knew that they were being arrested on the order of the Minister of Defense who is taking revenge on them for supporting the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral and not for his wife’s failure in performing her job, for she has never made such failures in her work.” An article was published on the arrest in July 2020, please read here.

–        On 3 August 2020, after several years of trial, the Court of Podgorica finally ruled that the Ministry of Defence of Montenegro had committed SERIOUS forms of prolonged and repeated discrimination against the SOVCG. The court also ruled that Nenad Čobeljić’s rights were being violated and awarded very limited compensation for this.

–        In recent days, it has come to light through the media that various candidate soldiers, as well as those seeking a promotion, are undergoing screening by the political party DPS, which, in this way, corrupt the military forces of Montenegro. Serving in the armed forces of Montenegro is no longer judged on professional qualities, but on nationalist, religious and political beliefs. This may also be the reason for the arrests of the chairman of SOVCG, Zdravko Kasalica.

–        Last but not least, in anticipation of the parliamentary elections to be held on 30 August 2020 in Montenegro, a large number of members of the armed forces who are not supporting the ruling party (from which the Minister of Defence is a member) were sent to work far away from their places of residence in the last days, in other cities, which prevents them from exercising their right to vote.

Without having the means of its own to conduct an in-depth investigation into the true facts behind the current situation in Montenegro and its armed forces, and in the absence of openness and the possibility of dialogue, EUROMIL has appealed to the international community to further inquire on what is currently happening in the armed forces in Montenegro and ensure protection for the “Citizens in Uniform” and their rights.

There is no doubt that nationalist, religious or party-political beliefs cannot be elements of recruitment or promotion in the armed forces. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are basic principles that must ensure that modern armed forces as such are part of the community. Only in this context it is possible to have well-motivated and trained military personnel to serve and protect society.

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