1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: The legislative and institutional framework in the area of fundamental rights is overall in place and is largely in line with the relevant international and European standards. In July 2020, the Law on Life Partnership of Same-Sex Couples was enacted by Parliament, making Montenegro the first country in the region to regulate the status of same-sex couples. The capacity of human rights institutions and of the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights has been reinforced, and trust in the Ombudsperson’s office and the quality of its work is Decisions of the Constitutional Court further aligned with European and international standards. The country’s legal framework needs to be further aligned with international and European human rights standards and relevant EU acquis, in particular on non-discrimination, rights of the child, rights of persons with disabilities, access to information, freedom of expression, procedural rights, including victims’ rights, and rights of persons deprived of liberty. Challenges also remain regarding implementation. This includes providing for swift and independent investigations into allegations of excessive use of force, torture or ill-treatment by law enforcement.

Montenegro held parliamentary and local elections in five municipalities on 30 August 2020, under an electoral legal framework assessed to be largely unchanged since the last elections, in the challenging context of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to international observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the elections were peaceful and competitive and run mostly transparently and efficiently. The campaign environment was highly polarised over issues of church and national identity and marked by undue advantage for the ruling party and unbalanced media coverage.

For information, please refer to the European Commission’s 2020 Report on Montenegro.

  1. EU action – key focus areas: Key focus areas of EU action included, inter alia, freedom of expression, gender equality, prevention of torture, ill-treatment and inhuman or degrading

treatment, the rights of vulnerable groups, including children, Roma and Egyptians, persons with disabilities and LGBTI persons. The EU was very involved in the promotion of gender equality through bilateral initiatives and advocating for women’s political and economic participation. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, the EU took initiatives with partners to promote the rights of the most vulnerable groups, in particular children, women and Roma and to provide them with emergency aid, including food and hygiene packages.

  1. EU bilateral political engagement: The EU monitors the respect for human rights within the framework of the EU accession negotiations, in particular under Chapter 23 – Judiciary and fundamental rights. Regular policy dialogue at technical and political levels draws from monitoring of the implementation of the action plan for Chapter 23, regular peer reviews, EU- funded projects, and engagement with international organisations and civil society. In December 2020, the 10th EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Committee meeting took
  2. EU financial engagement: In the framework of the IPA Sector Operational Programme for Education Employment and Social Policies, a EUR 3 million-grant scheme was designed to implement quality social services for the most vulnerable This includes a EUR 300,000 grant to strengthen the role of Roma mediators in the sector of inclusive education and EUR 300,000 awareness campaign against discrimination of ethnic minorities. It also includes grants for the total amount of EUR 2.5 million to support the provision of Social and Child Protection Services. These actions started in 2020 and will continue in 2021. The education component of the programme contributed, inter alia, to inclusive education by supporting the development of modularised programmes for students with special educational needs and Roma and Egyptians students. In addition, within the IPA Civil Society Facility, a EUR 260,000 project targeting peer-to-peer school violence was implemented in 2020.

Eight projects amounting to EUR 1.1 million contracted at the end of 2019 were implemented in 2020 under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. These projects cover the following areas: the right to freedom of assembly, rights of LGBTI persons focusing on the local level, combating gender-based violence and assessing health services in that regard, strengthening trade unions, promoting the rights of Roma and inclusion from the grass-root level, providing free legal aid to migrants, and transitional justice focusing on the 1990s wars in former Yugoslavia, as well as financing of political parties and election campaigns. Additionally, the implementation of three European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) projects contracted in 2018 continued in 2020. These projects address: the right to access to information, prevention and protection from sexual violence, consumer protection, rights of persons with disabilities, trade unionisation of Roma workers and political and civic activism of Roma.

The EIDHR and the Civil Society Facility represent important tools for strengthening civil society in Montenegro, whose role is of crucial importance not only for democratisation of society but also for contributing to a more transparent and accountable EU accession process and negotiations.

Through EU financial assistance, a shelter for women victims of domestic violence in Podgorica remained operational, providing prevention and protection from sexual violence. This process was assisted through EU-funded multi-country project realised with UN Women, ‘Implementing norms, changing minds’. The shelter has been helping victims of sexual violence for years, often pro bono. The EU-funded grant aims to increase the capacity of the

shelter to carry out its core activities, as well as public advocacy and awareness raising. The latter activity focuses on presenting real testimonies of sexual violence victims to address attitudes in society and encourage more victims to come forward.

Further assistance is provided under the national and regional actions of the EU-CoE Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey – Phase II. It focuses on alignment with European human rights standards in the areas, such as procedural rights, freedom of expression, anti-discrimination, and prevention of torture and ill-treatment.

  1. Multilateral context: Montenegro continued its dialogue with international human rights organisations and monitoring bodies, the United Nations’ bodies and the Council of Europe, and fully aligned with EU statements on human rights in multilateral fora. In April 2020, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, published her report on the 2019 visit to Montenegro. In April 2020, Montenegro reported on the implementation of recommendations of the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). In June 2020, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance published its conclusions on the implementation of the recommendations in respect of Montenegro, which are subject to interim follow-up.