Two human rights defenders were today arrested for trying to stop the forced eviction of a Roma family in Belgrade.The activists from the Regional Centre for Minorities were arrested for obstruction of justice after they peacefully attempted to prevent police evicting Mevljude Kurteshi and her six children from their apartment.”These activists were merely trying to defend the human rights of the family being forcibly evicted – an unlawful and inhumane act by the Serbian authorities,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“Mevljude Kurteshi and her children must be given adequate alternative housing immediately.”
Witnesses say the two activists were arrested after politely refusing to move from the door of Mevljude Kurteshi’s basement apartment. They were released and may face charges of obstruction of justice, which could lead to a custodial sentence.Mevljude Kurteshi was given no reason for the eviction and the authorities have not provided her with anywhere else to live.After the eviction, her possessions were loaded onto a truck and taken to the informal Roma settlement at Belvil, where the family have no option but to move in with relatives. Evictions are also scheduled at Belvil.Neighbours reportedly stood around jeering and applauding as she waited for a bus to take her and her children, some of them barefoot, to her new “home” at Belvil. “Over the last month we have seen several forced evictions carried out with complete disregard for the rights of vulnerable people,” said Nicola Duckworth.“To forcibly evict a single mother and her children without any adequate alternative housing is a complete violation of Serbia’s international obligations.”Mevljude Kurteshi and her family were forcibly displaced from Kosovo after the 1999 war. Like other internally displaced Roma, she is unable to return home. She was provided with the apartment in 2006 after she had been relocated from a housing estate, known as the “asbestos settlement”, which was demolished for health and safety reasons. The eviction, which was carried out by police and the Čukarica authorities had previously been postponed on 11 October after human rights activists and local NGOs protested at the site.Serbian authorities have failed to adopt a law prohibiting forced evictions, which would ensure that the processes and safeguards set out in relevant UN Guidelines and Principles are in place before any evictions are carried out.According to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.