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The IHF Annual Report 1998


IHF Focus: Citizenship

Since Slovenia's independence in 1991, the issue of citizenship has been the major human rights issue. On 6 December 1990, when the Yugoslav Federation was dissolved, President of the Parliament Franc Bucar promised that all citizens of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, who were of non-Slovenian ethnicity but who had resided in Slovenia legally and intended to stay there, would be granted citizenship and all forms of legal protection attached to it.

However, his promises were never realized. In February 1992, immediately following the international recognition of the Republic of Slovenia, the names of some 130,000 non-Slovene residents originating from other former Yugoslav republics were deleted from the register of permanent residents.

The act was carried out without any legal basis, and without the knowledge and consent of the individuals affected.

In a internal document of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, dated 4 March 1996, and signed by the Minister of the Interior Andrej Ster, the ministry acknowledged that the act had been committed under conditions of secrecy on 26 February 1992 under the then Interior Minister Igor Bavcar, now Minister of the Office for European Affairs dealing with Slovenia's integration into the EU.

In April 1997, according to the UNHCR, there were still 70,000 permanent residents of non-Slovene origin on the territory of the Republic of Slovenia who did not have identity documents. This number did not include war refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The above-mentioned report of the Ministry of the Interior referred to a total of 80,181 former permanent residents as foreigners and admits to their erasure from the permanent residents' records.

The decision not to grant citizenship to large numbers of non-Slovenes, or "southerners" as they were often called by the Slovene majority, effectively stripped these individuals of rights that they had enjoyed before Slovenia's independence, including the right to legal residence, work, medical care, bank accounts and other essential rights. Having no prospects in Slovenia, many left for third countries, mostly going to countries in the European Union. Many others were unlawfully extradited by the Slovenian authorities, transported handcuffed across the Croatian border or to other former Yugoslav republics on the basis of clandestine agreements between ministries of internal affairs.

Those who remained in the country faced discrimination and harassment.

Slovenian authorities are still trying to evict almost 1,200 families, mainly of non-Slovenian and mixed ethnic origin, from publicly-owned apartments for which they had gained tenancy rights during the socialist regime. Some evictions were already carried out but most were temporarily suspended, largely due to the intervention by Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia and international organizations, aided by media coverage. Still in 1997 and early 1998, authorities threatened to continue with such evictions.

Also in 1997, a great number of pensioners and handicapped people, among those who had not been granted citizenship, did not receive their legally earned pensions or disability allowances, as in previous years. Non -citizens did not possess identity cards and were not eligible to insurance policies (including health insurance) for which they had paid contributions all their working life. Their children did not have the right to free secondary education as did Slovenian children. Some 70,000-100,000 people were living on the verge of destitution in Slovenia, dependent solely on charity and the support of their relatives, friends and humanitarian organizations.

According to Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia, thousands of cases were pending in the courts, dealing with tenancy rights, pensions and other rights, some of them filed by the government, others by the affected individuals. With a huge backlog of cases - reportedly half of about two million filed cases remained unsolved - the courts were expected to take some considerable time reaching decisions.

The processing of citizenship applications was slow since the Ministry of the Interior claimed that it could not resolve 1,000 cases annually.

Helsinki Monitor in Slovenia noted that at this pace it would take the ministry 44 years to handle the remaining estimated 214,000 applications.

It appealed to the Slovenian government to resolve the citizenship problem collectively for those who had lived in Slovenia for years before its independence or had been born there, and their family members.

Helsinki Monitor called upon the parliament to solve the problems related to non-citizenship promptly. It also appealed to all sectors of society to raise this issue and to press the government to take appropriate action.

Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia also appealed to the Slovenian ombudsman Ivo Bizijak, former minister of Internal Affairs, to commit himself to the resolution of this question.