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Constitutional & Legal Foundations

At the turn of the millennium Serbia was one of the two republics (and two autonomous provinces) belonging to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, self-proclaimed on 11 April 1992 as the successor state to the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and formally established by the Constitution of 27 April 1992. During the 1990s the United States refused to acknowledge the FRY as a legitimate country and chose instead to deal separately with the republics of Serbia and Montenegro. In November 2000 the newly elected government of the FRY, eager to democratize and build economic ties with the West, dropped the FRY's claim of successorship to the SFRY, and the international community officially recognized the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a legitimate, independent state.

Serbian law is based on a civil law system. All Serbs, women and men, are eligible to vote at age 18; 16- and 17-year-olds also can vote if they are employed. Besides participating in the election of the president of the federation, Serbs elect their own republican president as chief of state of the Republic of Serbia. Milan Milutinovic was elected president of Serbia on 21 December 1997 (although he himself was indicted by The Hague Tribunal and considered ripe for arrest shortly by mid-2001). The prime minister of Serbia in early 2001 was Zoran Djindjic, who in late June 2001 arranged for Miloševic's extradition. At the federal level, Miloševic was the president of the FRY from 1987 until October 2000 after he lost the September 2000 presidential election to Vojislav Koštunica, an opposition party candidate who ran on a platform of democratic reforms, economic improvements, and an end to corruption in the FRY. The executive branch at the federal level also includes a prime minister, several deputy ministers, and a cabinet known as the Federal Executive Council. The prime minister of the FRY in early June 2001 was Zoran Zizic, who resigned in protest after Miloševic's 28 June extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal, claiming that federal constitutional procedures had not been followed and that the Serbian prime minister had had no right to extradite the former Yugoslav president.

At the federal level the legislative branch of the FRY is a bicameral Federal Assembly (Savezna Skupstina) composed of a Chamber of Republics (Vece Republika) of 40 members, 20 of them Serbian representatives and 20 Montenegrin representatives, elected to 4 year terms and distributed according to the party distributions in the republican assemblies of Serbia and Montenegro, and a Chamber of Citizens (Vece Gradjana) of 138 members, 108 of them Serbian representatives (half of whom are elected by constituency majorities and half by proportional representation) and 30 of them Montenegrin representatives (6 elected by constituency majorities and 24 by proportional representation), all of whom serve 4 year terms. The third branch of the federal government is the judicial branch, consisting of a Federal Court (Savezni Sud) and a Constitutional Court, both of whose judges are elected to nine year terms by the Federal Assembly.

Under the Miloševic regime, the human rights situation in Serbia and the rest of the federation was notoriously poor. According to the Country Report on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia released in February 2001 by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, prior to Koštunica's election, former Yugoslav President Miloševic had brought Serbia closer to open dictatorship than ever before. Immediately following the 1999 war in Kosovo, Miloševic moved to consolidate his weakened position in Serbia through a campaign of intimidation and violence against his political opponents, representatives of the independent media, student groups, civil society, and even, in certain cases, members of the regime. Miloševic had also tried to populate federal institutions, including the judiciary, with his cronies and supporters and thus had disrupted normal politics and the progress that others in Serbia and Yugoslavia wanted to make toward democracy and transparency. Under Miloševic the FRY's security forces frequently had abused their power, terrorizing those who opposed Miloševic's policies and actions, especially in Kosovo. Students, too, sometimes became victims of police abuse. In November 1999 Belgrade police forcibly stopped the protests of 2,500 students in Belgrade who were demanding early parliamentary elections in Serbia. Dominated by Miloševic supporters, the federal legislature had the federal constitution altered in July 2000 to restrict Montenegro's autonomy and to allow one more presidential term for Miloševic. The Montenegrin government boycotted the September 2000 federal election as a result. Miloševic then manipulated the federal election commission and constitutional court in Yugoslavia to try to force a second round in the federal presidential election of September 2000 where he had been defeated by Koštunica. The response of mass rallies by opposition supporters led to the storming of the federal parliament on 5 October 2000 and the occupation of the Serbian state television station. On 7 October Miloševic finally conceded the election to Koštunica, who was immediately inaugurated as president of the FRY.

Within the FRY serious human rights problems existed in 2000, including violence and discrimination against women, trafficking in women and girls for forced prostitution, and police repression, as well as official and societal discrimination against Muslims, Roma, and other minorities in various parts of the FRY. Severe repression of political critics, student activists, the media, and political dissidents under the Miloševic regime also was a serious problem prior to Miloševic's loss of presidential power in September/October 2000, his arrest in April 2001, and his extradition in June 2001.

With the removal of Miloševic, national and international observers in mid-2001 predicted other arrests of indicted war criminals would follow in both Serbia and Montenegro and expected to see the republican governments and possibly the federal government as well adopt more cooperative attitudes toward the International Criminal Tribunal. The promise of substantial international donations to reconstruct the economies and infrastructure of the FRY following Miloševic's extradition were viewed as a spur likely to produce a more positive climate within Serbia and Montenegro for international cooperation with great potential for positively impacting social and economic conditions in Serbia. Hopes inside Serbia and the FRY and internationally ran high by mid-2001 that with Miloševic no longer dominating federal politics, the human rights climate could turn more positive and Serbia could begin the difficult task of democratizing the government and society and rebuilding the economy and the country's infrastructure, including the educational system.

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