Last Updated 7 October 2021

Montenegro is – in terms of both its size and population – one of the smallest European states. After the collapse of the Yugoslav federation in 1989,1 Montenegro remained a part of a smaller Federal Republic of Yugoslavia but voted in a referendum of 1992 in favour of federation with Serbia, though this excluded Montenegrin Albanians and Muslims who refused participation.2 Following a second referendum in 2006, parliament declared the independence of the country.3

The population of Montenegro is around 621,718 according to World Bank 2020 data;4 made up of 45% Montenegrin, 28.7% Serb, 12% Bosniak, 4.9% Albanian, 4.9% undeclared and 4.5% other populations.5 According to the 2011 census, the religious demographics consist of 72% Orthodox (Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) or Montenegrin Orthodox church (CPC), 19.1% Islamic, 3.4% Roman Catholic, Atheists 1.2%, and other groups (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists, Buddhists) below 1%. The SPC are reported to account for 90% of the orthodox population. Religious beliefs are strongly correlated with ethnicity.6

Montenegro is a member of the UN, the World Trade Organization, NATO, Council of Europe and Union for the Mediterranean.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The Constitution of the Republic of Montenegro7 guarantees freedom of thought, expression, conscience and religion for everyone. The right to conversion is explicitly guaranteed (Article 46).

There is no state religion and the Constitution states that religious communities should be separated from the state (Article 14). The ministry of Human and Minority Rights is responsible for regulating relations between the state and religious groups. The Constitution prohibits direct or indirect discrimination on any grounds. It also prevents censorship and racial, national and religious hatred or discrimination.

While Montenegro is by Constitution a secular state, the line between church and state is often ignored and religious groups are politicized. The informal group “Atheists of Montenegro” reportedly advocates for free expression and compliance to this separation, so that religious institutions and leaders do not act as political actors which take advantage of their followers by “manipulating the sense of belonging to a religion” for political benefit.9

Legislative reform

In 2019, the Montenegrin parliament passed a new law on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs and Legal Status of Religious Communities (commonly referred to as the “Religious Freedom Law”) , requiring religious communities to show evidence of property ownership prior to 1918. This meant that the majority of the Serbian Orthodox Churches’ properties in Montenegro would be transferred to state ownership. In 2021, following “large-scale protests” by the SPC and a change of government leadership, the previous law was revised, and a new version passed by parliament. While the SPC was satisfied with the changes, other groups such as the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, Catholics and Islamic communities complained that they were not given adequate time or not consulted at all to submit suggestions, showing clear preference for the SPC.10 Meanwhile, the SPC challenged transfers of properties that it said it owned by municipal authorities to the MPC and private individuals. The SPC and MPC reportedly dispute ownership of some 750 Orthodox sites.11

Under the new law, religious groups are no longer required to register, but they must do so if they wish to acquire legal status. According to the US State Department:12

“Only groups with legal entity status have the right to own or rent property; hold bank accounts in their own name; hire employees; receive a tax exemption for donations and sales of goods or services directly related to their religious activities; and receive judicial protection of their community, members, and assets. The new law states that unregistered religious groups may operate freely with the right to practice their faith, including proselytizing and receive donations. Unregistered groups remain eligible to receive financial or other assistance from the state through the [the Ministry of Justice, Human, and Minority Rights (MHMR)].”

The government has agreements with the Islamic Community of Montenegro (ICM), Jewish Community of Montenegro (JCM), and Holy See that further define the legal status of the respective groups and regulate their relationship with the state. However it has no such agreements with other religious groups.13

The MHMR provides funding to some religious groups, which they could use for maintenance of religious shrines, educational or cultural projects, or social and medical insurance for clergy. Recognized religious communities also receive in-kind assistance from other government ministries and from local governments.14

Education and children’s rights

Public education in Montenegro is secular by law, from kindergarten to university, though there are some private religious institutions;15 one private madrassah at secondary level and one secondary school run by the Serbian Orthodox Church. Other than their specialized religious education, these schools follow the state curriculum.16 Religious communities are allowed to establish religious schools apart from primary level education and their educational programs/material are supervised to ensure compliance with the Constitution and law.17

ll Montenegrin citizens have equal rights to education and cannot be discriminated against based on race, gender, religion, ability or socio-economic background.18 The Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights does provide religious communities with some funding, which then is partially used for educational projects.19

In 2020 the topic of religion in school was brought to debate when a state primary school teacher contacted students through social media and called on them to go to church service and pray for a ‘good school year’. The teacher had already been suspended for telling students to draw symbols expressing opposition to religious freedom laws. The Ministry of Education also called for her suspension and various NGOs called the acts of manipulation of children for religious purposes abuse.20

Challenging harmful traditional practices

In 2017, Montenegro made Female Genital Mutilation a criminal offence, in compliance with the Istanbul Convention. As a severe violation of human rights, the practice is now punishable with up to 5 years in prison.21

Child marriage rates are low, affecting an estimated 1% of the Montenegrin population. However, this percentage rises in Egyptian/Roma communities where 28.1% of women and 16.5% of men aged 15-19 are married/in union.22

Family, community and society

Religious tensions

Religious and ethnic tensions continue to bubble under the surface of the country. For this reason, inciting violence or hatred towards different groups based on religion is punishable with imprisonment from 6 months to 5 years (Article 370 of the Montenegrin Criminal Code).23

Following August 2020 parliamentary elections, acts of violence against religious groups and their members were reported, including the shooting of an Islamic Community of Montenegro (ICM) member’s home, the smashing of windows of ICM facilities, and threatening messages and acts of intimidation targeting Bosniaks and other Muslims in Pljevlja and other cities with religiously diverse populations. Religious and political leaders across the spectrum condemned the attacks and issued statements of support. After being criticized for slow progress in investigating the cases, police arrested three suspects for writing anti-Bosniak graffiti in the Pljevlja attacks.24

The relationship between CPC and SPC remains tense, with the Serbian Orthodox Church (Montenegro’s dominant religion) reporting multiple cases of discrimination in The religious freedom law in 2019 sought to weaken the SPC’s power by transferring SPC property to the state, sparking protest. Then-President Milo Djukanovic made clear his view of the SPC as a political vehicle for ‘Greater Serbia’ nationalism in the country, emphasizing the need for a stronger CPC presence.26 SPC priests accused the government of wanting to plunder and destroy holy sites, causing outrage. In response, Djukanovic stated that the SPC was “skillfully manipulating” believers into panic and protest, as the SPC’s properties would remain freely open for public use, with the only difference being that the chain of command to Belgrade, Serbia would be cut off.27

Women’s rights

Following the country’s independence in 2006, Montenegro passed the Law on Gender Equality28 in 2007, criminalizing gender discrimination. In becoming a candidate to enter the European Union, Montenegro has committed to improving women’s rights in the country and aims to achieve gender equality. The EU’s Gender Equality Index measuring gender equality in areas of work, health, power etc., rates Montenegro at 55 points, behind the average of current EU countries which is at 67.4.29

Regarding reproductive rights, abortion is legal on request until 10 weeks. Abortions at later weeks are subject to ethics committee approval on basis of medical/ crime/ mother’s endangerment reasons.

There have been widespread reports of sex-selective abortion through the use of illegal gender tests.30 Selective abortion is due to “son preference and inheritance practices”, resulting in abnormal sex ratios at birth.31; This issue was at first excused by ruling coalition member Dragan Ivanovic who in response stated, “every citizen has the right to influence the reproduction of their children”. Following debate, Ivanovic withdrew his “reckless” statement which disregarded the negative effects on women. Ironically, the strongly ‘anti-abortion’ Serbian Orthodox Church’ (SPC) did not vocally oppose his initial statement, rather it was women’s rights activists who condemned his statement in such context and highlighted the discriminatory nature of such practices.32

While women have the right to abort, there are undeniable cultural/religious influences behind such fetus-gender discrimination which fuels such a strong preference for boys. These influences are also reflective of the severe discrimination endured by the mother’s who face “criticism and condemnation”, “trauma” and are treated as “less worthy” when they don’t produce a son for their husband and wider family.33

LGBTI+ rights

Homophobia is still deeply rooted in Montenegro. LGBTI+ people permanently face discrimination and do not enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals. They are unable to adopt as couples, unable to donate blood and conversion therapy remains legal.34

However, there have been steps to improve this through progressive legislation. In 2020, Montenegro became the first Balkan non-EU State to allow same-sex civil partnerships; embodying “European values”. Previous attempts to pass such legislation was blocked by conservative ethnic minority representatives, who accused the governments of “undermining traditional values” and attempting to “impose a new value system”.35

The first same-sex union was then recorded in July 2021, between two Montenegrin women from abroad.36 While legalized civil partnership is a step forward, surveys show that half of Montenegrin citizens still consider homosexuality a “danger to society” and 71% consider it an illness.37

In 2019, the SPC carried out its first baptism for a transgender man.38 This was met with mixed response, some praising the progressiveness, while the man suffered a late-night attack by intruders in his home. Also, while the man’s baptism was carried out, a medical justification was used and those leading the SPC simultaneously called same-sex relationships liberal propaganda of “mindless gender ideology.”39

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, is guaranteed under the Constitution, however, it appears to be inconsistently upheld in practise.

The media landscape tends to be partisan and combative. Reporters covering corruption and organized crime risk violence. As a result of this climate, journalists are reported to practise self-censorship.40

In 2020, a number of people were arrested in connection with posts to public and private Facebook pages that contained satirical content about state symbols or remarks perceived to be insulting to the authorities.41

A de facto “blasphemy” law

Under Article 370 of the Criminal Code,42 it is a crime to cause and spread religious hatred. However, this is defined as to include the mockery of religious symbols, which limits the free expression of those who are not of the religion ‘mocked’ or are non-religious. This is punishable by a prison sentence ranging from six months to 8 years. Imprisonment can be extended to 10 years in circumstances where the result is an abuse of position or authority, if it leads to violence, or if the consequences are deemed detrimental to the coexistence of people, national minorities, or ethnic groups.43

In practice, while any de facto blasphemy law inevitably creates “chill”, the wide range of this law appears not to make mockery alone punishable with a prison sentence. Instead, the penalty of imprisonment appears restrained to actually hateful acts. Nevertheless, the law appears to place a potential criminal restriction on “mockery” of religion.44


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