The abolishment of the decree that prevents research in the field of defence is the ‘Kodak moment’ of the state of democracy in Serbia

December 14, 2021

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A group of civil society organisations and experts hereby points out that the way laws and by-laws are passed, amended and abolished shows a true picture of the catastrophic state of democracy in Serbia. The content, enactment and urgent abolishment of the decree stipulating that scientific and other research of importance for the country’s defense, conducted in cooperation with foreign entities, will require the approval of competent authorities, violates all principles of democracy, rule of law and freedom of expression.

The regulation in question – which the government non-transparently passed, only to later abolish it – would restrict academic freedoms and violate the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, the right to freedom of expression, the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Human and Civil Rights. It would make it completely impossible to conduct independent research in many different fields, from natural and social sciences to mathematics, to the research of ores and mineral resources. In the context of the current fight against dirty technologies in Serbia, the latter particularly raises doubts about the legislator’s intentions. The above means that the Government could deny consent to research conducted in cooperation with foreign entities in these areas if it arbitrarily assesses that such research would threaten the country’s defence. This would open up the possibility of abuse and prevention of free and independent research and public information.

The decree is not only contrary to Serbia’s declarative commitment to joining the EU; imposing restrictions on cooperation of domestic researchers with foreign entities would also seriously hinder international scientific and research cooperation of faculties, institutes and citizens’ associations from Serbia that are financed from foreign funds. This would actually set a barrier that would prevent the public from being able to control the state authorities’ possible abuses: researchers would not be able to interview whistleblowers who react to unlawful activities, while researches would be prevented even from conducting public opinion surveys – it would be enough for the competent authorities to refuse to give approval under the pretext that the activity would endanger national security.

This is the second time that the government is trying to pass this sort of a decree. The attempt from 2017 was prevented by the strong reaction of the public. In order to eliminate the danger of this or a similar regulation being passed again, we ask that the disputed Article 71a of the Defence Act – based on which yesterday’s Decree was passed and later abolished – be abolished. However, there are fears that the reasons for this latest attempt to abolish transparency and stifle freedom of speech are rooted in our country’s ever stronger alliances with regimes that are known for much more brutal confrontations with political opponents, independent media and non-governmental organisations.

Just like the recent examples of the adoption, abolishment and amendment of two laws that led to mass civil protests, this is another proof that there is no division of power and independence of institutions in Serbia. Now that it has been reaffirmed that not only the laws, but also the by-laws are the result of the will of the President of Serbia, and that the procedures defined by the Constitution are no more than ornaments that help simulate the rule of law, it is clear that civil society remains one of the few barriers to full autocracy. If similar attacks on the civil sector continue, even that last bulwark of democracy in Serbia will be destroyed. For this reason, we call on the public, the media, non-governmental organisations, the academic community, activists and human rights defenders to raise their voices against such intentions of the government.

Signed by:

  • Belgrade Centre for Security Policy
  • Belgrade Centre for Human Rights
  • CRTA
  • Civic initiatives
  • Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Drug Policy Network South East Europe
  • Victimology Society of Serbia

Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Serbia

Donors: Federal Foreign Office via Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Belgrade and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Belgrade
Duration: November 2021 – February 2022

The overall goal of the project is to promote and protect human rights in Serbia through monitoring and reporting on the state of human rights and capacity building of experts and human rights defenders. This project responds to the continuing and growing need and demand for improving the human rights situation in Serbia and training young professionals to get and help Serbia’s transition to a democratic society based on the rule of law, human rights and European values.

The key activities on the project include the organization of the Human Rights School "Vojin Dimitrijević", as well as the creation of the annual report on the state of human rights in Serbia for 2021.

The Human Rights School “Vojin Dimitrijević” is an intensive course on the concept of human rights, restrictions and derogations of rights, prohibition of discrimination, right to life, right to liberty and security of person, right to trial, prohibition of torture, freedom of expression, economic, social, and cultural rights, minority rights and other human rights. Using various methods such as lectures, workshops, case studies and panel discussions, students have the opportunity to hear and learn about the theoretical aspects of human rights, ways of protecting human rights as well as other socially relevant topics. Lecturers are professors, judges, lawyers, representatives of international organizations and activists from civil society organizations. 

The annual reports, published both in Serbian and English, contain a comparison of domestic laws and other regulations with international norms that bind Serbia, and an assessment of their application in practice. Belgrade Centre for Human Rights’ associates regularly monitor the media, reports of domestic and international non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations, laws, strategies, and action plans. Each year, the report points to broader issues, which determine the attitude towards human rights situation. Since these problems and topics change from year to year, Belgrade Centre for Human Rights always emphasizes and analyses those problems that were the most important in the given year.

Many Health Professionals Think That Their Human Rights Have Been Violated during the COVID-19 Pandemic

December 10, 2021

DSC_0036The Trade Union of Doctors and Pharmacists and Doctors of Serbia and the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) presented the results of a survey on respect for human rights of health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic on the eve of International Human Rights Day marked on 10 December.

The answers of doctors and medical technicians who took part in the survey indicate large-scale and diverse violations of their human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. They singled out breaches of their rights to respect for their private and family life, an effective legal remedy, equality (prohibition of discrimination), freedom of expression, health care and some of their work-related rights.

Most of the respondents were not asked whether they suffered from any chronic diseases or conditions putting them at risk of grave consequences if they were infected with COVID-19 before they were referred to work in the COVID-19 system. The Trade Union’s data indicate that over 130 doctors infected with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic broke out.

A number of respondents said that they worked extremely long hours in COVID-19 hospitals (they worked 12- and 15-hour shifts in hazmat suits), with no breaks or adequate compensation. Some of them reported they were fined for using up PPE (surgical masks) and referred to COVID-19 institutions without any prior training or guidance from specialists (infectologists, pulmonologists or epidemiologists). Most respondents were not asked whether they had underage children before they were referred to COVID-19 hospitals or out-patient clinics.

The survey was presented on 9 December in the Belgrade Media Center by:

  • Sonja Tošković, BCHR Executive Director, 
  • Rade Panić, Chairman of the Trade Union of Doctors and Pharmacists of Serbia,
  • Dr. Sc. Med. Gorica Đokić, Trade Union of Doctors and Pharmacists of Serbia, and
  • Vladica Ilić, BCHR.

The survey, conducted within a project funded by the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and USAID, involved use of a structured questionnaire especially designed for health professionals, which was distributed and filled electronically (due to the epidemiological situation) by doctors, nurses and medical technicians across Serbia in the 18-28 October 2021 period, with the support of the Trade Union of Doctors and Pharmacists of Serbia.

Detailed results of the survey on the respect of human rights of health professionals during the COVID- 19 pandemic are available in Serbian here.

Results of the public opinion survey on the status of health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic and satisfaction with healthcare services is available in Serbian here.

Youth Rights Talks on Tuesday, 7th of December – this year theme is environment #WhatNext?

December 6, 2021

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Belgrade Centre for Human Rigths and BCHR’s Youth Team are very pleased to invite you to a unique event that focuses on the voices of young people and their human rights – Youth Rights Talks, which will be held on Tuesday, 7th of December, at 11 A.M. For the fourth year in a row, Youth Rights Talks provides young people with a safe space to publicly express their views, thoughts, and stories on social issues, thus establishing dialogue among young people and relevant institutions in the country.

This year’s leading theme is the right to a healthy environment and environmentally sustainable communities with our slogan #WhatNext?. Among the hundred participants, we expect young people from all over Serbia, international organizations, decision-makers, and institutions that deal with issues, problems, and the future of young people in Serbia at the policy level.

You can follow our event via the ZOOM platform, by registering at the link:

The official language of the event is Serbian. A translation to English will be provided. The event is accessible to people with disabilities, and Serbian sign language interpreters will be provided.

Youth Rights Talks 2021 is organized by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights in cooperation with the United Nations Human Rights Team in Serbia. 

The detailed agenda of the event in english is HERE.

State authorities still tolerating public officials’ ill-treatment

Capture prohibtion of tortureThe Belgrade Centre for Human Rights has published its publication Prohibition of Torture and Other Forms of Ill-Treatment in Serbia 2018-2020, which includes an analysis of the relevant national criminal law, prosecutorial investigations and court proceedings against public officials suspected of extortion of confessions and torture or ill-treatment. The publication analyses investigations of police ill-treatment during the July 2020 civic protests and presents the results of a survey of public awareness of post-arrest rights. 

The research shows that the national criminal law framework on the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment is unsatisfactory and that the numerous shortcomings of the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Legal Aid Act and other regulations are precluding effective investigations of ill-treatment cases and the adequate punishment of public officials found guilty of those crimes. 

Police officers still account for most public officials charged with these crimes. The data indicate that their collegiality goes beyond professional; as a rule, they neither report their fellow officers who torture or ill-treat people nor testify against them (at least 226 officers testified in such cases but none of them confirmed that the defendants had used excessive force against the victims). Investigations against public officials are neither prompt nor comprehensive and are rarely independent. Nearly all public officials found guilty have been handed down suspended sentences. In the analysed period, only two police officers found guilty of torturing an individual in Niš were convicted by a final judgment to five and eight months’ imprisonment, and only five officers found guilty in one case (of ill-treatment during the 2014 Pride Parade in Belgrade) lost their jobs. In all other analysed cases, the convicted officers did not suffer any work-related consequences, except for one officer whose salary was cut by 20%. In all cases ending with a final decision, the courts instructed the victims of ill-treatment to claim damages in civil proceedings.

Not one of the scores of proceedings initiated in response to police brutality during last year’s protests have been completed. The prosecution offices and the Interior Ministry’s Internal Control Sector claim that they cannot establish the identity of the uniformed officers not wearing visible ID who ill-treated people on Belgrade and Novi Sad streets in July 2020.

The survey showed that members of the public are insufficiently aware of their rights in case they are deprived of liberty.

The research was conducted with a project funded by the European Centre for Not-for-Profit Law.

The analysis is available in Serbian and English.


Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia – Periodic Report for July–September 2021

November 22, 2021
Capture Cover azil periodicni englThe Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) team has compiled the report on the right to asylum in the Republic of Serbia, covering the July-September 2021 period.
The report analyses the treatment of the asylum seekers and refugees based on the information the BCHR team obtained during their legal representation in the asylum procedure and provision of support in their integration, and during its field work. In addition to reviewing the relevant decisions by the asylum authorities, the report also describes the BCHR’s activities geared at facilitating the integration of refugees and asylum seekers, and their access to their right to education. 
It also comprises data the BCHR collected through regular cooperation and communication with the state authorities and UNHCR. The statistical data cover the 1 July – 30 September 2021 period.
The report is primarily designated for the state authorities charged with ensuring the realisation of the rights of asylum seekers and foreigners granted international protection, as well as other professionals and organisations monitoring the situation in the field of asylum.
The report is available HERE.