Remembering Vojin Dimitrijević’s Words and His Topical Book “Reign of Terror – A Study on Human Rights and State Terror”

July 9, 2020

Vojin Dimitrijević, a law professor, intellectual, eminent champion of human rights and democracy and long-standing Director of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, was born on this day 9 July 1932. We recall what he said in his book “Reign of Terror – A Study on Human Rights and State Terror,” which is just as topical today as it was when he wrote it in 1984.

Vojin D_eng-01

Having once written a book on terrorism as a method of political struggle against government, I was left with the impression that the terror exercised by those in power was in fact more dangerous, that it took much more innocent victims, that it diminished human dignity much more and that its existence was a permanent threat to society. This terror, however, remained for the most part neglected, not only by me – but in academic literature in general. Lawyers, in particular, due to dilemmas both contrived and real – an issue that will be discussed further – have done precious little in contributing to the understanding of and clarifying the existence of the reign of fear.

It is clear, beyond any doubt, that a study of this length can only concern the governance through and by introduction of fear and anxiety as a political method alone. Such analysis requires generalization, through identification of the common traits of modern reigns of fear, which are in the focus of this study, and their comparison to occurrences in the past. I recognize that this approach may be contested as ahistorical, since it does not always take into account all the specific and unique circumstances and causes. However, to fully yield to such a remark would mean that the science of politics, as an attempt to establish certain general concepts and determine universal rules, is impossible. That risk, therefore, is one that has to be taken.

Belgrade, 15 November 1984
V.D.”

We should read “Reign of Terror” and refuse to live in it! 

“Reign of Terror” is available in PDF at: https://www.fabrikaknjiga.co.rs/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/The-Reign-of-Terror.pdf

 

Press release regarding the police brutality at the protest

July 8, 2020

Human Rights House condemns police brutality during last night’s protests in Belgrade. Disproportionate use of force was documented in a large number of video material, both on N1 Television and citizens who participated in the protests. It was recorded that the police on several occasions beat people who were standing still or sitting on benches, as well as the violent behavior of the alleged plainclothes police officers, who need to be investigated. Reaction of the police during the protest contains elements of a serious violation of freedom of assembly and torture.

It is obvious that the greatest degree of violence occurred after the police started using a disproportionate amount of tear gas to disperse the citizens who predominantly protested peacefully. Police has obtained a number of injured police officers and horses, but the total number of injured citizens is likely to remain unknown, due to the current situation with the coronavirus and the inability or citizens’ reluctance to address to medical services. The measures taken by the police are unprecedented in Serbia.

Police press release, stating that an analysis will be performed and that it will be determined who is responsible for organizing the protest, concerns a lot. The protest that was held yesterday obviously falls under the category of spontaneous protests foreseen by the Law on Public Assembly and represents the reaction of citizens to the press conference of the President Aleksandar Vucic that was held yesterday. The announcement of the police indicates the possibility of further illegitimate proceedings against the citizens who participated in the assembly, and the arbitrary targeting of undesirable individuals seriously endangers the rule of law and human rights.

Organizations constituting the Human Rights House will, in accordance with their areas of expertise, obtain all available information in order to create the most adequate possible reporting to the domestic, international public and competent institutions and to provide legal aid to the citizens whose rights were violated during the protest.

We urge the police, the prosecution and other relevant state institutions to react in accordance with their competencies, to refrain from excessive use of coercive measures, and to react to the possible continuation of protests in the coming days in accordance with the rule of law, in addition to respecting basic human rights.

Download Press release

Member organizations of the Human Rights House:

Civic Initiatives
Belgrade Centre for Human Rights – BCHR
Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights – YUCOM
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
Policy Center

Balkan Refugee and Migration Council: Security for Human Beings and Borders – Combating Smuggling of Migrants in the Western Balkan

July 1, 2020

Donor: European Union

Project duration: March 2020 – March 2023

Balkan Refugee and Migration Council and its member organizations have, through this project, focused their attention on one of the burning issues related to migrants in the region – smuggling of migrants. The aim of the project is to lead to the development of a comprehensive regional migration management program based on the needs of protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, through a multidimensional partnership of civil society organizations and state institutions.

Accordingly, 90 civil society organizations will go through a process of developing protection-sensitive practices, legal frameworks and public policies against human trafficking. In this way, civil society organizations, along with the development of cooperation with state institutions, media and educational institutions, will be able to provide support to smuggled migrants. Through advocacy activities, the project strives for closer harmonization of practices and legal frameworks of the Western Balkan countries.

The two main migration routes on the way to the European Union are through Serbia and from the Greek-Albanian border through Bosnia
and Herzegovina to Croatia and Slovenia. The project lead is Group 484, and the implementing partners are the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), the Macedonian Association of Young Lawyers (MYLA), Vaša prava Bosnia and Herzegovina (VP BiH), the Civic Alliance from Montenegro (GAMN), the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) and the Civil Rights Program Kosovo (CRP/K).

Victims of Torture in Serbia “Tripped up” at All Levels 26 June 2020

June 26, 2020

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights alerts to the plight of victims of torture on 26 June International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

First and foremost, the relevant Serbian authorities have undertaken hardly any steps to prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Back in 2016, the then Protector of Citizens filed an initiative with the Serbian National Assembly and Government to lay down in law mandatory audio and video monitoring of interrogations of suspects and of all cases of use of means of coercion, to facilitate the monitoring of the lawfulness and proportionality of the measures. Suspects are still interrogated in the inspectors’ offices in police stations.

There is no legal or experiential justification for the Serbian courts’ and prosecutors’ practice of giving all their trust to statements of police and other public officials and none to individuals who claim they have been tortured and or witnessed torture. There are hardly any cases of officers “testifying against their coworkers”, i.e. of unwarranted or excessive use of force, or of reporting it themselves.

Most criminal reports filed against public officials by victims of torture and ill-treatment are dismissed. The few cases that do make it to court end in convictions, for the most part suspended sentences. As a rule, public officials found guilty of torture or ill-treatment do not lose their jobs, although they have betrayed public trust and violated the victims’ human dignity.

The Constitutional Court has itself been “tripping up” victims of torture since it has held that prosecutors’ decisions not to prosecute alleged torturers do not violate or deny human rights and freedoms and has not even been reviewing the victims’ constitutional appeals on the merits.

The reluctance of the Protector of Citizens to alert to the topmost authorities’ liability for torture or risk of torture in specific cases is also obvious. The extradition of Kurdish activist Cevdet Ayaz to Turkey, the beating up of protesters in RTS in March 2019 and the introduction of life imprisonment without parole are merely some of the events he did not think worthy of his reaction. Whereas international bodies reviewing applications and communications against Serbia have been finding the State guilty of torture and ill-treatment and alerting to the frequency of such police treatment in their recent reports, the Protector of Citizens has stated that there is no “systemic” torture in Serbia and that merely isolated incidents are at issue. How far his assessment is removed from reality is best illustrated by recordings posted on social networks during the state of emergency, showing police slapping, punching and kicking people and grossly violating their human dignity, even at public venues.

In the absence of community support services, many people with intellectual difficulties remain institutionalised. Deinstitutionalisation is still a distant goal for the Serbian society. These institutions suffer not only from lack of decent living conditions, but also from lack of staff who can provide the wards with psychological, psycho-social and psychiatric treatment, wherefore they sometimes resort to overmedication.

Several positive steps have, however, been made in the past few years: the Serbian Bar Chamber opened a call centre for the appointment of ex officio counsel; the Legal Aid Act, which recognises victims of torture and ill-treatment as beneficiaries entitled to free legal aid regardless of their financial standing, was adopted; and, the Ministry of Internal Affairs Commission for the Implementation of Torture Prevention Standards by the Police was established. The effects of these measures and the work of these bodies are yet to be reviewed.

The BCHR has been collecting data on all prosecutorial and court cases opened in response to allegations of torture and ill-treatment committed by public officials for ten years now. The BCHR marks the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture by posting the testimony of Roki Đorđević from Kula, a victim of police torture in late January 2020.

The testimony is available here.

BCHR Files Requests with Protector of Citizens and Serbian Government Re Doubts about the Official COVID-19 Data

June 24, 2020

 

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights has filed an initiative with the Protector of Citizens to inspect the work of the Ministry of Health, specifically its information system and disclosure of data on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Serbia. The BCHR also filed a request with the Serbian Government to provide it with access to the minutes of the COVID-19 Crisis Headquarters sessions, the decision on the establishment of the Crisis Headquarters and information about all members of that body and their functions. 

The BCHR’s requests were prompted by BIRN’s claims that the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths was several times higher than the numbers published officially by the Crisis Headquarters.

To recall, any concealment of data regarding public health in Serbia is not only illegal, but can also cause irreparable and immeasurable harm to the rights of Serbia’s citizens, undermine their trust in the government and cause panic. Independent institutions must report on the above information as soon as possible.

World Refugee Day

June 19, 2020

 

On the occasion of 20 June, World Refugee Day, the Belgrade Centre of Human Rights alerts to the vulnerability of the refugee population, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and recalls that Serbian state institutions are under the obligation to extend protection to all refugees under domestic and international law.

UNHCR data show that 79.5 million people in the world have been forced to flee their homes as a result of persecution or conflicts. Children account for 40% of them. Unfortunately, the years-long conflicts and large-scale violations of human rights indicate that major improvements are unlikely in the near future. A total of 12,937 people expressed the intention to seek asylum in Serbia in 2019 but only 35 were granted asylum. Furthermore, the problems of refugees and internally displaced persons from ex-Yugoslavia have not been resolved yet.

To recall, the movement of migrants and asylum seekers during the state of emergency introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was strictly limited to the centres they were living in. We therefore call on the relevant institutions to provide migrants with unobstructed access to Serbia’s territory in accordance with UNHCR and OHCHR recommendations during the pandemic, whilst respecting all the health measures. The Serbian asylum system still cannot be qualified as efficient given the length of the asylum procedure and non-implementation of the asylum procedure at Belgrade airport Nikola Tesla and the low number of people granted asylum. The refugees’ integration has been gravely undermined by their inability to obtain travel documents and Serbian citizenship.

The BCHR has been endeavouring to improve the status of all refugees in Serbia through its activities involving the provision of legal aid to asylum seekers, strategic litigation before domestic and international bodies, support in integration and advocacy. The BCHR launched an online campaign #let’sstandbyeachother to mark World Refugee Day and raise public awareness of the refugees’ problems and promote solidarity and tolerance to contribute to the equality and life in dignity of all vulnerable groups, including refugees, in Serbia’s society.

World Refugee Day was established under a UN General Assembly Resolution in 2001.