The state institutions should fight against the coronavirus, not the freedom of media

April 2, 2020

We draw the attention of the domestic and international public to the unacceptable recent moves by the state authorities in Serbia during the state of emergency introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which undermine democracy, rule of law, basic human rights and especially freedom of media.

We condemn the arrest of  Nova.rs journalist Ana Lalić, to whom the Novi Sad Police Department imposed a measure of detention of up to 48 hours on April 1, 2020 because, as her lawyer stated, she is suspected that she could repeat the crime, publishing articles which are causing panic and chaos. This kind of treatment of journalists not only directly represents a violation of media freedom, but also creates an intimidating effect for all journalists in Serbia, which are the key point for adequate information of citizens in this country.

In a difficult situation we are in, combating a contagious COVID-19 disease that threatens all of us, the activities and measures of state bodies even in the state of emergency must be in accordance with the Constitution of Serbia, the European Convention on Human Rights and the international acts to which Serbia committed itself to. One of them is certainly the freedom of media, and above all the right of the public on accurate, true and timely information, especially in a situation where the public health of the entire population is endangered.

Announcement by the Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabić that today, on 2 April 2020, just four days after the adoption, the Government will withdraw its Conclusion on informationduring the coronavirus pandemic, which stipulated that all information regarding the pandemic is provided exclusively by the Crisis response team headed by the Prime Minister of Serbia, is a positive step. We hope that the decision to withdraw the Conclusion was made by the Government of Serbia after listening to the opinion of the profession, journalist associations, legal experts and international organizations whose mandate is the protection of human rights, who considered that this kind of centralization of information represents censorship and drastic violation of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution – freedom of expression, freedom of media and the right to be informed. On the other hand, we think that the Prime Minister’s statement that she will appeal to the relevant authorities not to make similar arrests is not in accordance with the Constitution and the principle of separation of powers, therefore it can be considered as pressure on the prosecution by the executive branch, which has become a frequent practice to which we have pointed out before.

While we believe it is important that the Government of Serbia and the Crisis response team continue to publish information on the number of tested, infected, hospitalized, deceased and citizens in home isolation, quarantine and similar accommodation in Serbia, and on the measures that the state intends to introduce and provide interpretations of intended and existing measures, we also consider it necessary that not only national, but also institutions at the local level (mayors, emergency staffs, etc.), as well as health institutions and health workers, provide information to the public that may be relevant for the suppression of the infection. It should be noted that the health and lives of people depend on the timely response of the authorities.

At the same time, we urge the Government of Serbia to introduce all measures it adopts during the state of emergency imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular those relating to the derogation from human and minority rights, in the form required by the Constitution of Serbia and in proportion to the need for their introduction.

Signatories:

  • Belgrade Centre for Security Policy
  • Belgrade Centre for Human Rights
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM
  • Civic Initiatives
  • Center for Practical Politics
  • Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
  • Centre for Contemporary Politics
  • A11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights
  • CEPRIS
  • National Convention on the EU

The Youth Program of BCHR has has launched a new campaign targeting young people in Serbia in the light of COVID-19 pandemic

April 1, 2020

FB post_O jednoj izolovanoj mladosti (1)The Youth Program of Belgrade Centre for Human Rights has has launched a new campaign targeting young people in Serbia in the light of COVID-19 pandemic.

Dear friends!
This world has changed so much in the past few weeks.
We’re all witnessing major changes dictating joint efforts, new circumstances, new learning, new ways of doing things and opening new questions.
Our isolation in our safe (or unfortunately, not so safe) spaces brings up associations of deserted islands, islands of hope for some of us and islands of loneliness for others.

How do we feel on our deserted islands? And what will happen to us when we leave them? How different will we be?

Some of the values every crisis reminds us of will always be there. Solidarity. Equality. The need to do big things and help those in need. The need to see others and embrace fear and sorrow. The need to hope.

We will often reach out to you through social networks and share with you accurate and clear information about the coronavirus, the emergency and its social aspects. We will try to keep in close touch and communicate with you much as possible in the circumstances.

We will contemplate together the global changes affecting our lives. We will be asking: What is happening to the world? What are the key challenges we young people face in the 21 st century? Where are we, what will our priorities be from now on? What with human rights in times of crisis? Which values and principles do we hold dear now?

Let’s all think together about what we can do and how we can behave to turn this crisis into our contribution to our joint transformation into a more responsible, aware and empathetic world.

What can you do now for yourself and the world around you? Apparently, the time has come when we can all save the world together.

We hope you can spare several minutes to fill this questionnaire and tell us how well informed you are about the pandemic, how you feel, whether you have a skill or interest you would like to share with other young people.

Stay well, stay safe and write to us from your islands of hope!

You can always contact us by e-mail youth@bgcentar.org.rs. Or, if you prefer Instagram, follow us on @mladibgcentar and message us directly. 

We hereby thank the UN Human Rights Team for supporting our initiative.

Your BCHR Youth Programme

BCHR Initiates Review of Constitutionality of the Decree on State Emergency Measures and the Order Restricting and Prohibiting Movement of Individuals in the Territory of the Republic of Serbia

March 31, 2020

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) today filed an initiative with the Constitutional Court of Serbia to review the constitutionality of Articles 2 and 3 of the Decree on State Emergency Measures and the Order Restricting and Prohibiting Movement of Individuals in the Territory of the Republic of Serbia. Rather than itself laying down the specific measures derogating from human and minority rights in the Decree, the Serbian Government authorised the Ministry of Interior to adopt a decision thereof, with the consent of the Health Ministry.

In the BCHR’s view, the Serbian Government’s power to prescribe measures derogating from human and minority rights in the event the National Assembly cannot convene (with the Serbian President co-signing the decree enacting them), cannot be delegated to the ministries by any Government or presidential enactment. Therefore, Articles 2 and 3 of the Decree on State Emergency Measures and the Order Restricting and Prohibiting Movement of Individuals in the Territory of the Republic of Serbia enacted by the Ministry of the Interior with the Health Ministry’s consent are incompatible with the Constitution. The Interior Ministry’s Order does not constitute valid grounds for derogations from human and minority rights enshrined in the Serbian Constitution, especially given that some of the measures restricting the freedom of movement set out in the Order (most notably the measure prohibiting people over 65 and 70 from leaving their homes 24 hours a day) amount to deprivation of liberty under international human rights standards.

To recall, under the Serbian Constitution, measures derogating from human and minority rights in a state of emergency shall be prescribed by the National Assembly by a majority of votes. In the event the Assembly is not in a position to convene, such measures may be prescribed by a Government Decree, co-signed by the Serbian President. In such cases, the Government is under the duty to submit the Decree to the National Assembly for verification within 48 hours from adoption, i.e. as soon as the National Assembly is able to convene. 

The BCHR alerted the Serbian Government to the problem last week, but no-one has reacted to it yet. Given the possibility of unforeseeable legal consequences that may result in the initiation of numerous court proceedings against the state, we have no other option but to take this issue to the Constitutional Court, expecting it to react without delay. We also appeal to the Serbian Government to lay down all measures derogating for human and minority rights in the form prescribed by the Constitution and to ensure that they are proportionate to the purpose of their imposition.

The BCHR’s initiative is available in Serbian here.

BCHR Condemns Protest against Accommodation of Migrants in School Recreational Centre Čardak

March 27, 2020

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) vehemently condemns the protest of the residents of Deliblat at Kovin in response to the announcement of the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration that a group of migrants would be accommodated in the School Recreational Centre Čardak pavilions in the Deliblato Sands Special Nature Reserve. The protest and road blockade by a group of residents in Deliblat has regrettably been staged at a time when both Serbia and the world are in dire need of solidarity, tolerance, help and support to successfully combat the coronavirus pandemic that has rocked the foundations of the whole world.

Unfortunately, the protest organised in Deliblat demonstrates the high degree of xenophobia, intolerance and discrimination in our society. Migrants and asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable groups in Serbia and protests such as this one merely stoke the atmosphere of hate and lynch of migrants that has been on the rise lately. Rather than keeping mum, the relevant state authorities must react swiftly and efficiently, especially in light of the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has led Serbia to declare a state of emergency and limit the freedom of movement and assembly to protect the health of the population.

The BCHR is thus all the more surprised that the authorities allowed the assembly of a large number of people in Deliblat and their blockade of the roads with their farm machinery, notwithstanding the risks such actions pose to public health. Has the state demonstrated its impotence when it gave in to the protesters’ demands and abandoned the idea to accommodate the migrants in Čardak? Will protesters foment hate and intolerance of migrants across Serbia? To recall, it is in the interest of public health that migrants and asylum seekers, who are not granted permission to rent private accommodation, live in the centres run by the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, which is
under the obligation to provide them with the requisite accommodation.

The BCHR calls on the relevant state authorities to condemn the incident and again appeals to all Serbia’s citizens to show their solidarity and humanity in these difficult times, not only towards each other, but also towards migrants and asylum seekers. Although we are under a state of emergency, all of us, nationals of the Republic of Serbia, must not forget that our Constitution protects fundamental human rights even during a state of emergency. We hope that the Deliblat protest was an isolated incident and that the state will clearly and unambiguously respond to all such events in the future and protect everyone’s human rights.

BCHR Files Initiative with the Constitutional Court to Review the Constitutionality of Article 2 of the Decree on Misdemeanour Violations of the Interior Minister’s Order Restricting and Prohibiting Movement

March 26, 2020

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights filed an initiative with the Serbian Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the Decree on the Misdemeanour of Violating the Order of the Minister of Internal Affairs on the Restriction and Prohibition of Movement of Individuals in the Territory of the Republic of Serbia (hereinafter: Decree) and its compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Decree was adopted during the state of emergency introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. BCHR is disputing the possibility of dual, criminal and misdemeanour punishment of individuals who violate the prohibition of movement.

Under the Decree, anyone who violates the restriction or prohibition of movement shall be punished by a fine ranging from 50,000 to 150,000 RSD (Article 1). Article 2 of the Decree is, however, disputable given that it lays down that misdemeanour proceedings may be initiated and completed also in case criminal proceedings have been initiated or are pending against the perpetrator of the misdemeanour for a crime comprising elements of the misdemeanour, regardless of the prohibition in Article 8(3) of the Misdemeanour Act.

Although the ministerial Order specifies that non-compliance with the introduced prohibitions will be punishable as a criminal offence, in accordance with the Criminal Code, and as a misdemeanour, under the Decree, the BCHR holds that there is no justification for punishing the individuals who violate the prohibitions twice (in criminal proceedings – for the offence incriminated in Article 248 of the Criminal Code, and then in misdemeanour proceedings, for a misdemeanour under Article 1 of the Decree), which is precisely what the impugned Article of the Decree enables.

To recall, Article 34 of the Serbian Constitution and Article 4 of Protocol 7 to the European Convention on Human Rights enshrine the ne bis in idem principle, which may not be derogated from even during states of emergency.

The BCHR initiative is available here.

Restricting the movement of asylum seekers during the state of emergency and coronavirus pandemic

March 23, 2020
Decision of the Government of the Republic of Serbia on temporary restriction of movement of asylum seekers and irregular migrants accommodated in asylum centers and reception centers in the Republic of Serbia (Official Gazette 32/2020) regulates the issue of the work of asylum centers and reception centers during the duration of the coronavirus pandemic (SARS- CoV-2) due to which a state of emergency was declared on the territory of the Republic of Serbia.
 
This decision temporarily restricts the movement of asylum seekers and other persons accommodated in asylum centers and reception centers, with increased surveillance and security of these facilities. Like other accommodation institutions for a large number of people (such as nursing homes, dormitories, etc.), these centers are extremely vulnerable to the possible spread of the infection.
 
It should be noted that persons currently housed in the centers in Serbia arrived before the outbreak of the pandemic, and thus the closure of the centers was done in order to avoid the spread of the virus inside the centers from outside.

Also, on March 20, 2020, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Council of Europe (CPT) issued a statement of principles relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Recognizing the clear need to take firm action to combat the spread as well as to face specific and difficult challenges for employees of all detention facilities, the CPT recalled that the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment was absolute and that the protective measures taken by States to combat COVID-19 should never result in any form of abuse of persons deprived of their liberty.

 
Therefore, the CPT recommended that during the COVID-19 pandemic, basic principle is for states to take all possible action to protect the health and safety of all persons deprived of their liberty and by taking such action to also contribute to preserving the health and safety of staff., and also to allow the monitoring by independent bodies, including National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) and the CPT,.
 
For the purpose of better informing persons who are currently accommodated in asylum centers and reception centers, the Belgrade Center for Human Rights has prepared info leaflets in the languages most frequently spoken by asylum seekers.
 
Click below to see the leaflets in the following languages