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

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.

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.

EU Fundamental Rights Agency publishes its 2020 Fundamental Rights Report covering EU Member States and, for the first time, Serbia and North Macedonia

June 12, 2020

The European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) published its 2020 Fundamental Rights Report covering EU Member States and, for the first time, two EU candidate countries – Serbia and North Macedonia. FRA’s 2020 Report emphasises the importance of human rights protection in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Growing intolerance and attacks on people’s fundamental rights continue to erode the considerable progress achieved over the years. As Europe begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic we see a worsening of existing inequalities and threats to societal cohesion,” the
Report finds.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had, and will continue to have, a profound impact on the fundamental rights of everyone across the EU. Persistent inequalities, harassment and prejudices are likely to worsen,” says FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty. “Governments need to ensure planning for the ‘new normal’ to lead to a fair and just society that honours the dignity of everyone and ensures that no one is left behind.”

FRA’s Fundamental Rights Report 2020 reflects on the developments and shortfalls of human rights protection in the EU over the past year, including in the United Kingdom and two EU candidate countries: Serbia and North Macedonia. It addresses: equality and non-discrimination; racism and related intolerance; Roma inclusion; asylum, borders and migration; information society, privacy and data protection; child rights; access to justice; and implementing the UN’s disability convention. The Report summarises and analyses major human rights developments in the EU over 2019. It also contains proposals for action covering the EU’s Fundamental Rights
Charter and its use by Member States.

The Serbia Report is available at:

The integral Report is available at:

Constitutional Court Invalidates Parliament’s Role in State of Emergency Proclamation Procedure

May 26, 2020

By dismissing as manifestly ill-founded the initiatives to review the constitutionality of the Decision on the State of Emergency of 15 March 2020, the Constitutional Court of Serbia has invalidated the National Assembly’s role in the state of emergency proclamation procedure.

The Serbian Constitution gives the National Assembly the main role during a state of emergency. Under Articles 99, 105, 106, 109 and 200 of the Constitution, the National Assembly shall proclaim a state of emergency and may impose measures derogating from human and minority rights; a disbanded National Assembly shall perform only current or urgent tasks stipulated by law and, in case a state of emergency is proclaimed, it shall regain its full competence until the state of emergency is lifted; and, the National Assembly shall be convoked without notice upon the proclamation of a state of emergency. Pursuant to the Constitution, in the event the decision on the state of emergency is not taken by the National Assembly, the National Assembly shall verify it within 48 hours or as soon  as it is in a position to convene. A decision on the state of emergency not verified by the National Assembly shall cease to be effective upon the end of its first session after the proclamation of the state of emergency. The Serbian Government is under the duty to submit the decrees on measures derogating from human and minority rights, which are co-signed by the Serbian President, for verification by the National Assembly within 48 hours or as soon as the National Assembly is in a position to convene. Otherwise, such measures shall cease to be effective 24 hours after the beginning of the first session of the National Assembly held after the proclamation of the state of emergency. 

The National Assembly Speaker’s notice to the Serbian President and Government of 15 March 2020 that the Assembly was not in a position to meet sufficed for the Constitutional Court to conclude that there was no cause to review the constitutionality of the Decision on the State of Emergency, which was adopted by the Serbian President, Prime Minister and National Assembly Speaker rather than the National Assembly.

The initiatives submitted to the Constitutional Court de facto raised the issue of abuse of the constitutional provision exceptionally providing for the proclamation of a state of emergency by the President, Prime Minister and Speaker in the event the National Assembly cannot meet. The Constitutional Court held that it “had no constitutional or other legal grounds to question the Speaker’s notice that the parliament was unable to meet,” wherefore it did not question, under constitutional law, the Speaker’s power to herself suspend the work of the legislature, without first calling and holding a session of the Collegium[1], obtaining the opinions of the MPs, their caucuses or the parliamentary committees on whether it was possible to hold a session, and to opt for the constitutional exception. It thus comes as no surprise, although it definitely gives rise to concern, that the Constitutional Court qualified the proclamation of the state of emergency by the Serbian President, Prime Minister and parliament Speaker as an alternative rather than a subsidiary procedure.

In its explanation of its decision, the Constitutional Court devoted a lot of space to enumerating and analysing the facts supporting the introduction of the state of emergency (the epidemiological situation in China, Spain, France, Italy, Serbia, the unknowns surrounding COVID-19, etc.). On the other hand, it did not deem relevant to examine the actions (e.g. calling and holding a session of the Collegium, obtaining the opinions of the MPs, their caucuses or the parliamentary committees on whether a session could be held elsewhere, et al) that should have preceded the Speaker’s notice to the Serbian President and Prime Minister that the Assembly could not meet. The Constitutional Court explained that it was unable to assess the Assembly’s organisational capacity to meet without delay in an emergency threatening human life and health.

The invalidation of the parliament’s role also brings into question the constitutionally proclaimed sovereignty vested in the people and exercised through their freely elected representatives. The Constitutional Court apparently does not consider the possibility of one MP (merely “the first among equals”) usurping this sovereignty a relevant constitutional law issue.

To recall, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights filed three initiatives with the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the Serbian authorities’ state of emergency decisions and their compliance with ratified international treaties. These initiatives are still pending before the Constitutional Court.


[1] The National Assembly Collegium is a body convened by the National Assembly Speaker to coordinate and consult on the work of the National Assembly. The Collegium comprises the National Assembly Speaker, National Assembly Deputy Speakers and heads of the parliamentary groups in the National Assembly.

BCHR Calls on the State to Enable Citizens without Personal Documents to Exercise the Right to One-Off Financial Aid without Delay

May 21, 2020

A number of citizens deprived of liberty and serving their prison sentences in Serbian penitentiaries contacted the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights since 15 May, asking for assistance in exercising their right to one-off financial aid the state is granting to dampen the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. They said that they did not have ID cards at all or that their ID cards had expired and that they were unable to obtain personal documents whilst in prison.

Under the Serbian Government Decree on one-off financial aid to Serbian nationals adopted on 24 April 2020, all adult nationals of Serbia with valid ID cards are entitled to such aid. The Decree, however, does not address exercise of this right by citizens who do not have valid personal documents. The deadline for applying for the financial aid expires on 5 June 2020.

We therefore appeal to the Serbian Government to as soon as possible amend the Decree to enable a large number of Serbian nationals without personal documents (who are living, e.g. in closed institutions or informal Roma settlements), as well as citizens who do not have phones or the Internet, to exercise their right to one-off financial aid. We also urge the Government to extend the deadline for applying for the aid.