Announcement

Aid, Support and Solidarity with Ukrainian Youth//Допомога, підтримка та солідарність з українською молоддю

March 7, 2022

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The Youth Programme of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) is opening its doors and communication channels to assist, support and show solidarity with Ukrainian youth fleeing their war ravaged country in search of refuge, safety and security. Many of them have been on the move for 10 days now, looking for a safer place to live, both inside Ukraine and in neighbouring and other countries, to which, according to UNHCR estimates, over one million people,  over 500,000 of them children,  have fled. Unfortunately, predictions are that the number of displaced Ukrainians will be up to 10 times higher. 

Ukrainian youth are facing numerous challenges brought on by the winds of war – young 18-year-old  men are subject to general mobilisation, while young girls and women are on the move, among hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for their lives. The first Ukrainian refugees arrived in Serbia several days ago; some of them are merely in transit, while others have found refuge and safety with their relatives and friends. All the relevant Serbian institutions and organisations expect that the number of refugees from Ukraine will increase in the coming period. 

This is why BCHR’s Youth Programme has harnessed all its power and resources to extend aid and support, primarily to youth, as well as all other people from Ukraine, who find themselves in Serbia. We are networking with other NGOs extending humanitarian and psychological aid and support and we are in contact with youth organisations in Ukraine, collecting together the aid they now need the most. 

As UNHCR’s partner, BCHR has been extending legal aid and advice free of charge to all refugees and asylum seekers, including those from Ukraine, since 2012. You can contact us for legal aid and advice via our websites bgcentar.org.rs and azil.rs, via our e-mails bgcentar@bgcentar.org.rs and youth@bgcentar.org.rs, and via our social media profiles @bgcentar (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and @mladibgcentar (Facebook and Instagram). The main information on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers is available on this link  on UNHCR’s platform. You may also find useful the contact details of the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration of the Republic of Serbia  and additional BCHR guidance in Ukrainian and Russian.    We call on everyone to support ADRA Serbia’s campaign and send assistance to people who were forced to flee Ukraine via the following website:  www.donacije.rs/projekat/ukrajina-podrska/.

We call on Serbian institutions to do their utmost to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine’s population, to prepare for the potential inflow of refugees from war-torn areas, and to extend humanitarian and all other assistance to states bordering with Ukraine to preclude humanitarian disasters they may face due to the massive influx of refugees. 

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Молодіжна програма Бєлградського центру з прав людини (БЦПЛ) відкриває свої двері та канали зв’язку, щоб допомогти, підтримати та виявити солідарність з українською молоддю, яка біжить зі своєї розореної війною країни у пошуках притулку, безпеки та захисту. Багато з них уже 10 днів перебувають у переїздах у пошуках безпечнішого місця для проживання як усередині України, так і в сусідніх та інших країнах, куди, за оцінками УВКБ ООН, бігли понад мільйон людей, з яких понад 500 000 – діти . На жаль, за прогнозами кількість переміщених українців буде у 10 разів більшою. 

Українська молодь стикається з численними випробуваннями, принесеними вітрами війни – 18-річні юнаки підлягають загальній мобілізації, а молоді дівчата та жінки вимушені вирушити в дорогу, як й сотні тисяч інших людей, що рятуються втечею. Кілька днів тому до Сербії прибули перші українські біженці; деякі з них продовжать шукати притулок, тоді як інші знайшли притулок та безпеку у своїх родичів та друзів. Усі відповідні сербські установи та організації очікують, що кількість біженців з України у майбутній період збільшиться.

Ось чому Молодіжна програма БЦПЛ направила всі свої сили та ресурси на надання допомоги та підтримки насамперед молоді, а також усім іншим людям з України, які опинилися у Сербії. Ми співпрацюємо з іншими НУО, які надають гуманітарну та психологічну допомогу та підтримку, і ми підтримуємо контакт з молодіжними організаціями в Україні, збираючи допомогу, якої вони зараз найбільше потребують.

Як партнер УВКБ ООН, БЦПЛ надає безкоштовну юридичну допомогу та консультації всім біженцям та особам, які шукають притулку, зокрема з України, з 2012 року. Ви можете зв’язатися з нами для отримання юридичної допомоги та консультації через наші веб-сайти bgcentar.org.rs і azil.rs , на електронну пошту bgcentar@bgcentar.org.rs і Youth@bgcentar.org.rs, а також через наші профілі в соціальних мережах @ bgcentar (Twitter , Facebook , Instagram ) та @ mladibgcentar (Facebook та Instagram). Основна інформація про права біженців та прохачів притулку доступна за цим посиланням на платформі УВКБ ООН. Вам також можуть стати в нагоді контактні дані Комісаріату у справах біженців та міграції Республіки Сербія та додаткове керівництво БЦПЛ українською та російською мовами. Ми закликаємо всіх підтримати кампанію ADR RA Serbia та надіслати допомогу людям, які були змушені втекти з України, через веб-сайт: www.donacije.rs/projekat/ukrajina-podrska/.

Ми закликаємо сербські установи зробити все можливе для надання гуманітарної допомоги населенню України, підготуватися до можливого припливу біженців із охоплених війною районів, а також надати гуманітарну та будь-яку іншу допомогу державам, що межують з Україною, для запобігання можливим гуманітарним катастрофам у зв’язку з масовим напливом біженців.

BCHR Presents Its 2021 Human Rights Report

March 6, 2022

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The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights presented its latest annual report Human Rights in Serbia 2021 in the Belgrade Media Center on 3 March. The Report and its main findings were discussed by Report Editor Dušan Pokuševski, Report co-author Ivan Protić, BCHR Executive Director Sonja ToškovićSofija Mandić (CEPRIS), Lana Avakumović (CRTA) and Dragana Milovanović (Disability Rights International, DRI), as well as Political Counsellor at the German Embassy in Belgrade Daniel Mohseni.

Environmental protests were the main events that marked the year behind us, said the Report Editor, Dušan Pokuševski. The spate of protests, from small, local ones to large-scale civic demonstrations across the country, show that Serbia’s citizens are “aware of their human rights and know how to fight for them,” he said, adding that no-one had been called to account for the violence that occurred during last year’s protests. 

“Such impunity has become a trend, if we recall the July 2020 protests, giving rise to a serious question: Who is to protect the citizens and how?” said Pokuševski.

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CSOs and human rights activists were often targeted by pro-regime media and MPs and the physical safety of some human rights champions was at risk in 2021.

BCHR Executive Director Sonja Tošković said that the ongoing pandemic continued impinging on public health and the status of medical professionals in 2021. 

“The impression that the executive dominated over other branches prevailed in 2021. There were no public debates, at least not meaningful ones. A lot of laws were adopted or amended, from the Police Act to the Criminal Code. As opposed to 2020, when economic rights were targeted, 2021 was marked by attempts to stifle political and civil rights,” Tošković said. On the bright side, some headway was made in the field of anti-discrimination, where a large share of civil sector’s comments were upheld, she noted.

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“The Anti-Discrimination Act has been improved and it’s quite good. However, the Act on Same-Sex Unions, criticised by the ruling officials, did not end up in parliament. Surprisingly, the Prime Minister, who has publicly declared that she is a lesbian and has rights others don’t, did not comment the draft law at all,” said Tošković.

Tošković also said that 8% of the children were living in absolute poverty and another 24% of them on the poverty line and that over half of girls from the Roma community married before they turned 18. “Children are victims of online abuse, domestic violence, violence in school,” she said, adding that persons with disabilities were discriminated against on multiple grounds, but that women’s activism has awoken and that women have again mustered the courage to report their abusers. Tošković said that the situation of Roma had not improved during the reporting period, that 20% of the residents of Roma settlements had no or irregular access to drinking water and that 14% of them had no or irregular access to electricity.

One of the authors of the Report, journalist Ivan Protić said that the situation in the media sphere continued deteriorating in 2021, a trend that has been present for a decade now. 

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“True, there were fewer physical assaults than in 2020, but everything else is negative. The Government denied all criticisms. The Prime Minister even said that “journalists are at greater risk in some EU countries than in Serbia”. The fact that the trials for the assassination of Slavko Ćuruvija and the arson of Milan Jovanović’s house are still pending, while the trials for the murders of Milan Panić and Dada Vujasinović have not even begun yet, is the gangrene of the Serbian media scene,” Protić noted.  

He said that a “genuine crusade” was waged against independent reporters and media by the Serbian President, parliament and others supporting the regime, and that the MPs mentioned independent journalists and media in a negative context 199 times in the April-June 2021 period alone.

“The pro-regime media played a major role. Press Council data show that they violated the Press Code of Conduct 50 times a day in June, August and September 2021. Pro-government outlets are rewarded through co-funding of media content. In Niš, as many as 80% of the 69 million dinars set aside for media was allocated to outlets toeing the government line, including the one owned by the son of the intelligence agency director. A Pink journalist now works as a Media Adviser of the Grocka Municipality and earns 125,000 dinars a month,” Protić said.

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Sofija Mandić of CEPRIS said that 2021 was also marked by the process of amending the constitutional provisions on the judiciary, the parliament’s adoption of the amendments in late 2021 and their endorsement at a referendum in early 2022. 

“We also had the appointment of new members of the High Judicial Council and State Prosecutorial Council and the election of the Chief Public Prosecutor and the President of the Supreme Court of Cassation,” Mandić said, qualifying the processes as non-transparent and conducted in a climate characterised by in-house elections, short deadlines and pressures by the Ministry of Justice.  

Lana Avakumović of CRTA said that 2021 was marked by the marginalisation of the citizens and disregard of public interests during the election processes and the collapse of democracy. In her opinion, the parliament was abused for pursuing narrow political purposes and dealing with those critical of the government, such as NGOs, media and individual judges.

” As many as 94% of the comments of the opposition in the parliament were negative, while not a bad word was heard against President Vučić,” said Avakumović, noting that ruling parties took up 94% of airtime on prime-time news on national TV stations.

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Dragana Ćirić of Disability Rights International (DRI), the organisation that published its report “Serbia’s Forgotten Children” about the neglect of institutionalised children in June 2021, warned that the pandemic has disproportionately affected persons with disabilities living in residential institutions.

She said that DRI had failed to obtain data on deaths of the institutions’ residents during the pandemic. “Serbia jeopardised the lives of thousands of persons with disabilities. They are one of the groups at greatest risk of poverty,” said Ćirić.

The Human Rights in Serbia 2021 Report is available HERE

The research, translation and publication of the Report ’Human Rights in Serbia 2021’ were supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany through the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Belgrade. The report does not necessarily reflect the official position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Watch the presentation of the 2021 Human Rights Report at the following link:

Stop the aggression of the Russian Federation on Ukraine

March 1, 2022

Capture 3 slobode englThe organisations gathered around the Three Freedoms Platform fiercely condemn the aggression of the Russian Federation on Ukraine and warn that a blatant violation of international law norms is at hand. We call upon the international stakeholders and humanitarian organisations to do all in their powers to prevent further suffering of the civilian population, and upon the relevant institutions of the Republic of Serbia to contribute to that end, as well as to prepare for providing assistance to the people fleeing their homes. Also, we call upon the institutions of the Republic of Serbia to join other European countries and condemn the aggression of the Russian Federation on Ukraine. This is one of the important moments of the European solidarity and Serbia, if it wishes to be part of the European Union, must demonstrate that its shares the EU values.

We remind that the Russian Federation, by the active engagement of its army on Ukraine’s territory, has violated the 2014 Minsk Protocol, whereby cease fire was reached in the East Ukraine conflict. The Russian Federation has also violated the United Nations Charter, the Final Helsinki Act, as well as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. By this undertaking, the Russian Federation has jeopardised peace and stability both in Europe and in the entire world, and the citizens of Serbia too are going to feel the repercussions.

The organisations gathered around the Three Freedoms Platform voice their solidarity with the citizens of Ukraine and urge the leadership of the Russian Federation to respect the international humanitarian law, stop the civilian casualties, terminate the missile discharging and shelling of civilian facilities and immediately abandon the threat of nuclear attack against the whole world in order to attain its own goals.

We appeal to both sides in the conflict to protect journalists who report from the field.  Unfortunately, the truth is the first victim of every war, and reporting in accordance with professional standards is crucial in such moments to protect human lives.

We call upon the institutions of the Republic of Serbia to do everything to provide humanitarian assistance to the population of Ukraine, to prepare for possible arrival of refugees from war-ravaged areas as well as to provide humanitarian and any other aid to the countries bordering Ukraine in order to prevent humanitarian disaster caused by the high influx of refugees.

Signatories:

  1. Autonomous Women’s Centre,
  2. A 11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights,
  3. Belgrade Centre for Security Police,
  4. Belgrade Centre for Human Rights,
  5. BIRODI,
  6. Catalyst Balkans,
  7. Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA),
  8. Center for Cultural Decontamination (CZKD),
  9. Civic Initiatives,
  10. Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia,
  11. Youth Initiative for Human Rights,
  12. The Lawyers’ Committee For Human Rights (YUCOM),
  13. Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia,
  14. New Optimism,
  15. Partners Serbia,
  16. Slavko Curuvija Foundation,
  17. Trag Foundation.

Open letter of the Balkan Refugee and Migration Council

February 25, 2022

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Seven civil society organizations (CSOs) joined in the Balkan Refugee and Migration Council – BRMC (Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC); Belgrade Center for Human Rights (BCLP); Civic Alliance from Montenegro (GAMN); Civil Rights Program Kosovo (CRP/K), Group 484, Macedonian Association of Young Lawyers (MYLA) and Your Rights Bosnia and Herzegovina (VP BiH) appeal for peace, respecting international human rights law and stopping of all military actions in Ukraine.

The current situation is alarming, with thousands of civilians leaving their homes fleeing from war. This call is for immediate reaction with aim to prevent the humanitarian disaster and save thousands of lives, and to prevent exodus of refugees inside and from Ukraine.

We are facing human rights violation, where the lives of civilians are directly endangered.

Therefore, we invite all stakeholders to provide support to the people who stayed in Ukraine, protect those who were forced to flee and do everything to create conditions for them to return as soon as possible to their homes.

In the world of 21st century that cherishes democracy and respect of human rights, it is an imperative to ensure peace, security and freedom.

BCHR presents its annual Report on the Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia

February 24, 2022

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The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights presented its annual report Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia in the Belgrade Media Center on Wednesday, 23 February 2022. The Report editor Ana Trifunović said that the data of the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration showed that over 60,000 people resided in Serbian asylum and reception centres in 2021, that 2,306 of them expressed the intention to seek asylum in Serbia and that 174 actually applied for asylum.

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 “Most of the people who sought asylum in Serbia were nationals of Afghanistan. The asylum authorities upheld only 14 applications in 2021, half the number of claims they approved in 2020. In 2021, the Asylum Office rejected 51 and dismissed nine applications, and discontinued reviews of 73 applications, usually because the asylum seekers decided to leave Serbia before the procedure was completed,” she said.

UNHCR Representative in Serbia Francesca Bonelli said that the number of globally displaced people in the world –  84 million – has never been higher and that 45% of them were children. She said that refugee protection was extremely important in the circumstances, with the alarming increase in the number of violent incidents against refugees and migrants and violations of their human rights at borders, not only in Europe, but elsewhere in the world as well.

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She noted that although the vast majority of refugees perceived Serbia as a transit country, there were refugees, albeit a small number of them, who sought asylum in it, who were willing to integrate in Serbia’s society and build a new life in it.

The Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia 2021 report shows that the number of refugees and migrants in the territory of Serbia was stable throughout the year, ranging between five and six thousand on average. According to the December 2021 data, 60,407 people were accommodated in the centres run by the Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, a slight increase over 2020, when a total of 58,103 stayed at Serbian asylum and reception-transit centres. Although tens of thousands of asylum seekers and other migrants pass through and stay in Serbia every year, a relatively small number of them intends to seek international protection in it.

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The intention to seek asylum in Serbia was expressed by 2,306 people from 1 January to 31 December 2021, a slight decrease over 2020 but a major one compared to the pre-pandemic era. Most of the foreigners who expressed the intention to seek asylum in Serbia in 2021 were nationals of Afghanistan – 1,025, followed by nationals of Syria – 466, Burundi – 134, Pakistan – 120, Bangladesh – 107, Cuba – 92, etc.  A total of 174 asylum applications were filed in 2021, a slight increase over 2020, when 144 claims were submitted. Most of the applicants were Afghan nationals.

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The Asylum Office upheld a total of 14 asylum applications in 2021, less than half than in 2020, when it upheld 29 claims, and much less than in 2019, when it granted refuge or subsidiary protection in 35 cases. The Asylum Office upheld the applications of 208 foreigners from 2008, when the national asylum system was established, to 31 December 2021.

Serbia in 2021 continued extending humanitarian assistance to migrants, most of whom came from refugee-generating countries. Despite some headway in the realisation of the right to asylum and access to integration-related rights, the national asylum system was still not fully functional in the reporting period; it was further stymied by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A substantial number of people in need of international protection still do not perceive Serbia as a country of refuge, but merely as a country they transit on their way to EU Member States, which provide refugees with better prospects for integration and life in dignity.

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Serbia still lacks sustainable systemic solutions for the adequate protection and improvement of the situation of asylum seekers, migrants and refugees, who still rely heavily on support provided by international and non-government organisations, while systemic solutions and effective coordination among the state authorities are lacking.

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This 10th annual report on the right to asylum in the Republic of Serbia covering 2021 was prepared by members of BCHR’s legal and integration teams based on their experience in extending legal aid to migrants and representing asylum seekers in the asylum procedure, their field work and the support they have been extending to the integration of foreigners granted asylum in Serbia. The BCHR has been extending legal aid to asylum seekers and people granted international protection as UNHCR’s partner since 2012. 

The Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia 2021 is available HERE.

The BCHR also presented the results of the survey of public opinion on refugees and migrants in Serbia conducted in 2021, which is available HERE . The video of the presentation of the Report in the Belgrade Media Center is available. 

The position of young people in Serbia topic for the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Culutral Rights

February 22, 2022

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The position of young people in Serbia was a topic before the United Nations’ mechanisms for the first time. On Monday, February 21, 2022, the Geneva-based Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights considered the Youth Specific Alternative Report, submitted by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights in coalition with other youth organizations and organizations for young people. For the first time, before the international mechanisms available to civil society organizations, the report drew attention to the position of young people and the challenges that young people in Serbia face in exercising their economic and social rights. This opened the process for dialogue with the Committee and the State of Serbia on the needs and recommendations related to the improvement of the young people’s position in the field of social and economic rights.

The position of young people on the labour market in Serbia is significantly more unfavorable than the position of other age groups. Every fifth employed young person earns less than the minimum wage of 33,805.00 Serbian dinars.[1] The Draft Law on Labour Practices proposes that trainees receive compensation that is lower than the minimum wage, and this could lead to employers using them as a substitute for paid workers who are employed for an indefinite period.

Serbia has forgotten about children with disabilities, who make up 80% of children living in institutions, often mixed with adults and threatened with lifelong segregation.[2] The right to personal mobility is not adequately guaranteed to young people with disabilities, making it difficult for them to move into adulthood. The survey shows that two-thirds of respondents have to contribute with their financial resources to get the help they need, and 23% need to procure their aids and devices through charities or humanitarian actions.[3]

The COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the weaknesses of the psychosocial support system for young people. There are still only five mental health centres in Serbia, and private practice, for financial reasons, is not available to young people. Serbia still does not have a law on psychotherapy that would clearly define who can perform it and under what conditions. The insufficient availability of experts in protecting and improving mental health is one of the burning problems, especially in smaller communities.

Environmental problems significantly affect the lives of young people in Serbia exposed to pollution of all environmental parameters. About 1,300,000 young people are exposed to excessively polluted air, and this, combined with the challenges related to the right to water and waste management, can have serious consequences for young people’s health. High exposure to environmental pollution puts Serbia in ninth place globally and first in Europe in the number of premature deaths caused by pollution per 100,000 inhabitants.[4]

The Youth Specific Alternative Report was prepared and compiled by teams from 12 youth organizations and organizations for youth in Serbia. The entire Report with critical findings, submitted to the United Nations Committee on Economic and Social Rights, is available here.

To inform the youth community about the key findings of the Report and the progress of the dialogue that should lead to improving the position of young people in Serbia, the #KakoIde campaign was launched. You can follow the campaign on the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights social networks.

[1] Minimum net salary for January 2022, available at: http://demo.paragraf.rs/demo/documents/editorial/statistika/02_stat.htm

[2] “Forgotten Children of Serbia”, MDRI-S, 2021, p. 2. Available at: https://www.mdri-s.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Sazetak-final.pdf

[3] Keravica R., Mijatović M., Veljković M. “Youth with disabilities in the fight for freedom and the right to independent living – Access to mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies”, IM-PACT 21 (forthcoming in 2022).

[4] Global Alliance for Health and Pollution – GAHP – available at: https://gahp.net/pollution-and-health-metrics/