Announcement

Civil society and media will not give up the fight for a democratic and free Serbia

July 28, 2020

 

The media and civil society organizations demand from the Ministry of Finance and the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering to immediately present the grounds for suspicion due to which they ordered the extraordinary collection of information about organizations, media, and individuals from the commercial banks. The article of the law, referred to by the director of the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering, states that such inspection should be performed exclusively for organizations for which there are grounds for suspicion of their involvement in the financing of terrorism. Since the list includes numerous organizations and individuals dealing with investigative journalism, protection of human rights, transparency, film production, development of democracy, rule of law and philanthropy, the conclusion is that this is a political abuse of institutions and a dangerous attempt to further collapse the rule of law in Serbia.

The abuse of legal mechanisms and institutions to unlawfully put pressure on the media and civil society organizations is a drastic attack on freedom of association and freedom of information. For years, the government in Serbia has been facing serious criticism from both international and domestic organizations regarding the threat to these two important freedoms. Such an attack on organizations that advocate for establishing Serbia as a state governed by the rule of law with respect for the law and a genuine fight against corruption, is an additional argument that these values are seriously endangered in Serbia. Organizations, media and citizens will not give up the fight for a free and democratic state, regardless of threats and pressures. Such and similar moves by the authorities only further motivate us as citizens to persevere in the defense of our own country.

The media and organizations will take all appropriate legal actions against those involved in this abuse, including the prosecution of those responsible, but above all they will insist on complete and clear answers on how this could have happened. We remind the public that the organizations and media from the list are subject to various types of regular state control, including inspections and rigorous checks of financial operations by the Tax Administration and the National Bank of Serbia, as well as by their own donors. Any legal inspection of the work of organizations is welcome and we will al

ways support it. On the other hand, we will fiercely oppose the abuse of institutions and procedures, because that is our mission – the fight for a democratic and legal state.

Signatories:

(the list is regularly updated with new signatures)

  1. A1 Novi Pazar
  2. Academy of Women’s Leadership
  3. Aida Corovic, HUman rights activist
  4. Alternative Girls’ Center
  5. Dr Srećko Djukić, Forum for International Relations of the European Movement in Serbia (FMO)
  6. Andja Jocic
  7. Anja Andjusic, FM
  8. AS – Center for Empowerment of Young People Living with HIV and AIDS
  9. Association “Naš svet, naša pravila”
  10. Association “Kutija”, Nis
  11. Association Fenomena
  12. Association for Consumer Protection “Prosperity” – Novi Sad
  13. Association for the help of mentally challenged people “Pearl“ of the municipality of Srbobran
  14. Association of Citizens “NE-BO”, Negotin
  15. Association of Independent Electronic Media – ANEM
  16. Association of parents and children Brodić Parkić
  17. Association Stara planina Pirot
  18. Association Voice of Citizens of Šumadija, Kragujevac
  19. Associations Film Club Prokuplje
  20. ASTRA – Anti Trafficking Action
  21. Autonomous Women’s Center
  22. B92 Fund
  23. BalkanIDEA Novi Sad
  24. Becej Youth Association
  25. BeFem
  26. Belgrade Center for Human Rights
  27. Belgrade Center for Security Policy
  28. Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence
  29. Belgrade Open School
  30. Belgrade Pride
  31. Beta News agency
  32. Biber team
  33. Biljana Stepanović
  34. BIRN
  35. BIRODI
  36. Boom93
  37. Borivoj Stajić
  38. Branko Vuckovic, journalist from Kragujevac
  39. Business Association of Local and Independent Media Association “Lokal Press”
  40. Business Info Group
  41. CANVAS
  42. Catalyst Balkans Foundation
  43. Center for Applied Psychology
  44. Center for Contemporary Politics
  45. Center for Democracy and Development of Southern Serbia
  46. Center for Democracy Foundation
  47. Center for Development of Serbia
  48. Center for Independent Living of Persons with Disabilities in Serbia
  49. Center for Local Media Development
  50. Center for Moms, Belgrade
  51. Center for Monitoring & Activism – CEMA
  52. Center for Nonviolent Action
  53. Center for Policy Research
  54. Center for Policy Research Argument
  55. Center for Protection, Education and Empowerment of Refugees Info Park
  56. Center for Regionalism Novi Sad
  57. Center for Social Dialogue and Regional Initiatives – CDDRI
  58. Center for Social Policy, Belgrade
  59. Center for the Advancement of Society
  60. Center for the Rule of Law
  61. Center for Women’s Studies
  62. Centre Living Upright
  63. Centre of Modern Skills
  64. CeSID
  65. Chil Rights Centre
  66. CINS
  67. Citizens Association for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and All Forms of Gender-Based Violence (ATINA)
  68. Citizens’ Association Institute for Corruption Research, Pancevo
  69. Citizens’ Association AIM Center
  70. City radio
  71. Civic attitude
  72. Civic Council of the City of Kraljevo
  73. Civic Initiatives
  74. Civil action Pancevo
  75. Civil Rights Defenders
  76. CK13
  77. Coalition for Solidarity Economy Development
  78. Coalition PreUgovor
  79. Conceptual Policy Group, Novi Sad
  80. Consultations for lesbians
  81. CRTA
  82. Da se zna!
  83. Daca Jović, activist
  84. Daily Danas
  85. Dajana Đedović, Forum for Culture of the European Movement in Serbia (FzK)
  86. Dijalog.net Valjevo
  87. Djordje Popović, FMO
  88. Don’t let Belgrade d(r)own
  89. Dr Aleksandra Bosnić Đurić, cultural scientist
  90. Dr Ljubomir Jacic
  91. Dr Milorad Đurić, political scientist
  92. Dr Sonja Avlijaš, FzK
  93. Dragan Srećković
  94. Drug Policy Network in South East Europe
  95. Duga Association
  96. Ecogenesis Association
  97. Educational Center Krusevac
  98. Environment Engineering group
  99. Eurocontact, Krusevac
  100. European Movement in Serbia
  101. European Movement in Serbia Leskovac
  102. European Movement Valjevo (Slavica and Vladimir Pantić)
  103. European Policy Centre
  104. FemPlatz
  105. Forca Požega
  106. Foundation Ana and Vlade Divac
  107. Foundation for Freedom of the Press – Senta
  108. Foundation Pons Nis
  109. Goran Cetinic, FMO member
  110. Green Network of Vojvodina
  111. Heart Center, Novi Sad
  112. Heartefact Fund
  113. Helsinki Committee for Human Rights
  114. Human Rights Committee Negotin
  115. Human Rights Committee Nis
  116. Human Rights Committee Valjevo
  117. Humanitarian Center Mitrovica
  118. Humanitarian Law Center
  119. Igor Mihaljević, journalist
  120. Impulse – Tutin
  121. Independent Association of Journalists of Vojvodina
  122. Independent cultural scene of Serbia – NKSS
  123. Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS)
  124. Informal association “Za naš kej”, Belgrade
  125. InfoVranjske
  126. Initiative A11
  127. Initiative for Požega
  128. Institute for European Affairs
  129. Integrity Center, Nis
  130. InTER
  131. Internet portal “Media box”, Nis
  132. ISAC Fund
  133. Ivan Medenica, FzK
  134. Ivan Ninić
  135. Ivana Jovanović, European Youth Movement Forum in Serbia (FM)
  136. Iz kruga – Vojvodina
  137. Izađi group
  138. Jasmina Borojevic
  139. Jedi movement, Nis
  140. Jelena Erdeljan FzK
  141. Jelena Šantić Foundation
  142. Južne vesti
  143. KC Grad, Belgrade
  144. Kolubara District Women’s Association
  145. Kolubarske.rs
  146. Kragujevac newspapers
  147. Kreni-Promeni Association
  148. KRIK
  149. Libek
  150. Link plus
  151. Loznica Pact
  152. Majdanpek Resource Center
  153. Media and Reform Center Nis
  154. Media Association
  155. Mesečina Foundation, Subotica
  156. Milan Antonijevic
  157. Milena Dragicevic Sesic (FzK)
  158. Milena Stefanovic European Fund for the Balkans
  159. Milivoj Bešlin, FMO
  160. MillenniuM
  161. National Coalition for Decentralization
  162. National Convention on the European Union
  163. National Youth Council of Serbia
  164. Nedim Sejdinović, journalist
  165. Nenad Šebek, Media and CSO Consultant
  166. Network of Human Rights Committees in Serbia CHRIS
  167. Network of the European Movement in Serbia
  168. New Economy
  169. New Media Center kuda.org, Novi Sad
  170. New optimism
  171. New Social Initiative – NSI
  172. New Solidarity Network
  173. Newspaper “Grad”, Kruševac
  174. NGO Aktiv
  175. NGO Center for the Development of Liberalism
  176. NON-ALIGNED FILMS
  177. Non-Smoking Educational Center Association _ RP
  178. Novi Sad Humanitarian Center
  179. Novi Sad Open Club
  180. Novi Sad School of Journalism
  181. Obrenovac Youth Foundation
  182. Online Media Association
  183. Open Society Foundation
  184. Optimist, Bosilegrad
  185. Organization for Respect and Care of Animals – ORCA
  186. Partners Serbia
  187. PATOS, Smederevo
  188. People’s Parliament Leskovac
  189. Peščanik
  190. “Podrinske” Šabac
  191. Podrinje Anti-Corruption Team Pact
  192. Policy Center
  193. Portal Kruševacgrad
  194. Portal SEEcult.org
  195. Proaktiv
  196. Dr. Vojin Rakic
  197. Propulsion Fund
  198. Protecta
  199. Radio Sto Plus Novi Pazar
  200. Radio Zlatousti
  201. Ravangrad Citizens’ Association
  202. Reconstruction Women’s Fund
  203. Regional Information Agency JUGpress
  204. Re-Kraft
  205. Remark DPCM
  206. RERI
  207. Res Publica Kragujevac
  208. Roma Center Kragujevac
  209. Roma World, Nis
  210. Romani Cikna
  211. Sandzak Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms
  212. Sanja Ivačić, FMO
  213. Slavica Milojevic
  214. Slavica Ranisavljev Kovacev, Novi Sad
  215. Slavica Stojanović
  216. Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation
  217. Slobodan Georgiev
  218. Smart collective
  219. Society for Adult Education
  220. SOinfo.org
  221. SOS Women’s Center Novi Sad
  222. Strahinja Brajušković, Senior consultant and member of the Working group of NCEU for Chapter 23
  223. Streets for cyclists, Belgrade
  224. Students for Liberty – Serbia
  225. Tamara Spasojevic
  226. The Lawyers’ Committee For Human Rights (YUCOM)
  227. The movement of the citizens of Novi Sad
  228. Tijana Jurić Foundation
  229. Timok Youth Center – TOC, Zajecar
  230. Trag Foundation
  231. Transparency Serbia
  232. UG Center for Civil Values from Subotica
  233. United Trade Unions of Serbia Sloga
  234. Urban In – Novi Pazar
  235. USOP – Union of Organizations of Serbia dealing with the protection of people living with HIV and AIDS
  236. Uzice Center for Children’s Rights
  237. Uzice Center for Democracy and Human Rights
  238. Vega Youth Center
  239. Vesna Perić
  240. Victimology Society of Serbia
  241. Vladan Jovanović – independent regional consultant in the field of social protection, children’s rights, human and minority rights
  242. Vojvodina Civic Center
  243. Vojvodina recommended
  244. Vranje Development and Integration Team
  245. Vukašin Obradović
  246. Women for Peace Leskovac
  247. Women in Black
  248. Women’s Association Peščanik Kruševac
  249. Young researchers of Serbia
  250. Youth Empowerment Club 018
  251. Youth Initiative for Human Rights
  252. Zajecar Initiative
  253. Zvezda Center, Belgrade

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: https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/serbia-frr2020_en.pdf

The integral Report is available at: https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2020/fundamental-rights-report-2020#TabPubOverview0

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.