Announcement

Appeal for Respect of Human and Minority Rights Guaranteed by the Serbian Constitution and Ratified International Treaties

March 19, 2020

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights calls on the relevant state authorities to ensure that all measures involving derogation of human and minority rights guaranteed by the Serbian Constitution and ratified international treaties that are imposed during the state of emergency declared due to the SARS CoV-2 (coronavirus) pandemic are proportionate to the purpose of their introduction, in compliance with binding provisions on the state of emergency and anti-discrimination principles. The Serbian Government’s response to the pandemic must be based on respect for human rights and the provisional measures imposed by the state must be prudential, proportionate, based on the law, accessible and comprehensible to all individuals they affect.

Restrictions of the freedom of movement, which entered into force on 18 March 2020, pursuant to an order of the Minister of Internal Affairs, have given rise to a number of dilemmas, thus creating room for arbitrary interpretations and potential abuse. The prohibition of movement of all people over 65 in urban areas and of all people over 70 in settlements with a population under 5,000, as well as the curfew applicable to all people irrespective of their age from 8 pm to 5 am, with the exception of those issued individual permits by the MIA and those in urgent need of medical assistance, needs to be elaborated in greater detail and explained officially and in writing.

The Serbian Government decision limiting the movement of people living in asylum and reception centres in Serbia outside these centres to 24 hours, except in “justified cases”, also needs to be elaborated in greater detail and clarified. The people living in such centres must be adequately notified of all the measures undertaken by the Serbian Government to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits derogations of the right to life, prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, prohibition of slavery and no punishment without law. Article 202 of the Serbian Constitution lays down that derogations of human and minority rights enshrined in the Constitution shall be permitted only to the extent deemed necessary and that measures providing for derogation may not bring about distinction on grounds of race, sex, language, religion, national affiliation or social origin. The BCHR also draws attention to a statement issued by UN human rights experts, who emphasised that “[R]estrictions taken to respond to the virus must be motivated by legitimate public health goals and should not be used simply to quash dissent” and that the emergency declarations should not be used “to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals” or “to silence the work of human rights defenders”.

The BCHR therefore believes that the Serbian authorities must: 

  • Issue an official written document specifying how the daily needs of people, whose movement is restricted all day, will be met;
  • Impose the same regime applicable to people over 65/70 on people suffering from chronic diseases (such as asthma, diabetes, et al) who are more vulnerable to coronavirus with a view to protecting their health;
  • Lay down the rules of safe hygienic behaviour at public venues during the coronavirus state of emergency;
  • Individually assess the need to restrict the freedom of movement of people seeking international protection in the same manner and under the same conditions as other categories of the population (depending on the country they came from, their contacts with other individuals, age, existence of chronic illnesses, et al);
  • Provide all individuals in collective accommodation facilities with protection kits and familiarise each of them individually with the protection measures in a language they understand;
  • Perform larger-scale coronavirus testing in all collective accommodation facilities (not only in asylum and reception centres, but also in homes for the elderly, penitentiaries, psychiatric institutions, et al) under easier conditions than in the case of people living in private accommodation facilities (and especially of people with mental disabilities);
  • Officially translate all Government decisions adopted during the state of emergency into English and make them available in all collective accommodation facilities and officially translate all these decisions into a language individuals who do not speak either Serbian or English understand.

 

The BCHR hereby offers the relevant Serbian authorities its expertise to help in the common fight against the coronavirus. Its staff is engaged in volunteering and other projects extending assistance and support to the most vulnerable groups of people.

Please feel free to contact us by e-mail at bgcentar@bgcentar.org.rs or by phone at +381 11 3085 328 should you require any additional information.

 

Zero Report on Youth Rights in Serbia 2019: Serbian Youths are Unemployed, Depressed and Neglected

February 5, 2020

Zero report

Serbian media have increasingly been reporting on the situation of young people in the country since the beginning of the year. They have been discussing youth migration, notably emigration of youths from Serbia, their housing and announcements of state projects to address sustainable housing issues, and elections, by monitoring the activities of specific youth groups in the country’s political life.

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights has for years been implementing activities in the youth sector and working with young people across Serbia. It has begun reporting on the human rights of youths on an annual level with the cooperation and expert assistance of the United Nations Human Rights Team. Its 2019 Zero Report on Youth Rights in Serbia  shows that youths are neglected, leaving the country, insufficiently involved in decision-making, underrepresented in the media and, at great risk of poverty.

Herewith the key findings of the Report:

o   Youths between 15 and 24 years of age are at twice the risk of poverty as the adult population;

o   Most youths (57%) are engaged in some form of precarious employment: part-time employment (36%), temporary and occasional employment (8%) or informal employment (11%);

o    Youths are paid 20% lower wages; one out of three workers under 30 are paid wages lower than two-thirds the median wage; eight out of ten youths are paid wages lower than the national average; and, one out of five earn less than the minimum wage every month;

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Topmost State Officials’ Statements are in Direct Violation of the Principles of the Rule of Law, Separation of Powers and the Independence of the Judiciary

January 21, 2020

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights is deeply concerned by a statement made by Justice Ministry State Secretary Radomir Ilić by which he directly violated the principles of the rule of law, separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. The BCHR hereby warns of the potentially grave consequences of his, as well as President Aleksandar Vučić’s recent comments on the work of the judiciary. Such statements presage the undermining of the very foundations of the constitutional order and the establishment of a constitutional and political system of governance in which the executive will prevail over the legislative and judicial branches formally as well. 

During his appearance on TV Prva on 19 January 2020, Ilić inter alia said that “courts and prosecutors have become an irresponsible branch of government, a closed system not subject to any external oversight … Instead of President Vučić appointing judges (like the French do), we here have judges and prosecutors sitting together with criminals…”. Ilić also dismissed allegations of political pressures on the judiciary and said that the Constitution needed to be amended to ensure external oversight of the judiciary. 

Such a statement by a senior government official came only a few days after Vučić criticised the prosecutor’s decision to discontinue an investigation, whereby he directly violated the constitutionally guaranteed principle of prosecutorial autonomy and the presumption of innocence of the individual who had been under investigation.

The BCHR appeals to all government officials to stop jeopardising the independence of the judiciary and calls on the High Judicial Council and the State Prosecutorial Council to rise in its defence. The populist rhetoric topmost state officials have been resorting to in order to discredit judges and prosecutors needs to be viewed through the prism of the constitutional reform launched back in 2017. 

The Chapter 23 Action Plan envisages the amendment of the Constitution and laws on the judiciary in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary and minimise any influence of the legislative and executive branches on the nomination, election, appointment, transfer and termination of office of judges, court presidents and (deputy) public prosecutors.  In 2017 and 2018, the Justice Ministry masterminded the drafting of amendments to the constitutional provisions on the judiciary.   To recall, the way in which it organised the consultation process gave rise to major doubts about the authorities’ genuine commitment to implement the constitutional reform with a view to precluding the executive and legislative branches’ influence on the judiciary. In mid-2018, the parliamentary Constitutional Issues and Legislation Committee endorsed the Government proposal to amend the constitutional provisions on the judiciary. However, the latest publicly available version of the amendments does not respond to the goals set out in the Chapter 23 Action Plan; rather, the proposed amendments are, to an extent, inferior to the valid provisions of the Constitution. 

Is it even worth asking what the Republican Public Prosecutor is doing in a country with crumbling institutions?

BCHR Surprised by the Culture and Information Ministry’s Rapid Initiation of Misdemeanour Proceedings against Belgrade Weekly Vreme

January 18, 2020

 

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights hereby expresses its surprise at the speed at which the Ministry of Culture and Information filed a misdemeanour report against the eminent Belgrade weekly Vreme and sincerely hopes that it will continue responding as rapidly and diligently to all breaches by media outlets, especially the tabloids that have grossly violated the Press Code of Conduct and the Public Information and Media Act on innumerable occasions, as the many Press Council decisions against them corroborate. The BCHR expects that the Ministry will just as fervently and consistently react to any future violations in accordance with the law, ethical principles and pledge to support the professional work of the media, given the sizable funds allocated to tabloid media through various projects. We have no doubt that the Ministry values the tax-payers’ money and believes that it should be used expediently and allocated in accordance with public interests, professional public information standards, culture of speech and dialogue, and Serbia’s laws and Constitution.     

To recall, BCHR on 11 January 2020 filed a criminal report with the Republican Public Prosecution Service (RPPS) against unidentified staff of the Niš Higher Public Prosecution Service and/or the city police officers, who are suspected of leaking to the dailies Informer, Alo Srpski telegraf and its Internet portal republika.rs  the statement Ninoslav Jovanović from Malča gave the Niš Higher Public Prosecutor, in which he testified in detail of the grave crimes he committed  against his underage victim. The Ministry initiated misdemeanour proceedings against Vreme because it ran the tabloids’ front-pages to illustrate its article titled “Evil Looming from the Newsstands”.

BCHR Submits Initiative for an Inspection of the Work of the Požarevac General Hospital

January 15, 2020

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights submitted an initiative for an inspection of the work of the Požarevac General Hospital, after the latter refused to allow access to or hand over the body of a still-born baby to its parents. The BCHR filed the initiative for the inspection of the work of the Požarevac hospital and, if necessary, initiation of misdemeanour proceedings together with the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights – YUCOM and the A11 Initiative for Economic and Social Rights. The initiative was launched after media reported in late 2019 that the Požarevac General Hospital refused to allow access to or hand over the body of a still-born baby to its parents. The video footage published on the Internet showed the Hospital Director telling the parents that still-born children were treated as foetuses and that the body would be disposed of in accordance with the Medical Waste Rulebook.  (more…)

Criminal Report filed against Unidentified Staff of the Niš Prosecution Service and Police for Leaking Suspected Child Molester’s Testimony to Tabloids

January 13, 2020

On 11 January 2020, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights filed a criminal report with the Republican Public Prosecution Service (RPPS) against unidentified staff of the Niš Higher Public Prosecution Service and/or the city police officers. They are suspected of leaking to tabloids the statement Ninoslav Jovanović from Malča gave the Niš Higher Public Prosecutor in early January 2020, which contained details of the grave crimes he had committed against his underage victim. By leaking his testimony to the dailies Informer, Alo, Srpski telegraf and its Internet portal republika.rs, the officials have committed the following offences that are incriminated by the Criminal Code and prosecuted ex officio: violation of confidentiality of proceedings (Article 337), abuse of office (Article 359) and/or violation of the law by judges, public prosecutors or their deputies (Article 360).   (more…)