YUCOM capacity statement_February 2017

The Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights is a professional, voluntary, non-governmental association of citizens, associated to protect and promote human rights in accordance with universally accepted civilized standards, international conventions and national law.

The objectives of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights are:

  • respecting, protecting and promoting human rights and freedoms;
  • advocating respect for the principles of the rule of law;
  • disseminating of ideas and raising awareness of the need to respect, protect and promote human rights and freedoms;
  • harmonizing national constitutions, statutes, laws and regulations with international and European standards and conventions;
  • cooperating with national and international associations and organizations that are committed to promoting the ideas and practice of the human rights which are compatible with the objectives of which the Committee is committed;
  • realizing other objectives that are interests in promoting the ideas, practice of protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law.

The Lawyers’ Committee For Human Rights (YUCOM) was founded in November 1997 (then called Yugoslav Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) as an expert, voluntary, non-governmental organization whose members are legal experts engaged in promoting and advocating the idea of the rule of law to uphold human rights, raising public awareness, conceiving, designing and leading civic initiatives, rendering legal assistance to victims of human rights violation, as well as developing cooperation with national and international organizations involved in human rights protection and promotion. YUCOM is recognized as an organization advocating human rights and promoting active participation of citizens in legal initiatives. It has profiled itself and gained much recognition as a human rights defenders’ organization.

Since its founding in 1997, YUCOM’s activities were generally divided into three main areas: Local Community Legal Aid Network (LCLAN) program – now Legal Aid Program, Citizen’s Legislative Initiatives (CLI) program – now Advocacy Program, and Human Rights Resource Center (HRRC) and Documentation Center activities.

YUCOM is an NGO that hasassisted the educational and professional training of lawyers and attorneys within local NGOs in more than 20 local communities in Serbia for the provision of legal aid in the area of protection of human rightsin the period 1998-2002, through its program of Local Community Legal Aid Network (LCLAN). At the time, YUCOM’s model of a network of legal aid offices had become a reference model for assessing the potential development of an institutionalized national legal aid network, made by the OSCE Mission in FRY in 2002. At the same time, YUCOM has become renowned for its efforts to publicly address the question of access to justice and fair trials, as well as advocating changes in these areas. In addition to being recognized for its Access to Justice initiatives, YUCOM has held a number of seminars, public and expert debates on the issue (notably the 2001 Kiev conference on Advocating for Legal Reform, organized by the American Bar Association, where YUCOM representatives had, even before the democratic changes in the country, held a workshop on campaigning for legal reform in transition countries), and is widely recognized as an organization with a know-how for rendering legal aid and advocating changes in the legislation. During 2004, a YUCOM Expert Team, in association with the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI), a Columbia University program, and with the support of DFID, implemented the Access to Justice project, in which YUCOM has contributed to the development and creation of questionnaires for analysis of criminal and civil cases, the training of lawyers and attorneys in local communities for the analysis of criminal and civil cases, and has shaped the existing legal framework of the right to defense and representation in criminal, civil, and administrative procedures. This study was envisioned to be the initial phase of analysing the situation in Serbia of the normative and functional status of the right to representation in practice, where legal aid is concerned. YUCOM is actively involved in the development of new legislation and a favourable environment for the definition and provision of legal aid and promotion of right to access to justice in Serbia. In 2006, YUCOM implemented a survey on the capacity of Serbian NGOs to provide legal aid services to citizens, which is presently used by various working groups engaged in drafting new legislation of legal aid in Serbia.

YUCOM as a member of numerous ad-hoc coalitions (as is Group of 8 NGOs for Confronting the Past), today has both capacity and long-term experience in successful leading of campaigns for the reform of legislation and legal practices.

YUCOM has been successful in drafting and lobbying for the implementation of a number of important laws such as:

– the Amnesty Law based on YUCOM’s draft proposal and adopted in 2000;

– the Introduction of Conscientious Objection into the Army Law, as a result of a YUCOM draft proposal and campaign in 2003;

– opening the issue of civil control of Army and Police for the first time ever;

– drafting a Model Law on Opening of Files of Secret Services in 2005;

– introducing provisions against Violence against Women into the Law on Labor Relations, after a YUCOM draft proposal and campaign, in 2003;

– the Public Information Law and Broadcasting Act, adopted in 2003, where YUCOM participated in the drafting team;

– campaigning the incorporation of torture in the amended Criminal (Pena) Code of the Republic of Serbia in 2005,where YUCOM represented local partners in Serbia.

In addition to this, YUCOM has pioneered in the initiative to decriminalize defamation, as well as carried out successful regional campaigns of monitoring the implementation of new laws (most recently, the Freedom of Information Act).

It is through vigilant and constant public presence, as well as the public support that it rallies its work (according to a public opinion polls on Political Context and the Role of NGOs, carried out in the summer 2005 by the Center for Free Elections and Democracy – CeSID, a 55% recognition of YUCOM and its activities and over 20% of the general population was recorded to be in support for YUCOM actions– a ratio much higher than numerous institutions, such as political parties, Government, Parliament, etc.), that YUCOM continues to successfully impose an outline of the system of values and standards that contribute to confronting the recent past, promote implementation of transitional justice and uphold the rule of law.

YUCOM has led campaigns for the introduction of the institution of Ombudsperson, and adoption of a Law on NGOs.

The recent campaign of monitoring the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act has again shown to what extent a well organized public campaign can be effective: YUCOM has managed to pressure relevant state authorities to act in accordance with the very laws that they have passed. YUCOM is currently focusing on campaigns to monitor and help create mechanisms for combatting discrimination, intolerance, hate speech and hate crime, and is engaged, along with other local NGOs (Humanitarian Law Fund, Youth Initiative for Human Rights, and Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia) in the monitoring (and exposing) of impunity (Impunity Watch) in Serbia.

YUCOM is also a member of various local and international networks for monitoring human trafficking, torture, domestic violence and violence against women, and providing support for women’s rights.

In April 2006, two YUCOM representatives held a training on Public Advocacy to an Iraqi civil sector representatives in Jordan.

YUCOM pro bono legal Aid network processed 230 new legal cases during the year 2006, most of them in the domain of access to justice, army and civil service in the army, domestic violence and violence against woman, police torture and excessive use of police authority.

In 2005 and 2006 YUCOM also processed specific cases such as:

– extradition to a foreign country;

– corruption in the army;

– discrimination of people with special needs;

– deportation of refugees to the front in Croatia in 1995; and

– cases of religious, sexual and minority rights violation.

YUCOM Legal Aid also represented the Group of 8 NGOs (Humanitarian Law Fund, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, YUCOM, Women in Black, Belgrade Circle, Civic Initiatives, Youth Initiative for Human Rights and Center for Cultural Decontamination) that were pressed defamation charges by the militant extreme right organization Svetozar Miletic from Novi Sad.

During 2005, YUCOM sent 12 petitions to the European Court for Human Rights and is currently in the procedure to petition before ECHR with cases that received a conformation of priority before that Court.

In March 2007, YUCOM won a case (V.A.M. vs Serbia) before the European Court of Human Rights. This represents the first ECHR judgement against Serbia, obliging Serbia to pay compensations to the victim. YUCOM started the procedure before the European Court in 2005 and the case was immediately granted priority status due to the sensitivity of the victim’s situation. The European Court ruled that articles 6, 8 and 13 of the European Convention, i.e. the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy and the right to family life and rights to effective legal remedy, had been violated by the state of Serbia. Also, the European Court obliged Serbia to realise the right of V.A.M. to see her child after 8 years. This was the first judgment in which the European Court of Human Rights agreed on the occurance of violations of the rights guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights and obligated Serbia to stop the violations and compensate the victim justly. In November 2005, YUCOM succeeded in a case held before the UN Human Rights Committee, related to the lawsuit filed by YUCOM on behalf of Mr. Zeljko Bodrozic, a journalist from Kikinda (Bodrozic vs. Serbia and Montenegro). The UN Human Rights Committee had issued a View declaring that the state had, in the case of the criminal verdict against Mr. Bodrozic (Dmitar Segrt vs. Zeljko Bodrozic), violated the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This decision is the first of its kind in Serbia and Montenegro, for it advises that the state should undertake concrete actions in order to provide Mr. Bodrozic with an effective remedy, and inform the Committee about the measures taken to give effect to its Views.

Along with publishing a number of books and professional reviews related to human rights, YUCOM has initiated an edition titled “Public files – not to be forgotten” in 2005, where it has published three volumes so far: The Case of Civil Servant Aleksandar Tijanic (on hate-speech promotion in the journalistic works of the current General Manager of the Serbian Broadcasting Corporation – RTS), and Vojislav Kostunica – A Career (a study of political views of the current Serbian Prime-Minister), focused on naming and shaming public figures in Serbia that ought to be responsible for their actions. As a result, these actions have provoked an increased number of attacks on human rights defenders in Serbia.

This has led to the stepping up of YUCOM engagement in representing other NGOs in cases against NGOs, with the aim to assist the development of more elaborate and efficient mechanisms for protecting human rights defenders in Serbia.

In November 2011, YUCOM took part in establishing Human Rights House in Belgrade(http://en.kucaljudskihprava.rs/) as one of it’s 5 founding organisations.