About the organisation, its achievements, potentials and challenges
The Lawyers’ Committee For Human Rights (YUCOM) was founded in 1997 as an expert, voluntary, non-governmental organization whose members are legal experts engaged in promoting and advocating the idea of the rule of law and uphold of human rights, raising public awareness, conceiving, designing and leading civic initiatives, rendering legal assistance to victims of human rights violation, as well as developing co-operation 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 human rights defenders’ organization.
YUCOM has been successful in advocating for the adoption and implementation of a number of important laws such as:
- Amnesty Law based on YUCOM’s draft proposal and adopted in 2000;
- Introduction of Conscientious Objection into the Army Law;
- 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 (not adopted);
- Introduction of provisions against Violence against Women into the Law on Labor Relations, after a YUCOM draft proposal and campaign, in 2003;
- Public Information Law and Broadcasting Act, adopted in 2003, where YUCOM participated in the drafting team;
- Law on Free Access to Information (adopted in 2004)
- After a regional campaign where YUCOM represented local partners in Serbia, torture was sanctioned as criminal act and incorporated in the amended Criminal (Pena) Code of the Republic of Serbia in 2005.
- Law against Discrimination (adopted in 2009);
- Law on Private Data Protection (adopted in 2008);
- Law on Basis of the System of Education (adopted in 2009);
- Law on Preschool education (adopted in 2009);
- Law on Social Welfare (adopted in 2011).
- Changes of the law introducing hate crime (2012) and many more.
Since 2005 YUCOM started filing cases to the European Court for Human Rights and is currently in the procedure before ECHR with cases that received a confirmation 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 judgment against Serbia, obliging Serbia to pay compensations to the victims. In 2005 YUCOM succeeded in a case before the UN Human Rights Committee. This decision was also the first of a kind in Serbia.
YUCOM is actively writing shadow reports related to the international obligations of Serbia to UN, OSCE, CoE and others. Most recently, in 2017 YUCOM sent the shadow report to the UN Human Rights Committee on implementation of the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, as well as in the UPR review (next is upcoming in 2017).
Today, YUCOM, as a member of numerous ad-hoc coalitions, has both capacity and long-term experience in successful leading of campaigns for the reform of legislature and legal practices. YUCOM continues to, by way of active and constant public appearances, and public support that it rallies through its work, successfully impose reference frame of the system of values and standards that contribute to confronting the past, implementation of transitional justice and the rule of law. In addition, YUCOM is highly engaged in representing other NGOs in cases against NGOs, with the aim to assist the development of more elaborate and efficient mechanisms for human rights defenders’ protection in Serbia.
Staff capacity – Nowadays, YUCOM employees 14 full staff members. The wider team consists of 9 men and 11 women including:
- Director of YUCOM – Milan Antonijević, MA in Law;
- Attorneys at Law – Natalija Šolić – chief of Legal Aid Department, Katarina Golubović PhD, Kristina Todorović;
- Financial Manager – Dragan Ristić;
- Legal Advisors – Milena Vasić, Ana Janković Jovanović, LLM Candidate, Milan Filipović, Katarina Toskić;
- Project Coordinators – Jovana Spremo, MA in Political Sciences, Momčilo Živadinović, MA in Social Policy, Velimir Petrović, Marija Maljan;
- Legal Advisor / Consultant – Marko Milenković, PhD;
- Office Manager – Nataša Lukić;
- Bookkeeper – Mira Mijatović;
- Web-site moderator – Nenad Jozić.
- The team also relies on interns/volunteers from Serbian and regional universities, as well as from EU, US, Canada etc. Currently interns are: Marija Stijepović, Uroš Bašić, Luka Jovanović, Damjan Mileusnić, Nastasevski Aleksandar, Nicole Alt and information on their work updates on our website: http://www.yucom.org.rs/aktivisti/.
During its 20 years of existence YUCOM’s Legal Team has been constantly and successfully providing legal assistance to victims of human rights violations before relevant national bodies and courts, including the Serbian Constitutional Court, the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee. On annual basis YUCOM provides free legal aid to more than 1000 citizens as well as numerous legal advices and runs a database of users, case status. YUCOM also developed quality control and will offer it to other free legal aid providers.
YUCOM currently represents human rights defenders and organisations that are subject of attack such as activists of Woman in Black, Youth Initiative for Human Rights and many others.
Results of the YUCOM strategic litigation were, inter alia, in changing the constitutional provisions to provide more efficient protection before national authorities. YUCOM has also shown a strong commitment in setting limits of freedom of expression in order to combat racism and intolerance in Serbian society. In that sense it had successfully advocated for hate speech incrimination, realized a research focused on the implementation of media laws in their parts that concern promotion of tolerance and ban discrimination and hate speech and led numerous hate speech cases. YUCOM cooperates with various civil society organizations providing and protecting human rights in Serbia.
YUCOM also has experience in sub granting and developed sub granting component in 2012 and allocated more than 30 small scale projects to CSOs, monitored their implementation and mentored some of the implementers. These activities were supported by EU, UK FCO and others.
YUCOM is coordinating the Coalition for Equality www.korak-hapi-step.eu, which advocates for human rights on a regional level (Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina) and focuses on the different areas of discrimination, including LGBT rights, strengthening the role of women in politics and public life and monitoring court procedures for discrimination. During 2012 and 2013 YUCOM implemented the project “Supporting Adequate Response of the Serbian Judiciary through Corruption Trial Monitoring”, with the support of Partnership for Transparency Fund and since than YUCOM has a team for trial monitoring within the anticorruption efforts of Serbia, currently supported by OSCE and PTF. Within this project comprehensive web site was launched (www.antikorupcija.yucom.org.rs) and it consists all the basic information on the identified case trials: cases designation, the ruling judges in judging chamber, the crime committed, suspects and accused, including media reports, articles and features about the cases in order to increase transparency and liability of the judiciary work in Serbia. YUCOM continued with these activities in 2014 within the project “Regional Anti-Corruption Action: Supporting the Judiciary in Combating Corruption in the Western Balkans”, this time by creating regional network on trial monitoring of the cases with the corruptive elements. Furthermore, YUCOM represented the prominent women group, which was also denied the right of peaceful assembly. On the basis of YUCOMs motion before Constitutional court, the decision on the banning of the peaceful assembly was found unconstitutional in 2012. YUCOM also represented Falun Gong movement in 2014, ending with recommendations issued by Ombudsman and many other strategic cases of human rights violation.
In 2017, after a multiyear successful implementation of the activities of the Triple A for citizens, YUCOM initiated and started the registration of the wide regional network on access to information, free legal aid.
The main achievements in advocacy are the adoption and implementation of a number of important laws, Amnesty law in 2000, Free Access to Information, Law on Educational system (2009), law on Ombudsman, provisions on family violence (2014), the introduction of hate crime into Serbian legislation in December 2012 and many others. YUCOM is member of the working group for drafting the Free Legal Aid Law that is in the final stage, as well as supported drafting numerous laws, currently the Law on Missing Babies that Serbia has to adopt as a result of the European Court on Human Rights against Serbia.
As related to Chapter 23 of the EU negotiation process that covers judiciary and fundamental rights, YUCOM is a founder of the National Convention on the European Union – NCEU, with European Movement of Serbia. YUCOM is leading the Working Group of NGOs for Chapter 23 as part of the Human Rights House portfolio. Within the Working Group that YUCOM coordinates more than 50 organisations are actively participating in specific topics of their expertise and it comprises of civil society organisations, judges association, prosecutors associations, judicial associates, bar chamber and similar.
In 2016 YUCOM organised more that 15 different meeting of the Working Group for Chapter 23 in Serbian Parliament and around Serbia, covering the topics of the Constitution, Independence of the Prosecution, National minorities and many more.
The NCEU is the formally recognized framework for timely participation of CSOs in Serbia’s EU accession negotiations. In the first year of its functioning it was strongly supported by the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia (by including the NCEU in the Committee for European Integration Decision regulating the formal process of revision of negotiating position).
YUCOM was also actively involved in the activities of OSCE Serbia 2015 chairmanship, within the international Civic Solidarity Platform and used the chairmanship to prioritize some of the areas of fundamental rights. Since than, YUCOM cooperates with other chairmanships, advocating for the topics to lean with the priorities of the Human Dimension of Serbia.
YUCOM has strong advocacy potential with Serbian institutions
- YUCOM has strong cooperation with Serbian Parliament, relevant committees such as the Committee for Judiciary, Committee for Human, Minority Rights and Gender Equality, Committee for European Integrations and similar.
- Relevant Ministries, on the first place Ministry of Justice and Ministry of State Administration are in direct contact with YUCOM in realisation of numerous activities, especially related to judicial reforms (implementation of the judicial reform strategy), reform of state administration and human rights, in light of EU integrations and negotiations within the Chapter 23 opened in 2016. Office for Human and Minority Rights of the Government of Serbia, Office for Cooperation with Civil Society, Serbian Integration Office and many more are also seen as partners in implementation of the activities and memorandums of cooperation are signed and implemented.
- Judiciary, on the first place through High Judicial Council and State Prosecutorial Council, see YUCOM as an ally in fight for the independence of the judiciary, especially in the upcoming reform of the Serbian Constitution (set for the end of 2017 and probably postponed to 2018). YUCOM is asking for greater transparency of these bodies and collects documents on their work, promotes good practices, as the organisation providing free legal aid in Serbia, collecting data and strengthening them to work in full capacity, along with their role in judicial budget. YUCOM is also conducting trainings of judges and prosecutors with Judicial Academy on human rights, European Court on Human Rights practice and more.
- YUCOM has wide and longstanding cooperation with independent institutions – Ombudsman, Commissioner for Equality, Commissioner for Free Access to Information, Agency Against Corruption and State Audit Institution, as well as with Bar Chamber of Serbia. YUCOM helped many of these institutions since the drafting of the laws that established them and further on, since their starting of functioning.
Relevant partner organizations on YUCOM’s projects in the last three years were: Belgrade Center for Human Rights, Human Rights House Croatia, Bosnia and Norway, CHRIS Network, Gay Straight Alliance, Youth Initiative for Human Rights Serbia (Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo offices), Humanitarian Law Centre Serbia and Kosovo, ADI Bosnia, Labris, Partnership for Social Development, Expert Forum Romania, Vesta BiH, BH journalists, Prosecutors’ Association of Serbia, LGBT Forum Progress (Montenegro), Centre for Civic Education, ECAS, NUNS, NDNV etc.
Some of the supporters/donors in the previous years were: OSCE, Matra Embassy Fund – Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherland, British Embassy, Institute for Sustainable Communities, European Union Delegation to the Republic of Serbia, European Commission, Front Line Defenders, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), International Management Group (IMG) and Gender Equality Directorate of the Ministry of Labour, World Bank, Civil Rights Defenders, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Office for Human and Minority Rights, World Bank, Partnership for Transparency Fund, American Bar Association, Open Society Foundation (international and in Serbia), Bulgarian MFA, MFA of the Czech Republic, JRGA – USAID etc. Complete list of donors and projects you may find on our website in the section projects.
Currently YUCOM do not have a core grant for its core activities.
YUCOM has a vivid publishing activity in the areas of judicial reform, human rights and more info you may find on our website: http://www.yucom.org.rs/category/nova-izdanja/, http://en.yucom.org.rs/category/human-rights-series/ as well as numerous research and articles.
Also, our asset is well developed and implemented communication strategy with YUCOMs large media coverage of topics of judicial reform, rule of law as well as human rights and fight against corruption. On the annual basis, YUCOM staff have more than 1000 statements in different national, regional and international media transferred to different portals as well as on YUCOMs social media (FB, Tw, Instagram and YouTube channel) and subpages we developed (on Constitution – @mojUstav, anticorruption, discrimination, @korak-hapi-step and many more)
YUCOMs annual reports are a valuable asset and give valid information on the free legal aid capacity, advocacy actions and specific topics. Some of the examples you may find on: http://en.yucom.org.rs/yucom-2013-annual-report-3/, http://en.yucom.org.rs/yucom-2013-annual-report/
In 2011 YUCOM formed the Human Rights House Belgrade. HRH Belgrade along with four prominent CSOs and became a member of the Human Rights House Network, based in Norway. In 2014, YUCOM moved to the HRH in Belgrade that we redecorated and it became its base for widespread activities.
Within the premises of the HRH Belgrade YUCOM can offer capacity/space for trainings and conferences (one large hall for up to 100 participants and 2 smaller for up to 30 participants, as well as a human rights library) and it can be seen as a valuable asset for the cooperation with us. This space is also offered to other CSOs dealing with human rights free of charge.
At the end, we would like to emphasize that within year 2017 Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights – YUCOM is celebrating its 20 years of activities in Serbia and the region and will be focused on further strengthening of the sustainability of the organisation and further promotion of free legal aid to citizens, as well as focusing on advocacy campaigns and on Serbian EU accession process as a core activity for modernisation and democratisation of the country in line with human rights standards and the rule of law.