Support to Human Rights Defenders in Serbia – Towards effective mechanisms for protection


YUCOM’s Advocacy Team – Protection of HRDs

On November 2nd, 2011 YUCOM held a conference on human rights defenders, along with OSCE Serbia and OHCHR. Three sessions were held dealing with:
– Perception (of the HRDs in Serbia)
– Protection
– Financing

Conclusion from these sessions are further on communicated with HRDs, published and promoted by YUCOM, OSCE and UNOHCHR.

Based on the activities of protection of Human Rights Defenders carried out along this project, YUCOMs representatives were invited to participate on a Conference in Strasbourg dealing with HRDs organised by Council of Europe from 26-28th October. Conference was organised by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe.

There YUCOM used the opportunity to point out problems that HRDs face in Serbia and the region, positive effects of solidarity among HRDs, free legal aid provided to HRDs and trainings that YUCOM provides in different areas of Serbia. As the effect of this Conference, YUCOMs Director was invited to speak before the Parliamentary Committee of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Hearing is named: The Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Council of Europe Area and it will be used to promote mechanisms established in Serbia, needs that were pointed out by HRDs as well as examples from the region.

– Based on YUCOMs activities in the cases of forced evictions in Belgrade and the problems that HR activists had when attempting to stop them, a closed door meeting was held with the representatives of Amnesty International. It was concluded that none of these evictions was lead with full respect of human rights of the evicted families. Several NGOs as well as AI held another meeting with the journalists, giving the joint statement on this occasion.

YUCOM’s Legal Aid Team – Protection of HRDs

YUCOM’s LA Team filed criminal charges:
– July 24 2011, for the criminal act of Racial and other discrimination, punishable under paragraph 4 in conjunction with paragraph 1 of Article 387 CC RS, to the detriment of a women’s peaceful, feminist-oriented antimilitaristic group “Women In Black”.
Unknown person / persons have created a FACEBOOK page – whose profile is titled: “PREVENT YOUTH MENTAL GENOCIDE – PROHIBIT WOMEN IN BLACK.”

– July 9, 2011, against unknown person, on suspicion of having committed criminal offences of Endangering safety of Pedja Azdejković, representative of LGBT NGO GLIC, punishable under Article 138 CL RS. He received an email from unknown person, in which it was said, among other: “Death to Gays!”, “Die, freaks!” etc

– Against unknown person(s) on suspicion of having committed the criminal act of Racial and other discrimination under paragraph 2 in conjunction with paragraph 1 of Article 387 CC RS, to the detriment of a women’s peaceful, feminist-oriented antimilitaristic group “WOMEN IN BLACK”.

– Against unknown person(s) on suspicion of having committed a criminal act of racism and other forms of discrimination under paragraph 2 in conjunction with paragraph 1 of Article 387 CC RS, to the detriment of Staša Zajović in Belgrade.
These two criminal lawsuits were filed because of the threats that were sent by e-mails to either Women in Black or Stasa Zajovic.

– Against unknown person(s) on suspicion of having bullied Staša Zajović from Women in black, a crime punishable under paragraph 1 of Article 344 CC RS,
– Against an unknown perpetrator, on suspicion of having committed a criminal acts of Unauthorized access to a protected computer, computer network and electronic data processing, punishable under Article 302 CC RS, as well as computer sabotage, under Article 299 CC RS at the expense of the non-governmental organization YUCOM – Lawyers Committee for Human Rights

– At the end of September, YUCOM’s lawyer held a meeting with Pedja Azdejković, representative of LGBT NGO GLIC, in order to prepare him for a hearing in the police station, due to the criminal charge filed by YUCOM’s LAT on his behalf, for a crime Endangering safety, punishable under Article 138 CC RS.

– On October 5th 2011, members of human rights’ organizations gathered in Novi Beograd, in order to prevent the forced eviction of several families, living in the barracks in this Belgrade municipality.
On this occasion, an activist from the NGO Women in Black was arrested, because of her peaceful protest against this unlawful eviction. She was charged with the crime Preventing an Official in Discharge of Duty (Article 322 CC RS) and taken to the police station. After receiving the information about the arrest, lawyer of YUCOM went to station, claiming that no force or threats were used. She was released, as the prosecutors didn’t find that she was using force/threats.

– On October 25th , 2011 two human rights defenders – activists of NGO Regional Centre for Minorities, were arrested for trying to stop the forced eviction of a Roma family in Belgrade.
They were arrested after they peacefully attempted to prevent police evicting M. K. and her six children from their apartment. Without using any violence, they were politely refusing to move from the door of M. K.’s apartment.
These HR activists were arrested for Obstruction of Justice (Article 336b CC RS), and they were taken to the police station for questioning. YUCOM’s lawyer attended the hearing, insisting that, according to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
They were released but may face charges, which could lead to a custodial sentence.

– On October 26th, 2011 YUCOM’s lawyers filed a plaint on behalf of Semiha Kacar, president of NGO Sandzak Committee for Human Rights. As an eminent human right defender in this part of Serbia (Sandzak) she suffered continuous threats, attacks and acts of defamation. In a local paper (Sandzak Press) she herself, as well as Committee for Human Rights – Sandzak, were subject of a defamation trough numerous texts. She wrote to the editor demanding from him to publish her dementi. After he did not fulfill his legal obligation, according to Public Information Law, she addressed to YUCOM, asking for pro bono litigation in this case.
Since the procedure, which is urgent according to the relevant law, is being prolonged, and each of six scheduled hearings was postponed, YUCOM’s lawyers are preparing the Constitutional Complaint on behalf of Semiha Kacar.

– On November 22nd, 2011 a member of YUCOM’s LA Team attended the hearing in police station due to the criminal charge filed on behalf of Stasa Zajovic, president of NGO Women in Black.
The charge was filed for the crime Racial and other discrimination, under paragraph 4 in conjunction with paragraph 1 of Article 387 CC RS. This Article sanctions all acts of persecutions towards the HR defenders based on their activism and devotion to equality among people.

– Starting from January 2012, YUCOM’s lawyer litigated the criminal procedure taken against the eminent HRD from Belgrade. She was accused of offence committed towards a Serbian nationalist organization Dveri srpske. The first instance Court initially declined the criminal lawsuit, as there wasn’t enough evidence that she committed these crimes. After the decision of the Appellate court, the hearing should start again.

– NGO Women in Black addressed YUCOM because of human rights violation regarding right to freedom of assembly. Police Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia banned assembly “A Hundred Years of Struggle” on 8th March 2008, without any explanation of its decision. After administrative procedures, YUCOM represented Women in Black before The Supreme Court in Administrative Dispute, but lawsuit was denied as unfounded. Therefore, YUCOMs lawyer filed a Constitutional complaint claiming that the right to a fair trial, right to freedom of assembly and right to an effective remedy were violated. In March 2012 the Constitutional Court brought a Decision where Constitutional complaint has been adopted, and violation of right to freedom of assembly, right to a fair trial and right to an effective remedy is established.

– YUCOM’s LAT filed a criminal charge against unknown person/persons who committed numerous crimes towards the CK 13, the cultural organization from Novi Sad that promotes equality and tolerance and fights against fascism, xenophobia and right wing extremism.
The attackers firstly painted various graffiti of hatred. Afterwards, there were several attacks on the building of CK 13 – unknown persons threw either stones or Molotov cocktails at the windows. Luckily, no one was ever hurt.
All these attacks were reported to the police. Despite the video recorded by the security camera (where it was possible to identify the attackers) the police did not do anything.
In March 2012, YUCOMs lawyers filed a criminal charge for crimes: Endangering safety, Racial and other discrimination and Damaging others’ property.

– Another criminal procedure is taken against two professors of Belgrade University, because of the Articles that they published in the official University press. They were criticising another University methodology whose representatives found the text offensive, so they initiated the criminal procedure for a crime of Offence. YUCOM’s lawyer represents these professors before the Court, finding that this criminal lawsuit violates their freedom of expression, as a fundamental human right.

“We Demand Rights – We Require Justice”
YUCOM published the booklet/guide on HRDs “We Demand Rights – We Require Justice”, that was spread on trainings held in Novi Pazar (Sandzak Province) and Novi Sad (Vojvodina Province).

UN Declaration on Human Rights’ Defenders – Serbian, Roma and Albanian translation
Also, YUCOM published the UN Declaration on Human Rights’ Defenders and translated it into Roma and Albanian language. This publication was also spread on the trainings of HR defenders.It is for the first time in the world that the Declaration was translated and published on Roma language.Training material translated into Roma and Albanian and spread on trainings.

Five trainings
The first training was held in Novi Pazar, on October 24th 2011. The second was held in Novi Sad, on November 1st 2011, the third in Valjevo on March 27th 2012, the fourth in Bujanovac on March 29th and the last training was held in Nis, March 30th 2012.
The trainings were attended by activists from local NOGs and journalists (from both Vojvodina Province as well as southern Serbia).
They were presented prepaired material – a handbook/guide on human rights defenders „We want rights – We require justice“ and also the EU Declaration on HRDs, translated in Roma and Albanian language.
YUCOM’s team introduced local human rights defenders with the EU Declaration on HRDs, pointed out the influence of the NGOs participation in advocacy before government bodies and it was agreed that it is necessary to establish permanent communication and co-operation among HR defenders in whole Serbia. The project team collected necessary information about all obstacles that HRDs face in their work, especially about criminal and civil procedures that are taken against them because of their activism. YUCOM’s LAT aimed to select potential cases for strategic litigation and to exchange experiences of the NGOs in the protection of human rights defenders in order to promote cooperation at all levels, especially at the level of legal assistance. The project team identified potential clients. Through direct communication with the beneficiaries, the LAT selected potential cases for strategic litigation, pointed out the influence of the NGOs participation in advocacy before governmental bodies and the effect that human rights defenders face due to their involvement.
Exchange of experiences and learning about the work so far aimed to contribute to the efficient operation and utilization of the capacity of other organizations.


About Author

Ostavite odgovor