Human Rights Defenders in Serbia are not adequately
protected and hereof are often targets of attacks, was the major
conclusion of the conference Human Rights Defenders in the Western
Balkans Region in the Context of the OSCE/ODIHR Guidelines on the
Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
The conference was organized by the Helsinki Committee
for Human Rights in Serbia and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions
and Human Rights with the assistance of the OSCE Mission in Serbia.
Representatives of human rights organizations and activists from the
Western Balkans countries spoke about the challenges they have been
coping with and possible solutions for numerous problems standing in the
way of their mission.
Welcoming addresses by the Executive Director of the
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia Izabela Kisić, Head of the
Democratization Department of the OSCE Mission in Serbia Jan Lueneburg,
Head of ODIHR Human Rights Department Katarzyna Jarosiewicz Wargan,
Milena Banović of the Office for Cooperation with the Civil Society of
the Republic of Serbia and Attila Mraz of the Hungarian Civil Liberties
Union opened the conference.
Human rights defenders play a vital role in the
establishment of the rule of law and regional reconciliation and
normalization, said Izabela Kisić. In all the countries of the Western
Balkans, with all their differences and similarities, human rights
defenders are endangered, especially those whose activities are focused
on dealing with the past, LGBT population, and corruption. In her view,
Serbia’s acknowledgment of its moral and political responsibility for
war crimes in the 1990s is “the crucial precondition for the development
of the civil society."
"HRDs who raise questions of dealing with the past are
facing stigmatization, brutal smear campaigns, open threats and lynch
calls," she said and added that “individuals subjected to the fiercest
attacks are those focusing on war crimes and countering nationalism and
As she assessed, extreme right-wing organizations “are
only mouthpieces and the most visible perpetrators of attacks," while
intellectuals, governmental officials, members of the Parliament, as
well as the main religious institutions – particularly the Serbian
Orthodox Church - are the masterminds.
Izabela Kisić also said that enabling environment for
the work of human rights defenders does not exist in Serbia and in the
Western Balkans region, and that public debates are almost extinct in
Serbia. Kisić stressed out that misogyny and homophobia are growing
Speaking of the Guidelines for the Protection of Human
Rights Defenders, Katarzyna Jarosiewicz Wargan stated that working with
human rights defenders is one of the core activities of ODIHR.“ These
Guidelines might help reducing the difference between theory and
practice in the context of the protection of human rights defenders.
However, without a substantial partnership between the state, civil
society and other important actors, the protection of human rights
defenders will remain a dead letter,” she said.
Cooperation of the civil society and the state
indicates the level of democratization of a society, and the Government
of Serbia opted for it by founding the Office for Cooperation with the
Civil Society, said Milena Banović. She highlighted the importance of
such cooperation and added that it is multi-sectorial. She also said
that by the end of the year a strategic document about the creation of
enabling environment for the work of the civil society will be adopted.
“That document will be binding. Cooperation with CSOs is a political
criterion for EU integration and also important for Serbia’s OSCE
Chairmanship. Cooperation is also significant for the overall progress
of our society”, she said.
Historian Milivoj Bešlin said that human rights
defenders opposed to systematic rehabilitation of quislings and fascist
ideas are often targets of attacks. He provided examples of public
defamation and threats to which historians Hrvoje Klasić and Dragan
Markovina in Croatia, and activist Sonja Biserko and journalist Dinko
Gruhonjić in Serbia are exposed. “In Serbia, individuals opposing
historical revisionism are facing more difficulties than those in
Croatia, to the extent to which the Croatian society is more pluralistic
than the one in Serbia”, said Bešlin.
Valon Ramadani from Kosovo, Sidita Zaja from Albania
and Milena Čalić-Jelić from Croatia spoke about the challenges that
human rights defenders are faced with and about the particularly
vulnerable groups of human rights defenders. Alma Mašić of the Youth
Initiative for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, historian Milivoj
Bešlin from Novi Sad, Executive Director of the Human Rights Action from
Montenegro Tea Gorjanc Prelević, Venera Çoçaj of the Youth Initiative
for Human Rights in Kosovo and Milena Vasić of Lawyers’ Committee for
Human Rights discussed favorable environment for the work of human
rights defenders, their relationship with the police and judiciary,
freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly and association,
and human rights education.
One of the questions raised at the third panel was
about the activities of the civil society that contribute to enabling
environment for the work of human rights defenders. Panelists who
offered answers to this question were Uranija Pirovska of the Macedonian
Helsinki Committee, Daliborka Uljarević of the Centre for Civic
Education from Montenegro, Ivan Novosel of the Human Rights House in
Croatia, Milan Antonijević of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights
and Snježana Ivandić of the Association for Democratic Initiatives from
Bosnia and Herzegovina.