Project: Monitoring Serbia’s OSCE Chairmanship

Human Rights - OSCE Priority

Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights- YUCOM, Humanitarian Law Centre, Forum for Ethnic Relations and Public Policy Research Centre held the first press-conference on the establishment of the Coordination Group of Civil Society Organizations (CSO) for monitoring of Serbia’s chairmanship of the OSCE and its obligations arising from the organization’s human dimension.

Every key document of the OSCE, from the Helsinki Act of 1975, highlights the respect of human rights and freedoms as a precondition for peace and stability. Societies founded on the principles of pluralism, democracy and the rule of law guarantee security, justice and cooperation between member-states. The Maastricht document of 2003 that lays down the strategy of the OSCE for the 21st century stresses that the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are crucial for the all-inclusive concept of security. Founded on the same premises, the CSO coalition will above all monitor the present, worrisome situation of human rights in Serbia.

The Coalition will be focused on reporting on Serbia’s fulfillment of OSCE commitments, recommending promotion of these commitments, , opening public dialogue on major issues at domestic and regional level and in various forums, and on preparations for a parallel civil society conference to be held in Belgrade in December 2015 on the eve of the OSCE ministerial meeting.

The Coalition is in communication with the working group for the Chairmanship of the OSCE within the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, it has established good cooperation with the OSCE missions in Belgrade and Vienna, as well as with the international CSO network, the Civic Solidarity Platform, as its main partner in this process.

The Coalition will participate in the self-evaluation process on the fulfillment of the country’s commitments in the human dimension area, which is currently being prepared by the Serbian OSCE Chairmanship. The idea of self-evaluation came forth from the conclusion that OSCE Chairmanship should establish very high standards for other OSCE member-states in respect for human rights. The first country to do so was Switzerland during its OSCE Chairmanship in 2014 as a result of its cooperation with the Civic Solidarity Platform.

It is very important that Serbia accepted the process of self-evaluation. The report will be written by the Equality Protection Commissioner and the Institute of Social Sciences, and will focus on four topics: gender equality, Roma community, elections and freedom of peaceful assembly. The CSO Coalition will give its inputs to this report and write about three additional topics perceived as civil society priorities: media freedoms, protection of human rights and minorities. These will not be the Coalitions’ sole concerns considering its plan to organize a regional conference on reconciliation.

Izabela Kisić of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, who will scrutinize media freedoms and freedom of expression, said that the Coalition will carefully monitor the human rights situation and basic freedoms in Serbia. This is of high importance since human rights have been seriously challenged in Serbia during the past year. Apart from human rights organizations, reports from independent institutions draw attention to this particular trend and the threat to basic freedoms in Serbia. The Citizens Ombudsman’s well-documented report for the year 2014 alerting of the threats to human rights and pressing problems was most inappropriately commented upon by the government, whereas MPs from the ruling party called it a political pamphlet. 

The Coalition will also point to violations of the freedom of expression, which it considers one of the main problems in Serbia. In this context, Kisić reminded of recent dismissals of actors (of the theater in Zaječar) for having participated in an opposition rally, as well as of disruption of a public debate organized by opposition parties. She also noted that violation of media freedoms and freedom of expression reached a critical point in the past year. Looking back on the recent meeting of the OSCE in Belgrade, which was the first discussion of Serbian OSCE Chairmanship in the human dimension area, she drew attention to the serious message that OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović put across on the occasion: freedom of expression and media freedoms are closely connected with the elections that will be held no later than March 2016, she said.

Svetlana Đurđević-Lukić of the Public Policy Research Centre, who, in the context of the monitoring, will be addressing the situation of the Roma and partly the freedom of expression, highlighted that the civil society should not remain on the margins of many activities undertaken within the current Serbian OSCE Chairmanship. She noted that many took advantage of the International Roma Day – 8th of April- to showcase their commitment to the protection of Roma community, which nevertheless remained the most vulnerable community in Serbia. Particularly violated are the rights of multiply marginalized groups, such as Roma women. She also stressed the importance of addressing the freedom of expression beyond media freedoms, since freedom of expression can be violated in many different ways in the public sphere. Priority for the citizens is to enjoy the right to information as a public good.

Nenad Đurđević of the Forum for Ethnic Relations, who will be focusing on the evaluation of the situation of national minorities and minority policies, said that some progress has been made in this area since 2000. . He also noted a very important role of OSCE in overcoming the crisis in the South of Serbia in 2001, as well as the importance of OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities whose expertise and professionalism had never been questioned in Serbia. Đurđević mentioned pressing problems facing minority communities such as inconsistent procedures and practices in the implementation of minority rights, the confusing division of powers between institutions and revisionism - especially the 20th century history- which only contributed to growing tension between minorities and the majority population.

Jelena Krstić of the Humanitarian Law Centre pointed out that her organization would insist on Serbia’s improved attitude towards regional reconciliation and dealing with the past. She said that even though reconciliation in the region was placed on Serbia’s priority list during its chairmanship of the OSCE, this seemed to be on paper only; here seems to be no genuine will to implement adequate measures in this sense, nor is dealing with the past included as an issue off the self-evaluation. Reports by relevant international institutions and organizations speak of inadequate approach to establishment of proper transitional justice mechanisms and non-impunity for crimes committed in the past: prosecution of war crimes, adequate protection of victims, as well as their families (protection of their right to adequate reparations), the right to the truth and institutional reforms - removing every individual who participated in any way in war crimes from all public services l and security institutions.

Katarina Golubović of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, who will be monitoring the freedom of assembly and elections, noted that many provisions of the Public Assembly Law were unconstitutional generating only problems as such as confirmed by the Constitutional Court in 2013. The law is implemented very selectively – the Ministry of Interior banned rallies by human rights defenders and opposition parties without any explanation. Two years had to pass until the Constitutional Court decided on unconstitutionality of the Law on Public Assembly. The publication of the decision was postponed for six months in order for Serbia to finally amend the Public Assembly Law adjusted to the OSCE documents and the Serbian Constitution.

Belgrade, April 16th 2015

The report from the press conference conveyed FoNet agency and Danas daily newspaper.