Global perspective Human stories

UN expert urges Serbia to do more to support, protect human rights defenders

UN expert urges Serbia to do more to support, protect human rights defenders

Alarmed at the stigmatization and hostility faced by those working to advance human rights in Serbia, an independent United Nations expert has called on that country’s authorities to give political recognition and legitimacy to human rights defenders and their work.

“This stigmatization of defenders, which portrays them as ‘enemies’ of the country, is not countered by supportive statements of State authorities that would give them legitimacy,” Hina Jilani, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a statement released in Belgrade, following a visit to the country.

She urged State authorities to firmly condemn attacks and campaigns against the “vibrant and active” human rights community in Serbia and acknowledge the importance of their work.

The Special Representative said a major concern was the hostile attitude against human rights workers, who are constantly under attack, mainly in the media. This animosity appears to be linked to their work on transitional justice and minority rights – issues that she said “some sectors of the political establishment are not willing to address.”

She noted that Serbia is a country in transition, confronted with the challenges coming from its recent past, as well as those linked to the future, including uncertainties regarding the status of Kosovo. “This environment slows down the advancement of the country on many fronts, including and in particular on human rights.”

Ms. Jilani made a similar appeal to the Government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in a statement released in Skopje following her visit to the country.

While several new laws pertaining to the work of human rights defenders had been adopted since her last visit to the country in 2003, she was not satisfied with their implementation, noting that mechanisms that defenders can use to report cases of non-compliance and protect victims “are still lacking, are insufficient or do not function properly.”

“This has created an environment in which Government responsiveness is limited or absent,” she stated.

Another concern is that human rights defenders do not have access to detention centres and police stations, which seriously impedes their monitoring and protection role.

The reports of Ms. Jilani’s visits will be presented and discussed at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next March.