Serbia: Physical assault against 9 members of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR)

27/01/2017
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about a physical assault perpetrated against nine members of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR)[1], while they were staging a protest at a public meeting organised by Serbia’s ruling party SNS (Serbian Progressive Party) in the premises of the Municipality of Beška, northern province of Vojvodina. The nine YIHR representatives were protesting against a speech which was being delivered by Mr. Veselin Sljivancanin, convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2007, and in appeal in 2009, for crimes of torture committed during the Yugoslav wars[2].

SER 001 / 0117 / OBS 013
Physical assault
Serbia
January 27, 2017

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Serbia.

Description of the situation:

According to the information received, on January 17, 2017, several members of the YIHR were physically attacked after displaying a banner which read “War criminals should become silent so that the victims can speak out!”, thereby disrupting the speech of Mr. Veselin Sljivancanin. Subsequently, several SNS supporters attacked the human rights defenders and violently forced them out of the premises, after tearing down their banner. Several activists were injured, two of them severely, after being violently kicked. The aggressors also damaged one of the vehicles belonging to YIHR members, while the latter were trying to leave. The incident occurred right in front of the local police station.

Shortly after the attack, the SNS party publicly defamed the non-violent protestors, by accusing them of being “fascists” and “hooligans”.

The Observatory strongly condemns the above-mentioned attack, and calls for a prompt, effective, transparent and impartial investigation. The Observatory more generally urges the Serbian authorities to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of YIHR members in all circumstances, taking into account that this is not the first attack suffered by the latter (see background information).

Background Information:

Members of YIHR have faced at least four instances of harassment in the last year and a half, including three physical assaults and a case of judicial harassment.

In May 2015, YIHR members suffered an attempted physical assault while collecting messages of condolences in the streets of Belgrade, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the killing of 71 people by Bosnian Serb forces in Tuzla. Several members of the far-right organisation “Serbian Action” tried to tear their condolence book apart, and to attack the human rights defenders, but were eventually stopped by the police.

In July 2015, the leader of YIHR, Ms. Anita Mitic, was involved in the organisation of a gathering to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, which was due to take place on July 10. The event was banned by the government, and Ms. Mitic was among the approximately 200 persons who defied the ban and held their candle-lit commemoration the evening before. Following this gathering, Ms. Mitic was charged with a misdemeanour by the Interior Ministry, for breaking Serbia’s public gatherings law by organising a public gathering without previously notifying the authorities. The first hearing in her case took place on February 3, 2016, and no further hearings have taken place since then.

During the same candle-lit commemoration, protesters were further aggressed by nationalistic groups, who threw various objects at them and even used fire extinguishers to extinguish the candles they had lightened.

Besides, on April 15, 2016, three women human rights defenders belonging to YIHR were physically assaulted in Belgrade’s Youth Centre by members of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) after staging a protest against an event promoting a book which denies war crimes.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Serbia asking them to:

i Order an immediate, thorough, transparent investigation into the attack against the 9 human rights defenders, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and apply them the sanctions provided by the law;

ii. Provide compensation and redress to the injured human rights defenders, and take all necessary measures to provide guarantees of non-repetition;

iii. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of all members of YIHR, as well as all human rights defenders in Serbia, and particularly those carrying out activities related to crimes committed during the war;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Serbia.

Addresses:

· Mr. Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Minister. E-mail: predsednikvlade@gov.rs
· Ms. Nela Kuburovic, Minister of Justice. E-mail: kontakt@mpravde.gov.rs
· Mr. Ivica Dacic, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. E-mail: mfa@mfa.rs
· Mr. Stefanovic Nebojsa, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior. E-mail: info@mup.gov.rs
· Ms. Zagorka Dolovac, Procureur General. E-mail: kabinetrjt@rjt.gov.rs, biljana.spasic@rjt.gov.rs
· Mr. Vladislav Mladenović, Ambassador to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva. E-mail: serbian.mission@bluewin.ch
· Ms. Ana Hrustanovic, Ambassador to the European Union in Brussels: mission.serbia.eu@mfa.rs
· Mr. Vuk Žugić, Ambassador to the OSCE in Vienna. E-mail: mission.vienna@mfa.rs

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Serbia in your respective country.

***

Geneva-Paris, January 27, 2017

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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[1] The Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) is a regional network of non-governmental organizations with programs implemented on the territories of Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Initiative was formed by young people from these countries in order to enhance youth participation in the democratization of the society and empowerment of the rule of law through the establishment of new, progressive connections in the post-conflict region of former Yugoslavia. The Initiative was formed in 2003, and more than 30 persons work on various projects on a daily basis. The work of the organization also includes several hundred activists.

[2] On December 8, 2010, his judgement was reviewed, and the sentence was reduced to 10 years’ imprisonment. He benefitted from an early release on July 5, 2011.

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