Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Serbia

Political context

The new coalition government formed in May 2007 by Mr. Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS, nationalist), with President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party (DS, reformist) and Mr. Mladjan Dinkic's G17 Plus (neoliberal), firmly committed to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and to take concrete measures to that end. In that respect, General Zdravko Tolimir, one of the most wanted war criminals, was arrested on May 31, 2007, and transferred to the ICTY. Following the arrest, and although Mr. Mladic and Mr. Karadjic are still at large, it has been possible to resume negotiations with the European Union on the possible accession of Serbia, which had been interrupted in May 2006 due to the lack of cooperation on the part of Serbia. However, defenders who denounce war crimes committed during the 1990s are still subjected to attacks and harassment, in a society that is increasingly divided over the question of transitional justice and cooperation with the ICTY.

Furthermore, ethnic tensions in Serbia are still very present, and sometimes lead to outbursts of violence. Such a situation fuels nationalist sentiments among the various communities, which hinders the work of all the women and men who denounce acts of discrimination and who work for the defence of human rights in Serbia. In addition, at the end of 2007, the question of the status of Kosovo had still not been settled. The last session of the United Nations Security Council in 2007, on December 19, came to an end without reaching an agreement, whereas Kosovo was threatening to make a unilateral declaration of independence, and the stability of the country was still extremely precarious.

Overall less repressive environment, but more targeted repression

Following her visit to Serbia in September 2007, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani, noted that "attacks against human rights defenders have reduced in number and the environment is generally less repressive".1 In particular, draft legislation on associations was drawn up in consultation with the civil society organisations, in view of a submission to Parliament in 2008. Although the draft taken as a whole is a positive step, the text contains certain provisions that could lead to an excessively intrusive degree of State control over NGO activities.

Many defenders are still the target of attacks, in particular those working on war crimes and transitional justice, on national minorities and on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual. Defenders are particularly vulnerable in rural areas far from the capital.

Acts of reprisal against defenders denouncing war crimes

In 2007, defenders investigating war crimes so that justice be done for victims, and who seek to promote transitional justice, continued to be accused of being "non-patriotic" by extreme right-wing groups and certain branches of the Serbian authorities. They are therefore a privileged target for attacks. On April 14, 2007 for instance, unknown persons attempted to assassinate Mr. Dejan Anastasijevic, an independent journalist, by throwing a bomb into his bedroom. Mr. Anastasijevic is known for his investigations into war crimes and into the illicit activities of the police and secret services.

Attacks by nationalist groups during demonstrations

Human rights defenders fighting against intolerance and for respect for human rights also continue to be subjected to attacks by extreme right-wing nationalist groups, particularly during demonstrations. In October 2007, for instance, some persons who had come to protest against a fascist march in Novi Sad were attacked with stones and bottles by members of an extreme right-wing groups. Likewise, in December 2007, a coalition of NGOs for a secularised State was demonstrating in Belgrade to denounce the increasingly clerical nature of the State and to call for freedom of religion was attacked by extreme right-wing demonstrators bearing badges depicting Ratko Mladic, and chanting slogans against foreigners and homosexuals.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See Statement by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani, on her visit to Serbia, September 25, 2007.


This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.