Visit of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to Serbia

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, stated that “It is high time for Serbia to face the legacy of the past, to protect media freedom and freedom of assembly, and to fulfil its commitments on women’s rights and gender equality” at the end of a visit to the country carried out from 13 to 17 March 2023.

While noting some positive steps taken by the Serbian authorities to address the impunity for serious human rights violations committed during the conflicts of the 1990s, including a new war crimes strategy and the strengthening of the capacity of the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office, the Commissioner is concerned about the reported slow progress in this area. The lack of extradition of convicted war criminals and war crimes suspects to other countries in the region remains yet another obstacle in the fight against impunity. “Only when perpetrators of war crimes are brought to justice can societies in the region begin to heal, come to terms with their violent past, and build a future based on respect for human rights and the rule of law”, the Commissioner said. The Commissioner finds that, by giving convicted war criminals a public platform in Serbia to promote their views and deny the crimes for which they were convicted, the authorities are failing in their duty to ensure accountability, preserve the victims’ right to truth and prevent the spread of intolerant and hateful speech. The authorities’ toleration of murals honouring war criminals is another unfortunate illustration of this. Civil society organisations have mapped more than 300 such murals across Serbia and recently called on the authorities to remove them.

While welcoming the authorities’ commitment to ensuring respect for freedom of expression and assembly, and a solid legal and institutional framework in this area, the Commissioner notes that the safety of journalists and human rights defenders remains an issue of serious concern. Past cases of killings of journalists, including the case of Slavko Ćuruvija, must be solved and the perpetrators, and those who ordered these crimes, must be brought to justice.

Noting the prevalence of smear campaigns, threats and intimidation and the growing problem of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) targeting journalists, human rights defenders and civil society organisations, the Commissioner urges the authorities to spare no effort to create a safe and conducive environment for the work of the media and civil society. 

The Commissioner further expressed her concerns about the misogynistic and discriminatory discourse used by some politicians and public figures, and promoted by certain media, which undermines government policies and actions aimed at achieving gender equality. As concerns violence against women and domestic violence, the Commissioner regrets that, 10 years after Serbia ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention), and despite a good legislative and policy framework, these types of violence, remain widespread, including in the digital space. The Commissioner observed the need for a co-ordinated institutional response to effectively protect women from violence and to provide immediate and longer-term support to victims.  

The Commissioner’s report on the visit is forthcoming.

Reference from the website of the Council of Europe