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INFO   :::  Human Rights > Freedom of Assembly in the Western Balkans is Limited


Regional conference of the civil society organizations

Freedom of Assembly in the Western Balkans is Limited

Belgrade, January 25, 2016


The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia and the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights held the regional conference entitled “Freedom of Assembly in the Western Balkans“ on January 25, 2016 in Belgrade. Lawyers, activists, human rights defenders and other representatives of civil society organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia participated in the conference.

The participants touched upon several complex issues, including the legislative framework of the freedom of assembly in the countries of the Western Balkans, local legal regulations on notification, authorization, preparation and organization of public gatherings, limitations to the freedom of assembly and practical problems in the organization of public events, civic protests and the role of state institutions and police in securing the right to assembly.

Several trends and features are common to all the Western Balkans countries. Namely, the civil society and citizens perceive the freedom of assembly both as an important democratic concept and as an instrument for expressing civic protest or a certain stance. At the same time state institutions, ruling parties and political elites interpret this right either as a means for achieving their political goals or as a threat to the national security or to the security of the ruling elites.

The existing legal framework regulating the freedom of assembly is mainly limited, controversial, discriminatory and primarily focused on various restrictions of this basic freedom, which leaves enough space for misuse. New laws on public assembly adopted in some regional states aim at improving the situation; however, they often leave the basic problems unsolved. Moreover, in almost all regional states the police play a major role in the process of notification/authorization of public gatherings, which often results in violations of the right to assembly. The countries in the region also face the problem of police brutality and the excessive use of force against participants of public gatherings. Another key issue is the selective acknowledgement of the right to assembly, which means that some social groups face discrimination when they attempt to enjoy this right (for instance representatives of the opposition, ethnic minorities, LGBT persons, etc.). The participants of the regional conference also mentioned the considerable role of the international institutions and the international community in promoting the state institutions’ more dynamic conduction of reforms and wider respect for human rights, including the freedom of assembly.

The conference was organized with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Foundation to Promote Open Society (OSF).














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