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Serbia 2008: Human Rights, Democracy
and - Violence


The Helsinki Committee's report for the year 2008 once again seeks to examine the overall political, social and economic climate in which human rights were promoted and protected in the past year. The report is, therefore, published under the title "Human Rights, Democracy and - Violence."

The fact that Serbia has waged the wars it "did not wage" considerably and to this very day explains a high degree of violence in all spheres of life. The absence of adequate measures to treat traumas and frustration, especially among the young, also resulted in violence. And impunity for the crimes committed in 1990s and the failure to condemn them enthroned a model of violence as something socially acceptable. An adverse attitude towards the ITCY and constant attempts to undermine and belittle its work - despite partial cooperation with it - made it impossible to establish at least a moral minimum in the matters of crime and value system. Due to the lack of mechanisms of transitional justice - the only way to make a clean break with Slobodan Milosevic's repressive regime - it was not possible to make, above all, a genuine advance in the adoption of the moral standards that presuppose normal functioning of the society and the state. Those statements, among other things, can be found in the Helsinki Committee's latest annual report. Many problems, says the report, result from the fact that Serbia has not reached a consensus on a cultural pattern and a value system, as it had failed to reach a consensus on a redefined national program. Though factually defeated, the national program has not been abandoned yet - and still keeps Serbia in the position of an undefined state. Actually it is the indistinct Kosovo issue that makes Serbia an unfinished state, and the highest cost of such "institutional incompleteness" is paid by state institutions that anyway enjoy less and less credibility in general public.

Referring to the year 2008, the report reminds that whereas Serbia's citizens clearly demonstrated that they saw their future in European integration, the political elite was wavering between neutrality with reliance on Russia and much-expected solidarity and assistance from the EU. It persisted on territorial claims, notably when it came to Republika Srpska and notably after Kosovo's independence declaration. Such ambivalent strategic orientation blocked political energy and Serbia missed the opportunities it could have seized to compensate the loss of Kosovo.

"Serbia 2008: Human Rights, Democracy and - Violence" stresses that most important for the societies such as the Serbian, which are marked by high tensions and integrative incapacity - in ethnic and in much larger sense - are decreasing conflict-generating potential and favorable conditions for social development and stability. For the Serbian society - in 2008 and on - Euro-Atlantic prospects are most likely cohesive factors for mobilizing people's energy for a modern vision: this is testified by the SAA signed with the EU in April 2008, which practically secured victory to the pro-European bloc. Unfortunately, uncertainties of Serbia's membership of NATO will continue to generate tensions in the period to come.

Serbia has not yet begun to build institutions that would systematically and in the long run render the society compatible with the EU. Therefore, it is necessary to have Serbia as much as possible committed to European integrations so as to gradually create a connection that would bring about qualitative changes. Without a serious engagement of the EU Serbia would hardly move towards Euro-Atlantic integrations. The global crisis, but the domestic one as well, are the circumstances that could make the society as a whole realize that this direction is the only viable one for the country.

On over 500 pages and apart from the introduction headlined "No Consensus on Value System," the Committee's report for the year 2008 broaches the topics grouped in the following chapters: "Social Context: Xenophobia, Racism and Intolerance," "State Mechanism," "Freedom of Religion," "Legal System," "Economic and Social Context," "Fear of Decentralization," "National Minorities," "The Media," "Relations with Neighbors" and "Relations with the World."

Looking back at the year 2008, the Helsinki Committee recommends, inter alia, to the People's Assembly, the government and ministries of the Republic of Serbia:
- Amendment of the provisions of the 2006 Constitution that restrict the country's movement towards Euro-Atlantic integrations and adjustment to European standards (e.g. the provisions on independent judiciary, freedom of expression, territorial organization, the President of the Republic and, in particular, the provision on the excessively complex procedure for any constitutional amendment). Passing of a new election law that would secure more independent action by MPs and abate partisan influence on parliamentary proceedings.
- Amendment of the Law on Referendum and Popular Initiative to ensure citizens' bigger and more direct participation in decision-making in the issues vital to them.
- Permanent campaigning for tolerance and against racism and discrimination, and promotion of human rights through educational system and the media.
- Implementation of all the international documents the state has ratified by courts and prosecution offices. Ratification, without delay, of all the signed conventions.
- Acceptance of the suggestion of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe by the government and adoption of a comprehensive national plan for human rights the drafting of which also includes non-governmental organizations.
- Encouragement of a social climate favorable to protection and equal treatment of all minority groups, gay groups and individuals, as well as human rights defenders. Full protection of human rights defenders, prompt reaction at any form of hate speech and adequate action against all extremists - individuals and organizations - advocating hatred and discrimination. Adequate punishment for hate speech spread by politicians and other public figures whose actions set up standards of behavior.
- Adoption, without delay, of a law on non-governmental organizations and establishment of efficient communication with the civil sector.
- Promotion of the work of the ICTY and proper public interpretation its decisions.
- Support to the establishment of ethical standards in journalism, particularly in the media with national coverage, and protection of journalists who report impartially and are, therefore, often abused. Establishment of a regulatory media body to protect citizens from media irresponsibility.
- Pursuit of policies that integrate minorities into larger political, economic and cultural community of Serbia. Particular attention to economic integration of the minorities such as Roma, Albanians and Bosniaks inhabiting underdeveloped regions. Urgent adoption of a law on national councils.
- Amendments of the Law on Religious Communities - and the rules of procedure - that now enable arbitrariness by the executive branch.
- Full implementation of the Strategy for Mental Health and supervision of its implementation. Drafting of a law to protect persons with mental disabilities and a law on social protection. Creation of the conditions for community-based care and deinstitutionalization of all patients/beneficiaries whose state of health allows community-based care.
- Encouragement of economies of underdeveloped regions through improved infrastructure, reduced poverty and promotion of regional stability, notably in Sandzak.
- Significant improvement of the relations with all neighboring countries, which also preconditions movement towards European integration processes. In this context, a change for the better in Serbia's attitude towards Bosnia-Herzegovina.
- Passing of a new law on the police to ensure continuation of reforms, as well as adoption, without delay, of a new law on the Security-Information Agency and other intelligence services.
- Establishment of the Office of the Council for National Security to ensure its efficient functioning and enforcement of its decisions.

The Committee's recommendations to the international community are as follows:
- No conditioning of Serbia's - as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina's and Kosovo's - speedier access to the EU under present circumstances. More reliance by the EU on citizens of Serbia, who have clearly manifested their option for Europe.
- Special focus on and encouragement of small and medium-sized enterprises, local self-government and youth organizations to ensure the society's long-term potential for democratization.
- Increased support to civil sector, particularly to human rights organizations as authentic promoters of European values.
- Speedier process for inclusion of Serbia in the white Schengen list.
- Continued monitoring of human and minority rights, particularly in Serbia's multiethnic regions.
- Support to independent media playing crucial role in the democratization process.
- Encouragement of Serbia's decentralization and regionalization that precondition democratization.
- EU's support to Vojvodina's pro-European orientation the more so since Vojvodina may serve as a model for other regions in Serbia too.


The 2008 annual report, circulated both in Serbian and English, is published thanks to the assistance of the Swedish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.



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