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Protection for victims of hate crime after abuse of Hare Krishna follower

Milanović v Serbia |2011

Protection for victims of hate crime after abuse of Hare Krishna follower

The Milanović case showed all of the imperfections of the existing system, and the negligence of the police and the prosecution when it comes to attacks motivated by hate.

Milan Antonijević, human rights lawyer, former director of Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM) - Photo: Života Milanović © Infocentrala

Background 

Života Milanović is a leading member of Serbia’s Hare Krishna religious community. Života contacted police after he began receiving anonymous threats which he suspected were coming from members of a far-right group. 

The threats soon turned into violence. Života was beaten and stabbed outside his home many times over the course of several years. His tormentors cut off his hair. On one occasion, a lone attacker carved a crucifix into Života’s head.

Local police were unable to identify the perpetrators of the repeated attacks and bring them to justice.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court found that Serbian police had failed to prevent and properly investigate the attacks on Života because they appeared to have serious doubts, related to his religion, as to whether he was a genuine victim. This was in breach of Života’s rights.

. . . it is noted that the police themselves referred to the applicant’s well-known religious beliefs, as well as his “strange appearance” . . .

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, June 2011

Follow-up 

Following the European court’s judgment, Serbia overhauled its criminal process in 2011, transferring the responsibility for leading investigations from the police to prosecutors.

In 2012, Serbia introduced the offence of hate crime and made motives based on hatred, including religious hatred, an aggravating factor. The authorities must now take reasonable steps to identify hate-related motives, including religiously motivated hatred, when investigating violent attacks. 

Serbia’s Chief Public Prosecutor issued guidelines in 2017 to raise awareness among public prosecutors of the importance of prosecuting hate crimes. Information offices were also set up to help victims of hate crimes.