Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, published today the report following her visit to Serbia in March 2023, with recommendations focusing on transitional justice and dealing with the past, freedom of expression and assembly and women’s rights and gender equality.
The Commissioner calls on the Serbian authorities to step up the prosecution of wartime crimes; to address the persistent shortcomings in the witness protection system; to improve international and regional judicial co-operation in this context; and to provide all victims of wartime crimes with access to prompt, adequate and effective reparation in line with established international standards.
Concerned about the slow pace of the resolution of about 9800 pending cases of missing persons in the region, the Commissioner urges Serbia to take all necessary steps to enable the effective and ongoing search for missing persons, including by opening its military archives and enhancing its co-operation with neighbouring countries.
The Commissioner calls on Serbia to counter the widespread public glorification of war criminals, denial and relativisation of war crimes and genocide and to stop giving a public platform to war criminals and war crimes suspects to spread a narrative of denial. She underscores that Serbia’s approach to the memorialisation of the past should be inclusive and critical, while history teaching should reflect multiple perspectives, condemn all atrocities, and promote tolerance and openness.
The safety of journalists remains a serious human rights concern in Serbia. “All crimes committed against journalists should be promptly and effectively investigated and the perpetrators should be appropriately punished, while Serbian public officials must refrain from discourse that encourages attacks, vilification, or smear campaigns against journalists and emboldens the perpetrators”, stresses the Commissioner.
The Commissioner calls on the authorities to foster a safe and enabling environment for the work of civil society organisations and human rights defenders, and to counter the widespread use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) against journalists, human rights defenders and activists. She also calls on the authorities to refrain from further restricting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to bring instead Serbia’s legislative framework and practice fully in line with the relevant international human rights standards. The authorities are also called on to refrain from introducing biometric surveillance of public spaces and biometric data processing, and to amend the Bill on internal affairs in this regard.
Whilst welcoming the strengthening of the legislative and policy framework for gender equality in recent years, the Commissioner calls for a redoubling of efforts on its implementation and on combating persisting discriminatory gender stereotypes that contribute to the perpetuation of gender-based violence.
Seriously concerned about the prevalence of all forms of violence against women in Serbia, the Commissioner urges the authorities to address this phenomenon by bringing the existing legislation fully in line with the relevant standards and stepping up its implementation, building on the recommendations made by GREVIO and the Committee of the Parties to the Istanbul Convention in this regard. The Commissioner also calls on the authorities to take resolute action in addressing digital violence against women and girls. Finally, commending the crucial work carried out by civil society organisations in this field, the Commissioner calls on the authorities to provide these organisations with stable funding, and to co-operate with and make better use of their support services.