IBAHRI express concern for safety of prominent human rights defenders in Serbia

The International Bar Association (IBA)’s Human Rights Institute has expressed grave concern for the safety of prominent human rights defenders in Serbia, following comments made by political party leaders inciting action against them.

The IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis stated, ‘We are witnessing an extremely worrying turn in Serbia. Given the current high level of tension in Serbia, political party leaders must refrain from making statements that may inflame actions against human rights defenders. Of specific concern to the IBA are incendiary comments made by politicians that may directly endanger the life of the renowned lawyer Natasa Kandic.’

‘I am distressed at this personal attack on Natasa Kandic. She should be recognised by all the leaders of Serbia as a national asset. Her courageous work and her right to speak in support for human rights in Serbia and the Balkans should be protected by them. The statement by Mr Dacic is a negation of the principles that Serbia should seek to pursue in its quest to strengthen its new democracy,’ added Justice Richard Goldstone, Co-Chair of the IBA Human Rights Institute.

The IBA reminds Serbian authorities of their obligations under international law to protect and uphold human rights. Serbia is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which enshrines the inherent right that ‘any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.’

The IBA calls on the Serbian authorities to take immediate action to stop such inflammatory statements and to ensure those responsible for making comments inciting violence against human rights defenders are accountable. The IBA further calls on the authorities to ensure that human rights defenders are provided security and protected against any attack.

For further information/expanded commentary, please contact:

Romana St Matthew - Daniel
Press Office
International Bar Association
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Tel: + 44 (0)20 7691 6868
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E-mail: romana.daniel@int-bar.org
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Background

In Belgrade and Novi Sad on Sunday 17 February and Monday 18 February there were violent demonstrations and sporadic riots in reaction to Kosovo’s declaration of independence. On Monday evening the Serbian parliament adopted a resolution refusing to recognise the unilateral proclamation by Kosovo of its independence. Tensions and feelings run high on this complex and difficult issue.

Despite the agitated context, the Socialist Party of Serbia leader, Ivica Dacic allegedly stated that there was some justification for the violent reaction of the demonstrators and rioters. Dacic went on to say that he supported ‘the banning of all political parties and non-governmental organisations that recognised independent Kosovo’. In particular Dacic singled out renowned lawyer Natasa Kandic for condemnation, for having allegedly attended the Kosovo parliament session when independence was declared. These comments were published yesterday in ‘Vecernje novosti’.