Human Rights Defenders Attacked by Members of the Ruling Party in Serbia

Civil Rights Defenders condemns the recent attack against several human rights defenders from the Youth Initiative of Human Rights (YIHR) of Serbia, a long time partner of Civil Rights Defenders and demands that swift legal action be taken in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The incident occurred on the evening of January 17, involving nine activists from the YIHR, who were brutally attacked by members from a local branch of the Serbian Progressive Party, the current ruling party led by President Alexandar Vucic. A debate had been arranged by the SPP as part of an aggressive pre-election campaign in the town of Beska where a convicted war criminal Veselin Sljivancanin was due to speak.

As Sljivancanin took to the podium the YIHR activists interrupted him bearing placards with the words   “War criminals should be silent so [the public] could speak about the victims.” A brawl ensured and the activists as well as several journalists who were present were ejected from the room. According to Anita Mitić of the YIHR who witnessed the event, several men followed them outside and began to physically attack them. As a result two human rights defenders were taken to hospital having sustained severe bruising and possible broken bones. Anita Mitić’s car was also vandalied during the scuffles.

The Youth Initiative for Human Rights is a regional network of non-governmental organisations with programs operating in Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Initiative was formed by young people from the above mentioned countries in order to enhance youth participation in the democratisation of society and empowering rule of law; through the process of facing up to the recent traumatic past of the region while establishing new and progressive connections in the post conflict region of the former Yugoslavia.

These attacks which were brutal in their nature are in direct breach of Serbia’s commitments to uphold the rights to freedom of speech and represent a further deterioration in the human rights landscape in the country today. Freedom of speech is coming under increasing pressure in Serbia as the media and civil society is feeling pressure, censorship and interference from the authorities. The authorities must investigate this incident without delay and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice,” said Goran Miletic, Programme Director for the Western Balkans at Civil Rights Defenders.