The latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on Serbia notes that in 2019 there has been a slight improvement in human rights protection in the country, that the prosecution of war crimes in national courts is slow, the asylum system remains flawed while the situation with journalists remains insecure, with ongoing attacks and threats for reporting on sensitive issues.
The report also indicates that the EU-mediated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue stalemate continues. “In August, the US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy called on Belgrade and Pristina to stop thwarting the European Union-mediated dialogue, stalled since 2018.”
In its May 2019 report on Serbia’s accession negotiations, the European Commission stressed that the lack of progress in the area of freedom of expression and media freedom was aserious concern and called on authorities to step up efforts to investigate attacks and threats against journalists. The Commission also called on Serbia to increase measures to protect the rights of LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS and other vulnerable individuals.
“Serbian journalists continued to face attacks and threats. Pro-government media outlets frequently smear independent outlets and journalists, describing them as “traitors” and “foreign mercenaries”, the report underlines, adding that “Media plurality was compromised by majority of media being aligned with the ruling party.”
“Between January and late July, the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS) registered 27 incidents of violence, threats, or intimidation against journalists, including eight physical attacks and 19 threats. Serbia dropped from 76th to 90th place on the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index list out of 180 countries.”
The reports also highlights some of the individual cases of harassment against reporters, including Pristina journalist Zana Cimili, who received anonymous death threats on social media, and Slobodan Georgiev, Serbia’s editor for the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), who was threatened in a video in which he and other independent journalists have been declared traitors.
HRW also states regarding accountability for war crimes that “progress on prosecutions was slow and lacked political will, adequate resources and strong witnesses support mechanisms. The low numbers of high-ranking officials prosecuted and convicted by courts remained a problem.”
The report recalls that Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT)” expressed concern in July to the UN Security Council that in Serbia, and other former Yugoslav countries, convicted war criminals are considered heroes and glorified by politicians, with widespread denial by public officials of war crimes. He called on Serbia and neighboring countries to support the regional cooperation process to hold war criminals to account.”
The HRW report further elaborates that members of the US Congress called on Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to “take action to resolve the 1999 murders of three Albanian-American Bytiqi brothers after they were detained by Serbian police. In May, Vucic told the Serbian parliament that there is no evidence of who committed the murders. In July, Congress’s House of Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution urging Serbia to hold responsible people to account for the three killings.”
Regarding the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and the normalization of relations, HRW says EU-sponsored negotiations stalled in November 2018 after Serbia blocked Kosovo from joining Interpol. In response, Kosovo imposed 100 percent import duties on all goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The report also warns that in Kosovo, progress towards accountability for serious war crimes committed during the 1998-1999 Kosovo war was slow. “Tensions between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians continued, particularly in the north. Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan Egyptian communities continued to face discrimination.”