“Further progress needed for reconciliation and social inclusion”

“Important steps have been taken to overcome the legacy of the violent past. Sustained efforts are however necessary in order to achieve post-war justice and reconciliation, eradicate discrimination and enhance freedom of the media” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, releasing a report following his visit to Serbia from 12 to 15 June 2011.

“Greater determination is needed to effectively investigate and prosecute war-related crimes and all remaining obstacles to effective inter-state co-operation in this context should be removed. It is also necessary to provide adequate reparation to all victims for the gross human rights violations they suffered during the war time.” The Commissioner urges Serbia to improve the witness protection system and to promptly investigate and prosecute any threats and intimidation of witnesses.

Commissioner Hammarberg invites the authorities to continue with determination their efforts, at national and regional level, to clarify the fate of the approximately 14 000 missing persons in the region due to the wars. He also urges the authorities to pursue the efforts made to resolve the remaining problems of those forcibly displaced during the wars. “The most vulnerable are the approximately 4 000 persons living in collective centres. Further co-operation between Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro is needed to solve the pending issues arising from forced displacement in the region.”

The Commissioner welcomes the strengthening of the Serbian legal and institutional framework against discrimination and racism, as well as the measures taken in recent years to counter hate crimes notably those committed by extremist groups. He urges the Serbian authorities to give priority to the prosecution of hate crimes and to undertake a comprehensive review of the court sentencing policies in these cases. He further calls for an enhanced protection of national minorities and recommends allowing the election process of the members of the national minority council of Bosniaks to begin in the near future.

As regards Roma, more and systematised efforts should be made to enhance protection and inclusion, in particular in the sectors of employment, education, housing and healthcare. The Commissioner remains deeply concerned by the very harsh living conditions of the displaced Roma from Kosovo * and the non-registration of Roma children upon their birth. He also recommends facilitating access to personal identity documents for Roma and the accession by Serbia to two important Council of Europe treaties concerning stateless persons.

Widespread homophobia remains a serious concern. “The authorities should intensify their efforts to fight violence and discrimination against LGBT persons, including by having the criminal provisions concerning hate crimes more vigorously implemented by courts.”

Whilst commending the adoption of legislation protecting and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, the Commissioner remains concerned that a number of elderly and adults with mental disabilities are placed in institutional care without their consent. He is also worried by the reported abuse of the legal capacity proceedings, often by close family members, and calls for the amendment of the related law.

Finally, the Commissioner stresses that media freedom should be better secured. “Defamation should be decriminalised and unreasonably high fines in civil cases relating to media should be avoided. At the same time, the media community should promote and apply ethical professional standards and to develop a system of effective self-regulation.” He commends the authorities' prompt reactions to recent attacks on journalists, but remains seriously concerned by the impunity regarding past cases of killings of journalists and calls for effective investigations into all these violent incidents.

* “All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.”