A prominent advocate for human rights and democratic reform in Serbia, Natasha Kandic, will receive the annual Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative Award from the American Bar Association during the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.
Kandic is founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Law Center for Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo (HLC), a nongovernmental organization aimed at promoting human rights for minorities as a fundamental prerequisite for democratization in Serbia and Montenegro.
HLC, a vocal reporter of human rights abuses under Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, came into being in 1992 when it presented a report on police repression against Muslims in the Sandzak region to the Serbian parliament and demanded the establishment of a commission to investigate the unlawful conduct of the Serbian police.
HLC also won a crucial legal victory against the Republic of Serbia on behalf of Serb refugees arrested by Serbian police and incorporated into the Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb armies. In response to an HLC petition, the first municipal court in Belgrade ruled that Serbia was violating the refugees’ basic rights.
HLC has also been a vocal supporter of the establishment of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and has emerged as a leading authority on the development of political and human rights in Kosovo.
Kandic had a long history of reporting human rights violations before founding and directing HLC. She orchestrated countless actions against the human rights violations of Milosevic’s regime. From late 1991 to early 1993, for example, she organized the Candles for Peace campaign, a nightly vigil outside the Serbian presidency building at which the names of those killed during the war were read aloud and candles were lit in their memory.
During that time, Kandic also initiated the Anti-conscription Petition, which fought against the conscription of Serbian citizens for war in Croatia and called for a referendum on the issue. Some 78,000 people signed the petition.
She also wrote pro-peace columns in Belgrade’s first independent daily, Borba, and in May 1992 organized the Black Ribbon March, the most massive protest in Serbia against the suffering of civilians in Sarajevo. Some 150,000 people took part in the march.
Kandic has received numerous other honors, including the Human Rights Watch Award, the EU-U.S. Democracy and Civil Society Award, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights Award and the National Endowment for Democracy Award.
The CEELI Award recognizes leaders and their countries for their willingness to take bold steps toward the introduction of democratic and economic reforms. Past CEELI Award recipients have included presidents Guntis Ulmanis of Latvia, Petar Stoyanov of Bulgaria, Emil Constantinescu of Romania, Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic and Stjepan Mesić of Croatia.
Kandic’s award will be presented at the CEELI luncheon on August 9 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. The award luncheon also honors the legal professionals who have supported CEELI in providing pro bono legal assistance to 23 countries during the past 11 years.
CEELI is a public service project of the American Bar Association that advances the rule of law by supporting the legal reform process in Central and Eastern Europe countries and the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union. Through its
programs, CEELI makes American and European legal expertise and technical assistance available to emerging democracies as they modify and restructure their laws and legal systems.
CEELI has offices in 23 countries across Central Europe and Eurasia. Since being founded in 1991, more than 5,000 judges, lawyers, law professors and legal specialists have contributed pro bono assistance to CEELI programs promoting the rule of law in the region.
The American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership association in the world. With more than 410,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.