HLC Special Update: Threats to Human Rights Defenders

On Sunday, September 3 2006, Humanitarian Law Centre’s Executive Director Natasa Kandic appeared on B92’s Utisak Nedelje. The programme was centred on the much criticised statement of the UN Special Envoy for Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari, who was reported by the media as having said that “the Serbs are guilty as a nation.” This statement was later clarified by Ahtisaari: “Every nation carries a burden for which it has to pay.” Ahtisaari said, “leaders in Belgrade must face a historic inheritance and accept responsibility for the past years.”

Andreja Mladenovic, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and Svetozar Stojanovic, a retired university professor and an advisor to Dobrica Cosic from the period when Cosic was the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992  also appeared as guests on the programme.

While Natasa Kandic maintained her position that the Serbian political leadership and society at large must accept the truth about past human rights abuses committed in their name and accept responsibility for the wrongdoings of the past regime, Mladenovic and Stojanovic fiercely criticised both Ahtisaari’s statement and Kandic’s position and claimed that there is no collective responsibility and that the new authorities are not reponsible for Milosevic’s misdeeds. The heated debate was followed by a viewers call-in, which also provided a floor for an open dismissal of the HLC Executive Director.

Following programme’s end, an incident took place outside B92 premises at around 11.20pm as Natasa Kandic, accompanied by the programme’s host Olja Beckovic and Svetozar Stojanovic left the B92 building. As witnessed by those on the scene, three shots were heard as Kandic entered a taxi vehicle and departed. Kandic herself heard two shots as she entered the vehicle and was unaware of the incident until she arrived to her apartment where she was met by police officers.

The police issued a statement confirming that a scene investigation was conducted on the morning following the incident and discovered remainings of three firecrackers, which exploded on the night of the incident outside B92.

On Monday, September 4, an article titled Targeted Women appeared in the daily Courier claiming that Sinisa Vucinic, president of the extreme nationalist Serbian Party of the Left wrote to the Interior Ministry and the Public Prosecutor’s Office claiming that “the foreign intelligence services shall first abduct and then assasinate the three ladies [Natasa Kandic, Sonja Biserko and Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco] in a smoke screen attempt to persuade the international community that they had been liquidated by the state leadership of Serbia for rendering support to Martii Ahtisaari, the UN Special Envoy for Negotiations on Kosovo.” Vucinic also gave a statement to the Courier adding that “he would like to advise the three women to immediately freeze their public activities and seek refuge in a safe location.”

Also on September 4, B92 issued a statement underlining that “the freedom to publish and broadcast information and different opinions represent basic values of every democratic society. Intimidation of those expressing a different opinion, aiming to prevent the citizens of Serbia to hear different ideas and standpoints on the political and social scenes is utterly unacceptable. B92 will, therefore, insist on discovering the facts about this incident as well as on establishing responsibility of the attackers. B92 will insist on this in the interest of our guests’, employees’ and contributors’ personal security as well as the interest of citizens to receive complete information which represents their basic right.”

On September 11, the Public Prosecutor instructed the police to commence collecting information in connection with the threats expressed in the Courier article of September 4 and the incident outside B92.