Serbian Human Rights Defenders at Risk

The radicalization of the Serbian political scene since Kosovo’s declaration of independence on Sunday has put the country’s few, though dedicated, human rights defenders and liberally-oriented politicians at risk. Not since 1999, when Serbian forces under Slobodan Milosevic’s direction were ethnically cleansing Kosovo of its Albanian inhabitants, have Serbian human rights defenders been so vulnerable.

Commenting in parliamentary session the day after the declaration of independence, Leader of the opposition Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), Ivica Dacic, said that Kosovo’s declaration of independence proved Slobodan Milosevic’s policy was right. Worryingly, not one voice in the Parliament disagreed with Dacic.

That same day Dacic demanded the work of “all political parties and NGOs who recognize independent Kosovo” be banned. The next day, the Socialist Party of Serbia announced that it had begun collecting signatures to bring a criminal complaint against human rights defender, and Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Center, Natasa Kandic, under the suspicion that “she committed a serious criminal act against the constitutional order and security of the Republic of Serbia by threatening the state’s independence and territorial integrity”. The Socialist Party of Serbia bases its allegations on the fact that Natasa Kandic was in the Kosovo assembly when the Declaration of Independence was adopted.

Not only Serbia’s Socialist Party, but its populist tabloid press has launched a sustained attack on Natasa Kandic accusing her being a traitor to the Serbian nation and state. One piece of commentary titled Natasa, the woman who does not exist published in the daily Novosti, on Tuesday 19 February, implies that since Natasa Kandic is a non-person her elimination would carry no consequences.

Although the comments and actions of the Socialist Party of Serbia and the tabloid press may appear divorced from reality, in Serbia they radicalize a population already in the grip of nationalist fervour, and seek to marginalize voices of civil society and the non-governmental sector that promote the protection of human rights and justice for victims. Such comments and actions therefore create a climate which not only poses a significant threat to the security and work of human rights defenders, but also pushes society to the extreme right of the political spectrum.