Threats against human rights defenders and organisations in Serbia, in the context of official declaration of Kosovo’s independence
Front Line is deeply concerned following information received of threats against human rights defenders, including Natasa Kandic, the Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, and human rights organisations operating in Serbia, in the context of the official declaration of Kosovo’s independence.
On 20 February 2008, the opposition Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) announced that it had begun collecting signatures as part of a campaign to lodge a criminal complaint against Natasa Kandic, the Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Centre. Natasa Kandic was present in the Kosovan assembly at the time of the adoption of the declaration of Kosovo’s independence on 18 February 2008. The SPS have accused her of acting against the constitutional order and threatening the “State’s independence and integrity”. These accusations by the SPS have been supported by much of the media in Serbia and the tabloid press has reportedly embarked on a campaign of defamation against Natasa Kandic, accusing her of being a traitor. On 19 February 2008, the daily newspaper Novosti published a piece entitled Natasa, the woman who does not exist, declaring that Natasa Kandic is a “non-person” and inciting its readers to the view that nothing would be lost by her “elimination”.
According to information received there has been a recent increase in threats and restrictions against human rights defenders and human rights organisations in Serbia prior to, and in reaction to, the official declaration of Kosovo’s independence. During a parliamentary session on 19 February 2008, Ivica Dacic, the leader of the SPS called for all non-governmental organisations that recognized Kosovo’s independence to be banned.
Front Line believes that the call for non-governmental organisations who support Kosovo’s independence to be banned, as well as the criminal complaint and smear campaign against human rights defender Natasa Kandic, form part of a campaign aimed at stigmatizing human right defenders and human rights organisations operating in Serbia, portraying them as enemies of the country.
Front Line also expresses its concerns for the security and physical and psychological integrity of Natasa Kandic.
Front Line urges the Serbian authorities to:
1. Initiate an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into defamatory comments made against Natasa Kandic, including those in media reports, with a view to publishing the results of the investigation and, where appropriate, bringing those accountable to justice;
2. Guarantee the security and physical and psychological integrity of Natasa Kandic;
3. Guarantee that all human rights defenders in Serbia, carrying out their legitimate human rights work, are free to speak out without fear of intimidation or reprisals.
Front Line respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders,their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw attention to Article 6 (b): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, as provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms,” and to Article 12 (2.): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”