Serbia not safe for Human Rights Defenders

On 21 February 2008, around 22:00, after the protest against the independence of Kosovo, unidentified persons threw a flare at, and damaged, the doorstep and the door of the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) office. The security guard of the company next door to the HLC office prevented the fire from spreading; putting out the fire after the attackers left the scene. HLC heard from eyewitnesses that police conducted an investigation into this event the same night around midnight. Even though HLC had asked the police, through the office of Police Director Milorad Veljović, to provide security for the HLC office, not a single police officer could be seen either during or after the protest or the mass held at the St. Sava Temple located in the vicinity of the HLC office.

Before the protest began, at around 16:30, the HLC Executive Director had a chance to personally see a group of young people under the leadership of certain persons, who directed them and gave them pills from time to time, stoning the Turkish Embassy, taking off the flag and the coat of arms. She called the Police Director Milorad Veljović’s office and after being kept on hold for a long time she received an answer that everything was under control and that she could call the city police if she was not satisfied. Other citizens also called the city police and received an answer that the hooligans outnumbered police officers. After this, various groups of young people broke into three shops near the Turkish Embassy and stole merchandise. Even though numerous people called the police, they came at the scene only around 19:00 when there was nobody left on the street. The attacks on the US, Croatian, and German Embassies, followed the attack on the Turkish Embassy.

Certain media and politicians openly call for violence against Nataša Kandić. On 24 February 2008, Politika daily newspaper relayed the statement made by the Minister of Infrastructure Velimir Ilić, in which he called for the arrest of Nataša Kandić and others, “there are traitors in Serbia and they have been identified. Who was standing next to Hashim Tachi while he was declaring a false independent country? I am calling upon the respective authorities to arrest that scum that has been embarrassing Serbia for years.” Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) is organizing the signing of a petition for the arrest of Nataša Kandić. Every day tabloids call for citizens to take concrete measures against “traitors”. Gazeta relayed on 24 February 2008 that fashion designer V.R. ordered her retailers not to let Nataša Kandić enter her shops. A restaurant owner has also sent a message to Nataša Kandić telling her not to come to his restaurant. People approach her on the street and threaten her using the exact words that Minister Ilić used.

Besides this, in relation to the declaration of Kosovo independence, the Serbian Government has risen against professional media houses, nongovernmental organizations, liberal and democratic political parties and individuals who advocate Serbia’s European future and abandoning the legacy of the past.