Attack on Youth Initiative for Human Rights activists condemned
At a public meeting of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), held in Beška near Inđija on 17 January 2017, members of the above-mentioned party physically attacked activists of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Serbia (YIHR), injuring several of them on that occasion. The attack took place when the YIHR activists unfurled a banner which read, “War criminals should become silent so that the victims can be spoken about!”, thereby stopping the speech of the Hague convict Veselin Sljivancanin, who was being hosted on this tribune of Serbia’s ruling party. A group of SNS supporters, including representatives of the local municipal government in Inđija, attacked the YIHR activists, tore down the banner and threw them out of the premises violently. Several activists fell down and were kicked on this occasion. Two activists were severely injured, while the others suffered head injuries. Their cars also suffered material damage. These activists were mostly students of both sexes.
Shortly after the attack, the SNS party declared this non-violent protest of YIHR to be “fascist”, referring to the activists as “hooligans”. Apart from the fact that this statement contains insulting and unacceptable qualifications, it clearly shows the hypocrisy of the Serbian authorities, who recently welcomed a similar activity of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Croatia, when members of that organisation covered over a billboard which displayed the slogan of the notorious WWII Croatian fascist unit, the Ustashe (“Za dom spremni” – “Ready to Serve the Homeland!“), that had been placed on a kindergarden building in Jasenovac.
The signatories of this letter strongly condemn this brutal attack on the YIHR activists and the rhetoric of the ruling party, which condemns the victims of the violence and not the bullies. The signatories also strongly condemn a policy which permanently encourages hunting down representatives of those NGOs which advocate for the establishment of the rule of law, the democratization of Serbia, and dealing with the past.
The attack on the activists of the YIHR is the result of an official policy of denial of Serbia’s participation in the wars of the 1990s, and of the rejection of accountability for crimes committed during the wars across the former Yugoslavia. The attack took place after the SNS party had ignored the request of non-governmental organizations not to host the Hague convict, and to abandon war propaganda during the election campaign. This all happened after the President of the Republic of Serbia had publicly campaigned for another armed conflict with Kosovo, and after a series of unopposed denunciations of human rights activists. All of these events are the result of long-term and continuous public political support for convicted war criminals and persons for whom there is reliable evidence that they were involved in or responsible for some of the most brutal crimes committed during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. This support has intensified markedly since the ruling parties became those parties whose representatives were actively involved in leading Serbia into the wars with neighbouring countries, during which its units committed numerous and mass crimes.
Apart from open political support for persons convicted of the most serious crimes, what is particularly worrisome is that the participation of war criminals in election campaigns brings in more votes. This is an indicator of a society which – even more than 20 years after the armed conflict, and despite a series of final judgments condemning the highest political, military and police leadership of Serbia, as well as a great amount of documentation on war crimes and the military units responsible – remains a society which has not found the strength to accept and face the facts in a way one would expect of a society which aspires to be a member of a community of democratic European states.
The organizations signatories to this letter give their full support to the activists of the YIHR and their many years of efforts to show the facts to the citizens of Serbia, especially its youth, regarding the political and moral responsibility for the suffering of victims and the destruction of their communities. In order to demonstrate their commitment to the interests of Serbia and its citizens, and not to the particular interests of individuals and political parties, the Serbian authorities must prosecute all perpetrators of the incident efficiently and quickly, publicly and unequivocally condemn them, and show support to the efforts of activists and human rights organizations which face a resistance that often develops into open violence on a daily basis, similar to last night’s attack in Beska. The absence of any of the required measures will undoubtedly demonstrate that the policy of Serbia has returned to fostering a socio-political atmosphere in which open physical attack on civil society activists and critical speech represent patriotic and acceptable acts.
Humanitarian Law Center
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
The Center for Advanced Legal Studies
Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina
Women in Black
Vojvodinian Civic Center
Network of Committees for Human Rights in Serbia (CHRIS)
Sandzak Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms
Belgrade Centre for Human Rights
Civic Action Pančevo
Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS)
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM)
Independent Journalist Association of Serbia