22 November 2017
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined second to fifth periodic report of Serbia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Suzana Paunoviæ, Acting Director of the Office for Human and Minority Rights of the Republic of Serbia, said that Serbia, as a candidate country for membership in the European Union, was undertaking a series of legal and institutional reforms and was cooperating regularly with the Council of Europe on the promotion and protection of human and minority rights and fundamental freedoms. A strategic legislative and institutional framework for the protection of minority rights had been established and human and minority rights were guaranteed by the Constitution, which also guaranteed the principle of equality for all, and the provisions of the Convention were being consistently incorporated into the legal system of the country. Serbia was a multinational and multicultural State and one of the main endeavours was to encourage tolerance and intercultural dialogue and an understanding between people of different cultural, linguistic and religious identities. The law on the protection of the rights and freedoms of national minorities envisaged a number of solutions for their effective enjoyment of individual and collective rights, and the establishment of the National Council of National Minorities. The strategy for prevention and protection against discrimination to 2018 and its action plan were in place as was the strategy for the social inclusion of Roma men and women 2016-2025, which recognized local self-government units as the key bodies responsible for the implementation of Roma policies in local communities.
Committee Experts noted that Serbia had begun to normalize relations with the Government of Kosovo in accordance with the Brussels Agreement and asked about the major measures taken so far. There could be no meaningful reconciliation if the truth of the past was denied, Experts said and regretted that the condemnation of the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995 by the Serbian Parliament in 2010 fell short of acknowledging that the killing of nearly 8,000 Muslims was a genocide. It was a matter of concern that the progress in the prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes was slow: there were only four indictments in 2014, none in 2015 and eight in 2016; none had been issued for war crimes committed in Kosovo. The Anti-Corruption Council had stated in its 2014 report that the judiciary reform had failed - what was being done to redress this, in order to improve the independence of the judiciary and curb the Government interfering in the work of the courts. The delegation was asked about the impact of measures taken to reduce illiteracy rates among national minorities, especially Roma, where it stood at over 19 per cent; to end the de facto public school segregation of Roma children; and about specific measures taken to promote the employment of Roma. Hate crimes were not being properly registered, and the reporting and prosecution rates were plummeting, Experts noted and asked about the mechanisms in place to receive complaints of racial discrimination and how well those were known by the population.
In concluding remarks, Yeung Kam John Yeung Sik Yuen, Committee Rapporteur for Serbia, said that the concluding observations would be deliberated in a spirit of understanding and with the aim of contributing to the enjoyment of life free from discrimination for all citizens in Serbia.
Ms. Paunoviæ said in her closing remarks that the delegation had attempted to show the efforts and commitment to ensure equal enjoyment of rights for all and to fight racial discrimination, and that Serbia would pay the fullest attention to the Committee’s concluding observations.
Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee had attempted to understand the context of Serbia and how it related to racial discrimination, and it had focused on the gap between the laws and their implementation.
The delegation of Serbia included representatives of the Office for Human and Minority Rights of the Republic of Serbia, Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Progress, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defence, Office of the Public Prosecutor, Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor, Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, and the Permanent Mission of Serbia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will reconvene in public on 22 November, at 3 p.m., to start its consideration of the combined twenty and twenty-first report of Algeria (CERD/C/DZA/20-21).
The Committee has before it the combined second to fifth periodic report of Serbia (CERD/C/SRB/2-5).
Presentation of the Report
SUZANA PAUNOVIC, Acting Director of the Office for Human and Minority Rights of Serbia, said that international instruments were directly applied in the domestic law which was evidence of Serbia’s commitment to the achievement of the provisions of the nine core human rights instruments it was a party to. As a candidate country for membership in the European Union, Serbia was undertaking a series of legal and institutional reforms and was cooperating regularly with the Council of Europe on the promotion and protection of human and minority rights and fundamental freedoms. Serbia was unable to monitor the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination in the part of its territory that is the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, which was entrusted to the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, said Ms. Paunovic, urging the Committee to invite the United Nations Mission in Kosovo to submit to it information on the implementation of the Convention in this part of Serbian territory, in order for the Committee to gain understanding of the situation of minorities there.
A strategic legislative and institutional framework for the protection of minority rights had been established and human and minority rights were guaranteed by the Constitution, which also guaranteed the principle of equality for all. A separate body – the Council for the implementation of recommendations made to Serbia by the United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms – had been set up, and it was developing a plan for the implementation of the recommendations which would be linked to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Serbia was a multinational and multicultural State and one of its main endeavours was to promote mutual respect for everyone’s cultural, linguistic and religious identities. The law on the protection of minorities envisaged a number of solutions for the effective enjoyment of the rights of minorities, including the establishment of the National Council of National Minorities.
As for the inclusion of Roma, the Ministry of Labour had created a special sector for the promotion of anti-discrimination policy, while the adoption of a strategy for the social inclusion of Roma women and men had led to systemic progress in the situation of this group and recognized local self-governing bodies as key for Roma inclusion. One of the most important measures implemented was the establishment of 75 cultural mediators which were fundamental to improvements made in several areas, especially health; more than 30,000 Roma children had been inoculated thanks to the work of the mediators. Serbia was the only country in twenty-first century Europe which was dealing with protracted internal displacement: there were 203,000 internally displaced persons, mainly from Kosovo and Metohija. Key obstacles to their sustainable return was the lack of physical or legal safety, lack of institutional response to crimes against Serbs, double standards in the application of laws including property laws, and difficulties accessing public services and using their own language.
As part of the harmonization of laws with the European Union, Serbia had presented a bill on asylum and temporary protection to parliament for adoption, and the Asylum Office had been set up in 2015 with the mandate to conduct first instance asylum procedures. All migrants and refugees in Serbia were provided with adequate accommodation and support, including access to health, education, and emergency accommodation and protection of unaccompanied minors. In 2016/2017, all children placed in asylum and refugee protection centres – 586 of them – attended school. In cooperation with civil society organizations, efforts were ongoing on the identification of vulnerable migrants, particularly children, including those victims of human trafficking. Serbia had created a regulatory framework to enable the media to operate in full freedom: the media law was fully compliant with European and international standards and it prohibited the incitement of hate or violence based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, and gender identity and sexual orientation.
Questions by Committee Experts
YEUNG KAM JOHN YEUNG SIK YUEN, Committee Expert and the Rapporteur for Serbia, noted that according to the 2011 census, the population of Serbia was about 7.5 million, which did not include about two million people living in the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija. Serbia considered Kosovo as its integral part pursuant to the United Nations Security Council resolution 12/44, which also called upon the United Nations Mission in Kosovo to ensure the sustainable and permanent return of internally displaced persons, which unfortunately did not happen. Kosovo had declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, and had received 150 diplomatic recognitions as an independent State. While Serbia did not recognize Kosovo as an independent State, it had begun to normalize the relationship with the Government of Kosovo in accordance with the Brussels Agreement, and as a part of the reforms on the path to accession to the European Union.
What were major normalization measures taken with respect to the relationship with Kosovo?
Could the delegation explain why the number of asylum applications and applications for international protection were very low, and why very few had been examined and decided upon? Most were rejected too – why was that? Why did it take such a long time to process an asylum claim? Did Serbia have a list of approved safe third countries?
The draft law on free legal aid had not been adopted, thus impeding access to justice for racial discrimination – what was the status of this bill? What was being done to provide adequate housing, and access to education and employment for refugees and asylum seekers in Serbia?
In 1996, there had been 617,000 refugees in Serbia and this number had dwindled down to some 60,000 in 2011, largely due to naturalization and integration. Would there be a strategy to facilitate the voluntary return and reintegration of internally displaced persons, and for the full integration of those unable to return to their places of origin?
The Committee appreciated that in March 2010 parliament had adopted a resolution condemning the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995 but it was unfortunate that Serbian extremists were invoking the massacre to invoke fear in Muslims. It was of great concern to the Committee that the mayor of Srebrenica elected in 2016 had denied that there had been a massacre at all. What were the reasons for the very low rate of prosecutions for war crimes?
On the state of the judiciary in Serbia, did the State share the view of the Anti-Corruption Council that the judiciary reform had failed and what was being done to address the problem? What corrective measures were being taken in the domain of the independence of the judiciary and to curb the Government’s interference in the work of the courts, including threats and criticism of the judiciary by State officials when they disagreed with the court decisions? Were there sanctions for non-compliance with the Code of Conduct for the parliamentarians?
Serbia had previously noted that the main challenge for reporting on the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination was the fact that there were four different data management systems in the judiciary – what steps were being taken to remedy the situation? How many cases were pending in courts and how many criminal cases had lapsed due to delays? What was being done to ensure the efficiency of the judiciary and that offenders did not get away from the punishment due to the lateness of the judiciary? How many of the cases discontinued due to delays were related to offences of racial discrimination? How many cases from Serbia were presently before the European Court for Human Rights?
VERENE ALBERTHA SHEPHERD, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Serbia, asked a series of questions concerning access to education for national minorities, including whether the content of education was reflective of the culture and identity of national minorities and whether the affected communities were consulted in the design of educational programmes and the textbooks. Why was the study of national minority languages not compulsory?
The average illiteracy rate for Serbia was about 3.7 per cent, but it was different for national minorities, particularly Roma where illiteracy was as high as 19 per cent. What was being done to encourage school enrolment and reduce the drop-out rates of national minorities?
The Committee was concerned about the de facto segregation in public schools, which in Serbia occurred in two instances: in special schools without adequate justification for children with mental and intellectual disabilities and in Roma specific classes. Additionally, there was a widely-implemented practice of transferring Roma children from ordinary schools to special schools which significantly reduced the quality of their education. What specific measures were being taken to end the de facto public school segregation of Roma children, including those returning from Western Europe?
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, asked for additional information on the application, implementation and impact of the anti-discrimination strategy, the impact of measures taken to end the segregation in public schools, and what was being done to address the issue of undocumented people, including Roma and Egyptians.
Another Expert noted that the national employment strategy 2011-2020 had recognized Roma as an especially vulnerable group and asked about the specific measures in place to promote their employment.
An Expert commended the efforts of the State party to address the problems that persisted in this very complicated region and, noting that some people refused to declare their religion or belonging to a national minority in the 2011 census, asked whether those were being treated in full equality with others.
On hate crimes, another Expert recalled that the Committee had previously expressed concern that such crimes had not been properly registered and asked about the steps taken to improve the reporting rates. What could explain the plummeting of the number of reported cases and prosecutions over the past several years, contrary to the situation in many European countries? How were the complaints of hate crimes and hate speech being handled, including those on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity?
It was very positive that the State party had useful means of communication to combat racial discrimination, said an Expert, and asked about the law on combatting hate speech on the Internet and the data and statistics on the cases – what was the most frequent form of hate speech on the Internet? Did Serbia have a notion of reversing the burden of proof in its legislation which was very effective in combatting racial discrimination?
The Committee was very aware of the large-scale population movements and the Expert asked for additional information on combatting human trafficking of migrants and refugees. How were the minority populations represented in prisons?
Could the delegation provide more information on the existing administrative and criminal complaints systems pertaining to acts of racial discrimination? How aware were the people of their existence? Why were there few complaints being dealt with by the courts, or administratively?
On access to justice, the delegation was asked whether national minorities could access the judicial system in their languages.
Which were the “covert organizations” prohibited by the Constitutional Court decision?
The State party had mentioned in its report positive discrimination or positive action measures to increase diversity in the police – what were those measures exactly, what did they consist of?
The delegation was asked about minority languages and what the “use of minority language” meant in practice; about the current trends in the number of asylum seekers in Serbia; and whether the State party would adopt the amendment to article 8 of the Convention concerning the financing of the Committee,
VERENE ALBERTHA SHEPHERD, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Serbia, asked about specific positive measures in place to support Roma to progress through the education from primary through to the tertiary levels, which was of concern given the low completion of primary and secondary rates for Roma children. How could racial discrimination against Roma be more effectively tackled to enable them to stay in school longer?
Education could be the means of combatting prejudice – how successful was the State in using education to combat prejudice against national minorities? A number of migrant and asylum-seeking children in the territory of Serbia were still not in education, and there was a need to adjust the content of education to the needs of migrants and put in place linguistic support for their greater access to education. What measures were being taken to punish the perpetrators of bullying of Roma, migrants and other minorities in school?
YEUNG KAM JOHN YEUNG SIK YUEN, Committee Expert and the Rapporteur for Serbia, expressed concern about severe racial segregation in schools, which was a direct result of the 2008 law which allowed parents to choose the school in which their child would be enrolled. What specific measures were being taken to address this problem? Would Serbia consider repealing the 2008 law? Were there measures in place to expedite cases brought under the 2009 anti-discrimination law? Serbia had adopted 26 strategies and plans of actions, including on combatting racial discrimination – what was the impact of this sheer number of strategies?
The Rapporteur also asked about steps taken to provide access to housing for Roma, Ashkenazi and Egyptian, and the preventive steps to avoid racial discrimination in housing, especially in Belgrade and in Nis as a result of the privatization of land.
The Ministry of Interior had brought 173 criminal charges for human trafficking against 378 perpetrators of which 320 had been identified – what were the outcomes of those charges, how many prosecutions and sentences had there been, and did they also address trafficking of migrants and asylum seekers?
ANASTASIA CRCKLEY, Committee Chairperson, took note of the strategies for Roma integration and asked the delegation to provide data on forced evictions of Roma, and to explain strategies in place to address the shorter life expectancy of Roma and Travellers.
Another Expert noted the instances of hate speech in Serbia and remarked that Serbia lacked comprehensive statistics on this matter - how many charges had been pressed against individuals in 2016 and had there been a resurgence of hate speech in the media in 2016? Another concern was that children whose parents lacked identity documents or were stateless were often not registered at birth.
Serbia was a country of transit and of origin for trafficking in person, which was a serious concern. Serbia was passing more stringent sentences, which was welcome, but the need for a stricter implementation of anti-trafficking laws remained. What was the position of the State party on this matter?
Responses by the Delegation
In response to the questions and comments by the Committee Experts, a delegate reiterated that the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija made up an integral part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia, and urged the Committee to request the United Nations Mission in Kosovo to submit information on the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in this part of Serbia in order to obtain a full picture of the status of human rights throughout the territory of the State. The information was particularly relevant in the context of internally displaced persons, said the delegate, noting that most Albanian internally displaced persons had returned to Kosovo in 1999 and that the remaining 220,000 internally displaced persons were Serbs and non-Albanians. Serbia was fully committed to a dialogue with Pristina under the auspices of the European Union, the delegation affirmed.
On the national census, the delegation explained that the 1999 census during which 20 million inhabitants had been registered had been conducted on the territory of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which consisted of a number of States which today were independent. The 2011 census had been undertaken on the territory of the Republic of Serbia and 7.5 million people had been registered. It was important to note that the population of Kosovo and Metohija had not been included in this census, which additionally had been boycotted by three municipalities in the south of Serbia. The 2011 census had registered only 5,000 Albanians which did not correspond to the reality, and therefore an assessment had been undertaken in 2015 in the three municipalities that had boycotted the 2011 census. The assessment, conducted in cooperation with international experts and the Albanian National Minority Council, had found a population of 75,342 in those municipalities, of which 47,938 were Albanians. The delegation stressed that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State was not the subject of discussions in this interactive dialogue.
The Office for Human and Minority Rights was a part of the Government, while the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality and the Office of the Ombudsmen were independent bodies. The Ombudsmen of Serbia enjoyed A status under the Paris Principles and it had presented a report on the state of racial discrimination in Serbia which demonstrated the commitment of the State to this issue. As for the budget of the Ombudsman, in 2017, 260 million dinars had been set aside, representing a 20 per cent increase compared to the previous budget allocation, while the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality had been allocated 104 million dinars or 35 million more than in 2014; the increase in the allocation of financial resources to those independent bodies was evidence of the commitment of the Government to the protection of human rights. Thanks to the budgetary increase in 2016, the efficiency of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality had been increased, which was also evidenced by a greater number of complaints of racial discrimination it had received and in which a decision had been issued. In 2016, the Ombudsman had received 99 complaints of discrimination by national minorities.
The delegate reassured the Committee that the procedure would be initiated for the approval of the amendment on article 8 of the Convention concerning the financing of the Committee.
Another delegate stressed that everyone had the right to apply for asylum according to the criteria laid down in the Law on Asylum. All those who arrived to the country received a certificate of intention to ask for asylum, but many did not wish to request it in Serbia; this in a way represented an abuse of the asylum system in the country, said the delegate. In 2017, 4,327 persons had said that they intended to ask for an asylum, but only 46 had done so while the others wished to proceed to European Union countries.
The granting of asylum depended on the country of origin and whether they had arrived through any of the third safe countries. A list of safe countries of origin and safe third countries had been adopted in 2014 in which 54 countries had been listed as a safe countries of origin and 42 as safe third countries. Article 15 of the Law on Asylum provided for procedures dealing with the special needs of those requesting asylum, including children and unaccompanied minors.
There were 18 permanent reception centres with a capacity for 801 asylum seekers; the capacity had been increased to 1,800 during the recent refugee and migrant crisis. In addition, there were 13 transit centres and the total capacity in permanent and transit centres was 6,000 places. All persons granted subsidiary protection received pecuniary support.
Turning to the education of Roma and national minorities, a delegate said that several measures had been implemented to increase the school enrolment of Roma children, for example, the testing of the children was being done after the enrolment and not prior to it, and it was done in the mother tongue. Additionally, the State had allocated a budget for school feeding programmes, of which 10 per cent had been allocated for students of Roma nationality and another 10 per cent for students from the sensitive groups.
The application of affirmative measures for the enrolment of Roma and minority students in secondary schools had commenced in 2014 and now represented a regular procedure. As a result of such measures 6,104 Roma pupils had been enrolled in secondary schools of which 55 per cent were girls, and more than 60 per cent of those on scholarship had finalized their secondary education. Additionally, such measures had enabled the enrolment of 1,623 pupils from other minorities of which 51 per cent were girls. An extremely efficient affirmative measure which had had a positive impact on the education of minorities was the institution of pedagogical assistants in school and pre-school institutions; an additional 50 would be trained soon.
On the de facto segregation in public schools, the 2008 law allowing parents to choose the school in which their child would be enrolled and prescribed strict sanctions for discrimination. The law had been amended and as a result, special schools had been accorded a new role and had been involved in enhancing the competences of teachers and would become resource centres for the development of modules for providing support to students. Schools were obliged to enrol each and every child from their catchment areas, and were also obliged to enrol children from outside of those areas provided that parents had applied on time and the school had sufficient resources.
There had been some cases of discrimination and some schools had shown a tendency to enrol a larger number of Roma students, but the inspection had shown that the enrolment had been done according to the regulations. It was normal for schools close to Roma settlements to have a larger number of Roma students. Any kind of discrimination against anyone and on any grounds was strictly prohibited in the education system. All migrant and asylum-seeking children had the right to attend school: there were 48 primary schools in which 1,500 migrant children were enrolled.
The delegate said that the judicial reform – which to date had been over 60 per cent implemented – was being double-monitored, by the Serbian authorities and by the European Union. The Ministry of Justice had started a consultation in 2017 aiming to amend the Constitution in the part relating to the judiciary, and had launched a public call for the submission of recommendations and suggestions by civil society organizations, academia and the judges themselves. Six round tables had been organized on the topics suggested by the stakeholders, including on the competences and the composition of the High Judiciary Council and the High Prosecutorial Council. The consultation process had been concluded last week, and Serbia would launch next week the process in the Ministry of Justice to formulate draft recommendations.
In terms of the alleged Government interference in the judiciary, the delegate said that a Commissioner for the Judicial Independence had been set up and all staff from the judiciary were informed about how to contact this body.
The Serbian language and Cyrillic scripts were the official language and official script, while in the municipalities in which more than 15 per cent of the population were national minorities, other languages could be used. Currently, there were 45 municipalities which also employed one or more of the 11 recognized minority languages and scripts. The Law on Criminal Procedure prescribed that everyone involved had the right to use their own language and script in the court procedure and had the right to translation of the relevant materials. The Criminal Law envisaged penalties for the abuse of the right to proceedings in one’s own language. Churches and religious institutions provided sermons in national minority languages, including Vlaski, Bulgarian, Greek, Roma, Croat, Bosnian and others.
The Office of the Prosecutor implemented measures to improve procedural efficiency and the treatment of victims of all crimes. In terms of the protection from discrimination, all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, which dedicated almost half of its more than 100 articles to the protection of human rights, had been guaranteed in criminal procedures.
The 2012 amendments to the Criminal Code had introduced hate as an aggravating circumstance. Serbia was in the process of compiling a manual for monitoring of hate crimes. Hate speech was not a stand-alone crime in the criminal registration, but the actions that led to hate speech, such as instigating hate or violence on the basis of national, ethnic, racial or religious basis, represented a hate crime.
Several steps had been taken in the domain of trafficking in human beings: the definition had been harmonized with the Council of Europe Convention, sentences had been made more stringent, and the commuting of sentences for this crime had been prohibited. Specialized public prosecutors for trafficking in human beings had been put in place and underwent specialized training.
Services for victims of crimes had become operational in all public prosecutor offices of first instance and higher instance and in the offices of the war crimes prosecutor.
On the war crime prosecution, Serbia cooperated through requests for international legal aid via liaison officers of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; Serbia had met all of the 80 requests to date. The proceedings for war crimes were one of the most important steps in the reconciliation process in the former Yugoslavia and a precondition for the full democratization of the societies. The national strategy for the prosecution of war crimes had been adopted in 2016 and it contained a commitment to do everything to investigate the crimes and punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law, regardless of the ethnic, national or religious background of the victim or the perpetrators.
The four cases of war crimes which were being prosecuted involved several thousand victims and were complicated by the time lapsed since the crime, or the high number of witnesses – over a hundred in a single case. To date, 189 persons had been indicted for crimes involving several hundred victims, and 161 persons had been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Of those indicted, 86 per cent were members of the Serbian Armed Forces, and only three were members of Croatian or Bosnian Armed forces. The majority of the crimes had been committed against Croatians and Bosnians, while 16 per cent of the total cases had been against Serbs, 14 per cent against Kosovo Albanians and seven per cent against Roma. In the case of Srebrenica, one person had been convicted and nine persons had been indicted for the murder of 1,313 persons. The recent appointment of the new war crime prosecutor would result in new indictments for war crimes soon, said the delegation.
Questions from the Experts
YEUNG KAM JOHN YEUNG SIK YUEN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Serbia, welcomed the appointed of the new Chief Prosecutor of war crimes and urged Serbia to accelerate the process of prosecuting perpetrators of war crimes for the sake of national reconciliation. Who were “lay judges”, how and by whom were they appointed, and did they deal with cases of discrimination?
Were there cases of banning right-wing organizations, including those which were close to the Government, and why was the Office of the Public Prosecution - and not everyone – the only entity that could bring charges against such organizations?
The Rapporteur asked the delegation whether the prohibition of racial discrimination included direct and indirect discrimination; about steps taken to identify and combat racist and hate speech by politicians, on online platforms and by football supporters; and the reasons for the non-availability of legal aid.
VERENE ALBERTHA SHEPHERD, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Serbia, recalled that only 0.3 per cent of Roma were in tertiary education and asked why this was so. The participation of Roma women in elections was very low, and a significant number of Roma were not registered to vote. What steps was Serbia taking to ensure that Roma and other national minorities were registered to vote, freely exercised this right, and also the right to stand for elections? What concrete efforts had there been to ensure adequate housing for Roma, given the high number living in informal settlements without security of tenure; over one-third of the homeless were Roma?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that between two and three per cent of Roma were in tertiary education, and in the last three years affirmative action had been applied which supported the enrolment of Roma who had passed the university acceptance tests but had not made the quota for the entry. There was a proposal on the table for all Roma who had passed the entrance exam to be admitted to university and benefit from scholarships.
Discrimination cases were processed by a professional judge. In the first instance, there was a court panel which presided, with one judge and two lay judges in cases where the prescribed sentence was imprisonment over eight years. In the second instance, it was only professional judges who judged the case. Lay judges were elected by the Higher Judicial Council for a period of five years and were eligible citizens of Serbia, over 25 years of age, who also met other specific requirements.
Free legal aid was available through the municipalities and through civil society organizations.
There were seven Roma political parties which enjoyed a lower threshold for the entry into the parliament, and enjoyed financial support. The State had provided all the preconditions for the political participation of Roma, and it was up to the political parties to attract their voters.
Further Questions and Answers
A Committee Expert asked the delegation about the participation of Serbia in the celebration of the International Decade on the People of African Descent, and the ratification of the International Labour Organization Convention No. 189 on decent work for domestic workers.
Another Expert expressed concern about insufficient resources to support refugees and migrants who were currently in Serbia, particularly in the light of the long time it would take to find a meaningful solution to this crisis. Meanwhile, the children were growing up and the families needed long-term support. What was Serbia doing about this?
An Expert expressed concern about the revival of ultra-nationalist movements such as “Chetniks”, and that, although they were illegal, they still enjoyed support in some parts of the population. What was being done to address this issue?
Responding, the delegation said that the 1990s were not representative of the rule of law and democracy in Serbia, which, as a candidate for European Union membership, was dedicated to European and international human rights standards, as well as to the international obligations it had assumed. The Serbia from the 1990s and Serbia today were not the same, today there was no possibility to do something illegal without an adequate reaction by the public prosecutor and the police. What was emanating from Serbia today were messages of tolerance and this corroborated that the country, fortunately, had left the 1990s behind.
The delegate recalled that in the 1990s, there had been over 600,000 refugees in Serbia and today, the total number of refugees stood at 27,000. Refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina had not opted to go back to their country of origin and had integrated in Serbia instead. The situation of internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija was rather bad and this failure was the responsibility of the international community which had assumed the lead on return and reintegration.
YEUNG KAM JOHN YEUNG SIK YUEN, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Serbia, reassured the delegation that the Committee would be deliberating its concluding observations in the spirit of understanding and with the aim of contributing to the enjoyment of a life free from discrimination for all citizens in Serbia.
SUZANA PAUNOVIÆ, Acting Director of the Office for Human and Minority Rights of the Republic of Serbia, said that the delegation had attempted to show its efforts and commitment to ensure the equal enjoyment of rights for all and to fight racial discrimination. Serbia would pay the fullest attention to the Committee’s concluding observations and to continuing the cooperation.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, said that each country that came before the Committee was examined in its own context and the Committee had thus attempted to understand the context of Serbia, how it came to be, how it related to racial discrimination, and how the racial discrimination was being experienced in reality. Serbia had a very extensive legal framework to deal with discrimination, said the Chair, stressing that the focus of the Committee was on the gap between the laws and their implementation.
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