21 November 2017
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with civil society representatives from Serbia and Algeria, whose reports will be considered this week.
In her opening remarks, Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, welcomed civil society representatives from Serbia and Algeria.
During the discussion, non-governmental organizations from Serbia highlighted the problems of forced eviction of Roma from informal settlements, segregation of Roma children in schools, non-implementation of the Criminal Code provision on hate crime, lack of residence registration for Roma, and lack of birth registration for Roma children. Other issues included the fact that the draft Law on Foreigners could lead to discrimination against stateless persons in the context of migration detention, pushbacks and collective expulsion of migrants and refugees, and the lack of access to Serbian citizenship.
Civil society representatives from Algeria drew attention to the expulsion of migrants, hate speech directed against migrants and racial profiling of sub-Saharan migrants, the status of the Amazigh language, seizure of Amazigh ancestral lands, suppression of Amazigh culture and identity, non-registration of Amazigh children, and restrictive regulations for the setting up of civil society organizations.
Speaking in the discussion were Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, Praxis Serbia and Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, via video link from Serbia; and Forum for Justice and Human Rights and Congrès Mondial Amazigh from Algeria.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon to review the combined second to fifth periodic reports of Serbia (CERD/C/SRB/2-5).
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, welcomed civil society representatives from Serbia and Algeria.
Non-Governmental Organizations from Serbia
Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, via video link, drew attention to the forced eviction of Roma from informal settlements in Serbia. None of the evictions had been carried out in line with international human rights standards. There were several systematic problems, such as lack of consultation with the Roma community and the discriminatory legal regime in legal settlements. Another problem was the introduction of the so-called poverty tax. The affordability of social housing was a big problem for the Roma coming from informal settlements. There was no guarantee that evictions were carried out as the measure of last resort and there was no security of tenure for alternative housing. Certain paragraphs in the State party’s report were misleading. The organization, therefore, strongly called on the Committee to check alternative reports submitted by Amnesty International and other international non-governmental organizations. Another issue was that Serbia was going through austerity measures, which were disproportionately affecting the Roma as the poorest community in the country.
Praxis Serbia, via video link, noted that Roma children continued to experience segregation in education and bullying. The highest dropout rate in secondary schools was among the Roma children. It requested the Committee to urge Serbia to ensure that the Roma were not discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity. There was a need for the redefinition of causes of segregation in education. Hate crimes had not been registered, and the State party’s report did not contain any information on the prosecution of hate crimes and their consequences under article 54a of the Serbian Criminal Code. On the number of Roma children in institutional care, the organization urged the Committee to urge Serbia to keep systemic records about social care, and to ensure full cooperation between social care institutions and the Roma community, as well as to recommend that the Government of Serbia adopt a statutory definition of the term “child” and to adequately deal with the problem of child, early and forced marriages. In addition, the draft Law on Foreigners could lead to discrimination against stateless persons in the context of migration detention. Another problem was that of registration of residence for the Roma community, namely arbitrary refusal of social welfare centres to provide proof of residence, and the length of procedures. Finally, despite all the measures taken so far, Roma children were less likely to have their birth registered.
Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, via video link, drew attention to the rights of non-citizens, namely migrants and refugees. Although commending the efforts of the Government of Serbia, the organization stressed several outstanding issues, namely pushbacks and collective expulsion which demonstrated that Serbia was in violation of the principle of non-refoulement. The organization called on Serbia to refrain from collective expulsions and from exposing migrants to mistreatment in countries, such as Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey. Another issue was the treatment of non-citizens in Serbia and the lack of a clear migration policy. All migrants faced limited access to economic, social and cultural rights, most notably the right to education. Migrant children had not been involved in the education system at all until May 2016. In 2017 the Ministry of Education started to systematically include migrant children in the education system. But teachers were still not well prepared to include those children in curricula in an adequate manner. Only migrants with recognized refugee status could access the labour market. The lack of knowledge of the Serbian language was another obstacle for migrants and refugees to access the labour market. Access to citizenship was yet another problematic area because none of the recognized refugees gained Serbian citizenship. They only received temporary residence permits.
Questions by Committee Experts
YEUNG KAM JOHN YEUNG SIK YUEN, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Serbia, inquired about the provisions of the draft Law on Foreigners, namely the prolongation of the time spent in migration detention. Turning to the principle of non-refoulement, Mr. Yuen asked about the safe third countries where Serbia would exercise collective expulsion.
Mr. Yuen reiterated the question about the draft Law on Foreigners, which he thought was in favour of stateless persons. Were decisions subject to judicial review? How was the idea of a fair and independent judiciary perceived in Serbia?
Other Experts raised questions about education, notably ethnic minorities’ right to receive education in their mother tongue. How were teachers trained for that? Were Roma considered an ethnic minority?
Experts also inquired about racism in public discourse and racism in sports, and the situation since the previous State party’s report.
As for hate crimes, did victims have any help from the Government in reporting those crimes and what kind of training on hate crimes was provided to the judiciary and the public?
How did Roma families live in Serbia? Did they continue to live in extended family structures? Were marriages organized exclusively within Roma communities, or in town halls? When there was a birth, was it registered? Were there identity documents granted? Did “Roma” appear on the identity card? Was there discrimination in the process of registration of birth?
Replies by Non-Governmental Organizations from Serbia
Praxis Serbia explained that migration detention could be prolonged for another six months if the person hindered his or her removal. That was problematic because there was no statelessness determination procedure in Serbia. The current Law on Foreigners stipulated shorter migration detention. The lack of travel documents was a ground for automatic prolongation of migration detention according to the draft Law on Foreigners. As for receiving education in the Romani language, that was quite different from the provisions on other languages of ethnic minorities. It was not a mandatory minority language and it often happened that not enough Roma children wanted to be taught in Romani. There was an insufficient number of teachers who could teach in Romani. Thus, there was insufficient capacity in that field. There was no mention of nationality or ethnicity in personal identification cards. In practice, the birth of Roma children was not done in a timely manner, which led to their disadvantaged position and risk of statelessness. As for hate crimes, article 54a of the Criminal Code defined hate crime, but it had never been applied. Its non-application was a problem of educational process by magistrates and police. The organization, thus, urged the Committee to point out that problem to the delegation of Serbia. Early and child marriages affected exclusively Roma and they were organized as traditional marriages. It was against the law for minors to be married. But there was a possibility to legally obtain permission to be married at the age of 16, which again mostly affected Roma. There was no sufficient support from the police and judiciary to prevent early and child marriages.
Belgrade Centre for Human Rights said that the Government of Serbia had created a list of more than 100 safe countries, to which all the neighbouring countries belonged. That meant that the chance of being granted asylum status was practically zero if migrants arrived from those countries. Migrants were not returned to those countries through official readmission procedures as established through bilateral agreements. Pushbacks were done in an informal manner. The access to asylum procedures was also denied at airports in Serbia. The interim measures to the European Court of Human Rights was the only way to help those seeking asylum at airports. The right to education for migrant children was a constitutional right, but the Government did not want to enrol them in schools before 2016. They learned in the Serbian language because there were no courses available in their native languages. As for racism in public discourse, during the migration crisis in 2015 the Serbian population reacted positively to migrants. Generally, there were no obvious racist attitudes towards migrants because everybody thought that migrants only transited Serbia. Nevertheless, there were a few cases of throwing migrants out of public transport. Unaccompanied minors were housed in the same units as adults, which was problematic.
Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights reminded that Srpska akcija, a right-wing organization, had distributed leaflets with racist speech against the Roma community in 2015. People from right-wing organizations were hired by the Government without any problems, and there were local protests against Roma to which the Government did not respond in an adequate manner. In the city of Sid in northern Serbia there were protests against having migrant children in local schools. As for Roma’s way of life, they lived in extended families, but in social units they resided in nucleus families. In terms of social assistance, Roma suffered most because of the austerity measures. The independence of the judiciary was part of the constitutional review process in Serbia.
Non-Governmental Organizations from Algeria
Forum for Justice and Human Rights stated that since 2010 Algeria had been expelling migrants, including women and children from sub-Saharan Africa, and migrants in regular situations. There had been a public discourse of hatred against those migrants and the Algerian State had been violating the Convention provisions, with practices such as limitation of movement and limitation of filling up of fuel for cars with foreign registration plates. The percentage of Amazigh students enrolled in Algerian universities amounted to only three per cent.
Congrès Mondial Amazigh stated that despite the ratification of all United Nations human rights conventions, the Amazigh had been victims of institutional discrimination and Arab assimilation. The organization drew attention to the imprisonment of Christians and journalists. The Algerian consulate in France had refused to renew passports for the Amazigh students. There were military checkpoints in Amazigh regions and people were discouraged from starting up businesses there. Historic monuments had been destroyed and the police was complicit in that destruction. All Amazigh cultural identity and property had been destroyed without any intent of restoration. A political activist living in France had drawn attention to continuous human rights violations in Algeria, such as arbitrary arrests and detention of opposition activists.
Questions by Committee Experts
MELHEM KHALAF, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Algeria, reminded that Algeria had undertaken efforts to recognize the Amazigh language as an official language. What had been the consequences of that? Was that constitutional amendment implemented?
Turning to refugees in Tindouf camps, Mr. Khalaf inquired about judicial protection offered to their residents. What was the nature of the problem in the relations between the Arabs and Amazigh? Was it religious or the colour of the skin? What was the status of Amazigh civil society organizations, Mr. Khalaf asked.
Was it a State policy to seize Amazigh lands? Was the setting up of non-governmental organizations subject to prior approval by the State?
Other Experts inquired about Amazigh first names being refused by civil registries. Had there been any improvements in that regard?
After 15 years of constitutionalization of the Amazigh language, was it taught in practice? Was it a subject that could be studied in schools? Were specific statistics available on the number of Amazigh living in Algeria? What was the status of their land ownership? Was there a degree of solidarity among the Amazigh living in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia?
Had there been any improvement in the asylum legislation? There had been no reported cases of discrimination against migrants in the labour market.
Experts also raised the issue of expulsion of migrants and racial profiling, as well as the detention of minors. Was irregular migration an offence? As for hate crimes, there had been only one conviction. Why were the police not acting when they should?
Replies by Non-Governmental Organizations from Algeria
Congrès Mondial Amazigh explained that the 2016 constitutional amendment defined Algerian identity without specific reference to Amazigh identity and the Amazigh language was inferior to Arabic. Since 1995, the teaching of Amazigh had been experimental and optional. It did not enjoy the status of an official language and the number of teachers of Amazigh had been reduced to only seven. As for Amazigh associations, the Government had not responded to their requests for registration. The police asked Amazigh civil society intimidating questions. Amazigh were discriminated against for who they were and the police treated them differently. As for the non-registration of Amazigh children, they had been refused entry to school because of the lack of birth registration. The situation was improving, but in a very limited manner. On incitement to hatred, the organization explained that thousands of newspaper articles promoted hatred towards the Amazigh. There was solidarity among the Amazigh in all neighbouring countries, including in Mauritania and the Canary Islands. There were no official statistics on the number of the Amazigh in Algeria. The Government had ignored the Committee’s recommendation in that regard. Tribal land deeds were often not recognized in Algeria. The Amazigh were indigenous peoples of north Africa and they owned collective land, but they did not possess papers to prove that ownership. The Algerian Land Law recognized only private, State and malakith (religious) property, and there was an effort to strip the Amazigh of their land. The setting up of associations in Algeria was very restrictive and subject to police interrogation. Impunity had become widespread in Algeria, namely in violently suppressing peaceful demonstrations.
Forum for Justice and Human Rights explained that Tindouf was a militarized area and that the State party’s report seemed to completely deny any complaints regarding racism or racial discrimination in Tindouf. Refugees were not able to freely move and had to fill out applications explaining their exact itinerary. The military decided whether they would receive approval or denial. In 2016, the Amazigh language had become an official language in Algeria. Teaching Amazigh needed to be extended to all Algerian children, but the pace was extremely slow. During the expulsion of migrants, there was a negative media context and hate speech. It was shocking that hate speech against migrants was also used by supposed human rights activists. There was racial profiling of sub-Saharan migrants.
For use of the information media; not an official record