Human rights in the Balkans require better access to information, implementation of legal provisions, and collaboration of the government and NGO sector.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 18/01/13
Serbian activists protest human rights violations in Belgrade. [AFP]
The institutional and legal framework for the protection of human rights made progress in the Balkans over the past few years, but their full operation requires implementation of laws and acts, and the functioning of independent institutions, which are progressing slowly.
The anti-discrimination law in Serbia, passed in 2009, is still waiting implementation.
The 2009 anti-discrimination law outlines the basis for integral and general anti-discrimination protection in all areas, and is relevant as a reinforcement of democracy, tolerance, equality, and equal and fair opportunities for all people.
Serbia's government office for human and minority rights in Belgrade did not respond to several SETimes queries as to when the law will be implemented.
According to Milan Antonijevic, the director of the Lower Committee for Human Rights in Belgrade, the state must inform citizens of their rights.
"Implementation of related laws is important, since we must prove they were not adopted because of EU [requirements], but [because of] citizen interest, who should enjoy guaranteed rights... It's one of the most important elements that could influence all negative social trends, but the state must share this information," Antonijevic told SETimes.
Serbia recently opened the House of Human Rights -- a joint project of five NGOs, the Lower Committee for Human Rights, and the city of Belgrade.
The project aims to educate citizens in human rights issues and how to exercise them, advocate specific human rights statutory provisions, and monitor state institutions in areas of human rights.
Though the new government in the 2012 December report on human rights, transitional justice, and the rule of law in Serbia emphasised the attacks on individuals and civil society more than the state's ability to prevent such attacks, Antonijevic is hopeful that the new government will be an honest partner in the protection of human rights issues.
"Their [government's] support of the House of Human Rights shows an intention to help us replace the citizen mentality of unquestioned obedience with a general mind-set of a democratic citizen taxpayer who requests free access to information, or an open parliament from the state," Antonijevic said.
Houses of Human Rights also exist in Sarajevo and Zagreb.
According to Srdjan Dizdarevic, executive director of the Sarajevo House of Human Rights, human rights are by and large violated in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Though international human rights standards were adopted in the BiH constitution and the state signed numerous international conventions, most are not yet implemented.
"There's no political will to embrace the modern concept of human rights where an individual and individual's rights come first. Pre-war concepts, collective rights of ethnic and religious groups still dominate here," Dizdarevic told SETimes.
He thinks that co-operation among governments, citizens, and their organisations could significantly affect human rights improvement in BiH, since the NGO sector has experience in various fields and reflects citizen wishes and aspirations.
"Although we had some examples of good co-operation among state institutions, their arrogant attitude still prevails, along with a misunderstanding of NGOs' role in the democratic process," Dizdarevic said.
Milo Djukanovic, prime minister of Montenegro, is known for his poor relations with NGO representatives. However, during his first mandate the position of NGOs in Montenegro improved.
"We expect progress in co-operation with the government, which is crucial for resolution of numerous social issues," Milan Radovic, human rights programme co-ordinator at Civil Alliance of Montenegro, told SETimes. "There are no sectors where NGOs could not be useful."
He added that no cases of systematic human rights violations were recently recorded in Montenegro, but there are still areas in which human rights and freedoms are not satisfactory, such as inadequate process of facing the past, torture, fair trial, freedom of expression, assembly and association, discrimination, children's rights, minority rights, refugee situation and internally-displaced persons, and economic, social rights and freedoms.