Establishing and implementing an anti-discrimination strategy will be a key component of Serbia's efforts on the path toward EU accession.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 10/08/13
Suzana Paunovic, director of Serbia's office for human and minority rights, helped co-ordinate the government's anti-discrimination strategy. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]
Leaders of several human rights NGOs in Serbia are encouraging the state to intensify its efforts to reduce discrimination.
Serbia's Coalition Against Discrimination recently released its seventh annual report, which documented widespread discrimination against people with disabilities, the LGBT community and national minorities, especially Roma.
"During 2012, the coalition noticed a huge number of direct and indirect discrimination cases from hate speech, verbal threats and abuse to threatening personal safety and physical violence, as well as the denial of basic human rights and freedoms guaranteed by both national legislation and international legal standards," Dragan Djordjevic, co-ordinator of a network of five Serbian human rights NGOs, told SETimes.
Establishing and implementing an anti-discrimination strategy will be a key component of Serbia's efforts on the path toward EU accession. Two of the 35 EU accession chapters cover fundamental rights and justice issues.
Djordjevic said national minorities in central Serbia do not have the same treatment as minorities in Vojvodina and that the state should work to consistently implement rights and achieve the same standards in the whole country.
"It is not enough to have news in Bulgarian on local media in cities where a significant number of Bulgarians live, because all of them understand Serbian and do not need news in Bulgarian. But some TV shows about Bulgarian history, tradition [or any other minority] should exist, for example," Djordjevic said.
Danilo Curcic, a legal analyst at the NGO Praxis in Belgrade, said Serbia's Roma population faces discrimination related to legal subjectivity, health and social protection, education and employment.
"There are also problems related to violence against Roma," he said.
Curcic said the LGBT community has endured threats and hate speech. He added that it is not possible for LGBT activists to organise peaceful gatherings without police protection. A gay pride parade was planned, but was banned by the government, which said it could not guarantee the security of participants. A 2010 attempt to hold a pride parade was marred by hooligans who attacked participants and police.
Djordjevic and the Association of Students With Disabilities said schools and universities lack wheelchair-accessible entrances.
"We paid special attention and focused our activities in 2012 on systematic discrimination of people with disabilities caused by not removing architectural barriers. We registered two cases of children being prohibited entry into public buildings – one case was about children with disabilities and another one about Roma children," Djordjevic said.
Suzana Paunovic, director of the government office for human and minority rights, told SETimes that the government is committed to fighting discrimination. Serbia co-operates on human rights protection projects with international organizations, including the UN and the EU. Paunovic also communicates with representatives of vulnerable groups to build and implement the national strategy against discrimination.
"The office has co-ordinated the creation of the strategy for prevention of discrimination for the period from 2013 to 2018. It was adopted by the government on June 27th and we will start to work on an action plan for its implementation, which is going to contain all necessary measures for improvement of the position and protection of all vulnerable groups, including national minorities, LGBT and persons with disabilities,” Paunovic told SETimes.
Paunovic added that in order to protect national minorities, the office produces periodic reports about implementation of the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
"Bilateral agreements with Romania, Hungary, Croatia and Macedonia [provide] special law frameworks for national minority rights protection and for the monitoring of their implementation. The inter-government bodies have been formed and representatives of state institutions and national minorities are part of these bodies while the office provides them with expertise and technical support. The office also has regular meetings with minority national councils and helps them to overcome some noticed difficulties," Paunovic said.
She added that her office monitors efforts to encourage Roma children to attend secondary schools and colleges. These initiatives are considered a mark of progress, as few Roma children attend school, even at the primary level.
"The program for internships for national minority youth was started in October 2012 and ensured six months experience within state institutions for Albanian, Bosniaks and Roma students," Paunovic said.
What steps should Serbia take to reduce discrimination against minority groups? Share your thoughts in the comments section.