Minority councils protest court ruling in Serbia

13/02/2014

A recent court ruling in Serbia limits the rights of minorities in the country, the councils said.

By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 13/02/14

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A law allows councils to make decisions for their minority groups on matters of culture, education, the media and official use of their language. [AFP]

The question of minority rights in Serbia is one of the country's most important issues on its road to EU accession, but some say that a recent decision by the constitutional court threatens progress on the issue.

The court's ruling that 10 articles of the law on national minority councils are wholly or partially unconstitutional has upset both Serbian government officials and the national councils. The court said the provision regulating the councils' authority over the so-called "institutions of special importance for national minorities" is unlawful. The court also disputed the provision that says national councils have founding rights in the media.

The regulation on the national councils' authority to appoint bodies to the state and provincial public media services is also unconstitutional, the court said.

The basis for the court ruling was that the articles favoured the minority groups and gave them rights that the majority population does not have.

The law on national minority councils was passed in 2009. The legislation created a system of self-governance for ethnic minorities which make up more than one-sixth of the population in Serbia. The law allows the councils to make decisions for their minority groups on matters of culture, education, media and official use of their languages.

The Serbian Office for Human and Minority Rights, together with the ministry of justice and state administration, will conduct an analysis of the law and the provisions that the court has ruled unconstitutional, office director Suzana Paunovic told SETimes.

"Together with the national councils, we will thoroughly analyse all the problems and undertake amendments to the law on the parts the constitutional court decisions refer to," Paunovic said.

In Serbia's negotiations with the EU, minority rights will be respected and observed, and special attention will be devoted to the matter, she said.

"One of the most important chapters in the negotiations with the EU, which will be among the first to be opened, pertains to minority rights. Together with our European partners we will harmonise all our regulations with European standards and give minority communities the broadest possible rights. Those rights already exist, but we will enhance them further and standardise them," Paunovic said.

The Albanian National Council, the Bosniak National Council and the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have all protested the court ruling.

Galip Beciri, the head of the Albanian National Council, and Esad Dzudzevic, president of the Bosniak National Council, said the court decision denies national minorities their rights, and they called for a reaction.

"The Bosniak National Council is dissatisfied with the decision of the constitutional court of Serbia, which disputed the legal provisions pertaining to the transfer of founding rights in educational institutions, cultural institutions and institutions that provide public information in a minority language only," Dzudzevic said in a statement to SETimes.

He also said that if national minorities' rights were endangered and diminished by the court ruling, he would address European institutions to protect their rights.

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The Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also voiced concern over the decision.

A statement from the ministry said the ruling limits the rights of the Hungarian community in Vojvodina, which will mean a step back in terms of the results of minority self-government, according to web portal Vojvodina Danas.

The Hungarian ministry also noted its disappointment with the fact that the court voided the provision on the rights of national councils to co-operate with the state institutions.

What can Serbia do to protect minority rights in the country? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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