Western Balkans

The countries in the Western Balkans are continuously ratifying international human rights conventions and harmonising existing legislation to comply with the European standards. Still, unequal implementation of these conventions and the lack of knowledge concerning adopted laws and international human rights standards are major obstacles for the improvement of human rights situation in the region. Political instability, widespread corruption, lack of continuity in reforms, limited independence of judiciary and weak non-judicial mechanisms leave much work for human rights organisations and independent media – the sole watchdogs of the societies.

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Albania | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Kosovo | Macedonia | Montenegro | Serbia

Fourth “FUTURA” Competition to be held in Bosnia and Herzegovina

On 3-5 of July, Civil Rights Defenders will organise the fourth “FUTURA” competition at the Municipal Court in Travnik (Bosnia and Herzegovina). The competition is a qualifying event for prospective participants of the Regional Moot Court Competition Before the European Court Of Human Rights. “It is much more than just a qualifying stage for the Moot Court Competition before the ECtHR, it is also another chance to gain experience, knowledge and establish contacts amongst fellow law students”, said Ena Bavcic at Civil Rights Defenders.

First Judgement for Wartime Sexual Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina

flowers

On the 24th of June, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued the first judgement on reparations for survivors of wartime sexual violence in the Western Balkans. Two former members of the Army of Republika Srpska have been sentenced to ten years of imprisonment each for rape committed against a minor in 1992. The claimant will also be compensated an amount of approximately EUR 13.550.

Human Rights in Macedonia

Macedonia is a member of the Council of Europe and has been a candidate country for membership of the European Union since 2005. However the country falls short when it comes to implementing reforms and human rights standards and as of writing has not yet started negotiations with the EU. Ever since the 2001 armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebel forces and the Macedonian Army and the Police, inter-ethnic tensions between the two groups has been constant, with numerous reported cases of ethnically motivated violence.

Human Rights Organisations Propose Amendments to Ensure Adequate Regulation of Hate Crime

Ena Bavcic

As a member of the Coalition for Combat Against Hate Speech and Hate Crime, Civil Rights Defenders supports the Coalition’s proposed amendments to the Criminal Code of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which aims to ensure adequate regulation of hate crime. We also ask the House of Commons of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to organize a session on the topic of adequate regulation of hate crime.

Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina

It is twenty years since the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country has been described as the state that has made the least progress when it comes to EU integration of all of the Western Balkans countries. In spite of widespread workers protests in February 2014,political deadlock is continuing to hamper human rights organisations in their capacities as watchdog. Inter-ethnic violence, hate speech, and poor implementation of human rights standards is still part of everyday life in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Government has failed to initiate reforms of the judiciary, whilst media independence and self-censorship remain key impediments to the implementation of freedom of expression standards. New laws that are seriously damaging human rights and freedoms are being introduced on a daily basis.

Human Rights in Montenegro

Since independence in 2006, Montenegro has adopted all relevant international human rights conventions, and has been a member-state of the Council of Europe since 2007. National legislation concerning human rights is considered to be within European standards, but better implementation is still required, especially when it comes to freedom of expression, anti-discrimination and the judiciary. Amendments to the Laws regarding the role of the Ombudsman were adopted in August 2014, which foresees a greater level of independence so as to strengthen the institutions role in combating discrimination. This will represent a significant step forward in combating discrimination and monitoring of institutions.

Serbian Media Landscape: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

hearing

On the 26th of May, Civil Rights Defenders organized a hearing event about the Serbian media landscape at the European Parliament. Although officials talk of progress in the Western Balkans media, there are numerous problems. “Last year, three important media laws were adopted, all of them drafted in cooperation with Civil Rights Defenders’ partners. Still, each Government sees the media, and especially the Public Broadcasting Service, as something to control.” said Goran Miletic at Civil Rights Defenders.

Human Rights in Kosovo

Kosovo has a sound statutory framework in place for the protection of human rights: the Kosovo Constitution lists a number of directly applicable international human rights instruments. Kosovo has shown great progress when it comes to the adoption of key human rights laws over the past 10 years. However, there remain challenges and issues with regards to the practical implementation of human rights legislation and relevant documents, such as byelaws and National Strategies. Moreover, a functional and effective Ombudsperson and judiciary are yet to emerge. As a consequence, a number of human rights issues including the marginalisation of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities and LGBT persons, hate speech, hate crimes, violence against women, pressure and intimidation to journalists have not been addressed effectively

Human Rights in Serbia

The EU officially opened negotiations for Serbia’s accession to the Union in January 2014. The negotiating framework requires progress in normalising relations with Kosovo, while the implementation of the Agreement will be closely monitored. The opening of the negotiations has not improved the situation in regards to human rights; they have even deteriorated compared to 2013, particularly in the area of national minorities, freedom of expression, independent regulatory bodies and judicial reform.

Media Indicators Report Launched on World Press Freedom Day

Media Indicators Report launched on World Press Freedom Day

On World Press Freedom Day, Civil Rights Defenders and its partners in Kosovo presented the first Media Indicators report on Kosovo. It focuses on journalists’ perception of key media issues, based on indicators of the European Council. “Although a majority of journalists think that the legal framework guarantees freedom of expression, they believe that it is not implemented.”, said Sarah Maliqi at Civil Rights Defenders.

Public Discussion about Law on Public Peace and Order in Republika Srpska (BiH)

Bosnia_02_webb

Civil Rights Defenders is organising a public discussion about the newly adopted Law on Public Peace and Order in Republika Srpska (BiH). How will the law influence independent media, civil society organisations and the state of human rights and freedom of speech in Republika Srpska and the whole Bosnia and Herzegovina? Is the law protecting public peace and order or the authorities? Join us and take part in the debate!

Human Rights Defenders School Launched in Serbia

Human Rights Defenders School Photo: Civil Rights Defenders

Civil Rights Defenders recently launched a capacity building Human Rights Defenders School in Serbia. The initiative kicked off in Belgrade on January 16 and is an effort to strengthen Serbian human rights defenders in their field of work. During seven months participating activists in Belgrade and Nis will receive training in human rights advocacy and be able to attend lectures and seminars led by prominent human rights experts.

Media Outlet Raided – Severe Breach of Media Freedom

Photo: Civil Rights Defenders

On 28 December the Police of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina forcibly entered the premises of Klix-ba, one of the most influential web portals based out of Sarajevo. According to a police spokesperson the raid was said to have been sanctioned by Sarajevo’s Cantonal Court. The Police entered the premises in an attempt to uncover the source of a recording that is said to be that of Republika Srpska Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic.

Open call for a video-sprint in the Western Balkans

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Civil Rights Defenders is issuing an open call for participation in a video-sprint event, which is scheduled to take place in Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia in October 2014. The events will be organised by Civil Rights Defenders in partnership with Youth Initiative for Human Rights Serbia as part of the “Video for Change” project supported by the Swedish Institute within their Creative Force Programme.

Serbia must protect the rights of asylum seekers

Asylum seekers

Extensive and violent protests erupted in Serbia when local authorities in the cities of Obrenovac and Vracevic decided to give 200 asylum seekers temporary winter accommodation in dormitories, as a result of freezing temperatures. Aggravated citizens blocked the road leading to the accommodation facilities and one of the dormitories was set on fire. Civil Rights Defenders strongly condemns the lack of reaction from the police and the failure to protect the asylum seekers.

“Seven” on tour in the Balkans

Photo: Seven on tour

Starting on the 5th of November, the documentary play Seven will be on a tour in the Western Balkans, visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania. Seven is a documentary play about gender based violence based on interviews with seven activists from around the world. The tour is supported by the Swedish Institute and coordinated by Civil Rights Defenders in cooperation with local partners in each country.

Second Albanian LGBT activist included in the Natalia Project

Xheni Karaj. Photo: Civil Rights Defenders

“I was once spat at by a man on the street while at a demonstration. Albanian men get very threatened by lesbians so I challenged him. I grabbed his hand and told him I would not let go until the police arrived” said Xheni Karaj, LGBT activist from Albania who is now included in the Natalia Project security system. The Natalia bracelet represents an important physical, moral and psychological support to human rights activists.

New media and art as tools for human rights advocacy

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Civil Rights Defenders is organising a five-day working conference in Przno, Montenegro, from the 22 to the 27 October. The conference is entitled “Empowering people – ideas worth spreading“ and will gather human rights activists from Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The goal of the conference is to increase the participants’ capacities in using new media and technology as well as art in their advocacy work.

Belgrade Pride in Swedish media

For the third year in a row Serbian authorities banned the Pride Parade in Belgrade. The frustration and disappointment within the LGBT community was unmistakable and Civil Rights Defenders immediately condemned the decision. The newspaper Svenska Dagbladet interviewed Civil Rights Defenders Program Director for the Western Balkans, Goran Miletic, and wrote; “Now, he and the others must continue to battle against the wind”

Natalia braclet protects LGBT-activist in the Balkans

Kristi Pinderi, LGBT activist from Albania, is one of the human rights defenders included in the Natalia Project.

Kristi Pinderi from Albania, is one of the first human rights defenders from the Western Balkans to be included in the Natalia Project security system. For him the bracelet represents a strong moral support in his day-to-day work: ”Behind the bracelet there is an entire system and organisation with people, institutions, and media ready and willing to act in case of an emergency. It is a way for human rights activists not to feel alone and it is definitely the best tool for empowering them”

House of representatives adopted proposed definition of hate crime

Sumeja Tulic, programme officer at Civil Rights Defenders in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On 24 July, the House of Representatives of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted the legal amendment proposed by civil society, including a definition on hate crime. “I am very pleased that our effort to foster a coalition of organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina has yielded such a positive outcome”, says Sumeja Tulic, programme officer at Civil Rights Defenders.

Trans Gender Europe: Bosnia adopts trans-inclusive hate crime law

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TGEU reports that “Bosnia i Herzegovina’s House of Representatives recently adopted hate crime legislation that is inclusive of gender identity and sexual orientation”. The legislation reads “Whoever publicly incites or makes publicly available pamphlets, photos, texts and other materials which advocates, urges or incites hatred, discrimination or violence directed by any person or group of […]

Definition of hate crime in the Criminal Law needs to be improved

28-30 November 2012 Civil Rights Defenders organised a workshop on hate crimes and hate speech. The workshop included training in monitoring, advocacy and litigation strategies. Photo: Civil Rights Defenders

The Draft of the Law on Amendments to the Criminal Law in Bosnia and Herzegovina, recently sent to the parliament, contains narrow and incomplete legal formulations of hate crimes and exclude several protected grounds. This caused Civil Rights Defenders’ partner to propose changes to the legal formulation of hate crimes. Civil Rights Defenders urges the authorities to take the needed steps in accepting the changes.

20th Anniversary of the massacre in Štrpci

Twenty years ago, the Army of the Republic of Serbia abducted 19 non-Serb citizens of Serbia and Montenegro on the railway station in Štrpci (BIH). The passengers were taken to the village of Visegradska banja, where they were tortured and killed. Up till now, the remains of three victims have been found. On February 27, Civil Rights Defender’s partners in Serbia marked the 20th Anniversary of the abduction in Strpce in front of the main railway station in Belgrade.

MFA’s reply on human rights defenders

In December, Civil Rights Defenders wrote a letter to the Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and urged him to demand stronger protection for human rights defenders in Kosovo. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has replied that “we are discussing these important issues on a political level. When Prime Minister Hachim Thaci visited Sweden in October, EU integration and the necessary reforms, including human rights, were major themes.”

Future professionals trained in freedom of speech

Photo: Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Theoretical and practical insight into national media legislation and European standards in the field make law students better prepared to handle human rights issues in their future work as legal professionals. That is why Civil Rights Defenders, together with one of its long-term partners, the Press Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is conducting trainings for law students in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The culture of silence and impunity must be broken

On 29 November, Ramush Haradinaj, Prime Minister in the Kosovar government 2004-2005, and former commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, was again aquitted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Haradinaj was on trial for crimes against civilians in the prison camp in Jablanica in 1998. Civil Rights Defenders deeply regrets the fact that the ICTY failed to properly establish the facts in this case.

Video: Activism for change – Youth Initiative for Human Rights in BiH

Youth Inititative for Human Rights in BiH

Since its establishment in 2006 the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina has grown to become a well-respected organisation. Today their network of youth activists is the longest running network of its kind and it is involved in all major human rights events, in the country. Civil Rights Defenders has worked with the YIHR BiH since the beginning. This video describes the work of achieving change in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Blerta Cani Drenofci

Blerta Cani Drenofci Photo: Julia Björne/Global Reporting

Until 1993 persons with disabilities were invisible, kept in institutions, and no one talked about their rights. Today the issue is less controversial but Blerta Cani Drenofci, Executive Director of Albanian Disability Rights Foundation, says she her choice of career has often been questioned: “In the beginning I met a lot of ignorance. My friends were surprised that I wanted to work with this issue.”

New report: Long road to press freedom ahead

Cover report Press Freedom Serbia

Only 4 of the European Council’s 27 principles for press freedom have been fully implemented in Serbia, the first comprehensive report on the media situation in the country: Serbian Media Scene VS European Standards, suggests. Free press is a cornerstone for democratic development; in this report the challenges lying ahead of the Serbian media scene become evident. This report is a result of a yearlong cooperation between Civil Rights Defenders and local partners.

Zdravko Cimbaljevic

Zdravko Cimbaljevic Foto: Ninke Liebert

Two years ago, an unfamiliar man attacked Zdravko Cimbaljevic. The hate crime led Zdravko to openly speak about his homosexuality in the press, thereby becoming Montenegro’s first open homosexual. Since then, he is subject to constant threats. It is a difficult task to change the attitude towards LGBT people in a country where about 70 per cent of the population believes that homosexuality is a disease: “I don’t ask everybody to love us, just not to attack me or violate my rights.”

The role of civil society, citizens and media in the Western Balkans: Challenges as an opportunity

Civil Rights Defenders is organising a two-day regional conference in cooperation with Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina (TI BiH) on the theme “The role of civil society, citizens and media in the Western Balkans: Challenges as an opportunity“. The conference will be held in Sarajevo, November 22-23. Journalists, activists and civil society organisations from the […]

Combating prejudices with radio debates

Widespread lack of respect for human rights, in particular discrimination against vulnerable groups, remains of great concern in Albania. Civil Rights Defenders believe that the media can play an important role in raising awareness about human rights and mobilizing civic engagement. A cooperation with Independent Local Media Association (ILMA), to engage citizens in debates on radio about the most important human rights issues, has therefore been established.

Kosovo 2.0 – Vibrant news in three languages

Kosovo 2.0 is a web portal and a magazine available in English, Albanian and Serbian. Since the launch in July 2010, it has had around 257,760 unique visitors and more that 1,000 unique visits a day. Civil Rights Defenders collaboration with Kosovo Glocal aims at building up Kosovo 2.0, a comprehensive and vibrant media platform, offering interesting and current news, commentary and information that will contribute to an overall respect of freedom of expression in Kosovo.

Map of victims of the Yugoslav wars

Together with Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) in Serbia Civil Rights Defenders provide work to raise public awareness on the importance of confronting the past, by compiling and disseminating a comprehensive record of human losses in Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro in the wars of the 1990s. The “Interactive Online Map of Human Losses” provides user-friendly information and access to relevant documents on human losses in Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia.

Improving protection against discrimination

Civil Rights Defenders cooperation with the Albanian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (AHC) in this specific project aims at improving the situation regarding protection against discrimination in Albania. We do this by raising capacities of our legal aid partners and the Institution of the Commissioner against Discrimination in handling cases of discrimination as well as increase the capacities of lawyers, people from public structures and civil society to understand and follow cases of discrimination.

Fighting corruption with Transparency International

Bosnia and Herzegovina is ranked among the most underdeveloped and corrupt countries in the world where reforms are slowly implemented (the same level with Zambia, Jamaica, Senegal and Dominican Republic). Citizens’ participation is a crucial component to a culture of tackling corruption, since integrity, accountability and transparency must take hold societal and systemically if it is to uproot corruption practices.

Enabling Roma communities to access basic human rights

The main objective of Civil Rights Defenders cooperation with the organisation ARKA is to register, and provide identification documents, to around 300 Roma individuals in Skopje, Kumanovo, Kratovo, and Kriva Palanka regions. The registration will give them access to basic human rights; such as the right to education, health care, social allowances, as well as the possibility to get a legal employment and the right to vote in general elections.

Monitoring detention centres and mental health facilities

Public administration has the power to deprive people of their liberty following procedures clearly established by the law. But when detention takes place outside the public scrutiny it opens the door to violations of rights of the inmates, as well as to torture and ill-treatment. Civil Rights Defenders initiated cooperation with Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims in 2007, with the aim to monitor detention facilities and prisons.

Improving accountability of duty holders

Civil Rights Defenders have cooperated with the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for more than a decade, with the main focus to enhance awareness and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Macedonia. By providing free legal aid we not only improve people’s access to justice but also monitor the respect of human rights by authorities, and put pressure on authorities to comply with international and national human rights standards.

Empowering the most vulnerable with Tirana Legal Aid Society

Since 2006 Civil Rights Defenders has cooperated with Tirana Legal Aid Society, TLAS, in assisting Roma families to register their children, but also other members of the families, in order to help them get access to some of the most fundamental human rights; such as the right to education, health care, social allowances, as well as the possibility to get a legal employment and the right to vote in general elections. Hundreds of families have been assisted through our joint efforts so far.

Monitoring trials – in cooperation with Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Through Civil Rights Defenders partnership with the Helsinki Committee we monitor and report on fair trial standards in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the last couple of years we have also worked intensively on lobbying for an all inclusive Law against discrimination, in addition to the regular long-term activities of providing free legal aid to victims of human rights violations.