Civil Rights Defenders condemns the recent attack against several human rights defenders from the Youth Initiative of Human Rights (YIHR) of Serbia, a long time partner of Civil Rights Defenders, and demands that swift legal action be taken in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
A brutal brawl
The incident occurred on the evening of January 17, when nine activists from the YIHR were brutally attacked by members of a local branch of the Serbian Progressive Party, the current ruling party led by President Alexandar Vucic. A debate had been arranged by the SPP as part of an aggressive pre-election campaign in the town of Beska, during which convicted war criminal Veselin Sljivancanin was due to speak.
As Sljivancanin took to the podium, the YIHR activists interrupted him, bearing placards that read, "War criminals should be silent so [the public] can speak about the victims." A brawl ensued and the activists as well as several journalists who were present were ejected from the room.
According to Anita Mitić of the YIHR, who witnessed the event, several men followed them outside and began to physically attack them. As a result, two human rights defenders were taken to hospital having sustained severe bruising and possible broken bones. Anita Mitić’s car was also vandalized during the melee.
The Youth Initiative for Human Rights is a regional network of non-governmental organizations with programs operating in Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Initiative was formed by young people from the above mentioned countries in order to enhance youth participation in the democratization of society and empowering rule of law; through the process of facing up to the recent traumatic past of the region while establishing new and progressive connections in the post conflict region of the former Yugoslavia.
“These attacks, which were brutal in their nature, are in direct breach of Serbia’s commitments to uphold the right to freedom of speech and represent a further deterioration in the human rights landscape in the country today. Freedom of speech is coming under increasing pressure in Serbia as the media and civil society is feeling pressure, censorship and interference from the authorities. The authorities must investigate this incident without delay and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice,” said Goran Miletic, program director for the Western Balkans at Civil Rights Defenders.
Veselin Sljivancanin was a major in charge of security in the Yugoslavian Army. He was accused of extermination, murder, torture and inhumane treatment of Croatian and other non-Serbs after the fall of Vukovar in November 1991. He was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2010 for aiding and abetting torture of prisoners during the period.