Project: Monitoring Serbia’s OSCE Chairmanship

Parallel Civil Society Conference held

Civic Solidarity Platform - the network of independent NGO from the OSCE region, organized Parallel Civil Society Conference on the eve of the OSCE Ministerial Council, on December 1st and 2nd, 2015 in Belgrade. The main topics of this event were: freedom of expression, migration, torture and human rights defenders. The representatives of Civic Solidarity Platform delivered the report on their primary concerns and recommendations regarding the implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments to OSCE “Trojka”: Chairmanship in 2015- Serbia, in 2014 Swiss, and incoming Chairmanship - Germany.

The key partner in Serbia was the Coalition for monitoring human dimension commitments of the Serbia’s Chairmanship of the OSCE: Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia (lead organization), Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM, Public Policy Research Centre, Forum for Ethic Relations, and Humanitarian Law Centre. Anti trafficking Action ASTRA, Women Space and other NGOs participated in the drafting of particular parts of the report. 

Civil society is significant partner of OSCE in ensuring the fulfillment of commitments in human rights field in participating states. However, the activists have pointed out the concern of NGOs regarding shrinking space for civil society in certain OSCE participating states, as well as problems they are facing: attacks on human rights defenders, limitation of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, forced disappearance and torture.

The mechanism of self-assessment has been presented on the conference, the initiative raised by Civic Solidarity Platform, based on the idea that OSCE Chairman in Office (CiO) should set very high standards for other participating states regarding the fulfillment of Human Dimension commitments. Swiss was the first country which conducted the self-assessment on selected Human Dimension themes, and Germany has already promised to apply this practice. In Serbia, the Government tasked the Institute of Social Sciences and Commissioner for Protection of Equality to prepare reports on behalf of independent institutions, on selected themes: gender equality, position of Roma people, elections, and freedom of assembly. The CSO Coalition prepared detailed written the comments on these reports, and, additionally, on three priority themes defined by civil society: freedom of expression and media freedom, position of human rights defenders and national minorities. The Coalition announced its work on regional reconciliation and facing with past as well.

It has been noticed the absence of presentation of the final report on self-assessment by the Government, i.e. the comments of respective ministries on mentioned analyses. Permanent Representative of Serbia to the OSCE, Ambassador Vuk Zugic in his introductory remarks emphasized that the comments by the Government should be adopted and presented till the end of the year. He reminded that the year of Serbia’s chairmanship is marked by numerous complex developments such as Ukraine's crisis, terrorist attacks and migration crisis.

At the panel discussion on reports regarding the fulfillment the Human Dimension commitments in Serbia, Director of Institute of Social Sciences, Dr Goran Basic stressed that the legal obligations related to Roma minority in Serbia are aligned with OSCE and other international standards. The issue is inconsistent implementation of legal provisions which is identified in the practice. He reminded the participants on the Report of Ombudsperson on the implementation of Strategy for the improvement of position of Roma national minority from 2013, which has not been discussed in National Assembly. Dr Basic stressed certain challenges in exercising the rights on inclusive education: early - leaving school, segregation of Roma children in educational institutions etc.

A representative of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality Office presented the report on gender equality. There is certain progress in participation of women in public and political life, but the main challenges remain fight against all forms of gender based violence and difficulties experienced in working environment. Roma women are substantially in unfavorable position and multiple discriminated. Increase of Roma girls in primary schools is reached by the introduction of teaching assistants. 

Coordinator of Serbian NGO Coalition, Izabela Kisic, highlighted that the challenges in self-assessment process are the timeframe and selection of topics. She recommendation that the Self-evaluation Report should be published at the beginning of the CiO mandate, hence the year of chairmanship might be used for monitoring of implementation of recommendations from report and improvements in certain areas.

Director of Public Policy Research Centre, Svetlana Djurdjevic Lukic presented the findings related to the implementation of OSCE commitments in area of position of Roma men and women in Serbia. She underlined the necessity to focusing of Self evaluation reports solely on OSCE standards in order to promote these further, and to avoid the overlapping with standards of other international institutions (United Nations, European Commission, Council of Europe). The lack of administrative capacities for inclusive policies at local level and allocation of budget means are among key obstacles for the implementation of measures for improvement of the Roma position. The progress has been made regarding the health of Roma by introduction of health mediators and resolving of personal documents and decreasing the number of “legally invisible” persons. Roma people still live on margins of society, faced with numerous problems e.g. institutional discrimination, hate speech, forced evictions and poverty. CENTRE’s Report on Status of Roma in Light of the OSCE Human Dimension Commitments and OSCE Chairmanship was prepared by Svetlana Djurdjevic Lukic, a researcher Marina Tadic and an assistant Marija Stankovic. The CENTRE Director previously presented the Serbian NGO Coalition on side event discussion on the self–assessment process at the OSCE annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw.

Milan Antonijevic, Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM spoke about freedom of assembly and elections. He emphasized that the provisions of current Law on the Freedom of Assembly are unconstitutional according to the ruling of the Constitutional Court which requested changes within 6 months – the deadline expired in October. The issue of funding of political parties has been mentioned within regular funding or during the political campaigns, as well as the amendments of provisions for elections of National Councils of national minorities in Serbia.

Centre’s director also moderated a panel session on the work of OSCE Mission to Serbia, where Michael Uyehara, Deputy Head of Mission, Vladimir Bilandzic, Special Advisor, and Leslie Hess, Senior Advisor presented the activities of the OSCE, and answered on numerous questions of the participants.

The Conference adopted the Belgrade Declaration on Freedom of Expression, which included findings from the conference “Freedom of expression, Media freedoms and (Self) Censorship in the OSCE area”, which the Platform and Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia organized in Belgrade in July. CENTRE’s Director Svetlana Djurdjevic-Lukic was involved in the preparation of that conference as well.

The report from the conference was broadcasted by Glas Amerike, Radio Slobodna Evropa, TanjugPress, Slobodni mediji, and other media. Earlier, CENTRE’s Director was a guest of Radio Belgrade on November 30th and announced the Parallel Civil Society Conference.

Co-organizers of the conference: International Partnership for Human Rights, Netherlands Helsinki Committee, Serbian OSCE chairmanship, the OSCE Mission to Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Skopje, in Kosovo and the OSCE Presence in Albania.

Outcome Documents of the OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference