Serbia blames limited progress on past human rights violations on neighboring countries during its Human Rights Committee review

Published on 26 Mar 2024, 02:52 PM

The Human Rights Committee reviews the fourth periodic report of Serbia.

Protest in front of Belgrade city hall. Author: Marko Đurica/Reuters

On 14 and 15 March, the Human Rights Committee reviewed the fourth report of Serbia on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The State delegation brought its own interpretation so they could speak Serbian during the dialogue, and it was headed by Mr. Tomislav Žigmanov, Minister of Human and Minority Rights of Serbia. In his opening remarks, he stated that Serbia was unable to provide information on the civil and political rights situation in the autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija, where ‘institutional and systematic repression of the civil and political rights of Serbs is happening’. Instances of ethnic discrimination, denial of the right to vote, and the devaluation of the Serbian dinar were mentioned. As another significant development, the delegation mentioned the constitutional reform of 2022, aimed to further strengthen the independence of the judiciary.

Nevertheless, the dialogue was marked by the limited replies of the delegation, frequently sticking to the legal framework while recognizing there were problems in its implementation. As for transitional justice issues following the Kosovo War (1998-9), the Serbian replies implied deflecting the issue and blaming the limited progress on the unwillingness of the neighboring countries to cooperate.

Important issues raised by the Committee during the dialogue included the LGBTIQ+ rights, the high levels of discrimination against Roma people, the fight against human trafficking, or the excessive use of force during protests in response to COVID measures in 2020.

Past grave human rights violations of the Kosovo War

During the dialogue a key concern for the Committee was the lack of investigations and reparations for human rights violations and war crimes of the recent past, particularly following the Kosovo War (1998-9). There are operational delays within the Commission for Missing Persons, with the identification and exhumation of only 243 persons out of over 3,300 missing persons during the reporting period. The Committee also mentioned reports of denial of war crimes by State officials and politicians and asked about measures taken to ensure the accountability of perpetrators.

The delegation asserted that 75% of the total cases of disappeared persons in the Former Yugoslavia had already been resolved. Nevertheless, they added that limited cooperation and unilateral pulling aside of agreements by Croatia and Kosovo has inhibited Serbia’s ability to locate and identify the remaining victims. The delegation stated that there are no mass graves that remain uninvestigated in Serbian territory in any case, but they are rather in Croatia and Kosovo. Multiple initiatives for cooperation among the States were mentioned, like the Berlin Process, the Washington Agreement or the Brussels Dialogue, but the delegation recognized that limited progress had been made.

Alarming rates of gender based violence and domestic violence

Serbian delegation during the review in Palais Wilson, Geneva.

The Committee also recurrently brought up the issue of the high rate of violence against women. In Serbia 21.6% of women experience some form of violence, with 10% being physical or sexual violence. The Committee asked about measures taken to timely and effectively address all forms of violence against women and investigate and punish perpetrators. Reparation measures, including assistance and psychosocial support of victims were also mentioned.

The delegation replied that Serbia has enacted the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence, increasing coordination among relevant institutions but it was still necessary to establish mechanisms for its implementation. The training of 2,800 police officers on gender based violence had also taken place. Moreover, a single central record on cases of domestic violence had been established. As for the promotion of gender equality, the delegation recognized that challenges still remained, particularly for women with disabilities, elderly, rural, or Roma.

Freedom of expression and assembly during the election period

The recent parliamentary elections of December 2023 came with a shrink in the civic space, insufficient media pluralism, and numerous claims about irregularities. The Committee had worries about the increasing attacks against human rights defenders, civil society, and journalists working on transitional justice, the green agenda, LGBTQI issues, and anti-corruption. Restrictions imposed on freedom of assembly and excessive use of force by police authorities were also considered, including during recent peaceful protests against the electoral irregularities.

The Serbian replies on such issues were very limited and reduced to the legal framework. There was no mention of the claims about electoral irregularities and, as for the limitation of freedom of assembly, Serbia mentioned the infringement on public order and peace that certain demonstrations caused, particularly during the gatherings in front of the electoral commission in December 2023. During those, three police officers were being prosecuted for excessive use of force. Regarding media freedom, Serbia replied that a new draft laws on public information and media and on electronic media increases transparency regarding ownership of the structure of media.


Watch again the dialogue with the Committee here (part one) and here (part two).

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Concluding Observations on Serbia's fourth periodic report were released on 28 March 2024. The State party is requested to provide, by 29 March 2027, information on the implementation of the following recommendations:

Hate crimes

The State party should:

(a) Investigate hate crimes thoroughly, ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions and provide victims and their families with access to full reparations;

(b) Effectively implement and enforce existing legal and policy frameworks on combating hate crimes and continue providing effective training to law enforcement officials, judges and prosecutors on investigating hate crimes and the State party’s Guidelines for prosecuting hate crimes;

(c) Take effective measures to prevent and publicly condemn hate speech, in particular hate speech by politicians and high-level officials;

(d) Intensify action to tackle the prevalence of online hate speech, in close cooperation with Internet service providers and social networking platforms and in close consultation with the groups most affected by hate speech;

(e) Reinforce awareness-raising campaigns for public officials, teachers and students at all levels of the educational system and the general public aimed at promoting respect for human rights and diversity.

Freedom of expression and safety of journalists

In accordance with article 19 of the Covenant and the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on the freedoms of opinion and expression, the State party should:

(a) Ensure prompt, independent and impartial investigation of all reported cases of violation of freedom of expression, including violent attacks on journalists, media workers and human rights defenders, prosecute suspected perpetrators and, if found guilty, punish them with appropriate penalties and provide victims with effective remedies;

(b) Promote media pluralism by fostering a media environment in which all media, independent and state-controlled alike, are afforded equal opportunities to access public funding and to report on information of public interest, and by ensuring effective enforcement of laws relating to transparency of media ownership;

(c) Ensure the independence of regulatory institutions such as the Regulatory body for Electronic Media through effective enforcement of the legal and regulatory framework;

(d) Ensure safeguards are in place to prevent the use of strategic litigation or anti-money laundering and terrorism legislation to unduly target or restrict the activities of civil society organisations, activists, human rights defenders and journalists;

(e) Ensure effective implementation of prevention and response frameworks to promote the safety of journalists

Participation in public affairs

The State party should:

(a) Undertake prompt, thorough and independent investigation of all allegations of irregularities in the context of elections, and ensure that suspected perpetrators are prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished appropriately;

(b) Prevent intimidation and pressure on voters, including employees of public and state institutions and enterprises and strengthen the oversight mechanisms;

(c) Establish in law a clear separation between the official functions and campaigning activities of the incumbents;

(d) Adopt a more robust and transparent verification process for electoral lists, systematically checking the validity of statements of support from voters;

(e) Strengthen oversight of campaign financing, including the role of the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption;

(f) Conduct comprehensive voter education programmes, including on voters’ rights, the prevention of group voting, and the importance of voting by secret ballot.


Here you can find all the recommendations given by the Committee in the Concluding Observations.

The follow-up report of Serbia on the implementation of the recommendations is due in 2027. The next list of issues will be adopted in 2030, and the next periodic report is due in 2031.

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