Visiting Serbia and Kosovo, UN High Commissioner urges political will to solidify human rights and support HRDs

June 21, 2013

In June 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited former Yugoslavia. In both Serbia and Kosovo she mentioned that human rights defenders have a key role to play:

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navane...

In Serbia – at “an important and transformative moment” in its history – Navi Pillay urged a steadfast focus on fundamental rights as she hailed a succession of political advances that augur well for the country itself and for the future of the wider region. “It is a positive sign that the authorities are addressing some tough human rights issues in a calm and pragmatic manner.” Serbia’s progress on the human rights front was recognized during its recent Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council in January, she said, also noting that the country has adopted a strong and fundamentally sound body of laws and standards relating to human rights, including, the Law on the Ombudsman, the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, the Law on Gender Equality and amendments to the Criminal Code. Effective implementation remains a serious challenge including the lack of access to justice in terms of efficiency and timeliness, even acknowledged by judges s….With regard to discrimination against various minorities, including Serbs where they are in the minority, Ms. Pillay declared: “the answer is the full respect of international human rights standards.” Specifically, the situation of Roma featured prominently in her discussions and what became clear was that there remain four crucial areas that need to be better addressed, namely health, housing, education and employment….The situation relating to lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and transgender people LGBT, violence against women and children, and the human rights of persons with disabilities were also highlighted in her various meetings. She said that she understood that there were well-recognized challenges and issues facing Serbia, many of which require considerable efforts and resources (for example the thousands of internally displaced people and refugees), but  “there are also areas where lack of resources is not the obstacle, but where the crucial missing ingredient is a major concerted effort by all those in charge,” said Ms. Pillay, citing the overall human rights culture, and the need to show leadership and to educate the wider public on all aspects of human rights. “Those in responsible positions can and should make the difference by promoting human rights for all people, irrespective of their nationality, origin, gender identity, or social status,” she said, adding that civil society organizations and human rights defenders should be supported, protected and respected, and should be included in all discussions of legislation, projects, and strategies on human rights.

A few days later in Kosovo, the High Commissioner commented on the various reform initiatives underway, including in the judicial system and public administration, and said that overall, what she heard from many interlocutors is that a good legal and institutional framework with regard to human rights is in place. “As is the case everywhere, a broad, transparent and consultative approach is vital if good and sustainable results are going to be achieved,” she said, noting that she was impressed by the commitment and competences of the Ombudsperson Institution, as well as the vibrant, active and articulate civil society. At the same time, she emphasized that she had also raised some specific concerns related to the weaknesses of the rule of law institutions in Kosovo, including the importance of ensuring the independence of the judiciary, and addressing lengthy pre-trial detention, case backlog, lack of trust in the judiciary and the lack of execution of judicial decisions. “I have impressed on the authorities here the importance of remedying poor legislation and discriminatory practices, as well as taking a tough line against all instances of hate speech,” she said, adding: “In short, there should be no discrimination against anyone because of who they are or what they do.” Ms. Pillay said that given its history, progress on non-discrimination and tolerance of all minorities, including Serbs, Roma, Ashkali, Egyptians, Gorani, and other groups within Kosovo, as well as those still displaced outside, is an important indicator of how far society’s wounds have healed, and how much more remains to be done. She was also concerned at attempts by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) War Veterans Association and some MP’s to stifle arrests of former KLA members allegedly implicated in war crimes. “A war crime is a war crime,” she declared, “and anyone who has committed one – whether friend or foe – must be brought to justice. Justice for one side only is counter-productive in the long term as a blatant violation of human rights.” Ms. Pillay called for a sustained and comprehensive effort by all those involved in improving education, which will be of critical importance for Kosovo’s future generations, and their ability to live, work, communicate and participate in development together. “Let us not forget that Kosovo has the youngest population in Europe. Inclusive education for all children should be given priority,” she said, explaining that human rights education, in particular, will be a vital part of that effort, and the role of civil society actors and human rights defenders will be the key to the formation of a deeply-rooted human rights culture.

United Nations News Centre – Praising advances in Serbia, UN official urges political will to solidify human rights gains.

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