From: Alice Taylor
Serbia Added to Human Rights Watch List Over EuroPride, Freedom of Assembly Violations

Serbia was added on Thursday to the CIVICUS Monitor’s International Human Rights Watch List with the rating of ‘obstructed’ due to the prohibition of EuroPride by the police with the backing of President Aleksander Vucic and other human rights violations.

The EuroPride march, which was banned by the authorities despite pleas from the EU, MEPs and international organisations, went ahead but resulted in the assault and hospitalisation of some LGBTI protestors and the arrest of tens of right-wing counter-protesters. 

Notable were discriminatory comments from politicians and figures from the Orthodox Church during the run-up to the event, as were counterprotests brandishing placards of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s face.

“This ban is a continuation of the practice of banning peaceful assemblies because of violent counter-assemblies. All persons who called for or committed violence before and during EuroPride must be held responsible for their actions. This would be a starting point for authorities to show that they are fully committed to protecting the right to peaceful assembly and battling discrimination against the LGBTQI+ community,” said Uroš Jovanović, from the Gradjanske inicijative.

CIVICUS, a group of over 10,000 international civil society organisations who publish their watchlist every quarter, highlighted Serbia due to attacks on LGBTI activists and journalists at the EuroPride march, protests on environmental issues have faced restrictions, and ecological defenders face judicial harassment through SLAPPs.

The organisation details several examples of attacks on the LGBTI community, including 15 in three years on a local centre with not a single arrest.

Their statement continues that the country is an example where “there have been significant increases in attacks against the right to free speech, the right to protest and the right to freedom of association. It is joined on the watchlist by Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Guinea and Zimbabwe. 

There are 42 countries in the world with the obstructed rating. This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights.

“Respect for civic freedoms is a key requirement for Serbia’s accession to the European Union. If the Serbian government is serious about joining the EU, it must urgently commit to respecting civic freedoms and halt all attacks on LGBTQI+ rights, journalists, environmental defenders and civil society. In addition, the EU must closely monitor developments on civic freedoms in the country, said Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher Europe, CIVICUS.