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International Human Rights Day Marked in Western Balkans: Discrimination remains a Problem

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The International Human Rights Day, December 10, was marked last Tuesday in the countries of our region, too. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, activists in Prijedor and Sarajevo organized protest marches to demand greater respect and protection for human rights.

Protest walk in Sarajevo (Photo Slobodnaevropa.org)Protest walk in Sarajevo (Photo Slobodnaevropa.org)

More then a hundred citizens of Prijedor participated in the protest walk on the Human Rights Day, in an action aimed to break up the atmosphere of fear, to express their disagreement with the official policies of the Town Hall in a city in which, they say, "institutionalized discrimination rules today”.

Using Nelson Mandela’s statement “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others” as the official motto of the protest walk, the activists passed through the streets to the main town square, where they cheered on the participants of the Bihać-Tomašica marathon as they passed through Prijedor.

In Sarajevo, the activists took to the streets in a march that gathered in one procession members of marginalized groups, in the attempt to raise the awareness about discrimination and violence that threaten the majority of BiH population.

“All disenfranchised groups need to work together to achieve full respect for human rights. There are many groups that are under attack, it is not just about one group – refugees, the youth, LGBT, IDPs, disabled... human rights go beyond LGBT rights or the rights involved in the Sejdić-Finci case, they cover the rights of all citizens", said Lejla Huremović from Sarajevo Open Centre.

The Office of the Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina presented the Special Report on the Status of Roma in BiH. The report concludes that the Roma live below any acceptable threshold, facing burning problems of unemployment, inadequate healthcare and education services.

In Serbia, the Women in Black, the Roma Women Network of Banat and Women’s Fund "Reconstruction” organized the solidarity action "Resist Racism”. At the Youth Center (Dom Omladine) of Belgrade, the "WAKE UP Production", in cooperation with the Youth Center, ETM Production and DODIR Theatre organized the campaign "STOP to V Human Rights’ Violations”.  

Nevena Petrušić, State Commissioner for Equality, told Radio Free Europe that over the past several years, Serbia made important gains in the area of protection for human rights, but that a lot remains to be done.

“Members of many minority communities are exposed to different forms of discrimination. That is true especially of the Roma, LGBT persons, disabled persons, the elderly, persons with various health problems and other vulnerable and marginalized groups in society. Recent incidents surrounding the issues of accommodation of asylum seekers only serve to confirm the high levels of xenophobia and intolerance for all those who are different”, Petrušić said.

Minister of justice and state administration Nikola Selaković congratulated the Human rights day to the citizens of Serbia and noted that the creation of an efficient instrument for realization and respect for human rights, in all segments of the society, remains a priority for his Ministry.

On the International Human Rights Day, the National Commission for UNESCO, in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Education of Montenegro, UNICEF, the Ana Lynd Foundation, the Resource Centre for Children and Youth and the Self-Regulatory Council for Local Press, organized a whole day cultural programme for the children.

The Centre for Civic Education (CCE) noted that the institutions of Montenegro need to demonstrate greater dedication to promotion, advocating and protection of human rights for all citizens. CCE did note however, that Montenegro made some progress in the area of human rights, primarily in terms of the rights of LGBT population – through the adoption of the Government Strategy for Advancement of Quality of Life of LGBT Persons through 2018, and the security it provided for the two pride parades in Budva and Podgorica.

CCE added that the state has not yet demonstrated that it has sense for the problem of discrimination of persons with disabilities in the RAE population, or for the problem of under-representation of women in decision-making processes.

The civic campaign "ALL OF US - For Croatia that belongs to all of us" organized, at the Croatian Sabor (the Parliament) the round-table discusion "European multilingual wealth: Quo vadis Croatia?“. The participants of the discussion repeated the warning that intolerance for some minority and the symbols of its cultural identity simultaneously limits the freedoms, rights and safety of the citizens of Croatia, ultimately threatening the members of the majority community which is constantly warned that it is under threat of the others.

The Office of Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities organized a panel-discussion on December 10, on the topic "Discuss experiences in implementation of fundamental rights” and screening of "An Episode in Life of Scrap-iron Pickers”, a film by BiH director Danis Tanović.

The citizens of Kosovo complained on International Human Rights Day that their rights were not fully respected, a view confirmed by Ombudsman Sami Kurteshi who said for the media that Kosovo still doesn’t use all possibilities to ensure full protection and respect for human rights.
Behxhet Shala from the Council for Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF) said that there was no progress in the area of human rights in Kosovo, adding that all laws in Kosovo were aligned with the European legislation and international conventions and treaties, but that implementation remains a problems which will take some time to fully address and correct.

Representatives of American and British embassies in Prishtina/Priština paid a visit, on Human Rights Day, to five victims of sexual violence during the war and talked to them about the challenges they face in everyday life.

The head of EULEX Bernd Borchardt repeated, in a Human Rights Day statement, the EULEX's dedication to assist the Kosovo institutions and authorities in the efforts to achieve the human rights standards.

In Macedonia, the Civil - Centre for Freedom issued a statement on Human Rights Day in which it notes that the situation in the area of human rights in the country is constantly deteriorating, listing the examples of persons persecuted for political reasons (including two journalists). Civil adds that discrimination on all grounds remains a daily occurrence in the country, deeply rooted in the institutions of the state and the local administrations, their policies and practices.

According to Uranija Pirovska from the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Macedonia, December 10 is a day on which the country can’t really say any progress was made in the area of human rights.

“This was a year of violence, lack of proper reaction by the institutions, failure to identify and sanction the perpetrators. As of late, I find the growing numbers of violent incidents between youths of different ethnic communities especially worrying", Pirovska said.

The Helsinki Committee reminded the Macedonian public that problems with respect for human rights in the country remain, or escallate, in three areas – the right to freedom of expression, judicial protection and discrimination on grounds of racial background, political affiliation and sexual orientation. (Sanela Gojak and Dejan Georgievski)

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