Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


Third session meeting highlights

5 December 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Serbia this afternoon, during which 41 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Montenegro following the review of the country on Wednesday, 3 December.

Presenting the national report of Serbia was SVETOZAR CIPLIC, Minister for Human and Minority Rights of the Republic of Serbia, who noted that, as a successor of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, the Republic of Serbia had continued membership of all international instruments in the areas of human rights that the predecessor State ratified. The Republic of Serbia fully supported the work and was open for cooperation with the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, as born out also by its standing invitation to all thematic procedures of 11 October 2005. The new Constitution of the Republic of Serbia was promulgated in November 2006 and the entire second part of it was devoted to human and minority rights. There was a ban in the Republic of Serbia on any discrimination, whether direct or indirect, on any grounds whatsoever. Moreover, the Constitution regulated in more detail the equality of men and women, primarily by guaranteeing that the State will chart its equal opportunities policy. The laws being adopted in the Republic of Serbia contained provisions stipulating the arrangements and mechanisms for action in the child’s best interest. All the activities and measures being taken by the Republic of Serbia geared to improving the status of the rights of the child were based on the National Plan of Action for Children adopted in February 2004. The Constitution had established the Protector of Citizens in the Republic of Serbia as an independent public authority which should protect the rights of citizens and exercise oversights over the activities of administrative bodies; the body was responsible for the legal protection of property rights and interest of the Republic of Serbia as well as other bodies and organizations, companies and institution that had been entrusted with exercising public powers.

The Republic of Serbia was not in a position to implement international human rights treaties given that the administration of the Province of Kosovo had been fully entrusted to the UN Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the Minister stated. Nevertheless, the delegation stood ready to enclose information on the status of human rights in Kosovo and Metohija based on the data available. There have been over 200,000 IDPs from Kosovo residing in other parts of the Republic of Serbia’s territory in respect of which not even basic conditions had been created to enable their sustainable return. Therefore, the claims by UNMIK that returns have been sustainable, allegedly 85% thereof, should be viewed in the context of a real number of returnees which was worryingly low, almost non-existent. The Republic of Serbia was fully committed to tackling the issue of refugees regionally and, in this context, had been lending full support to efforts to overcome this problem by implementing the Sarajevo Declaration. In July 2008, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights was established bearing in mind the large number of national minorities living on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Serbia had been paying a great deal of attention to the protection of minority rights. Noting that the Republic of Serbia took over the Presidency of the Decade of the Roma this year, he added that during 2008 numerous activities had already been undertaken in the field of collaboration with international governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as with the State participating in the Roma Decade. The Republic of Serbia was still facing a negative legacy of the 1990s as a result of the conflicts in the region, economic sanctions and a large number of refugees.

In response to question submitted beforehand, the Minister said in the process of drafting the report the Republic of Serbia sent advanced questions to civil society for their input. NGOs in the Republic of Serbia worked primarily in the areas of transnational justice and the protection of minorities’ rights and were involved in efforts to improve the functioning of the judiciary. On another question, a law on combating discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation would soon be promulgated. As to domestic violence, the Family Law prescribed the measure to separate the abuser from the spouse and aimed at protecting children from abuse or neglect. On Roma education, the broader inclusion of Roma children in the education system was achieved by affirmative action policies underway in the Republic of Serbia. As to the question of IDPs and refugees, the State was undertaking a number of measures aimed at improving conditions for these groups and respecting their basic rights. The Republic of Serbia prepared a strategy for the reintegration of IDPs and refugees. On question of human trafficking, the Republic of Serbia in 2004 established a council for combating human trafficking. The council assessed the needs of and provided assistance to victims of such acts.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the Republic of Serbia’s willingness to cooperation with international organization and the State’s commitments to human rights; the inclusion of civil society in the preparation of the national report; the issuing of a standing invitation to Special Procedures; the setting up of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights; the States commitment to improving the situation of the Roma and the creation of the Council for Improving the Status of Roma; the provision of universal health care; progress made in the area of gender equality; steps taken to increase the number of women in political positions; steps to combat human trafficking; the creation of the National Plan of Action fort Children and of the Council for Children Rights; the readiness of the Republic of Serbia to implement the Sarajevo Declaration in order to solve the problems of refugees in the region; and the State’s cooperation in handing over Radovan Karadzic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and observers participating in the interactive discussion related to steps to improve the schooling situation of Roma children; measures envisaged and taken to ensure the registration of the Roma; the achievements of the action plans adopted by the State in 2005 to improve the status of Roma people in the areas of education, employment, housing and health, and the specific plans undertaken in view of the Republic of Serbia’s Presidency for the Decade of the Roma; the mandate and functioning of the Council for National Minorities; measures undertaken to ensure that minority groups were not discriminated against; the literacy level of the children of minority groups; the possibility of members of minorities to join the police force; progress for training of the police concerning the human rights of vulnerable groups, including minorities; and measures adopted to protect the rights of women children and national minorities.

Additional questions were raised on the function of the Gender Equality Committee of the National Assembly and the Government’s Council for Gender Equality; whether the State was planning to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; measures to combat discrimination against women and on the grounds of sexual orientation; the State’s policy on corporal punishment; the existence of registration procedures to identify children of detainees/prisoners; steps to protect journalists who had been victims of assaults and measures to prosecute the perpetrators; steps to respect the rights of refugees; the strategy and concrete measures to tend to the needs of IDPs; and measures to assist neighbouring countries to identify the thousands of disappeared persons as a result of conflicts. Some States also sought information on the steps taken to guarantee the independence of the judiciary; activities aimed at raising awareness about human rights among the public; steps taken to address allegations of police brutality; on the steps being taken to eliminate all forms of corruption; and on the measures to pursue legal obligations for pursuing war criminals.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To take all steps to adopt new anti-discrimination legislation to protect the rights of the Roma and to undertake to effectively integrate the Roma into society; to work with the international community to continue to improve the socio-economic situation of the Roma minority; to adopt all necessary measures to allow minorities to enjoy all their rights; to consider introducing poverty reduction strategies, from which minorities could greatly benefit; that racially motivated attacks against minorities be systematically investigated, prosecuted and punished according to the law; to ensure the effective operation of the Ombudsman institution, especially with regard to national minorities; and to combat neo-Nazi groups and other groups inciting racial hatred ort violence.

Additionally, recommendations included: To ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families; to take all steps to adopt new anti-discrimination legislation to protect the rights of disabled persons; to take concrete measures to address the high rate of unemployment among persons with disabilities and the special needs of children with disabilities; to take steps to guarantee the protection and promotion of religious freedom; to take into account the opinions and recommendations of the European Commission for Democracy through law when implementing the Law on Religious Organizations in Serbia; to pay special attention for human rights defenders in the area of LGTB (lesbian, gay, transgender and bi-sexual) rights; and to submit its report to CERD as soon as possible.

Other recommendation included: For the Republic of Serbia to undertake steps to implement the gender equality law; to take all appropriate measures to combat domestic violence; to enhance the function of the Office of the Protector of Citizens and to include the protection of child rights into that mandate; to implement a comprehensive national strategy to prevent human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children; to continue to strengthen its efforts to ensure the full implementation of juvenile systems standards; to combat all forms of impunity; to strengthen the anti-corruption policy; to take additional steps to respect the independence of the judiciary; and to take all necessary measures to ensure that allegations of human rights violations were the subject of inquiries and punished were appropriate.

Furthermore, the State under review was called upon to forcefully denounce attacks against human rights defenders, especially women human rights defenders and to investigate reports of such attacks; to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of human rights defenders and to ensure they had a safe working environment; to adopt necessary policy measures to ensure the full enjoyment of the freedom of expression, the freedom of to the press and the freedom of association; to take steps to create a climate in which journalists could report on sensitive issues without fear of harassment and reprisals; and to follow up to the recommendations of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General regarding human rights defenders.

Another group of recommendations were: To speed up the implementation of the Optional Protocol Convention against Torture; to take all necessary measures to ensure the improvement of the socio-economic conditions of IDPs and refugees; to take the necessary steps to ensure that alleged war criminals were prosecuted, in particular former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and former Croatian Serb political leader Goran Hadzic; and to make every efforts to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia.

Working Group Members taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Chile, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Cuba, Germany, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Argentina, Switzerland, Brazil, Canada, India, the Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Japan, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Ghana and China.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Croatia, Turkey, Algeria, Finland, Greece, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Spain, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Albania.

The 21-person delegation of Serbia consisted of representatives of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the Ministry of Religion, the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees, the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Culture and the Permanent Mission of Serbia to the UN Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Serbia are Ukraine, Pakistan and Ghana.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Serbia can be found here.

Adoption of report on Montenegro: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Montenegro are the Russian Federation, China and Brazil. Introducing the report on behalf of the troika MARIA NAZARETH FARANI AZEVÊDO (Brazil) noted that the report included 20 recommendation proposed to Montenegro. She also made a few oral amendments. Representing the State under review, MILOMAR MIHALJEVIC, Permament Representative of Montenegro to the UN Office at Geneva, said the Government of Montenegro would study all the recommendation found in the draft report and would report back to the Human Rights Council thereon.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Serbia on Wednesday, 10 December.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work on Tuesday, 9 December at 9 a.m. it will review the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Turkmenistan after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on the United Arab Emirates.

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