Strasbourg, 31 May 2011 – The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) today published a new report on Serbia. ECRI’s Chair, Nils Muiznieks, said that, while there have been improvements, some issues of concern remain, for example the Law on Churches and Religious Communities and courts’ practice relating to racist crime.
The Serbian authorities have adopted a law against discrimination and created a Commissioner for the Protection of Equality entrusted with monitoring compliance therewith. A Strategy for the Improvement of the Status of Roma, which includes measures in the areas of education, employment, displaced persons, personal documents, social insurance and social care, as well as healthcare, was adopted in 2009. The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, established in 2008, is in charge of coordinating and monitoring the 13-step action plan established under the Strategy, as well as the application of the law against discrimination.
The Law on Churches and Religious Communities continues to discriminate between “traditional” and non-traditional churches and religious communities. Moreover, previously recognised minority religious communities have to re-register in what has been described as an invasive and burdensome procedure. The practice of courts regarding racist crime is problematic as there are few prosecutions and the sentences meted out are usually low, mainly consisting in very small fines.
Roma continue to face high unemployment levels, discrimination in education and sub-standard living conditions. There have been evictions without prior consultation in and around Belgrade. The health situation of many Roma remains worrying and many of them lack identity papers. Very few measures have been taken to provide employment in the Preševo, Bujanovac and Medveda region where the majority of ethnic Albanians live; more than 70% of economically active people are unemployed there.
In its report, ECRI has made a number of recommendations, three of which require priority implementation and will be revisited in two years’ time:
- strengthen the institution of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality by ensuring that it has the human and financial resources to function effectively;
- strengthen the training provided to the judiciary on racism and racial discrimination, inter alia, to ensure better sentencing practices for racist crime;
- take immediate measures to ensure that all Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians have identity documents.
ECRI is a human rights body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts, which monitors problems of racism, discrimination on grounds of ethnic origin, citizenship, religion and language, as well as xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance, prepares reports and issues recommendations to member States.