The majority of civil society and human rights organizations in Serbia were formed as a part of anti-war movement during the civil wars in the territory of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. During that period, the human rights activists were often and systematically targeted by Slobodan Milošević’s regime.
Even though Milošević’s restrictive regime was overthrown in October 2000, the implementation of legislative framework regarding protection of human rights and freedoms has not significantly improved. Today, the country stands as candidate for European Union membership. Nevertheless, opening of negotiations for membership has not significantly improved in regards to protection of human rights. Human rights defenders and organizations fighting for human rights have been continuously subjected to a number of human rights violations. They have often been the targets of physical violence, hate speech and death threats.
Luckily, Serbia has very vibrant and active civil society, which plays a crucial role in democratic transition. The most active and present human rights organizations presented in this article work on a wide range of civil and political, economic, social and cultural rights, including free legal aid, anti-discrimination, women’s rights, LQBTIQ rights, minority rights, disabilities, anti-trafficking and human rights education.
The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights is one of the leading non-governmental organizations in Serbia. The organization’s approach to human rights issues in the country is connected to examining the country’s overall socioeconomic and political context. Each year the Committee publishes annual reports on human rights violations in Serbia in which it detects policies and trends that are affecting the exercise of human rights and provides relevant recommendations. The organization’s priority is to continue observing and analyze the factors that influence Serbia’s democratic transition, response to transitional justice, monitoring human rights violations and alerting the key stakeholders (governmental agencies, international organizations, and general public) of impermissible policies that concern human rights.
The HLC was established in 1992 by human rights activist Nataša Kandić. The HLC emerged as there was a need for human rights based non-governmental organization that would document massive human rights violations that were then being perpetrated on a massive scale across the former Yugoslavia, during the armed conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and later on in Kosovo. Today, the HLC supports post-Yugoslav societies in the promotion of the rule of law and acceptance of the legacy of mass human rights violations. The organization’s main concern is linked to establishing the criminal responsibility of the perpetrators, serving justice and preventing recurrence.
YUCOM was founded in 1997 as a non-governmental organization whose members are legal experts engaged and advocating the idea of the rule of law to uphold human rights. YUCOM actively works on designing and leading civic initiatives, raising public awareness, providing legal assistance to victims of human rights violation and developing cooperation with national and international institutions that are concerned with human rights protection and promotion. The organization has been recognized as human rights defenders organization for a long time since it is one of the most active ones advocating for human rights and active participation of citizens in legal initiatives.
Established in 1995, the Belgrade Center for Human Rights has been recognized as one of the most influential non-governmental organization in Serbia. Its main activities relate to the advancement of theory and practice of human rights. The organization is comprised of persons from various professions and backgrounds whose goal is to advance knowledge of human rights and humanitarian law, develop democratic principles, and strengthen the rule of law and the civil society in Serbia and other countries in democratic transition. During the twenty years of its existence, the organization has been actively working in raising consciousness of the citizens in the areas of human rights and individual freedoms while establishing favorable setting for their full respect and enjoyment.
The Women in Black have been active and visible in their activist campaigns, protests and performances against militarism, war, sexism and nationalism since 1991. The organization was established in order to fight against patriarchic control over women and all types of ethnic homogenization independent of all state and ethnic borders and divisions. The ultimate goal of the organization is to prevent and resolve conflicts through dialogue and instigate participation of women in building of peace.
The House for Human Rights and Democracy is located in the capital of Serbia, Belgrade and it is comprised of network of human rights organizations that through mutual cooperation and joint activities affect the radical social changes in the areas of human rights, monitor daily social solutions, react to violations of human rights and contribute to further democratization of Society. The network is committed to building democratic and open society based on the respect of human rights as well as education of citizens on how to exercise these rights.
The Open Society Foundation Serbia supports a broad range of activities that contribute to the development of a functioning state and human rights values in the country. The Foundation mainly supports and works with Roma organizations in order to help foster Roma equality and integration as well as to push the government to implement laws concerning Roma protection and human rights. The Foundation’s focus is put on improving Roma education and developing recommendations to increase Roma access to quality schooling.
The Youth Initiative is a regional network of non-governmental organizations on the territories of Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Initiative was formed by young people from these countries in order to strengthen the youth participation in the democratization processes through the process of facing with a past. The Initiative operating in Serbia works on the programs of transitional justice and human rights and it includes several hundred activists whose mission is to protect the victims of human rights violations and promote the truth, justice, responsibility and equality as the basic values.
Amnesty International in Serbia has been most active in combating the recent issues related to refugees and migrants from the Middle East. The organization is mainly focused on monitoring, researching and publishing annual reports on human rights violations in Serbia while paying special attention to human rights defenders at risk, independency of judicial processes as well as the level of media independence.
GLIC was founded in Belgrade in 2009 with a mission to monitor and record human rights violations of the LGBITQ population in Serbia. The organization gathers gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, queer as well as heterosexuals who with their political and social engagements contribute to the better understanding of LGBTIQ issues, human rights and culture.