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News 28 Dec 17

Serbia Routinely Ignoring Human Rights Rulings, Experts Say

Decision to extradite Kurdish activist to Turkey despite UN committee's advice marks continuation of worrying trend towards disrespect for human rights rulings, experts say.

Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Belgrade

Photo: Pixabay/WilliamCho

After Serbia ignored the advice of the UN Committee Against Torture and extradited Kurdish political activist Cevdet Ayaz to Turkey, activists and experts have accused of Belgrade of disrespecting important human rights bodies.

A human rights lawyer, Danilo Curcic, told BIRN that the Ayaz case marked a continuation of a trend in Serbia towards ignoring internationally accepted commitments.

“Serbia has rich history of partial execution of judgments and recommendations of international human rights bodies and it rather pays damage to victims than implements systemic changes,” Curcic said.

On Monday, Serbia extradited a Kurdish activist, Cevdet Ayaz, to Turkey, despite the UN Committee saying Serbia should not remove him until procedures before this body ended.

The activist and torture victim has been sentenced to 15 years in jail in Turkey for acts against the country's constitutional order.

Curcic said it was not the first time Serbia had ignored decisions of international institutions with competencies over human rights.

He recalled also cases concerning workers from failed closed companies, cancelled pensions in Kosovo, compensation for old foreign currency savings, the "missing babies" case and others.

Around 80,000 workers from closed social companies in Serbia are still claiming their earnings from the state, based on the verdict of the European Court for Human Rights from 2011. The workers collectively claim about 304 million euros, according to a report published in 2013 in state-owned newspaper Vecernje novosti.

In the case of "Alisic and others" versus Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia, the European Court ruled in 2015 that Serbia should repay citizens who had not been able to withdraw their “old” foreign-currency savings from accounts in closed Yugoslavian banks.

Justice Minister Nela Kuburovic in March said the state would repay the savings starts in August 2018, according to Beta news agency. The court also ruled that Serbia should adopt a law on old foreign savings, which it did this year.

However, Serbia has not met its obligation in the case of the so-called missing babies, over which Council of Europe reports have criticized Serbia.

Serbis has also refused to compensate most of the around 90,000 pensioners who lost their pensions in Kosovo when the war ended and the Serbian administration withdrew from Kosovo in 1999. The pensions were then terminated without explanation.

Although an ECHR decision has paved the way for them to get their pensions from Serbia, which were wrongfully terminated after the war, a political stalemate and lack of institutional clarity has left the claimants without anything till now.

In another case, “Novakovic and Novakovic against Serbia,” the UN Human Rights Committee ruled in 2010 that Serbia was responsible for not effectively investigating the death of Belgrade citizen, Zoran Novakovic, who died seven years before the verdict at a state health institution in Belgrade.

“The problem is that the Serbian authorities are aware that no force can make a state fulfil its obligations,” Curcic added.

Milan Antonijevic, from the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, YUCOM, said Serbia also does not understand UN system.

“It’s all up to states which voluntarily accepted to be part of that [UN] system to respect human rights,” he told BIRN.

Antonijevic added that Serbia is often on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

“It’s OK to pay damages to victims, but the state also needs to implement changes in order to protect victims and potential victims,” he said.

Sonja Toskovic, from the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, said Serbia's decision to ignore UN advice in the case of the Kurdish activist would reflect badly on Serbia diplomatically.

“Other UN bodies will condemn Serbia for not respecting the Geneva Convention, which will be a bad signal regarding Serbia,” Toskovic warned.

Serbian Justice Minister Nela Kuborovic told N1 television there was no alternative to extraditing the activist to Turkey. “The decision was final and there was no legal remedy to annul it,” he said.

Concerning other human rights cases, the Justice Ministry told BIRN that journalists should ask the state prosecutor and Foreign Ministry.

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