US State Department: Human rights violations, corruption cases in Serbia in 2020

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Source: N1

According to a report released by the US State Department on Tuesday, Serbia is a country marked by significant human rights challenges in 2020, and a significant number of issues in different areas like severe restrictions on freedom of expression, including violence, threats of violence and unjustified arrests and prosecutions of journalists.

The State Department 2020 report cites numerous cases of corruption among members of the government, crimes involving violence or threats of violence against persons with disabilities, and crimes committed against members of sexual minorities – the LGBT population.

Also, it said that „the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but courts remained susceptible to corruption and political influence. Civil society contacts and international organizations such as the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) criticized the slow pace of constitutional reforms aimed at reducing political influence over the judiciary, the High Judicial Council, and the State Prosecutorial Council. The State Prosecutorial Council’s commissioner for autonomy examined more than 40 cases of alleged inappropriate political influence and issued several advisory opinions. The High Judicial Council expressed concern that 74 courts in the country operated under acting presidents.“

The report deals with violations of freedom of expression, including the freedom of the press.

„The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but threats and attacks on journalists, a lack of transparency of media ownership, and the oversized role of the state in the country’s oversaturated media sector undermined these freedoms. The Nations in Transit 2020 report from the watchdog organization Freedom House downgraded the country from a ‘semiconsolidated democracy’ to a ‘transitional or hybrid regime,’ citing deterioration of media freedoms as one of the country’s biggest problems. In its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, the NGO Reporters without Borders noted, ‘Serbia has become a country where it is often dangerous to be a journalist and where fake news is gaining in visibility and popularity at an alarming rate.“ Unbalanced media coverage and a large volume of fake, misleading, or unverified news stories continued to threaten the ability of citizens to participate meaningfully in the democratic process.’

The report recalled the 1999 presumed killing of the Bytiqi brothers.

„Throughout the year media reported on the disappearance and presumed killing of Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi, three Kosovar-American brothers taken into custody by Serb paramilitary groups and buried on the grounds of a police training center commanded by Goran Radosavljevic“

„The government made no significant progress toward providing justice for the victims, and it was unclear to what extent authorities were actively investigating the case.“