January 19, 2017

January 19, 2017

On January 17, 2017, several men assaulted nine members of the Serbian Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) who peacefully protested an event held by the nationalist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in Beška, Serbia. Although YIHR’s protest was peaceful, they were violently beaten and their vehicle was damaged outside the event. Two of the protesters suffered critical head injuries in the clash, and required urgent emergency care.

The SNS-affiliated assailants attacked the YIHR activists after they interrupted an event speaker, former Yugoslav People’s Army Colonel Veselin Šljivančanin, who is an indicted war criminal. During his speech, the activists unfurled a banner that stated: “May War Criminals Fall Silent and Victims Speak Out” and whistled as he spoke. YIHR, a Serbian human rights organization located in Belgrade, Serbia, is one of several NGOs that previously accused the organizers and SNS of associating with a war criminal, and urged them to cancel the event.

Anita Mitic, Director of the YIHR Serbia, speaks about being assaulted at the event.

After escaping attack, the activists notified local authorities at a nearby police station. While the police offered the injured activists medical assistance, they questioned YIHR about their role in the incident, failed to respond to the attackers or issue a report, and told the activists to leave the city. The activists have expressed their concerned that the assailants recorded their license plate numbers to track and attack them again. The police were unwilling to escort the activists back to Belgrade, Serbia.

Since the attack, the YIHR activists have been lambasted by the SNS, the Mayor of the Inđija Municipality and the Minister of Interior, Nebojša Stefanović. The government officials have held the YIHR activists responsible for instigating the attack, and denied their accounts of the incident, (which was captured on video by YIHR). According to YIHR’s recent press statement, they are concerned that allowing Šljivančanin to speak at events connected to the upcoming presidential elections will further perpetuate a “...state of denial about the war crimes that were committed during 1990’s in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.” Members of the SNS have ignored the organization’s concerns and falsely labeled YIHR activists as a “fascist movement and hooligans,” and “a threat to peace and order.”

Šljivančanin’s association with the SNS has alarmed civil society members, and heightened political tensions throughout the country. Šljivančanin was convicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribune for the former Yugoslavia for his role in the mass killing of captives in 1991 near Vukovar, Croatia. After serving two thirds of his sentence, he was released early for good behavior in 2011, and has started attending political campaign events.

The World Movement for Democracy is alarmed by the assaults on YIHR, and urges Serbian authorities to provide an independent investigation into the situation, as well as respect the activists’ democratic right to freedom of expression. One of the nine attacked activists, Anita Mitic, is the Director of the Serbian YIHR, as well as an active participant of the World Movement for Democracy and a Hurford Youth Fellow. Click here to voice your support of the YIHR activists by sharing our solidarity tweet.