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Yugoslavia: Harassment by Extreme Nationalists

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  • Leslie Smith by way of Greek Helsinki M
    For Immediate Release: Yugoslavia: Harassment by Extreme Nationalists Serb Government Stands By (New York, August 28, 2002) — Authorities of the Yugoslav
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 27, 2002
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      For Immediate Release:

      Yugoslavia: Harassment by Extreme Nationalists
      Serb Government Stands By

      (New York, August 28, 2002) — Authorities of the Yugoslav republic of
      Serbia should take measures against extreme nationalists who unlawfully
      harass and threaten civic activists, Human Rights Watch said today.

      The New York-based group criticized the Serbian government’s passivity
      in the face of repeated attempts by extreme nationalists to disrupt an
      exhibition of war photographs by American artist Ron Haviv, organized by
      local activists. The exhibition mostly consists of photographs
      documenting war crimes in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

      “By failing to respond to this kind of harassment, the authorities
      essentially condone it,” said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of
      the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. “The
      problem stems from the government’s reluctance to seriously confront the
      issue of war crimes against non-Serbs in the former Yugoslavia. Those
      who wish to talk or learn about the crimes face intimidation, and the
      government tacitly consents.”

      In the latest incident on August 25, 2002, supporters of former Bosnian
      Serb leader and war crime indictee Radovan Karadzic prevented an opening
      of the exhibition in the central Serbian city of Kragujevac. The
      protesters shouted nationalist slogans and insulted visitors, leading
      exhibition organizers to suspend the opening.

      The incident in Kragujevac follows similar events in the towns of Uzice
      and Cacak. Ron Haviv’s exhibition in Uzice closed on June 5, 2002, five
      days ahead of schedule, when a group of nationalists took photos off the
      wall as the police stood idly by. In Cacak, on July 15, protesters
      physically attacked one of the organizers and injured his head; the
      organizers were forced to move the exhibition from the city’s Cultural
      Center to a smaller, less suitable space.

      Serbian law prohibits and provides for punishment for disruption of the
      public peace, as well as physical attacks. To date, the Serb
      authorities have failed to denounce the nationalist actions or launch
      any investigations into possible criminal responsibility for the
      incidents.

      The government has also failed to react to threats received by human
      rights activists campaigning for public debate on war crimes. In a
      statement published in Belgrade newspapers on August 11, 2002, an
      association of Serb nationalists threatened that “in order to prevent
      the anti-Serb activities of the non-governmental organizations, [the
      association of Serb nationalists] will use all permissible civilized
      means, and, if necessary, those that are not.” The statement singled
      out Natasa Kandic, director of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law
      Center, and also referred to other individuals involved in the campaign.

      “The extremists have free rein, because the government stands aside and
      does not respond,” said Andersen. She said the government’s dismal
      record in domestic war crimes trials, and its half-hearted efforts to
      cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former
      Yugoslavia (ICTY), made it clear why Serbian nationalists feel free to
      intimidate those who seek debate on war crimes.

      Since the fall of former President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000,
      Yugoslavia’s domestic courts have convicted only one person on war
      crimes charges.

      The new authorities in Belgrade have transferred five ICTY indictees to
      the custody of the Hague tribunal; eight more indictees have surrendered
      voluntarily. Human Rights Watch attributes the government’s limited
      cooperation with the ICTY to international pressure, rather than a
      genuine commitment by Serb officials to uphold human rights and the rule
      of law. Seventeen indictees are believed still to be at large within
      the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

      For more information, please contact:
      In Belgrade, Bogdan Ivanisevic: +381-63-858-8715
      In Washington, Elizabeth Andersen: +1-202-612-4326
      In London, Steve Crawshaw: +44-207-713-2766
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