Bridging human rights gaps in Serbia

By Andrea Huber, Head of Amnesty International’s delegation in Belgrade

The media centre was packed with journalists and representatives of NGOs today for the launch of Amnesty International’s report Home is more than a roof over your head, which details cases of Roma who are being denied adequate housing in Serbia.

We arrived in Belgrade on Tuesday, flying in with a view of the Gazela bridge. The construction of the bridge resulted in the forced eviction of 178 families in August 2009 – one of the human rights violations that brought us here.
On our way to the city, we passed by another site where forced evictions happened a couple of years ago. Here, Roma communities had to give way to the construction of a shopping mall.

It is not the evictions as such that prompt the outrage, it is the fact that they have taken place without any of the procedural safeguards which Serbia is bound to comply with under international law.

For those forcibly evicted in Gazela this meant: Not being consulted beforehand about alternative housing, not being alerted of the date of the eviction, 114 families being bussed to the outskirts of Belgrade and accommodated – if you can call it that– in metal containers where they are to this day, while their previous homes were destroyed, as well as most of their belongings – without receiving any compensation.

For 64 families it meant the forced displacement to southern Serbia, in contradiction to the right to freedom of movement, to live – yet again – informal settlements, often in partial ruins or half-built homes for more than one and a half years now.

Reason enough to put Amnesty International’s weight behind the tireless efforts of the local community of non-governmental organizations to stop forced evictions once and for all.

After the modest success of our report on the housing of Roma in Slovenia, launched three weeks ago, we are hopeful that this report will help change the situation in Serbia as well.

Please support our petition to the Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration.

The cause is urgent since the Belvil settlement, also in Belgrade, is at risk of another forced eviction. We learned yesterday that a “consultation” has been scheduled with this community tomorrow – notably on International Roma Day – and we will be there to monitor it first hand.