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Serbia 2023

The institutional glorification of convicted war criminals overshadowed the slow prosecution of outstanding war crimes. Independent and investigative journalists and activists faced threats, vilification and punitive civil proceedings. A proposed Law on Internal Affairs further threatened the right to freedom of assembly. Roma were disproportionately denied access to social assistance.


Serbia continued to balance its commitment to EU membership with long-standing political and economic ties with Russia. Charges of corruption in public office persisted at all levels.

In March, Serbia and Kosovo agreed to accept an EU-brokered agreement to normalize diplomatic relations and encourage cooperation. Furthermore, Serbia agreed not to oppose Kosovo’s accession to international and European institutions. In September, relations were strained by the murder of a Kosovo Police officer in Banjska, north Kosovo, after 30 armed Serbs, three of whom were killed, barricaded themselves in an Orthodox monastery. Serbia and NATO then moved troops to either side of the border but withdrew in October.

In separate incidents in May, an armed teenager and a 20-year-old man shot and killed 17 people and injured 21. The resulting public outcry triggered marches across the country by the “Serbia against Violence” coalition, calling for institutional accountability for the killings and for the suspension of national broadcasting licences of television stations promoting violence.

Elections on 17 December saw the ruling Serbian Progressive Party victorious at national and local level. However, international observers documented considerable irregularities, and tens of thousands of people gathered for daily rallies in the capital, Belgrade demanding the annulment of the elections.

Right to truth, justice and reparation

In May, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals confirmed the conviction of former Serbian state security officials Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, raising their sentences from 12 to 15 years for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).1

The glorification of convicted war criminals fostered a culture of impunity and continued to affect victims’ access to truth, justice and reparation. A backlog of 1,700 cases remained to be investigated.

In October, the Appeal Court annulled the February conviction at Belgrade High Court of three Bosnian Serb paramilitaries and a soldier for the abduction and murder of 20 mainly Montenegrin citizens at Štrpci in BiH in February 1993.

Reparations continued to exclude around 15,000 civilian war victims, including those killed or injured outside Serbia or who did not meet the disability threshold. This affected victims’ relatives and most victims of war-related sexual violence.

Enforced disappearances

In May, Serbia agreed to provide Kosovo with access to archives, including classified files, to assist in locating the whereabouts and identifying the remains of over 1,620 missing persons.

Freedom of expression

In April, eight European media organizations expressed fears that politicians’ overt hostility towards critical media, magnified by the tabloid press, normalized threats and attacks against independent journalists. Independent media reporting on the September events in Banjska (see Background) were labelled traitors and enemies of the state. Those investigating organized crime and corruption were particularly at risk. In July, journalists’ organizations reported that online attacks were so widespread as to have become normal. The Independent Association of Journalists reported 11 physical attacks on journalists during the year; such reports were rarely investigated.

Investigative journalists, human rights defenders and activists were subjected to strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs). In May, the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network was ordered to pay damages after being found guilty of disclosing the identity of individuals – mostly close to the government – who had filed SLAPPs against it. In September, the Novi Sad court dismissed one of the five SLAPPs brought against Dragana Arsić and two environmental organizations protesting at companies’ incursions into the Fruška Gora national park.

In August, graffiti containing misogynistic threats against Sofija Todorović of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights appeared near her home, after she had voiced support for Kosovo’s UN membership.

Freedom of peaceful assembly

In January, the government opened a consultation on the draft Law on Internal Affairs. This sought to legalize the use of biometric mass surveillance in public places, provide authorities with greater discretion to disperse public assemblies, and authorize an expansive list of methods of coercion against protesters, without specifying the threshold or circumstances in which they would be used.2 There was widespread use of CCTV and other forms of intrusive surveillance operated by both the state and private companies.

Demonstrations, especially environmental protests, were heavily policed, with participants frequently subjected to often unnecessary and excessive force. In March, riot police were deployed to remove peaceful protesters attempting to stop tree-felling in advance of urban development in Novi Sad. The authorities routinely contracted private security companies, sometimes in plain clothes and without visible insignia, to “police” protests, often using unlawful force.

Right to privacy

In November it was revealed that sophisticated spyware was being used by “state-sponsored attackers” against members of civil society.3

Violence against women and girls

During the year, at least 27 women were victims of femicide. Social welfare centres often lacked social workers or psychologists trained in domestic violence, and the 24 NGO-run shelters providing counselling, shelter and legal aid lacked secure funding.

The criminal code’s definition of rape, based on use of force rather than lack of consent, was inconsistent with international and regional standards.

Women journalists, human rights defenders and activists were often threatened with violence, both online and in person.

Right to social security

One year after its implementation, the Law on Social Card left some people living in extreme poverty without any social assistance. The law weakened an already inadequate social assistance system, which covered fewer than half of the people living in extreme poverty. The law disproportionately affected Roma and people whose disabilities were not recognized, exacerbating their social and economic exclusion.4

LGBTI people’s rights

In May, the body of a missing 18-year-old trans woman was found in Belgrade, causing widespread fear amongst the LGBTI community. In August, President Vučić announced he would never approve the Law on Same Sex Unions, drafted in early 2021.

Refugees’ and migrants’ rights

In March, Médecins Sans Frontières urged the EU to increase scrutiny of the EU’s border force (Frontex) and of the excessive violence and pushbacks at Serbia’s EU borders with Hungary and Bulgaria. In June, police started regular evictions of refugees and migrants from temporary camps in northern Serbia. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, reported that 101,098 individuals had entered the country by 30 November, but few had sought asylum.

  1. “Bosnia and Herzegovina: War crimes convictions a historic moment for international justice”, 31 May
  2. Serbia: Amnesty International’s Comments on the Draft Law on Internal Affairs of Republic of Serbia, 27 January
  3. “Serbia: Civil society threatened by spyware”, 28 November
  4. Serbia: Trapped by Automation: Poverty and Discrimination in Serbia’s Welfare State, 4 December