Presentation of the project “Hourglass” and critical review of the work of non-governmental organizations as well as the current problems in Serbia hinder the improvement of human rights

At the press conference on which were presenting the projects of civil society organizations which was held at the House of Human Rights and Democracy, one of the speakers was Mrs. Svetlana Lukic from “Hourglass” from Belgrade, an organization, which continuously advocates the protection of human rights and the improvement of Serbia´s judicial system. The project “From Excluded to Included”, implemented with the financial support of the European Commission, aims at achieving full respect of the human rights of persons with mental and intellectual disabilities in the long run, on state as well as on society level. As a first step it wants to draw attention to the main source of discrimination against persons with disabilities, which is the process of legal capacity withdrawal. In order to do so, Pescanik will record and broadcast audio reportages and publish articles dealing with the problems of people with mental and intellectual disabilities, discriminatory process of legal capacity withdrawal, out-dated Serbian legislation, as well as negligent work and discriminatory attitude towards these persons. So far the project team has been extensively researching the project topic and met with potential participants for the audio reportage and arranged interviews. The activities will be finalized during September and October 2014. In her speech, Svetlana Lukic did not focus on the achievements of her organization, but critically examined the work of NGO’s and the current set of problems in Serbia, which hamper the improvement of the human rights situation in the country.

The three main problems she highlighted were the inadequate coverage of human rights issues in the media, the lack of willingness on the part of NGO’s to tackle the root of the bad human rights situation, which she claims lies in the system itself, and furthermore the deficient relationship between NGO’s and state institutions like Commissioners and the Ombudsman. Facing the reality that government and state bodies remain hardly receptive to the issues NGO’s are bringing forward, the media remains the most important tool for creating a change. However, Svetlana Lukic claims that the way human rights issues are being portrayed in the media does not help in conscientizing the public for the cause. The main coverage consists of statistics and figures, of reports about meetings of officials, and general talk about the importance of human rights.

A coverage, which remains that technical and abstract will only reach a very limited group of people, and could in the worst case even harden the scepticism towards NGO’s due to a lack of understanding. In order to reach the every day hard working citizen it is necessary to talk about concrete problems instead of elaborating on technical details. It is crucial that the reports are easy to understand and especially that the reader can identify with the reported and thereby realizes the importance of the issue for him/her and his/her family. It is therefore important to report about personal stories and use concrete cases to shed light on the bigger picture. The case of Zorica Jovanovic showed how people can become synonyms for greater problems and how that helps to raise public awareness. Therefore, NGO’s need to work together with representatives of the media and find a way to frame their issues that will allow them to reach as many people as possible.

The second problem Svetlana Lukic is addressing, is that NGO’s are insufficiently dealing with the roots of the poor human rights situation in the country, which she claims are lying in the political system. She says that an approach, which solely focuses on the civil society, is doomed to fail. As long laws are being made, which at a first glance appear to be reformist but can easily be undermined by by-laws, as long as the educational system still allows teachers to spread inappropriate opinions, and as long as positive discrimination remains unsubstantial, with women being uplift to political power who do not have any urge to step up for women´s rights, as long as the system remains likes this nothing will change no matter how many flyers are being printed and distributed.  The target group of NGO’s should first and foremost be state institutions with close ties to Brussels, which are in the position to really evoke small changes in the system. Lastly, Svetlana Lukic postulates that the relationship between NGO’s and state institutions like the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for equality needs to be refined. It is not enough to be simply partners and support each other; there is also the need for open criticism in order to ensure transparency and the most effective approach towards changing the human rights situation in Serbia. The same is true for the relation and communication between NGO’s. More support is needed as well as more scrutiny and the willingness to constructively criticise each other.

Recorded speech – Svetlana Lukic

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