Serbia’s anti-terrorism laws being misused to target and curb work of NGOs, UN human rights experts warn

GENEVA (11 November 2020) – Human rights experts* today expressed concern that the Serbian authorities are using oversight powers designed to target the financing of terrorism to obtain banking information and information on financial transactions of more than 50 NGOs, media associations and other non-profit organizations. Those targeted stand out for their work on human rights, investigation of war crimes, monitoring of the government’s work, and other forms of investigative journalism.

“We fear that such use of the Serbian Law on the Prevention of Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism interferes with and limits the freedoms of expression and association of people belonging to these groups, and their right to take part in the conduct of public affairs,” the experts said.

“The unjustified use of this law risks intimidating civil society actors and human rights defenders, restricting their work and muffling any criticism of the Government,” they added.

The broad and arbitrary implementation of the law against non-profit organizations as well as individuals is inconsistent with Serbia’s obligations under international law.

“While States have an obligation to adopt national legislation to combat the financing of terrorism, the measures adopted must comply in all respects with international law, in particular with human rights law,” the experts said.

The ability of civil society to lawfully exercise its freedoms of expression and of assembly and the right to participate in the conduct of public affairs is critical to any effective counter-terrorism strategy. Targeting civil society is counter-productive to human rights compliant counter-terrorism efforts and undermines rather than enhances security.

They also highlighted that civil society plays a vital role in channelling discontent and allowing for constructive engagement with States, and in directly undermining the factors leading individuals to be drawn to terrorism and violent extremism.

The Financial Action Task Force and regional bodies such as the Council of Europe’s MONEYVAL must ensure through their engagement and oversight that national legislation passed pursuant to the Task Force’s standards do not contravene States’ human rights obligations.

“We therefore call on the Serbian Government to guarantee that the use of anti-terrorism laws will not affect the activities of civil society and on their right to freedom of expression,” the experts said.