Youth Initiative for Human Rights: Attack on our activists for war crimes discussion

The Prosecutor’s investigation of the attack on activists from human rights watchdog Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) has not even started, even though it has been three months since the attack, claims this organization.

Director of YIHR Anita Mitic
Director of YIHR Anita Mitic

As the activists claim, they were beaten for interrupting a panel of the Serbian Progressive Party where one of the speakers was the Hague Tribunal convict Veselin Sljivancanin. As the director of YIHR Anita Mitic claims, despite the fact that the organization filed criminal charges against attackers and provided a video evidence of the incident three months ago, the case is still in pre-investigation phase.

“This incident has attracted the attention of the public. Above all, it divided the public and reopened the painful issue of war crimes, in spite of the attempts to burry and hide this issue from the public space. This incident has brought the issue of war crimes back into the public discourse,” Mitic told Insajder.

In mid January, YIHR activists were physically attacked at the panel in the town of Beska, where the convicted war criminal Veselin Sljivanovic was a panelist. The activists tried to interrupt the talk of Sljivancanin by spreading a banner with the message “War criminals should be silenced so the voice of victims can be heard.” Then, according to their claims, some of the attendees attacked them. The panel was organized by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which Sljivancanin supports.

Mitic said she is under the impression that the state wants to cover up the incident in Beska, since it would also silence the discussion on war crimes. She also said that, after the incident, the number of threats received by YIHR activists has increased, and that the police are not responding to these threats as they used to.

Retired Coronel of Yugoslav Army, Veselin Sljivancanin, was found guilty by the Hague Tribunal for helping and supporting the torture of war prisoners in Vukovar in 1991. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He is a strong supporter of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, which organizes the panels where Sljivancanin talks about “how he defended Serbia.” At the panels, the state insignias, flag, anthem, and coat of arms are used.

“We collaborate with the police a lot in organizing events and have such relationship that, whenever I receive threats, I immediately inform the Prosecution. After that, the police usually call me back immediately to give a statement.

After the incident in Beska, we had the highest number of threats but, for the first time, no one from the police has called me to give a statement,” she said.

The footage of what happened in front of the building in which the panel was held does not exist since, as activists said, “they were running for their lives.” According to the criminal charges they filed, YIHR activists were also attacked in front of the building where “some big guys beat and kicked them.”

After the incident in Beska, the ruling Progressive Party reacted with an official statement, in which the Initiative’s activists were labeled “hooligans” who should be “brought to justice,” and their message that the voice of victims instead of war criminals should be heard was declared a “fascist excess of individuals.”

A few days later, the entrance doors of the YIHR headquarters in Belgrade were covered with the message “for a handful of Soros’ dollars, they sold their country, mother, and father.” Based on the security footage, some of the individuals who covered the YIHR doors with messages are identified as ultra-nationalist “activists.”

Irena Stevic

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