EU Guidelines assessment
Result 1.1.a There was no change in the legislative framework directly governing freedom of association (the Law on Associations and the Law on Endowments and Foundations) during 2019. The Constitution and specific laws guarantee freedom of association to all legal and natural persons, as well as the freedom to act within informal groups. The registration process of CSOs is simple, fast (up to 5 days) and it is relatively not demanding financially, and the only restrictions on the purpose of CSOs are respect for international law and standards. Guarantees against state interference in internal CSO matters are provided by law. The Proposal of the Civil Code contains significant restrictions of freedom of association, but the document itself has not yet been adopted. However, by adopting the Law on Central Records of Real Owners, CSOs have imposed an additional obligation whose effects are questionable. Considering that in practice the concept of ownership is related to the concept of property, the provisions of this Law are not in accordance with the provisions of the Law on Associations and the Law on Endowments and Foundations, which prohibit the division of property among the founders, members of association bodies, directors, employees or related persons.
Result 1.1.b. Regarding the implementation of regulations in the area of freedom of association, abuses are evident with the purpose of making existing mechanisms senseless and reducing the impact of the critical attitude of civil society. There is a legal framework under which any person can establish a nonprofit entity defined by law. Thus, it also allows a potential undisclosed conflict of interest in cases where the association is founded by a political party or the individuals closed to Government. This becomes concerning especially because of the growing trend of establishing GONGOs. Though it is possible to finish part of the registration process online, the official application for registration must be submitted only in hard copy.
Result 1.3.a. Having in mind that registration of informal (grassroots) movements/initiatives is not mandatory yet and that they are free in their work, the gathering and activism of grass root movements / initiatives, which mainly sought solutions to the socio- economic issues, or have an environmental message, marked the previous year. They are, in fact, a response to citizens’ demands in a situation where there is no public debate and reaction from the authorities.
Result 2.1.a. Financial and tax rules are demanding in proportion to the revenues generated by CSOs. Since the beginning of 2015, in line with the amendments to the Law on Accounting, 3 different forms of financial reporting have been implemented, depending on the income of CSOs.
Result 2.1.b. There is a partial support system for implementing financial (including tax) rules. CSOs, as well as other legal entities, have a certain level of support provided by officials of the Tax Administration and the Business Registers Agency, which, however, are not obliged to provide support and are very restrictive in providing additional information. The VAT exemption procedure has been changed by the beginning of 2019 so CSOs now submit their request for exemption exclusively electronically, through the E-Porezi portal.
EU Guidelines assessment
Result 1.2.a Although guaranteed by the Constitution, freedom of assembly has not been adequately regulated for a long time, given that for a long time (since 1992) a very restrictive law was enacted, which was declared unconstitutional in 2015 by a Constitutional Court decision. The Public Assembly Act has been in force since 2016, but neither does it adequately protect this important human right. Numerous restrictions on freedom of assembly are set broadly and give too much space for arbitrary decisions by the Ministry of the Interior. The law provides for a similar possibility for LSGs, which themselves determine public spaces that are not suitable for public assemblies and thus reduce the size of places for possible public assembling or do not specify places suitable for public assembling. Although the law acknowledged spontaneous, peaceful assemblies that were exempt from its implementation, they were at the same time unjustifiably limited by the provision that in this case there should be no organizer or person inviting such a gathering. This is the opposite to the essence of spontaneous assemblies, i.e. prompt reactions to an event when there are objectively no conditions for registering a meeting. In addition, the Act does not provide for an effective mechanism for appealing against a ban on public assemblies (neither administrative court proceedings nor constitutional appeals provide timely compensation.
Freedom of expression is explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution, primary and secondary legislation. All individuals and legal entities are free to express themselves. Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, such as the restriction of hate speech, provided for by law, are clearly prescribed in accordance with international law and standards.
Result 1.2.b. The practice of selective implementation of the Public Assembly Act and unclear reactions of the competent authorities, depending on who organizes the public assembly, continued throughout 2019. This is above all evident during the organization of opposition protests, protest gatherings of informal groups about environmental protection (Let’s Defend the Rivers of Stara Planina), events dealing with topics that usually gather right-wing organizations (Festival Miridita – Good Day) and assemblies organized by movements for reconciliation and humanitarian law, groups of citizens affected by the implementation of the particular legal solutions.
Freedom of expression is one of the most endangered human rights in Serbia. The overarching environment still does not allow this right to be fulfilled. Cases of threats, intimidation and violence against journalists remain a concern, while investigations and final sentence are still rare. The two most famous indexes in the world that measure freedom of expression are Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House have announced that Serbia has recorded one of the biggest falls on their lists (by 10, or 4 places). The practice of shrinking the space for the work of journalists, activists and CSOs continues through pressure and verbal threats, physical attacks on them and/ or their property, media campaigns, obstruction of events and activities.