Findings

Executive Summary
March 18, 2021
Standard 1.1.1. Establishment of and Participation in CSOs
March 18, 2021

1.1.1. Establishment of and Participation in CSOs

Legislation is fully in line with the standards in this area. There is a possibility for any person to establish associations, foundations and other types of non-profit, non-governmental entities for any purpose as well as for both individual and legal persons to exercise the right of freedom of association without discrimination. Article 55 of the Constitution stipulates freedom of association, as well as freedom to stay out of any association. Associations shall be formed without prior approval but shall be entered in the register kept by a state body. The Law on Associations stipulates that an association shall be established and organized freely, and shall be independent in the pursuit of its goals. Article 19 of this Law stipulates that anyone may become the association’s member under equal terms laid down by its statute. An individual may be a member of the association irrespective of his age and in accordance with this Law and its statute.  Article 10 of the Law on Endowments and Foundations stipulates that endowments and foundations may be established by one or more domestic or foreign natural or legal persons having business capacity, they may also be established by a will and if the testator did not specify the name of the executor of the will, competent court for probate proceedings shall determine the executor.

Registration is not mandatory, and in cases when organizations decide to register, the registration rules are clearly prescribed and allow for easy, timely and inexpensive registration and appeal process. Law on Associations envisages that Entry in the Association Register shall be made on a voluntary basis and the association shall acquire the status of a legal entity at the date of its entry in the Register. Law on Endowments and Foundations states that endowments and foundations shall acquire a legal person capacity on the day of entry in the Register and that they may not engage in activities before entered into the Register.  However, The Law on the Procedure of Registration with the Serbian Business Registers Agency stipulates the procedure of registration of an association, the contents of the application and the form in which it was submitted.

The legislation allows for networking among organizations in the country and abroad without prior notification, while there are no legal provisions related to blocking social networks.

Practice is partially harmonized with standards when it comes to possibility for every individual or legal entity to form associations, foundations or other non-profit, non-governmental organizations offline or online. According to the information received upon the FOI request from the Agency for Business Registers, in the past 12 months,  registration applications, due to procedural reasons, was denied to 283 associations (due to formal deficiencies), while the number of endowments and foundations was 11. The Agency for Business Registers does not impose bans on the work of civil society organizations, the Constitutional Court does it. In the requested period, it did not have any decision on the ban of the work of associations, foundations and endowments, which the Agency for Business Registers was obliged to enter in the Register of Associations. According to the information received upon the FOI request, the High-Tech Crime Prosecutor’s Office does not have information on deleted online groups, as they have no technical capabilities.

According to a survey on civil society conducted by Helvetas and Civic Initiatives for the purpose of the program „Together for an Active Civil Society” in April 2019 (ACT study), 13% of CSOs have elected, appointed and/or representatives of public administration on their Managing Boards and/or among employees. Looking at the area of work, CSOs dealing with law, public representation and politics (human rights) (23%) have such a person on their Managing Board/as an employee more often than others, while they are least present in CSOs that are active in the area of culture, media and recreation and philanthropic mediation and promotion of volunteerism (10% each). CSOs from Belgrade (18%) and those with budgets exceeding EUR 20,001 (25%) have, more often than others, elected/appointed persons on their Managing Boards or among staff.

Practice also indicates partially enabling environment in the area of sanctions for non-registering organizations. The previous period in Serbia was marked by the formation of a number of grassroots organizations/movements due to the lack of space for public debate. They are particularly active in the fields of ecology and environmental protection and socio-economic rights. One of the most significant results of these local initiatives is that they unite citizens in the fight against corruption, nepotism and negligent dealing with community issues. Without clear operational division, their structure is fluid and depends on personal engagement. Grass roots’ key advantage is openness, immediacy and inclusivity, while the key drawback is a lack of clear roles and division of responsibilities. Grassroots have great reach via social networks but with no strategic approach to their work, they react ad hoc. They perceive themselves as well networked with other local grassroots and CSOs but based on personal contacts, while some representatives of formal CSOs identify the lack of strategic connections between these two groups. Due to its unregistered status, the informal group “Defend the rivers of Stara Planina” has been exposed to smear campaigns in the previous period. As they are an unregistered group, donations are received through an individual’s account. This was used to accuse them of non-transparency and spending of citizens’ donations for private purposes.

0 - 20 Fully disabling environment20 - 40 Disabling environment 40 - 60 Partially enabling environment60 - 80 Enabling environment 80 - 100 Fully enabling environment

BAR ASSOCIATION
AGAINST CSOS

The Board of Directors of the Belgrade Bar Association has decided to delete from the directory of lawyers, the lawyer Blazo Nedic because of an alleged conflict of interest. Nedic
is a President of the National Association of Mediators of Serbia and one of the registered legal representatives of Partners for Democratic Change Serbia. In an open letter to the public, he stressed that there was no legal basis for such a decision and that it was only part of an orchestrated campaign against him and NGOs. The Bar’s decision in the Nedic case is not yet publicly known. Other lawyers who are working in citizens’ associations have received similar letters from the Belgrade Bar Association. In March 2019, the President of the Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights, Katarina Golubovic, was warned by letter that she could not represent this association and remain in the status of a lawyer. Faced with such a threat, the Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights changed its representative in April 2019.

According to available SBRA data, the number of registered associations in 2019. is 2090, while the number of newly registered endowments is 4 and 70 foundations. There are no cases in the survey that CSOs reported that the registration procedure was conducted impartially or that the required registration documents exceeded those stipulated by law.

The practice is harmonized with standards in the area of forming and participating in networks and coalitions. According to the MM survey, 18 organizations responded that they are member of a home network, 13 that they are a member of two, 13 that they are a member of three or more and 8 of them that they are not a member of them of any.  Also, 13 organizations responded that it was a member of one international network, 2 that it was a member of two, 11 organizations that it was a member of three and more and 26 that it is not a member of any. Among the respondents, none of the organizations members of the network faced any demands from the state.

According to ACT study, when it comes to cooperation with other CSOs, less than 63% of organizations have so far established cooperation with other CSOs, which is significantly less than in 2011 (86%). This is expected, having in mind that number of CSOs has doubled since 2010 and that establishing cooperation requires time, knowledge and contacts with other CSOs.  The most common motive for establishing cooperation are common interests and goals (92%), better exploitation of capacities (35%), helping another organization (31%) and better reputation of partner organization (22%), which is similar to 2011. The great majority of CSOs are satisfied with cooperation with other CSOs (82%), which is increase of 6 percent points compared to 2011. 33% of CSOs are members of a CSO network, which is 2 percent point less than in 2011 (35%). In most of the cases, CSOs are members of the national network (20%), and in fewer cases of international (12%), regional (11%) and local (10%). About one third of CSOs (35%) evaluate that there is a strong influence of the network to which they belong, which is significant drop of 16 percent points when compared to 2011 (51%); majority (56%) believe that network influence is weak, while 9% report no influence of the network. 

One of the most important activities in the field of networking in Serbia in 2019 is the launch of the Three Freedoms platform. Representatives of 20 civil society organizations signed in Belgrade the Three Freedoms Platform for the Protection of Civic Space in the Republic of Serbia, in order to protect and promote the freedom of association, assembly and information. The launch of the Platform has also been influenced by the fact that CSOs are exposed to more frequent attacks in pro-regime media and attacks on the physical integrity, reputation and honor of their activists.

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