The International Day of Human Rights is celebrated across the world on 10 December, in memory of the day in 1948 when the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The celebration of this international day was established 70 years ago, in 1950, and this year it was marked under the slogan “Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights”.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first, and still most important international comprehensive act and instrument for the protection of human rights. Article 1 of the Declaration proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. All rights and freedoms contained in this Declaration belong to all people regardless of their race, colour of skin, gender, language, religion, political or other views, national or social origin, property, or any other characteristic. In the decades following the adoption of this declaration, the United Nations have further concretized its content through the adoption of other internal legal instruments mandatory for member states of this organisation.
Human rights represent a set of rights and freedoms that apply to all people, regardless of their characteristics – human rights are universal, indivisible, inalienable, interdependent and mutually interlinked.
At a global level, human rights represent the core focus of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda until 2030 (2030 Agenda). The 2030 Agenda was adopted in September 2015 and represents a global development plan resting on three dimensions of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.
With the slogan for this year’s celebration of the International Day of Human Rights, the United Nations are highlighting that human rights must be at the core of plans for global recovery during the post-crisis period. The COVID-19 pandemic has globally led to a deepening of poverty, an increase in inequality and various forms of discrimination, as well as other challenges in the protection and exercise of human rights. Thus the United Nations call for the implementation of measures that will lead towards resolving these issues and improving human rights, because this is the only way to ensure recovery and building a world that is better, more resilient, more just, and more sustainable. The four key axes of the response to the current crisis are an end to all forms of discrimination, decreasing inequality, promoting solidarity and participation, and the promotion of sustainable and inclusive development.
The protection and improvement of human rights are also priority areas in the Republic of Serbia. During the past decades a constitutional, legislative and institutional framework was established in the domain of human rights, in line with international standards. The Constitution of the Republic of Serbia proclaims that the legal system is based on the rule of law, social justice, human and minority rights. It guarantees the civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights of all citizens, with additional guarantees for the individual and collective rights of members of national minorities, in accordance with this document, the law and international treaties. The Republic of Serbia has ratified eight of nine fundamental international United Nations treaties on human rights. Since Serbia is a member state of the Council of Europe and other international organisations, regional human rights documents are also relevant in this field, particularly the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. At the national level, Serbia has adopted a number of strategies, laws and other normative acts that regulate the field of improving and protecting human rights.
However, additional efforts are needed so that all citizens of the Republic of Serbia can equally exercise all their rights and provide for full participation in the social, political, economic and cultural life. The full exercise of human rights reduces the risk of social exclusion and poverty that particularly affects various social groups in the Republic of Serbia, such as Roma persons, persons with disabilities, women, children, the elderly, the LGBTI community, uneducated persons, the unemployed, refugees and internally displaced persons, and the population of rural areas.
The Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia (SIPRU), since its founding in 2009, has been actively participating in the creation of policies aimed at improving the status of vulnerable groups and respect for human rights through various activities. SIPRU provides support for the development of a strategic and normative framework relevant for the field of improving and protecting the human rights of all citizens, with particular focus on the members of vulnerable social groups, it analyses mechanisms and systematic measures for their implementation and improves a system for collecting, analysing and using data with the aim of adopting evidence-based public policies. Through various initiatives and activities the team is contributing to the raising of the capacities of relevant stakeholders, to appropriately implement activities aimed at improving the status of vulnerable groups. Furthermore, the Unit is working on raising community awareness on issues faced by members of vulnerable social groups, but also on their potential, and informs members of vulnerable groups about their rights.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused healthcare and socio-economic challenges in the lives of all citizens of the Republic of Serbia, and further deteriorated the status and access to rights and services for members of vulnerable social groups. The Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia has, since the start of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus, implemented a number of activities with the aim of identifying the challenges and risks faced by vulnerable categories of the population and providing support for formulating recommendations to define measures for mitigating the consequences of the COVID-10 pandemic. SIPRU, in cooperation with three civil society organisations (Youth Council Kruševac (Kruševac), Roma Centre for Democracy (Vranje), HelpNet (Belograde)) and the Ipsos market research agency, has implemented a survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the status of vulnerable groups in Serbia. A total of 2006 representatives of vulnerable groups from eight local self-government units took part in the survey implemented from July to August 2020. The survey findings indicate the challenges and issues faced by citizens from vulnerable groups during the pandemic, the consequences of the pandemic on the income and consumption of households and assessment of the adequacy of measures undertaken by the state during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of the survey were used to formulate recommendations for the introduction of measures in case the epidemiological crisis continues.
SIPRU, in cooperation with the United Nations Human Rights Unit in Serbia and the with support of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – OHCHR, has implemented the analysis “Consequences of COVID-19 for the status of vulnerable groups and groups under risk – causes, outcomes and recommendations”. It describes the negative consequences of the current epidemic on vulnerable groups and groups under risk, and also identifies the direct, fundamental and structural causes that were intensified (during the state of emergency and throughout the crisis) leading to increased or new forms of inequality. The findings and recommendations are intended for all relevant stakeholders whose actions can improve the status of vulnerable groups.
The Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia has implemented the survey “Innovative practices in the field of social welfare at the local level in the Republic of Serbia – A response to the state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic”, with the aim of identifying, providing a detailed description, and promoting innovative practices in the field of social welfare at the local level during the state of emergency in Serbia.
After the declaration of the state of emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, SIPRU, in cooperation with the United Nations Human Rights Unit and the Association of Roma Coordinators, has started a joint process of mapping the risks that, because of the occurrence of the coronavirus and the limitation on movement, the citizens of the most vulnerable Roma settlements were exposed to, violations of their fundamental human rights, and the occurrence of additional risk of exclusion and increased poverty. The survey “Mapping of substandard Roma settlements by risk and access to rights in the Republic of Serbia, with a particular reflection on the COVID-19 epidemic” was implemented during the period from late March to mid-September 2020, covering 702 substandard Roma settlements located within the territory of 92 local self-government units where approximately 168,000 people reside.
Aiming to examine the trends in poverty during the pandemic that occurred in 2020 and acquire insight into the effects of the measures of the Government of the Republic of Serbia on budget expenditures and basic indicators of poverty and inequality, the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit has prepared an assessment of the trends of the basic indicators of poverty after the one-off measures applied during the COVID-19 pandemic with an evaluation of the effects of the targeted measures based on an analysis of data from the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC 2017) and Household Consumption Survey (HCS 2018).
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the Unit has organised several online conferences and workshops aimed at presenting the challenges and issues faced by citizens of the Republic of Serbia, with particular focus on additional challenges faced by members of vulnerable groups, but also potential ways to resolve the new challenges and issues. The online conference titled “Poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic and the post-crisis period in the Republic of Serbia” was held in May 2020 with the aim of presenting the most significant practical experiences acquired during the pandemic period, and to open a dialogue on recommendations for the following period. The first panel of the conference was dedicated to the challenges faced by organisations during their work with beneficiaries throughout the emergency situation period in Serbia, problems and ways to overcome them, while the second panel of the conference was used to review various directions for further action with the aim of combating the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic.
The online conference “Civil society organisations and social welfare services during the pandemic” was organised during the same month to present examples of good practice by civil society organisations during the pandemic, but also for participants to present problems faced by the organisations in their communities, highlight the key activities during the pandemic (state of emergency), and to open a debate on current challenges expected in the forthcoming period.
The Unit took part in the organisation of the conference “Ditigal Education 2020”, in cooperation with Edtech Center Western Balkans, the Institute for the Improvement of Education, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, the Institute for the Evaluation of the Quality of Education, the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Petlja Foundation. The aim of the conference was to provide a platform to exchange knowledge between staff in education and to enable them to present good practice examples in the use of information-communication technologies (ICT) in education, innovative practices and teaching methods.
The Belgrade Ignite “GET INVOLVED online 8” event organised by the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the “Serbia in Motion” citizens’ association was held in June, and this was the first event of its type to be held on an online platform. The aim of this event was to illuminate various aspects of social inclusion during the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus highlight the situation regarding the status of vulnerable groups in pandemic conditions, and through individual examples to motivate and stimulate others to become involved or initiate their own activities.
Throughout the state of emergency the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia endeavoured to provide citizens with all relevant information regarding the recommended measures under the epidemiological crisis situation, through various formats (news, blog posts, success stories, etc.).
Recommended additional content on the SIPRU website:
- Poverty in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic and the post-crisis period in Serbia
- Social welfare nets during the COVID-19 crisis
- Access to justice and poverty reduction: lessons learned and challenges in the post-corona period
- Transcripts of the presentations by participants in the 43rd Belgrade Ignite
Useful publications and analyses:
- Assessments of trends in poverty, living standards and the response to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic
- Innovative practices in the field of social welfare at the local level in the Republic of Serbia – Response to the state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Mapping substandard Roma settlements according to risk and access to rights in the Republic of Serbia with a particular reflection on the COVID-19 epidemic
- Consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on household income and consumption from the perspective of vulnerable groups
- List of digital tools for working with children and students that need additional support during distance learning
 The Republic of Serbia has ratified the following: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD); Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT); Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC); Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The only convention not ratified is the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families from 1990.