We are concerned by the continued and increasing pressure by Serbian authorities, including members of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, on Ombudsperson Sasa Jankovic. Such pressures first emerged following his investigation of alleged wrongdoing by the country’s Military Security Agency (VBA), in January this year, and have intensified since the publication of his latest Annual Report on Serbia, on 14 April 2015.
In January, the Ombudsperson voiced concerns relating to the Military Security Agency, including suspicions that the VBA had been illegally spying on opposition parties, union leaders and judges. He also shared information on the obstacles he faced in undertaking an investigation, due to the unwillingness of the VBA to cooperate and deliver necessary documents and responses to questions posed by the Ombudsperson. Soon afterwards, Government officials publicly questioned the professionalism and credibility of the Ombudsperson and his office, including during a Parliamentary hearing on the matter on 28 January.
Following these incidents, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights raised concerns with Serbian authorities. He stressed that the Paris Principles relating to the status of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) clearly stipulate that the national institution “shall hear any person and obtain any information and any documents necessary for assessing situations falling within its competence”. The mandate of national human rights institutions should authorize unannounced and unfettered access to inspect and examine any public premises, documents, equipment and assets without prior written notice. Serbia’s Law on the Protector of Citizens (Ombudsman) stipulates the responsibility of the authorities to cooperate with the Ombudsperson, and to enable access to any premises and to make information available which is of importance for the Ombudsperson’s proceedings, regardless of the degree of confidentiality of such information.
Serbian authorities have assured the High Commissioner of their respect and support for the Ombudsperson’s office and their commitment to properly investigate and prosecute any pressures and threats against the Ombudsperson.
However, a renewed campaign of personal attacks against Jankovic appears to have unfolded over the past three weeks, particularly by a number of media outlets close to the ruling Serbian Progressive Party. These attacks have been further fuelled by negative statements from high-level State officials. Most worryingly, it has been suggested that Jankovic was in some way involved in the death of a person who committed suicide in 1993, and media reports have referred to the Ombudsperson as a “killer”, “gun smuggler” and “suspect”.
We trust that the Government of Serbia will continue to exercise due diligence in connection with any possible pressure, threat, or forms of retaliation against Ombudsperson Jankovic and the institution, and will distance itself from the accusation made against him. Since his appointment in 2007, Jankovic has been a well-respected and credible head of the National Human Rights Institution, which has been awarded “A” Status internationally, and with whom the UN Human Rights Office has engaged very positively.