European Western Balkans

Urgent resolution on human rights in Serbia adopted in the European Parliament

"Serbia is not for sale" sign in Belgrade; Photo: FoNet

STRASBOURG – European Parliament adopted an urgent resolution on forced labour in the Linglong factory and environmental protests in Serbia today.

The resolution was supported by 586 MEPs, while 53 were against and 44 abstained. Joint motion for the resolution was supported by European People’s Party, Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe, Greens/EFA  and European Conservatives and Reformists.

The resolution expressed concerns over recent human rights organisations’ findings about the living and working conditions of the Vietnamese workers on the Linglong factory’s construction.

The document reminded that there have been serious allegations against the Chinese tyre production company Linglong Tire in Zrenjanin, northern Serbia, regarding the working conditions of 500 workers from Vietnam.

“European Parliament urges the Serbian authorities to investigate the case carefully and ensure respect for fundamental human rights in the factory, especially labour rights, to provide the EU with the conclusions of its investigations and to hold the perpetrators to account”, the text reads.

The report also reminded that mass environmental protests were taking place across Serbia since the 27 November 2021.

“European Parliament also expressed deep concern over the increasing violence by extremist and hooligan groups against peaceful environmental demonstrations; regrets the amount of force used by the police against protesters; condemns the violent behaviour of hooligans towards peaceful demonstrators”, the resolution reads.

The EP condemned also, in this context, the role of hooligan groups in the protection of the mural of the convicted war criminal Ratko Mladić in Belgrade, and corresponding incidents which have exposed close links between hooligans and the police.

It expressed concern over the authorities’ apparent unwillingness to ensure the permanent removal of the mural in opposition to both the wishes of tenants and formal municipal decisions.

The EP expressed its deep concern over “serious problems with corruption and the rule of law in the environment area, over the general lack of transparency and over environmental and social impact assessments of infrastructure projects, including from Chinese investments and loans as well as from multinational companies such as Rio Tinto”.

During the debate, Miriam Lexmann (EPP) said that the Linglong tire factory construction is emblematic of China’s growing influence and economic footprint of the Western Balkans. She added that the protests of the Serbian people show that they care about their country and their environment.

“I welcome the decision to withdraw the Law on Expropriation and to investigate the working  conditions in the Linglong factory”, Lexmann said.

Tonino Picula (S&D) said that it is not often that there is an emergency human rights violation case involving a candidate country.

“In Serbia, we often have the cases of external investment that are not in line with EU standards. Cluster 4 has been opened recently and yet we see the law that was supposed really damage the environment. Thanks to the protest, the law was withdrawn”, Picula said.

Klemen Grošelj (Renew Europe) stressed that this was not a resolution against Serbia and Serbian people, but a warning to the Serbian government.

“It is completely unacceptable for a candidate country. Serbia is preparing to enter the EU and hooligans have attacked the protesters, which clearly shows that Serbian government has difficulties in implementing the rights such as the right to a peaceful protest”, Grošelj said.

According to Viola von Cramon (Greens/EFA) “it is nothing new that Serbia is a captured state with a very weak reform track record”. What is new, she said, is the way how Vietnamese workers are treated in Serbia.

“This is what we call modern slavery. No water, food and heating. Is this the picture the EU wants to send to the world? Another, but related topic is the protests that are currently happening. Why both the Serbian government and Rio Tinto keep secrets on what to do with the lithium mining in Loznica. Citizens are rightly worried”, von Cramon said.

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