UN Anti-Racism Committee Rules against Serbia and Montenegro

United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination first finding against Serbia and Montenegro

State failed to provide an effective remedy after refusal to allow Roma into discotheque

Budapest / Belgrade.

In a decision communicated this week, on 8 March 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (“the Committee”) adopted a decision against Serbia and Montenegro, whereby it held that the state failed to conduct a prompt, thorough and effective investigation into an arguable case of discrimination (Article 6 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – “ICERD”). The petitioner, Mr. Durmic, was jointly represented by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC). Mr. Durmic, a young Romani man had been denied entry into a local discotheque because of his ethnicity in 2000. This is the first time that such a decision has been reached based on a complaint from Serbia and Montenegro.

In February 2000, the HLC, along with the Democratic Union of Roma, responded to numerous complaints about the widespread denial of access to Roma to clubs, discotheques, restaurants, cafes and swimming pools solely on the basis of their race by conducting "tests" of several establishments. One such establishment was a local discotheque, "Trezor", located in downtown Belgrade. The HLC sent one Romani couple, one non-Romani couple, and one non-Romani man as testers to Trezor. All of the testers were neatly dressed and well-behaved -- thus the only apparent difference was the color of their skin. The Romani testers, including Mr. Dragan Durmic, tried to enter the club but were stopped by the bouncer. The bouncer told them there was a private party in progress and that they could not enter without an invitation. The non-Romani male tester stood close enough to hear the conversation. He explained to the bouncer that he did not have an invitation and asked whether he could enter. He was allowed in without any problems. Similarly, the other non-Romani testers were allowed to enter with no questions asked, no mention of a private party, and no need for invitations. The Serbian authorities never conducted an appropriate investigation nor responded to either the criminal complaint nor the constitutional court petition lodged by the victim.

Consequently, in April 2003, the ERRC and the HLC jointly filed a complaint with the UN Committee on behalf of Mr. Durmic. The complaint sought a declaration that Serbia and Montenegro had violated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), requested a comprehensive criminal investigation into the incident, sought just compensation for the victim for humiliation and degradation suffered from the discrimination, and requested that Serbian authorities take effective measures to ensure an end to racial discrimination in admission to the discotheque.

On 8 March 2006, the Committee issued its final consideration on the case, in which it upheld the petitioner’s argument “that the investigation was neither conducted promptly nor effectively, as nearly 6 years after the incident […] no investigation, let alone a thorough one has been carried out”. Although the Committee unequivocally stated that the Serbia “failed to establish whether the petitioner had been refused access to a public place, on grounds of his national or ethnic origin, in violation of article 5 (f), of the Convention” it fell short of finding a separate violation under this heading. Instead, it opted to assert a violation of article 6 which provides that “States parties shall assure to everyone within their jurisdiction effective protection and remedies, through the competent national tribunals and other State institutions, against any acts of racial discrimination which violate his human rights and fundamental freedoms contrary to this Convention.”

Concluding, the Committee held that the Serbian authorities failed to examine Mr. Durmic’s arguable claim of a violation of article 5 (f) and it established that Serbia violated article 6 of the Convention by failing to investigate his claim promptly, thoroughly and effectively.

The Committee recommended that the State party provide the petitioner with just and adequate compensation commensurate with the moral damage he has suffered. It also recommended that the State party take measures to ensure that the police, public prosecutors and the Court of Serbia and Montenegro properly investigate accusations and complaints related to acts of racial discrimination, which should be punishable by law according to article 4 of the Convention.

The Committee’s findings come only weeks after in Decision 2006/56/EC of the European Council of the European Union, in which EU authorities established as a priority for Serbia and Montenegro, the need to “adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation”. Serbia and Montenegro currently lacks such a law.

For additional details regarding the Durmic decision, please contact Andi Dobrushi, ERRC Staff Attorney (e-mail: andi.dobrushi@errc.org, phone:+361 413 2200) and/or Sandra Orlovic, HLC Human Rights Project Coordinator (e-mail: humanrights@hlc.org.yu, phone: +38111 344 4313).

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