Serbia: UN expert alarmed by rise in hateful rhetoric after mass shootings

Geneva, 5 June, 2023.- Serbia must take immediate and effective measures against hateful and divisive rhetoric in public discourse which fuels violence in society, a UN expert* said after two mass shootings in Belgrade killed 17 people, including eight children, and led to mass protests earlier this month.

“The shootings have traumatised the entire country,” said Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression. “It is unconscionable to use this tragedy as yet another occasion to stir up hatred, demonising and vilifying independent media, human rights defenders, political opponents and others critical of the government.”

Khan noted that thousands of people took to the streets to demand accountability for the crimes committed, better arms control, and robust action against “hate speech” and incitement to hatred and violence in tabloid media.

“Rather than promoting justice and accountability, recent speeches – including by members of the Government – appear to have encouraged harassment and even physical attacks against opposition politicians, journalists and activists,” said Khan.

During her official visit to Serbia in April, Khan had expressed serious concerns about the tabloid press and populist media outlets promoting and amplifying toxic statements by politicians and public officials, and the failure of the media regulatory body to take action against the media.

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that must be protected at all times but international law is clear that it is not a license to harass, intimidate or threaten critical voices,” said Khan.

“The current climate of political discourse in Serbia is deeply disturbing. The Government of Serbia must immediately investigate and sanction intimidation, threats and incitement to violence, especially by government officials, and ensure that all institutions and organs of the State follow the United Nations guidelines on combating hate speech while upholding freedom of expression,” said Khan.

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