Comments of the Centre for Development of Civil Society (CDCS) to the Second periodical report on application of the International covenant on civil and political rights

Regarding exercising the rights from article 18 ICCPR

Regarding the content of paragraphs 355-363 of the Second periodical report on application of the International covenant on civil and political rights concerning the freedom of religious beliefs with regard to exercising the rights from article 18 of the International covenant on civil and political rights, the following objections should be made:

1. Regarding the data „about the number of believers“ established in the most recent census (in 2002 and stated in paragraph 363, it should be said that the census did not include beliefs (or faith), but the confessional affiliation. It should be added that the question of religious beliefs was optional and was answered only after the census takers’ warning that it was not obligatory to answer this question. It should be borne in mind that the hate speech which could be heard in the media as well as among agnostics and of atheist, had a certain influence on answers that many believers of minority churches gave to this question.

2. Regarding the paragraph 1 of article 18 it should be said that the right to change the faith was prevented by discriminatory practice of the Ministry of Religion which refuses to register religious communities because of their missionary activities. In three and a half years of application of the Law on Churches and Religious Communities (adopted in 2006), only 12 out of about 170 religious communities existing in Serbia were registered.

3. As for paragraph 1 of article 18, it should be said that the Ministry of Religion is making public their intention to limit the number of religious communities in Serbia to 20. According to its website, the Ministry of Religion is more concerned about maintaining “religious structure of Serbia” (which is not in their competence according to the Law on Ministries), than about ensuring the exercise of religious rights.

4. Regarding the paragraph 1 of article 18 it should be said that article 19 of the Law on Churches and Religious Communities prohibits registration of a church or religious community whose name or part of the name is identical to the name of an already registered religious community. For instance, all religious communities whose names contain the word “Christian” depend solely on the good will of the Minister of Religion regarding the possibility of their registration.

5. Regarding the paragraph 1 of article 18 and the freedom of religious beliefs, religious communities whose registration was rejected appealed to the Supreme Court, such as the Alliance of Baptist Churches, Union of Reformist Movement of Seventh Day Adventists, the Protestant Evangelic Church in Leskovac, and others. The decision of the Supreme Court voided the decision of the Ministry of Religion on refusal to enter the registration of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church in the Register of churches and religious communities.

A discriminatory division between “traditional” and confessional religious community induces a series of unfavorable consequences: the “non-traditional religious communities” often cannot open a bank account, buy or rent premises, employ religious professionals. Unlike “traditional” religious communities, the “non-traditional religious communities” pay VAT.

6. Regarding the paragraph 1 and 3 of article 18 as for the freedom of religious beliefs and the right to manifest religious beliefs it should be said that conversion from one to another Christian religious community is seen as non-permissible proselytism according to the website of the Ministry of Religion.

7. As for paragraphs 1 and 3 of article 18 regarding freedom of religious beliefs and the right to manifest religious beliefs the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses can serve as an example. They appealed the decision of the Ministry of Religion to the Supreme Court where the refusal of their registration was described as proselytism due to their missionary activity.

8. Regarding the paragraphs 1 and 3 of article 18 as for the freedom of religious beliefs and the right to demonstrate religious beliefs it should be said that the Council of the Republic Broadcasting Agency (RRA) brought General Compulsory Guidelines for the Conduct of Broadcasters where article 6 paragraph 1 says that „the institutions of the public broadcasting service are obliged to establish quotas of religious content for traditional and recognized church and religious communities; as a rule, the duration of this type of program should correspond to the percentage of share which members of a particular church or religious community have in the total population in the territory where the program of a public service is broadcasted with respect to the principle of positive discrimination.“

In article 6 paragraph 2 of these General Compulsory Guidelines for the Conduct of Broadcasters it is said that “proselytism” is forbidden, i.e. “the broadcasters are forbidden to treat proselytism in religious programs or to try to win the spectators’ affection and invite them to affiliate to a church or a religious community.”

In article 6 paragraph 4 of these General Compulsory Guidelines for the Conduct of Broadcasters under the title “Sects, fundamentalism, terrorism” it is written: “Broadcasters must make a clear distinction between recognized churches and religious communities on the one, and sects on the other hand. Only the churches and religious communities registered at the Ministry of Religion can have their programs in the institutions of public broadcasting service. The sects can be discussed about only in the context of analysis of social processes.”

9. Regarding article 18 paragraph 4 and the paragraphs of the Second periodical report on application of the International covenant on civil and political rights in paragraphs 364-370 which deal with religious education it is not said that there is freedom of religious education in state schools only for members of 7 so-called “traditional churches and religious communities”. Members of other churches and religious communities can attend religious education of one of these 7 privileged religious communities in state schools or they can attend the alternative subject – Civil education.

General view to exercising the rights guaranteed in article 18 of the International covenant on civil and political rights:

The mentioned breaches of provisions of article 18 of the International covenant on civil and political rights arise from discriminatory Law on Churches and Religious Communities. According to the opinion of the Venetian Commission and the European Commission, the solutions incorporated in this Law are contrary to the provisions from article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The solutions contained in the Law on Churches and Religious Communities are contrary to the Constitution of Serbia as well and its article 43 (which guarantees “freedom of opinion, conscience, convictions and religious beliefs, right to maintain conviction or religious beliefs or to change them in accordance with one’s own choice”), article 44 (“churches and religious communities are equal and separated from the state”) and article 21 which forbids discrimination on any ground including the one based on religious beliefs.

Considering the above said, the Citizens’’ Protector (ombudsman) of the Republic of Serbia has prepared an initiative to change a series of provisions contained in the Law on Churches and Religious Communities.

Regarding exercising the rights from article 27 ICCPR

In paragraphs 507-522 of the periodical report on application of the International covenant on civil and political rights regarding exercising the rights from paragraph 27 of the International covenant on civil and political rights it was not mentioned that there was breach of the right of Vlach (in terminology of the Council of Europe Romanian/Vlach) national minority to practice their religion in eastern Serbia, i.e. in the territory south from Banat.

According to the provisions from paragraph 2 of article 2 of the Book of Rules on Keeping the Register of Churches and Religious Communities, “appropriate organizational unit of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Banat is registered in compliance with the Serbian Orthodox Church”.

Thus, exercising the religious rights of a part of members of Vlach national minority (in terminology of the Council of Europe Romanian/Vlach) is double restricted contrary to the provision from article 27 of the International covenant on civil and political rights:

1. this right is restricted only to a part of the state territory of Serbia

2. exercising of this right is conditioned by obtaining consent of another religious community (the Serbian Orthodox Church)

The Center for Development of Civil Society is in possession of the documents containing information about activities of the state organs and local self-government organs in preventing a part of members of Vlach national minority (in terminology of the Council of Europe Romanian/Vlach) from exercising the rights of to hold religious service in their mother language in some parts of Serbia (Malajnica, Negotin) south from Banat.