Press Release

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

05 June 2023

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.


*Ms. Irene Khan was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression on 17 July 2020. Ms. Khan is the first woman to hold this position since the establishment of the mandate in 1993. She teaches at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva and was previously Secretary General of Amnesty International from 2001 to 2009 and Director General of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) from 2012 to 2019.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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