Toggle navigation menu.
Helsinki Default Banner

Commissioners Disappointed by Serbian Religion Legislation

WASHINGTON – The leadership of the U.S. Helsinki Commission expressed concern today over the Serbian parliament’s abrupt passage of the Law on Churches and Religious Communities and called upon Serbian President Boris Tadic to veto the legislation. 

“Until recently, Serbia welcomed international expertise during the drafting process, as Serbian officials considered many suggestions and revised early drafts,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).  “Unfortunately, elements in the government and the Serbian National Assembly then forced through a draft that retreats from Serbia’s OSCE religious freedom commitments. The secrecy of the process and the sudden loss of transparency are troubling.” 

At the working level, the Helsinki Commission has a positive relationship with the Serbian Embassy in Washington and visiting Belgrade officials. Technical critiques of the various drafts have been exchanged freely. A recent version shared with the Commission required further refinement, but the text was in closer conformity than earlier drafts to Serbia’s commitments as an OSCE participating State. The National Assembly passed the law on April 20.

“Considering Serbian officials prepared multiple drafts, each time steadily improving the text, it is unclear why a deficient version was suddenly rushed through the parliament on the eve of Orthodox Easter,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “As he seeks counsel on the legislation’s ramifications, President Tadic should also consult with minority religious communities, as they will acutely feel the effects of such a law. I therefore urge President Tadic to return this legislation to the parliament and ask that the text be withdrawn entirely.”

Among the most serious problems in the legislation are ambiguous registration requirements, limitations on naming rights, ill-defined state deregistration powers, speech limitations, improper public disclosure requirements, and undue deference to registration decisions of other EU countries.  Particularly problematic was adoption of a blatantly discriminatory amendment aimed against most minority religious communities.  That measure removed safeguards that would have allowed all religious communities currently registered to maintain that status. Regardless of whether they already enjoy registration, all but seven communities would need to reregister. 

“Serbia was right to work with the OSCE Mission, the Helsinki Commission and other experts to ensure the draft adhered to OSCE norms,” said House Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “Considering the shortcomings in the text, the current legislation should be rejected.  Such a step would be a welcomed repudiation of the notion that national unity is achieved by restricting individual rights and freedoms.  The international community wants to work with Serbia on the draft, and I hope Serbian officials will take full advantage of that good will.”

Media contact

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Press Releases

HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDE...

Apr 28, 2023

WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

CHURCH, STATE, AND RUSSIA’S WAR ON UKRAINE

Apr 27, 2023

The Putin regime has long used the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to consolidate its power at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, the ROC has explicitly endorsed Russia’s war on Ukraine, even blessing weapons for the invasion. Churches under the mantle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had long been viewed […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Statements

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

CO-CHAIRMAN COHEN APPOINTED AS OSCE PARLIAMENTARY AS...

Jul 21, 2022

WASHINGTON—Margareta Cederfelt, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), has appointed Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) as the first-ever OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners. “I welcome the chance to serve as the voice of political prisoners across the OSCE region,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Every day, we witness more political arrests of […]

screen-reader-text
Articles

Chairman Cardin, OSCE participating States Commit to...

Feb 15, 2022

By Ryn Hintz, Paulina Kanburiyan, and Worth Talley, Max Kampelman Fellows, and Shannon Simrell, Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE On February 7 – 8, 2022, the OSCE’s Polish Chair-in-Office organized a high-level conference in Warsaw on Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region with the support of OSCE’s Office […]

screen-reader-text
Logo_tile_368x331
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Commemorates 45 Years of Advanci...

Jun 03, 2021

WASHINGTON—To commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, on June 3, Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “The Helsinki Commission has played a vital role in elevating […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Cardin, Hudson Pledge Support to Ukraine in Bilatera...

May 03, 2021

WASHINGTON—In response to increased Russian aggression against Ukraine, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) initiated an exceptional bilateral meeting with members of the Ukrainian Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) on April 30.  Chairman Cardin, who serves as Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Assembly, […]

screen-reader-text
Helsinki Commission Logo 1500x770
Publications

Helsinki Commission Digital Digest: April 2021

Apr 30, 2021

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Wicker, Shaheen Reintroduce Bill to Hold Russia Acco...

Apr 22, 2021

WASHINGTON—Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH) today reintroduced the bipartisan Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act (S.1310). It is a companion bill to H.R. 496, introduced by Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), which unanimously passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. “The Kremlin’s current repression in Ukraine mirrors an […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commissioners Reintroduce Ukraine Religious...

Jan 29, 2021

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Commissioner Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05) yesterday reintroduced the bipartisan Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act (H.R. 496) in the House of Representatives. The House unanimously passed the original legislation, which targets Russia’s religious freedom violations in Ukraine, on November 18, 2020. “The Kremlin and its proxies […]

screen-reader-text
Helsinki Commission Logo 1500x770
Publications

Helsinki Commission Digital Digest: January 2021

Jan 29, 2021

screen-reader-text