Discrimination is decreasing in Serbia

Anti-discrimination Law

The 2005 HDR reported an increase in ethnic distance in Serbia just before the dissolution of former Yugoslavia in the 90s. The following war exacerbated the situation, not only in terms of open conflicts, but also among different ethnic groups. After the democratic change in the year 2000, ethnic tensions started to decrease up to around 2004. At the time, a third of the population in Serbia was adverse to Albanians as neighbors, while 65.5% reported not to accept an Albanian as family member. Ethnic distance towards Roma was almost as grave, with 16.7% adverse to Roma representatives as neighbors, and 61% not willing to accept a Roma as family member. Figures for other national and ethnic minorities were equally unfavorable.

UNDP initiated antidiscrimination programs in 2006, aimed at increasing tolerance in the Serbian society. At the time, while protection from discrimination was enshrined in the Constitution, no comprehensive anti-discrimination laws existed. The UN Human Rights Committee identified this gap and recommended the adoption of specific anti-discrimination laws, which later on was adopted by the EU as prerequisite for Serbia’s EU accession.

In response, UNDP supported the Government in adopting the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination in 2009. The Law introduced positive measures for countering discrimination, such as reversed burden of proof in processing cases and the formation of a specialized, independent equality body – the Commissioner for Protection of Equality (CPE). Based on a new Law, UNDP supported the establishment and operations of the CPE, and actively advocated for an operational budget through the Ministry of Finance making the CPE the first independent body in Serbia relying on regular resources. UNDP assisted CPE to cooperate with relevant authorities to finalize administrative registration procedures and conducting the job classifications, and furthermore supported the introduction of an own mediation practice. 


  • Law on Prohibition of Discrimination in 2009
  • 40% increase of Roma registering for 2011 Census
  • Ethnic distance towards Albanians and Roma decreased in 2012 by about 8 percentage points in comparison to the period before UNDP’s interventions

"Despite the fact that the principle of citizen equality was one of the main constitutional principles in the former legal system of Serbia, discrimination was widespread in the factual relations in all the spheres of social life. The issue of discrimination was mainly addressed by the non-governmental organizations that were indicating harmful consequences of the issue as well as non-existing instruments related to the suppression and protection against discrimination. With the adoption of the Anti-discrimination Law, the integral system of legal protection against discrimination was established which determined conditions, measures and instruments enabling efficient fight against discrimination and providing effective protection for the victims of discrimination. The establishment of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality has great importance, since the work of this specialized autonomous body is a key for raising public awareness, promoting equality and non-discrimination and providing an adequate assistance, support and protection for victims of discrimination", says Ms. Nevena Petrusic, Commissioner for Protection of Equality.

CPE is growing in significance and has been tackling a total of 1028 cases since its existence, most of them coming from citizens’ complaints.

Beside policy and institutional support UNDP focused on awareness raising, using innovative mechanisms such as entertainment-education and developing an entire TV series with subliminal anti-discrimination messages, which achieved high viewership.

Discrimination is measurably decreasing in Serbia. The 2011 census recorded an unprecedented 40% increase of Roma registering, as compared to the last census in 2002, which suggests that Roma feel less fear and are more secure to express their ethnicity.

A public opinion poll, conducted by UNDP in November 2012, showed a significant decrease in personal experience with discrimination. While 22% of respondents were directly exposed to discrimination in 2009, the figure decreased to 16% in 2012. Ethnic distance towards Albanians and Roma decreased by about 8 percentage points in comparison to the period before UNDP’s interventions, evidencing the transformation of Serbia to a less ethno-centric and more tolerant society. 

"UNDP significantly contributed to the development of regulations and defining adequate legal solutions as well as shaping the institution of the Commissioner and raising its capacities. The permanent support that UNDP provides in developing antidiscrimination practice is very important for achieving equality. The complaints addressed to the Commissioner, which number is increasing every day, clearly indicate that the citizens recognize discrimination and are not ready to tolerate it, but they react and seek protection. That is a sure sign that we are on the good track and that the established system of protection against discrimination brings good results", added Ms. Petrusic.

The EU progress report for 2012 states: “The process of protection against discrimination and the necessary awareness has started irreversibly. There are no factors which might severely jeopardize this process. It is now only the issue of pace of progress.”

The high quality of UNDP’s achievements was validated by an EU ex-post evaluation, which noted:

“The choice of having UNDP as an implementing partner [in EU funded anti-discrimination programme] was vital due to their experience in dealing with antidiscrimination issues and due to their authority as an UN organization. The combination of legal, policy, institutional and public awareness components built-in the project design was only possible to be implemented by one such organization which possesses in-house multi-sectoral experience.”

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