BH journalists: Soon a free helpline for human rights defenders

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Source/Photo: BHJA

Sarajevo, 29.3.2024. At the beginning of last year, the situation in Republika Srpska worsened, especially when amendments to the Criminal Code criminalizing defamation were adopted. Then followed the announcements of the adoption of the Law on the Special Register of Non-Governmental Organizations (the so-called law on “foreign mercenaries”), as well as a number of other very restrictive laws from which it was clear that the space for the work and activity of activists in this part of Bosnia and Herzegovina would be less and less. It is for this reason that BiH journalists organized an internal two-day training with representatives of the Helsinki Citizens’ Parliament of Banja Luka (HPGBL) and Transparency International BiH on the establishment of a helpline for the protection of the rights and safety of human rights defenders.

 

The goal of the training was to exchange knowledge, experience, best practices and new perspectives in providing free legal assistance within the Free Media Help Line (FMHL) in order to be able to react and help activists in a timely manner.

Dragana Dardić, program director of the Helsinki Citizens’ Parliament Banja Luka stated that this in-house training is the official start of a project that is primarily aimed and focused on the protection of human rights defenders in BiH who find themselves in certain crisis situations, as well as their regular monitoring and reporting on all occurrences of human rights violations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“At this training, we had the opportunity to hear the experiences of the helpline for journalists, which will be very important for the establishment of our helpline for human rights defenders, which will be unique in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We already have a legal team, but it will expand with human rights expert lawyers who will be at the service of activists who find themselves in certain crisis situations. Some activists found themselves directly under attack and under different types of pressure from different actors. Judging by what we see now, Linija will have its hands full,” said Dardić.

Transparency International BiH (TI BiH) already has an established line for providing free legal aid, noted Ena Kljajić-Grgić, head of the Center for Providing Legal Aid in TI BiH, which citizens call every day.

“We exchanged experiences that were very useful to all parties in our process, because each of our organizations has a special approach to the group it represents. Our conclusions are that in all this we must act together in order to be useful to human rights defenders. Last year alone, Transparency International BiH had 1,337 calls to the free line for reporting cases of corruption, that is a telephone line. We acted in 317 cases, some of which were from citizens, some of which we initiated on our own initiative,” said Kljajić-Grgić.

Borka Rudić, general secretary of BH journalists, believes that the experience of the Helpline for Journalists (FHML) in protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists in BiH is very valuable for other civil society organizations and activists in terms of knowledge transfer and good practices.

“FHML has been operating in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 20 years and we can truly say now that we have the capacity for ‘know-how’ training methodologies and building the capacity of others to provide free legal and professional assistance to persons facing human rights violations and other security risks. This training showed that we have so much in common with HPGBL and Ti BiH in legal support and advocacy for the rights of human rights defenders, whistleblowers and journalists that it is the right time to coordinate activities, share values ​​and achieve more effective results in the protection of the aforementioned groups.” said Rudić.

She added that these three organizations will coordinate activities and jointly represent the interests of journalists and defenders before various institutions and above all before the judiciary and the executive and legislative authorities.