UN Rapporteur questions criteria used to investigate Serbian NGOs

Fanula Niaolin

A UN special rapporteur told the Voice of America on Wednesday that the criteria used by the Serbian authorities criteria in choosing which Ngos to investigate on suspicion of money laundering and financing terrorism are not clear.

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism, officially contacted the Serbian government after the department in charge of preventing money laundering and the financing of terrorism demanded information from commercial banks about the financial transactions of at least 37 organizations and 20 individuals.

Ni Aolain said that she received a long and detailed reply from the Serbian authorities which shows that they were responsive. However, we still have to discuss why those specific NGOs and non-profit organizations were singled out to be investigated, she said and voiced hope that detailed talks will be held with the government to explain why NGOs engaged in civil and political liberties are being investigated.

The Serbian government said in its 25 page reply that the investigation was conducted to protect the non-profit sector from possible abuse by getting information about the sector’s size and activities. Ni Aolain warned that this could jeopardize the non-profit sector, adding that she made that clear in her letter. Information, including financial, which is private, sensitive and could compromise individuals because they have a high level of protection which includes international protection of human rights, should never be gathered. She said that just the idea that anyone could randomly collect that information makes things complicated.

The rapporteur said that under Financial Action Task Force (FATF) guidelines states should not do that but have to have reasonable and strong reasons as well as clear and transparent way of choosing which specific non-profits to investigate. She warned that there is no evidence to prove claims that the non-profit sector is getting preferential treatment.