TROLL OF THE MONTH: Serbian Ombudsman Zoran Pašalić

December 6, 2023

The Balkan Troll of the Month is an individual, a group of individuals or a media outlet that spreads hate based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or other diversity categories. The Balkan Troll is selected based on hate speech incidents identified across the Western Balkans region.

On the 24th of November, at the start of the global campaign ’16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence,’ an event under the name ‘Imagine Life Without Violence‘ was organised by the United Nations in Serbia. The focus of the campaign was on young people as the driving force of change, activism, and their role towards building a society with zero tolerance for violence against women and girls. Alongside this, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue launched a campaign under the name ‘Stop femicide!’ aimed at raising awareness across Serbia of the gravity of the issue at hand. Twenty-seven  women have been killed by men this year in Serbia. It was also launched with the intent of mobilising all public institutions, media, local self-governments, civil society organisations and other actors to implement a policy of zero tolerance towards violence..

According to UN Women, femicide is the “intentional killing with a gender-related motivation, femicide may be driven by stereotyped gender roles, discrimination towards women and girls, unequal power relations between women and men, or harmful social norms”. As explained by UN Women, femicide is the most brutal manifestation of violence against women and girls.

Nevertheless, not everyone would agree with this definition. On the first day of the campaign ‘Stop femicide!’ at the conference organised by the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, Serbian Ombudsman Zoran Pašalić made a public statement claiming that femicide is “a wrong term”. In his address, Pašalić stated that it is a wrong term because “men don’t kill women because they are women”, but rather the violence exists because of “disrupted partner, spouse and other relationships”.

Femicide is, unfortunately, a reality. The prevalence of femicide in the Western Balkans reflects a deeply rooted societal issue which demands attention in order to dismantle the systemic gender-based violence. Indeed, “over the past ten years, more than 300 femicides have occurred in Serbia”, and as a recent investigation by the Centre for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) suggests, many remaining family members of victims of femicide who try to seek justice in court, often do not find it there.

One of the biggest obstacles to achieving justice for victims is the fact that femicide itself is not deemed a criminal offence in the country, and as a result, there is a lack of statistical evidence of such cases. Cases of femicide, instead, are treated as aggravated murder, where the punishment can range from 10 years to life in prison. The sentences for murder or domestic violence resulting in death are a maximum of 15 years behind bars.

Various initiatives around the Western Balkans including in Serbia have aimed at creating awareness through campaigns and reports amongst others, to show the truth and reality of femicide. Organisation FemPlatz, under the hashtag #StopFemicide created an interactive map of femicide in Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, and Serbia from 2020 to today. The cases are mostly collected from the media and are cross-checked with the relevant institutions and reports from other organisations. The aim of this initiative is firstly, to map and show the presence of femicide in the four countries, highlighting the need for more to be done as well as to provide guidance to relevant institutions – both current and future – on how to present the statistics in a transparent, systematic, and accessible manner.

Femicide is a serious topic which requires education, laws, and mechanisms in place to prevent the killing of women on account of them being women and to ensure women’s safety and justice for victims.

An individual such as Serbian Ombudsman Zoran Pašalić, who has a platform and duty to protect his citizens, rather than condemning and addressing the issue of femicide in the country, has instead eroded its gravity. By claiming that women are not killed due to the fact that they are women, is both incorrect and highly insensitive to all those who have fallen victim to such crimes and to all those women who have feared for their lives at the hands of another due to being a woman. Femicide must be tackled on a national, regional, and global level to ensure that woman do not have to fear for their safety and that they know that relevant institutions and laws are in place to offer them protection within society.