Who we are?
The Judicial Base South (JBS) coalition brings together individuals and associations organized into an informal coalition with the aim of contributing to strengthening the capacity for the rule of law in southern Serbia, especially in the field of judiciary. The coalition was formed in 2019 and it is primarily active in Niš, Leskovac, Vranje, Pirot and Prokuplje, as well as in the other municipalities of Nišava, Jablanica, Pčinj, Pirot and Toplica districts. Besides operating in the south of Serbia, JBS also brings its activities, policies and initiatives to the national level. The coalition is led by the Committee for Human Rights Niš (CHRIN) and the Open Society Foundation Serbia and in addition to gathering prominent individuals (professors, attorneys-at-law, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, journalists, students, NGO activists), it includes Iustitia from Niš, the Team for Development and Integration from Vranje, the Centre for Democracy and Development and Agency Association - both from Leskovac. Our media partners are Južne vesti (Niš), InfoVranjske (Vranje), Jugpress (Leskovac) and Naše Nove Novine (Leskovac).
We were founded through the project "Strengthening the capacity for the rule of law - the south of Serbia" implemented by the Open Society Foundation and the Committee for Human Rights, Niš - as an urge to connect and animate the existing pool of professionals in the south of Serbia and to engage them in building new pools of professionals - both analytically and advocacy-oriented.
Before the foundation of our coalition, the impression was that dealing with the topic of judicial reform and most of the processes addressed in the Action Plan for Chapter 23 - Judiciary – was performed exclusively in Belgrade (not only the engagement of the government but also the activities of the civil society and expert community). Nearly, no relevant initiative that dealt with, or addressed the reform of the judiciary was initially instigated and developed outside Belgrade. On the other hand, the south of Serbia is intriguing in many ways: the Niš Bar Association is the third largest bar association in Serbia; Niš is a university town with a Faculty of Law; some of the most reputable and interesting independent local media are located in the south of Serbia; one of the four Appellate courts is located in Niš; the phenomenon of mass claims (colloquially called in Serbian: masovke) originated in Niš. Furthermore, the protests of the citizens against the superciliousness of state enterprises and public authorities started in Niš, before this was done in Belgrade. So, we see Niš and the south of Serbia as an environment of contradictions: on the one hand, inertness and lack of initiative and, on the other hand, strong human potential - both in terms of expertise and in terms of activist capacity and enthusiasm. In this way, we want not only to contribute to the "debelgradization" of Serbia but also to reduce the gap that exists between Niš and other cities in the south (in terms of capacity, energy and dynamics). Therefore, we want to bring topics that are current and important at the central (national) level closer to the local one; and, on the other hand, to bring the specific perceptions that we learned locally - to the national level.
What is the sphere of our interest and which course of action do we want to take?
We are interested in most of the processes addressed in the Action Plan for Chapter 23 - Justice. So, in the broadest sense, we are interested in the rule of law, and within it - the independence, efficiency and quality of the judiciary. We are concerned about the dual position in which we find the judiciary - the position of the victim and the position of the perpetrator. On the one hand, there is complete inequality between the judiciary and the other two branches, especially the executive branch. The situation we are faced with, is the one in which the judiciary represents a victim, and the executive and legislative branches embodied in the omnipotence of political parties do not enable, and often do not allow the judiciary to be constituted and function independently, professionally, responsibly and sensibly. Such judiciary further violates the human rights of citizens; leads to feelings of legal and personal insecurity; fails to fight corruption in the state and society; obstructs principles of transparency and accountability; does not enable the resolution of scandals that trouble the state and society; does not encourage the development of the economy and economics; fail to contribute to the creation of a stimulating environment for investments; and thus does not guarantee environmental protection to citizens. This further produces negative implications for the socio-economic position of citizens and consequently affects other trends and phenomena: negative birth rate, population decline, the collapse of the value system, domestic violence, peer violence, fake diplomas and many other deviations in the society. We want to contribute by making it possible for the judiciary to gain adequate functional and personal independence, and to provide adequate conditions for its smooth and productive work so that employees in the judiciary can gain appropriate authority and respect in society. On the other hand, we want to deal with the responsibility of the judiciary, not only employees in the judiciary but also all the actors on whose work the operation of the judiciary depends - legislative and executive authorities, independent bodies (especially the High Judicial Council and the State Prosecutorial Council), political parties, police, court experts, administrative bodies, other public authorities and state bodies, as well as educational institutions.
What are these specific topics and phenomena?
Judiciary reform strategy; change of the Constitution; organization and functionality of the judiciary; bar associations and legal professions between private and public interest; prosecution in theory and practice; obstacles to access to justice; abuse of procedural powers and delay in proceedings; the relationship between the media and the judiciary; the media as a tool to put pressure on the judiciary; the phenomenon of judiciary and media GONGOs; the European integration process as leverage for judicial reform; the phenomenon of mass claims (mass lawsuits) and collective redress mechanisms; length of proceedings and the European Court of Human Rights (trial within a reasonable time); open data format in the judiciary; work of the judiciary under the COVID-19 pandemic conditions - challenges and obstacles; judiciary in the service of environmental protection.
How do we act?
Our work is, by its nature, non-profit and we intend to perform it both voluntarily, based on our enthusiasm, and with the support of donors through the participation in calls for proposals and public calls. The approaches to our work include:
Education (organizing lectures, training courses and workshops);
Scientific research (conducting research, drafting professional articles and expert analyses, etc.);
Activism-Advocacy (informing the community of experts and the general community about our researches; advocating for the change (based on our research); advocating for reaching a broader consensus for certain changes; indicating violations of the rule of law and noncompliance with the law; involving participants of our training in actions of activism-advocacy).
Our target groups are the community of experts, state bodies, judiciary employees, the media and, via the media, our most important target group - all citizens of Serbia.
The Program Council of the coalition designs and develops project activities for a longer period, gives proposals for both the content and technical implementation of the project, and works on the further expansion of the coalition.
The members of the Program Council are:
Ivan Grujić, the Director of the Agency Association from Leskovac;
Prof. dr Nevena Petrušić, a professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Niš;
Aleksandar Stankov, a journalist from Niš;
Dr Ivan Ilić, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Niš; the President of Iustitia, Niš;
Dejan Stamenković, a judge of the High Court in Leskovac;
Andrija Ivić, a deputy public prosecutor at High Public Prosecutor Niš and a Board member of the Association of Public Prosecutors and Deputy Public Prosecutors of Serbia;
Bojana Arsenijević, a teaching assistant at the Faculty of Law, University of Niš;
Mihajlo Stojković, an editor-in-chief at InfoVranjske portal; the Director of the Team for Development and Integration, Vranje;
Nebojša Stanković, PhD, an attorney-at-law from Niš;
Dragan Djordjević, the President of the Committee for Human Rights, Niš;
Mihajlo Čolak, the Program Director of the Committee for Human Rights, Niš.
The coalition is coordinated by Mihajlo Čolak and Dragan Đorđević.