Filed under: Human rights and rule of law Peace and security Poverty Roma Social inclusion

Roma family, Blazevo Serbia

Family in Blazevo, Novi Pazar, Serbia

Last Thursday, 21 June, Japanese Ambassador Toshio Tsunozaki and I traveled to Novi Pazar, deep in southwestern Serbia, a region distant and deprived, and known as the Sandzak.

The United Nations and the Embassy of Japan are hoping to launch a new initiative this autumn with support from the Human Security Trust Fund, which is generously supported by the Government and people of Japan.

We visited Mayor Meho Mahmutovic, who was just appointed to another four-year term.  We found that he’s one step ahead of the game. He’s beating a drum for a new and broader definition of human security:

“People can only be happy and healthy when they are economically, socially, environmentally and physically secure,” he says. “They have to be secure in their sense of belonging.”

The Mayor’s definition is forward leaning. It far transcends convention that is anchored narrowly to notions of physical security. The Mayor’s definition is also in lock-step with the paradigm embraced by the Human Security Trust Fund which was inspired by the legendary Mme Sadako Ogata. Mme Ogata’s vision of democracy, development and security was no doubt influenced by her decade at the helm of the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, and subsequent decade steering Japan’s International Cooperation Agency.

Who will the programme target if awarded? Any who are vulnerable. Disenfranchised. Excluded. As the mayor noted, many in Novi Pazar and the Sandzak are struggling – they live in poverty and they are unemployed.

And so he, and other mayors in the region, will partner with the United Nations to help create sustainable jobs; secure access to legal registration, health, education, social services; and diffuse and disseminate the new Human Security paradigm. The United Nations team will include: UNOPS, World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR), and UNDP.

Mayor Mahmutovic has pledged his support and advocacy. He also pledged to provide the land on which a new cooperative business will be located.

The parcels that are currently being contemplated are close to the Blazevo settlement where 36 internally displaced (IDP) families have lived for 14 years after being forced from Obilic in Kosovo.**

Ambassador Tsunozaki and I visited the Blazevo settlement with the Mayor’s advisor, Mirsad Jusfuvic. The refrains are familiar – most are unemployed and want secure and sustainable jobs. They depend upon recycling that they collect in Novi Pazar and sell to a guy named Victor in Raska township down the road. Many get no support from social programmes because they have no papers. Most of the kids  attend school – 59 are in primary and secondary school, 10 are in kindergarten, and 11 are in preschool. But transport is difficult, and the families have to rely on community-members to shuttle the kids back and forth in rickety cars. Registration is a big problem. Without birth, identity or other documents, they can’t get work, medical care or other social services. The community also wants water and electricity. They’re frustrated that past promises have not been kept.

Roma community, Serbia

Vision for Novi Pazar: belonging and security

“We need to move from isolation to integration,” says Semiha Kacar from the Sandzak Committee for Human Rights says.

She agrees with Mayor Mehmutovic:

“It’s imperative that we create a sense of belonging. There is little trust between the local community and national leaders.”

This fuels disenfranchisement. With Novi Pazar and municipalities in south Serbia, the United Nations is working to promote belonging and security. Security in a broad sense, which is exactly the sense that is being advanced worldwide by the Human Security Trust Fund.

William S. Infante*  is the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Serbia.

** Referred to in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244/1999.