The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić was a guest on the evening news of TV Vesti.
We have Zoran Pašalić here with us, the ombudsman. Thank you for being here, good evening and welcome. Is there discrimination now in the pandemic?
There is currently no discrimination in the pandemic, but there could be if some measures would be taken that are discriminatory.
There are many, many situations. I know what you're going to ask me.
Here's why I'm asking you that. People are writing on Twitter – the authorities in Belgrade have announced that they will provide incentives for vaccinated people from next week, so that all those who are fully vaccinated can buy tickets for theater and festivals with a 30% discount. So, can those who have not been vaccinated so far, in relation to this information, feel discriminated against or not?
Discrimination as a concept, i.e., the prohibition of discrimination in general, is regulated by the European Convention, Article 14, which provides a general framework for each state so that it can regulate with its positive regulations what it will consider discrimination, and this is also mentioned in the Constitution, Article 21, paragraph 3. It is said that both direct and indirect placing of a person in a discriminatory position, is prohibited on any grounds. On the other hand, the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, in its Article 2, which defines the notion of discrimination, says that any distinction that is not allowed, any wrong expression, is considered discrimination. Is it affirmative or can it be considered discrimination what you just mentioned? I will say what isn’t said in this tweet, and that is – if you have a person who cannot be vaccinated and who would like to be vaccinated...
And for health reasons he can't…
And for health reasons he can't, and you prevent him from exercising a right or you deny him something from what I just mentioned, meaning you put him in a position to be different from others, then that is certainly discrimination.
What do citizens write to you about the corona virus, what do they complain about, what do they praise, what bothers them, do they give any constructive suggestions from which you can draw a conclusion and give a recommendation to someone?
You see, I have been vaccinated and I am a supporter of the vaccine and no one has complained to us on the basis of discrimination in the vaccination process.
All the complaints, that is, everything citizens turn to us about refers to something that is not directly related to treatment or vaccination, but more to those moments that are a consequence of overload due to vaccination and the treatment of Covid, and that refers to long waits, a long period for solving their current problems, which used to be solved much faster earlier.
Okay, so what is your message to citizens who have identified themselves now in these things that you mentioned? Is it to be patient, must it really be so, or mustn’t it?
Sometimes it takes patience, and sometimes the executive authorities really fail, because they use all this that is happening in our country and everywhere in the world to justify themselves, so some things that they must do – they don’t.
There was lots of different information throughout the evening. For example, in France, in the latest news, Macron announced tonight on national television that from Monday, all schools in the country will be closed for three weeks, and that classes will take place online. Unlike them, in the European Union, the Greeks are opening retail facilities on 5 April and are inviting us, not only us, but all tourists to come. Then, a court in Belgium ordered the Government of its country to repeal all measures because it assessed that those measures were not legal, and it gave a deadline of one month. If they do not repeal all measures within that month, the Government will pay a fine of 50,000 euros. Help us understand that information.
You see, primarily, each state regulates the behavior in the community in the manner regulated by the Constitution, the law and certain bylaws that are passed by the Government at that moment, the local self-government and so on. Nobody questions the legality of these measures, these decisions, because the axiom is that they should be legal. So, the procedure of their adoption must be based on the law, and they must also be harmonized with the regulations, i.e., with those legal acts that are of a higher rank, and the highest is the Constitution. Now, another question arises...
It is the implementation of all these decisions, the implementation of all these measures... Is the manner of their implementation, the behavior of citizens in accordance with that, and how should it be sanctioned?
What’s it like in our country?
In my opinion, it is not regulated in the right way. In what sense? In the sense that you have information every day, on every television, that a catering facility was closed because it hosted several dozens, hundreds of people during the night or in the morning, in one case I think there were even 1,000 people. The communal police...
Okay, so what's wrong with that?
...intervened, a fine was written, a so-called misdemeanor warrant... I don't know if you know this, but I used to work in the Misdemeanor Court and I know very well, because we wrote that law, we from the Misdemeanor Court, so I know very well that this is not a way to sanction a person. Why? First, a misdemeanor warrant involves either paying within 8 days, or writing an objection to the misdemeanor warrant, in which case the court decides via the proceedings. That, as they say, dulls the edge of the sanction a lot. The sanction must be such that the one who knowingly violates these provisions, decrees, decisions, is really sanctioned in the right way. It is mentioned...
So, are you saying that the legislation is not good in regard with this case?
It is not good. Here, I will tell you very simply...
And especially all these young people, they get fined 5,000 dinars each...
That's right. The fine is 2,500 dinars if they pay within 8 days.
Yes, they pay promptly, so that's 2,500.
What matters is how they are punished and how the organizer of all that is punished. There is only one goal – that the vast majority of people, who very responsibly adhere to these measures, do not bear the consequences because of the fact that the minority does not adhere and does not adhere to the measures consciously, as lawyers say, deliberately. No one opens such a facility or stays in it inadvertently, but rather does so with intent, as lawyers would say.
They got ready to go out, is that what you mean?
That's right. It’s not just that they got ready to go out, but someone who opened such a facility had a specific goal. He consciously wanted to do what he did for his own reasons. The provisions of the Criminal Code were also mentioned here. The criminal procedure is long, despite all the speed that the court can provide, the criminal procedure will not produce the result it should, and that is an urgent decision, an urgent measure, an urgent sanction that hurts, and which practically demotivates everyone else who would do something similar to actually do it.
Okay, but does that mean we don't have such a sanction now?
We don't have it; we don't implement some things... Now, I’m not sure how much it's up to the Protector of Citizens to speak on that topic, but I think that...
You can speak as a former judge...
I believe that as a person who protects citizens, I have to protect the largest majority from the irresponsible minority, so I will say what I will say, and that is – there is Article 308 in the Law on Misdemeanors, which has always existed and no one has ever questioned its constitutionality...
Which says that the enforcement is more important than the finality or to be specific, so that the viewers understand me... When one finds such a situation that someone opens a facility, full of people without a mask, outside the regulations...
The owner opened his facility, all right, and?
The owner opened it or whoever... or not just the owner, someone opened his house and organized a private party.
All right, an organizer, let's call him that.
The organizer is immediately brought to the judge of the Misdemeanor Court, where it is immediately said...
The judge on duty?
The judge on duty, I used to do that myself, as well as the information commissioner, Mr. Milan Marinović. And then, immediately, a sentence is imposed on the spot, which can be alternative – financial or prison, and can be cumulative – financial and prison, as well as a protective measure, which is a ban on performing activities.
Wait, how do you...
Just let me just finish so that the citizens can understand.
At that point, that person must pay that fine and go to jail if necessary; so, there is no possibility of any delay, he has the right to appeal from the position he is in, but it is implemented immediately.
Let me ask you, why are you the first person who... well, you are not the only lawyer and judge in the country who says this like this on television, so why has no one done that so far?
I couldn't tell you that. I am not trying to emphasize myself with what I am doing now, I am the Protector of Citizens...
Okay, but you were a judge, so you have the experience to say that.
I can say from a judge's point of view and I can say from the point of view of a person who has experience in implementing such measures, that once, when that measure referred to driving under the influence of alcohol, I guarantee you, and you can check, that when the police started performing checks in Belgrade, and I was on the field at the time, no one would dare to drive a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, in any amount. The measure was so strict that no one wanted to play and drive under the influence of alcohol that night and then wake up the next day in Padinska Skela, if a man, or in the women's prison in Požarevac, if a woman.
Does that mean that we have a solution but we do not apply it?
I’m really not going to talk about it, I’m just offering one option that is sure to work. And someone will say, how come the Protector of Citizens talks about prisons? But we have 90 percent, to mention percentages, of people who adhere to the rules and who suffer the consequences of all this. Caterers suffer consequences, those who strictly abide by the regulations cannot work, those who would relax in any other way cannot do it. On the other hand, you have every day or almost every day, not only in Belgrade, examples that someone violates the prescribed. Then the question arises whether that measure is adequate.
I am thinking about what the experts, your colleagues and those who can implement that sanction, but have not implemented it so far, will say now to the public. What do you think?
You see, it’s a matter of a change in the Law on the Protection of Public Health. There is one article that practically changes the whole picture. I know very well that the judges of the Misdemeanor Court in the Republic of Serbia know very well how to do their job and are ready to respond to any challenge, not to go further into the issue of the effectiveness of measures that are imposed and may not be motivating, but if the situation repeats itself night after night, day after day, then the question arises as to whether these measures are effective.
What do your colleagues ombudsmen from the region and the world tell you? Are they a little jealous of you because you have the opportunity to get vaccinated and be safe against the corona virus and they don't?
They are asking to find a way to come and get vaccinated here. I've heard that many times... but it's not up to me. The procedure for how they can be vaccinated in the Republic of Serbia as foreign citizens is well known. Colleagues tell me that they have a huge number of complaints that they receive precisely because of the vaccination. It is not up to me to talk about the organization of another country, but it is obvious that Serbia is the best organized, not only in the region.
And how are companies organized? Do they adhere to everything and what do the workers say, do they have any objections to the attitudes of the management, to work from home, to withdrawal from the work from home? Do you have any kind of complaints there?
We had a lot of pressure there at the beginning of all this, so in April-May last year. Now it has mostly come to what should be called a proper way to act and work. In the beginning, there were big problems, because the employers did not provide sufficient distance or means of protection, nor did they implement protection measures.
On what occasion did you address journalists and media associations today? You mentioned co-financing of certain projects, what is that about?
The Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina provided a comprehensive research on the problems that journalists face in their work, from their financial and social problems, to what is colloquially called an attack or pressure on journalists. We attended all this, it was very important to us because of the platform we created together with most journalists' associations, which records all the attacks. But it is very important to me that they mentioned a key thing and that is the socio-economic position of journalists, which is bad. We are talking about non-permanent contracts, very small salaries, possibilities of pressure... Apart from that, those fees or salaries that they receive, another thing is also important, and that is that there is no serious solidarity among journalists. I always emphasized that.
Were any cases mentioned or do you mean in general?
No, they were not mentioned, but that can be determined on the basis of existing cases. So, you cannot be a journalist of one media house or another, you are a journalist and that’s it. If your colleague, who may have a different program policy, is attacked, this should absolutely stimulate you to think and act. You can’t make such differences, and often those differences are made, so you hear people say that some are more attacked, and some are less attacked. So, that solidarity is needed.
You mention journalists, I'll mention lawyers. Why do we have your colleagues among lawyers who interpret the same thing and the same law and the same event in two completely different ways?
You opened a phenomenal topic, and that is the question of which kingdom to join? Maybe the one that exists in Anglo-Saxon law, and that is the so-called court practice or precedent that, when a decision that is made on the same factual basis, obliges all judges in advance. Every judge is autonomous in making his decision, and the only instance that can question that decision is the High Court. The thing that you said is very important because only a court, a higher instance, can relinquish a lower instance verdict. I have spoken about that several times, when some tried to reconsider court decisions, to assess whether they were good or bad. That, if it is not a decided matter, must not be done, to put it mildly.
What is your activity plan until the end of this year? Have you adapted it to the pandemic and the strange, unusual conditions for business?
The pandemic has been going on for too long for us to be able to stop some activities that were regular for us before, such as visits to all places in the Republic of Serbia where problems occur, that the Protector of Citizens can solve. That's what we're going to talk about...
You are wearing a mask, so you are taking care of yourself.
We all wear masks, we respect the protection measures and all of us who work in the institution have to protect ourselves, as well as all citizens of the Republic.
You see, the Minister in charge of family care tested positive today and he says that it is because he travels a lot, so he doesn't know where he got infected, but he certainly got infected somewhere on the road.
We are going on journeys regardless of that risk, but bearing in mind that we need to protect ourselves seriously. It is known how measures should be implemented and we all live in the hope, as almost everyone in the institution has been vaccinated, that this plague will bypass us, and if it happens, great.
Thank you very much for the information you shared with our audience.