In May 2020, the Protector of Citizens’ team in their capacity as the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) paid an unannounced visit to Smederevo Police Administration in order to monitor the implementation of the Recommendations from the Report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) which followed the visits to the Republic of Serbia in 2017. The team leader was the Deputy Protector of Citizens, Ms. Nataša Tanjević, PhD. Following the visit, the Team issued the Report with Recommendations to Smederovo PA.

The Ministry of Interior’s response on acting on the recommendations reads that a new room has been designated in the facility where confiscated items will be kept, that conditions have been provided for disposing of these items, and that police officers have been warned of the ban on keeping the confiscated items in offices. In addition, police officers were instructed to record in the detention record the date and time when the family member, relative or defense counsel was informed of the person's deprivation of liberty.

The response also stated that due to the epidemic, the seminar "PEACE Model for Conducting Investigative Interviews" was postponed, intended for all police officers who exercise police powers and aimed at professionalizing the way interviews with witnesses, victims and suspects are conducted, and that it would continue as soon as health conditions establish. Within the Professional Development Program, classes on the topic "Police work with minority, marginalized and socially vulnerable groups" are also planned.

Regarding the recommendation that all persons detained for more than 12 hours be provided with at least one full meal, the Protector of Citizens was informed that acting on this recommendation was underway, in coordination with the Police Directorate, which would take measures within its competence to realize the agreements for providing hot meals from the District Prison in Smederevo and the barracks in Smederevska Palanka.

The Smederevo PA did not act on the recommendation regarding the provision of dedicated interrogation rooms and equipment with appropriate technical equipment for recording the interrogation, as its implementation depends on the available budget funds of the Ministry of Interior and the list of priorities set for providing dedicated premises in all police administrations in the country.

The death penalty was abolished in Serbia in 2002, and last carried out in 1992. The re-introduction of the death penalty is occasionally raised again in the public, and this attitude of citizens is correlated with cases of monstrous violence against children, domestic violence and similar crimes that justifiably provoke great public condemnation and require the most severe punishment, Deputy Protector of Citizens Ms. Natasa Tanjević, PhD. accentuates on marking the World Day against the Death Penalty.

However, the reintroduction of the death penalty would be impermissible, in any case and under any circumstances. Although punishment as a repressive measure is necessary given that it performs an important function in society by protecting the most important human goods and deterring crime as a generally dangerous social phenomenon, this does not mean that it should be reduced to mere repression and its goal must not be revenge to the perpetrator of the crime. We should strive for a fair and proportionate punishment that will best meet the requirements of general and special prevention.

In two-thirds of the world's countries, the death penalty has been abolished in law or not carried out, and in countries that have not yet done so, there is no evidence that the crime rate is lower or that the number of the most serious crimes is decreasing. In addition, the death penalty opposes the current state of culture and civilization and the wide possibilities available to the modern state in the fight against crime, the Deputy Protector of Citizens, Ms. Natasa Tanjević, PhD emphasizes. The attitude against the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances derives from both the universal and fundamental right to life.

On the World Day against the Death Penalty, the Protector of Citizens reminds that since 2007, when the Republic of Serbia chaired the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, 10 October has been marked as the European Day against the Death Penalty. This day is very important from the point of view of human rights protection, because it reminds of the importance of protecting the inviolability of human life and human dignity.

Members of the Protector of Citizens’ team in performing their capacity as the National Preventive Mechanism yesterday were not allowed to visit the Adult Disability Home in Zemun and thus fulfill their mandate. Even though the team is under no obligation to announce the visits, given the epidemiological situation, the visit was announced to the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy and to the Institution as well. The visit was aimed at a thematic examination of the position of particularly vulnerable categories of social welfare services beneficiaries in home accommodation, such as adults with physical disabilities amid COVID-19 epidemic.

However, at the entrance to the Institution they were awaited by the institution’s acting director notifying them that the relevant ministry does not allow access to the premises and the realization of the NPM’s visit and that the security guards are there to prevent entry into the institution.

This ban was imposed even though the Protector of Citizens, in communication with the Ministry’s representatives, indicated on multiple occasions that the visits to social welfare residential institutions would be conducted with full respect to the proscribed protective measures, wearing protective equipment and adjusting the methodology to the emerged situation.

Moreover, the visit was not allowed, although the Ministry was notified of all international commitments that our country has entered into by adopting the Law on Ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“Official Gazette of Serbia and Montenegro - International Agreements, No. 16 / 05 and 2/06 and "Official Gazette of RS - International Agreements", No. 7/11), noting that the prohibition of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is an imperative norm that is also binding amid the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

The Ministry was also reminded of the Advice of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment relative to the coronavirus pandemic (CAT/OP/10 dated 7 April 2020, adopted on 25 March 2020), where this body took clear position that the NPM should continue to perform its mandate, i.e. to undertake preventive visits during the COVID-19 virus pandemic, respecting the necessary restrictions on the manner in which visits are carried out and with reduced social contact.

We note that the Protector of Citizens in performing the work of the National Preventive Mechanism during the state of emergency, as well as after lifting it, performed the mandate in an unhindered manner in all institutions where persons deprived of liberty are/may be placed (institutes for execution of penal sanctions, police stations, reception centers for migrants, asylum centers, Shelter for foreigners, psychiatric hospitals) and that the professional conduct of the management and the employees during the teams’ visits posed a good practice example of conduct, pursuant to legally stipulated obligations to cooperate with the NPM.

The actions of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy not only violate legal regulations, international standards, the obligation of administrative authorities’ cooperation with the Protector of Citizens, but also it represents challenging and disabling the performance of the mandate of the Protector of Citizens in its capacity as the NPM, and all of this resulted in the impossibility to control the respect for the fundamental rights of persons who are in social welfare institutions and deter state bodies and officials from actions that might resemble torture.

The City Municipality of Vračar is the winner of the award given by the Protector of Citizens, in cooperation with the Team for Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction of the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities - Association of Towns and Municipalities of Serbia fourth year in a row, to cities, municipalities and city municipalities in the Republic of Serbia which contributed the most over the past year to the development of all forms of accessibility on their territory, i.e. in their surroundings.

The Municipality of Svilajnac was acknowledged for its continuous work on timely planning and improving accessibility, while the City of Niš was acknowledged for its contribution to improving the accessibility of the city center.

The awarding of prizes, acknowledgments, praises and certificates of appreciation to the local self-government units will be organized on 30 October 2020.

Following the Protector of Citizens’ Recommendation, the Ministry of Interior issued an order to all organizational units to change the existing manner of handling citizens’ submissions, meaning that the decisions on citizens’ requests need to be made as administrative acts i.e. to include the rationale and the instruction on legal remedy.

Upon completing the procedure of controlling the work of the Ministry of Interior in August 2020, the Protector of Citizens issued a Recommendation to the Ministry to qualify future citizens' submissions according to the content, to apply measures and activities within its competence and to decide in legally specified form, bearing in mind that in handling citizens’ requests in the past, it did not decide in the form of an administrative act.

The Ministry of Interior informed the Protector of Citizens that it had sent a recommendation on changing the manner of work to Ministry’s organizational units, which within their competencies applied the Law on General Administrative Procedure, for consistent implementation in the future.

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