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The Protector of Citizens highlighted that the legal deadline for initiating judicial proceedings for determining facts on “missing babies”, which expires on 11 September 2020, should be extended for more than a month and a half i.e. for the duration of the state of emergency proclaimed due to the coronavirus epidemic as the deadlines in court proceedings were suspended in that period pursuant to Government’s Decree.

Accordingly, the Protector of Citizens calls the courts to take into account the Government’s Decree on the deadlines in court proceedings during the state of emergency proclaimed on 15 March 2020, which entered into force on 20 March 2020. Article 1 of the Decree specifies that the deadlines for initiating non-contentious procedure (pursuant to which the proceedings for establishing facts on “missing babies” are also conducted) cease to run over the state of emergency.

The Decree of the Government of Serbia ceased to be valid on the day when the state of emergency was lifted on 6 May 2020 at which point the deadlines started running again.

“The problem of 'missing babies', which has not been solved for many years now and which is a harsh mark for our society, must get its epilogue, according to the Law. That is why we will endeavor to end the cases of 'missing babies' within the legally prescribed conditions, in order for parents to finally get the truth they have been waiting for decades in court proceedings”, the Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, stated.

The Protector of Citizens has used and will be using his legal right, on behalf of parents and any other person authorized to participate in resolving these cases, to petition the Court for ascertaining the facts on the status of a newborn infant suspected to have disappeared from maternity wards in Serbia, Mr. Pašalić has said adding that he has filed several such petitions to the court.

The Protector of Citizens has pointed out that the deadline for initiating the procedure prescribed by the Law on Determining the Facts on the Status of Newborn Infants Suspected to Have Disappeared from Maternity Wards in the Republic of Serbia, which entered into force on 11 March 2020, should be extended for another 47 days during which the deadlines for initiating these proceedings were brought to a halt due to the state of emergency.

Article 17 of the Law specifies the deadline for initiating proceedings before the court within six months from entering into force, so according to the Law, 11 September 2020 is the last day of the deadline. As the deadlines for initiating new proceedings ceased to run from 20 March 2020 to 6 May 2020, the Protector of Citizens believes that the deadline for instigating the proceedings for ascertaining the facts on missing babies should be extended.

Article 15 of the Law on Establishing Facts on the Status of Newborn Infants Suspected to Have Disappeared from Maternity Wards in the Republic of Serbia stipulates that a petition for ascertaining facts on the status of newborn infants suspected to have disappeared from a maternity ward in the Republic of Serbia, may be filed by the Protector of Citizens on behalf of parents and other authorized persons.

After learning from the media that children with spinal muscular atrophy have been waiting for six months for the only therapy they can receive, while their health condition is deteriorating, the Protector of Citizens launched today own initiative investigations of controlling work legality and regularity of Republic Health Insurance Fund (RHIF) and Child and Adolescent Neurology and Psychiatry Clinic in Belgrade.

Due to the possibility of endangering or violating the rights and best interests of a child, in the procedure initiated after learning from the media that there is a delay in the procedure of registering "Risdiplam" syrup, the Protector of Citizens demands that these two institutions notify him on the relevant facts and circumstances related to the procedures of approval and registration of this medicine.

The Protector of Citizens requests the RHIF and the Child and Adolescent Neurology and Psychiatry Clinic to notify him within 15 days on the measures and activities that will be taken in this case, as well about the phase of considering the medicine’s approval and registration as well as about the time when a final decision might be expected.

Ministry of Health, Sector for Inspection, Department for Health Inspection, branch in Niš, made an omission in their work by failing to provide the complainant with a notification on the outcome of the inspection procedure, which violated the complainant's right to reply and violated the principles of good administration, the Protector of Citizens established.

In addition, it did not achieve adequate cooperation with the Protector of Citizens, as it provided the body with incomplete and inaccurate answers.

Based on the identified shortcomings in the work, the Protector of Citizens issued a recommendation to the Ministry of Health, Sector for Inspection, Department for Health Inspection that in the future the body will deliver notifications on the outcome of inspection procedures to the applicants within the legal deadlines, and that it will provide the Protector of Citizens, upon his request, with complete, precise and concrete answers.

The Protector of Citizens identified omissions in the work of the Republic Geodetic Authority, Real Estate Cadaster Office in Lazarevac because it posted the decision on the Authority’s website and on the body’s bulletin board, although the delivery was not carried out in accordance with the applicable legal regulations.

Thus, the complainant’s rights to be informed about the outcome of the investigation upon the submitted request and to challenge the decision of the body by using a legal remedy were violated.

The Protector of Citizens in its capacity as the National Preventive Mechanism has pointed out for years to the shortcomings of the current organization of mental health care. These shortcomings have been recognized as well in the Mental Health Protection Program in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2019-2026 adopted by the Government in late 2019, and the Protector of Citizens expects that the activities envisaged by the Action Plan for the implementation of the Program will be implemented within the set deadlines.

Patients and beneficiaries with intellectual and mental disabilities are hospitalized and institutionalized for a long time in one part of large psychiatric hospitals and residential social welfare institutions, which are understaffed and have adverse material conditions, whereas the respect for their human and patients’ rights is not always possible to exercise. Due to COVID-19 epidemic, the rights of this particularly vulnerable group have been additionally restricted, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens states.

However, systemic activities regarding deinstitutionalization have not been implemented, nor have conditions been created for the care and support of persons with intellectual and mental disabilities (and their families) in the local community.

Bearing in mind that, amid the current epidemiological situation (as in similar extraordinary circumstances) the need to improve mental health care system is even more pronounced and significant than in ordinary circumstances, the Protector of Citizens points out to the necessity to do the following without delay: develop a network of community mental health services that will provide comprehensive mental health care, with as few restrictions as possible and as close to the family as possible; employ more people to strengthen the existing specialized services at health care institutions and provide continuous education of employees in the field of mental health.

Equally important segment is investing in the fight against stigmatization and discrimination of persons with mental disorders, raising awareness of mental health importance and investing in mental health reforms to respect human rights and treat persons with mental disorders in accordance with the modern psychiatry principles, Deputy Protector of Citizens, Ms. Nataša Tanjević, PhD emphasizes. As she said, special attention should be paid to particularly vulnerable groups, prevention of mental disorders of children and youth, improvement of mental health and treatment of the elderly with mental disorders, as well as improvement of protection and care of persons serving medical security measures (forensic patients).

Lack of funds for mental health protection allocated from the budget of the Republic of Serbia i.e. the lack of data on the percentage of these funds in relation to the funds allocated for health care in general must not serve as an excuse or be an impediment to the necessary investments in preserving and improving citizens’ mental health.

The Protector of Citizens, in performing the tasks of the National Preventive Mechanism in 2020 and in order to monitor the treatment of persons in the execution of medical security measures, visited the Special Hospitals for Psychiatric Diseases in Vršac and Gornja Toponica, and the findings from these visits will be published within a special thematic report, after completing the planned visits to all institutions where forensic patients are being treated in the Republic of Serbia.

World Mental Health Day is celebrated every year on 10 October at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health and with the support of the World Health Organization.

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