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From the media

 

The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, was a guest in the show "Vesti" on TV “Vesti”.

The newly elected Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi decided to change the existing law with a new decree, that is, Article 32 of the Italian Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of choice of each individual in refusing treatment and receiving medical care. The decision was made when a week ago, in a private nursing home in the small town of Fiano Romano, not far from Rome, more than 30 beneficiaries became infected with the corona virus. And in Serbia, the Minister of Health, Zlatibor Lončar, said yesterday that we are considering the obligatory vaccination against Covid-19. He pointed out that this is a proposal of the health professionals for now. I am talking about this topic today with the Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, welcome. Can vaccination be mandatory at all?

You see, we heard the verdict of the Strasbourg court today…

Yes. That is exactly what I want to talk to you about, I'm just asking in general, to start with.

… the verdict came after the request of the parents of children from the Czech Republic, whose children were not vaccinated and therefore were not allowed to go to kindergarten or kindergartens...

Yes, and a fine followed.

I do not want to argue here with the Strasbourg court, although it would not be my first time, but we have to look at those regulations that are not only local or ours but those that are European and which we have accepted. I do not want to go back to 1948 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so I will mention the European Convention on Human Rights, which states in its Article 14 that discrimination on any grounds is prohibited. Also, our Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, in Article 2, defines discrimination exactly by saying that any kind of distinction is discriminatory. But regarding all this, I think one convention is the most important, and that is the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, which actually deals with biological and medical interventions, it is related to the field of health and biological research. In its Article 5 it says, and I am paraphrasing since I can’t quote, that for each medical procedure, the consent of that person or those persons on whom the procedure is performed must be obtained in advance, with the obligation to inform them in advance about that procedure. I think that article is very clear.

And this is a medical procedure.

What is vaccination if not a medical procedure?

Do you think that it maybe isn’t a medical procedure, compared to all those surgeries we have, interventions?

You see, every norm can be interpreted in one way or another. I have offered you a few norms that relate to this area. Why has the court in Strasbourg made the decision it made, I did not have time to read the explanation?

(reads the news) Here, I will tell you briefly, since we already started this topic. The verdict followed the conclusion of an appeal filed by some Czech families regarding the mandatory vaccination of children. The verdict reinforces the possibility of compulsory vaccination under the current pandemic, said Nicholas, a lawyer and expert specializing in the European Court of Human Rights. The decision says, among other things, that the obligatory vaccines prescribed by the Czech health authorities are in line with the best interests of children, Deutsche Welle reports. By the way, the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights set a precedent according to which mandatory vaccination must not be in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. This does not mean that European countries will force citizens to get vaccinated, but if they do, that decision would probably be legal in the eyes of the court. The court, it is added, supports the principle of social solidarity, which can justify the imposition of the vaccination on everyone, even those who feel less endangered by the disease when it comes to the protection of the most endangered persons. That's it, now you can comment a little.

It’s all been said. The sentence that this is a precedent indicates a very possible debate, which will surely follow these days, not only in our country, but probably in many European countries that deal with this issue. This begs the question, in this situation which the world and Europe found themselves in, can you order someone to get vaccinated? ... There are many questions regarding illnesses. I am not a doctor, so I do not want to sound unprofessional, but there really are contraindicated diseases. So, people who can't be vaccinated.

But that was also stated, among other things, we talked about it. There are certain situations in which the vaccine is not recommended. That is all nicely said and explained for now.

Yes, but the point is this: if it is a precedent that introduces a certain practice, we will see what that practice will lead to in some perhaps future judgments or proceedings that will be conducted. Let's make it clear, I was vaccinated, I am for vaccination, I speak on my own behalf as Zoran Pašalić, regardless of my function, I consider the vaccine a civilizational achievement. It is known who first brought the vaccine. It is even an interesting story, how the first smallpox vaccine came about, how someone noticed that it could be used as a means for someone to get immunized, and now we have it. We have, on one side, those who think that is not good. The most common reasons are that this vaccine has simply not been tested enough. I have always asked the question in some informal conversations – if that is the thesis, then how do they know that the vaccine is not good, if it has not been tested enough? Now, it's up to everyone to choose. For now, it is up to everyone to freely choose whether to be vaccinated or not. But in receiving the data, albeit from rather modest experiences, Serbia is really a leading country. Its experiences will probably serve many, primarily because of the speed of vaccination, the number of vaccinated people and the beginning of vaccination. I went up and down a bit, the beginning, the experiences of those who were vaccinated in relation to all the other, let’s say, factors...

Have you seen a large number of foreigners, not only here in Serbia, who have registered, who get vaccinated, who come from abroad here to receive a certain vaccine?

Believe me that, I can't name the countries, but my colleagues who do this work abroad called me and asked me how they could come to Serbia. That is, they can come, but how can they get vaccinated. 

And then we have examples of certain relevant world media, which we know have never spared us as the country of Serbia, which have been writing absolute praise for the last two weeks. They compare with Serbia, since it is not in the European Union, saying it is much better in this whole business than the entire European Union, a paradise for vaccines, among other things, not to mention other titles and texts.

How can they not write that when things are obvious? The talk about the vaccines went out beyond the borders of our country, first in the region and then beyond, because these are no longer calls only from the region, but much wider. Now citizens in Italy believe that their vaccination will come in a few months, and are trying to reach the Serbian border.

Yes, and today, among other things, their media report on the issue of mandatory vaccination of health workers, as some have complained that there are not enough vaccines and who knows when it will be their turn. We also have the other side when it comes to Italy. But let us return to our problems and situations, if we can call them that. We are talking about health workers, we compare ourselves with Italy in a sense, that is, we are thinking whether it will be like that in our country or not, and under what conditions can it be introduced for other categories of the population, not only for health workers. So, the rights, freedoms of certain categories, health workers are in question. Then it all entails a series of other decisions. Will there also be decisions regarding the vaccination of teachers, professors, all other workers who are in constant and daily contact with people, tellers, cashiers?

You and me both are in constant contact with someone. So, we are entering again, as I already mentioned, the domain of discrimination, of making a distinction. Anyone who has come in contact with other people will say that he is at a greater risk than someone who does not have to do that, either in his job or in the life situation in which he is in, not needing to be in contact with anyone. So, now we have the verdict of the court in Strasbourg, and in my opinion, it should include all those who really should be vaccinated only for medical reasons, i.e. where their disease is contraindicated for vaccination.

Unfortunately, somehow this issue is reduced to politics in our country, not only here, it has been reduced in other countries as well, so somehow the health issue, exclusively a health issue, becomes a political or economic issue and the essence is only one.

You know, economic issues also turn to political issues, so you always basically have political issues. Unfortunately...

But here we are primarily talking about health, people's lives, about all those who are fighting for those lives and who suffer a lot of pressure and have a lot of work, and who knows what, I'm talking about health workers. You know the situation yourself. And I say again, I consider the health the most important issue.

You see, Article 10a of the Law on the Protector of Citizens does not allow me and my deputies to give, comment or explain the political topics in general.

I did not ask you...

No, but I will use what you said because, unfortunately, it has been shown that in our country as well, in such a crisis situation, solidarity is the most important thing to get out of it. Solidarity by definition includes unity. We can disagree on many topics, you and me and anyone here in the studio, and we can argue or not argue, even quarrel, normally within the bounds of decency, but when it comes to people's health and lives, then I think we should be as supportive as possible and achieve the maximum unity. All those who somehow, to be as mild as possible, interpret all this with ridicule or with often unfounded criticism are most often the people, and let no one be offended, who argue hidden behind the keyboard and the computer monitor. I would really ask them to, as much as they can, as much as it is allowed and if it does not harm the work dynamics in hospitals and health institutions, to at least go take a look and see how much effort health workers put in, primarily because of the work that they do, and in general. I have contact with these people and I hear from them, I see these people, I hear their stories. In this situation, they really perform, nurses, medical technicians, all those who practically do jobs in medical institutions and doctors, a really, really hard job. We should appreciate that, nothing else. Appreciate and respect.

This solidarity is exactly what I wanted to ask you about. When I read the rationale of the court, of course, regarding this decision that we are talking about, it mentioned the principle of social solidarity, which you also mention and which you are talking about, among other things. Can this social solidarity essentially justify the obligation to vaccinate or should this social solidarity exist without obligation?

I have listed the articles of declarations and conventions. Often an article can be interpreted in one way or another, and that verdict from the Strasbourg court was reasoned, you read the rationale. I did not really read it entirely, regarding that moment that you mentioned, which I spoke about indirectly, but one thing should always be taken into account – if Europe has accepted a certain norm, then it must live by it or change it.

So, social solidarity. We talked a lot in the last few days about vaccines, vaccinations and so on, so, among other things, we remembered some old times, that is, we remembered by reading about them, since none of us were born then. We talked about typhus.

We can also talk about smallpox, when I was born...

That too, yes. And we found, among other things, an advertisement, that is, an article in the newspaper about typhus, where, among other things, people were invited to be vaccinated, saying, and now I am paraphrasing, that whoever does not receive the vaccine will not get bread and money, something like that, among other things.

A lot has changed since then. At that time, some other rules and some other laws were in force.

But there was no Protector of Citizens back then.

Thank you for that, but many things didn’t exist at that time... First of all, the Universal Declaration was adopted at the level of the UN in 1948, and these European conventions a little later I think, so many things have changed in all that, things are much different. Human rights are constantly advancing. But I will not argue now, I will not look for legal solutions. I am talking about solidarity in the sense of what is obvious. Maybe the court is wrong, maybe I am wrong, maybe that norm is not good, but what has been shown a thousand times in history and unfortunately many times in our country, is that solidarity and unity in solving a problem has always brought benefit to all. That is the essence, there isn’t any special wisdom here.

Yes, then we can also talk about those ideas and suggestions for entering, attending certain sporting events, cinemas, concerts and so on. Some have been vaccinated, some haven’t, we can also see that as discrimination.

I told you what the articles of the law say and what the difference is.

All right, can we say that the vaccines and vaccination are a matter of personal choice only, or a matter of awareness and responsibility for a common good?

You see, we can look at that from both sides. If we look from the aspect of solidarity, then it is a common good, but every common good consists of individual goods. If it is good for us individually, then it is good for everyone and vice versa. So, we have to look at it from that aspect as well. But what is important here? From what I said, it is the Article 5 of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. There is talk of informing, constantly informing people. Doctors appear, explain how the vaccine affects us, what we achieve with the vaccination. I think we have enough of that, if not too much. Excess information certainly does not hurt. And then what do we have on the opposite side? We have the situation where people are faced with dilemmas in a way that is not appropriate in my opinion, and that is mostly without giving any special arguments. Or, if there are arguments, then those opinions should be confronted in order to reach a real solution.

But those arguments should be professional and should come from professionals. Thank you very much.

The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, was a guest in the morning show "Uranak" on TV K1.

Here is a topic that is on the front pages of all newspapers today. The European Court of Human Rights passed a verdict stating that compulsory vaccination is legal and necessary in democratic societies. Have those who were supposed to suppress discrimination passed a discriminatory act? Where is the right to freedom of choice? And can such a decision of the European Court of Human Rights influence some decisions of Serbia in the future? What might happen, will something change, even though it is not mandatory for now? I will talk about that with Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens. Good morning! Three steps. The law says that in case of an epidemic, emergency immunization can be ordered within the framework of our acts. Covid 19 is not mentioned to the letter, but that is not an obstacle. What do you say? What does this verdict tell us?

Let’s clarify the verdict first. The verdict does not apply to Covid--19 at all, but to the obligation to vaccinate children in the Czech Republic, where one parent and several children at the time, in 2010, 2011 and I think 2012, filed a lawsuit to the Strasbourg court because their parents had to pay a fine because they did not vaccinate their children and they were forbidden to go to kindergartens, i.e. to use the services of kindergartens. And the court in Strasbourg passed a verdict where it said that there was no basis for that lawsuit, referring to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights refers to the protection of rights, private life, family, home and correspondence, in paragraph 1. Paragraph 2 deals with exceptions to this right. So, situations when the right can be limited, and that which is common in this type of explanation, that is, some norms. It mentions the case of an emergency and the case when there is a danger to human health. But bear in mind, Article 8 says, and refers, as I said, to the right to privacy, family life, home and correspondence.

What do you want to emphasize?

I want to emphasize that there is also another convention. Convention that refers to human rights in the field of biomedicine. We have accepted that convention, so to speak, popularly. And as far as I remember, it was also published in issue 12 of the Official Gazette from 2010. It says in Article 2 that it is...

You are deliberately delaying now, and I can’t wait to hear what is in Article 2.

The people are smart, the citizens are smart and they will decide for themselves. Let me tell you, it is said that interest, but bear in mind, interest, and what could be called the right of human beings, is more predominant and significant than the interest of society and science.

And health.

That goes without saying. So, when you say interest, it is interest that is mentioned in the convention that deals with the so-called health, or biomedicine. So, the interest of the individual is most important here. Then you have Article 5 which says that for every procedure in the field of health, the consent of the person on whom the procedure is performed must be obtained in advance. And before the consent, he must be warned, that is, informed about what type of intervention it is going to be. Paragraph 3 of the same article states that consent may be withdrawn at any time. That is as far as these regulations are concerned. Then we have Article 14 of the same convention which the European Court of Human Rights draws from, from Article 8, which says that discrimination on any grounds is prohibited. I will not quote our regulations now.

And on the grounds of vaccination.

I will not quote our regulations for the reason that the conventions are older than the national legislation. So, what I said about Article 2 means that the interest of human beings is predominant over the interest of society and science. I think that's clear. I don't know if what I said is clear to you.

Based on what you said, I would understand that this verdict is not good.

Let me tell you one thing. And please, I really want people to just think for themselves. That there are no axioms, mantras and polar bears, which are certain attitudes of certain institutions. Think, people, for yourselves.

Wait, how can these people think for themselves if the court has passed a verdict. They went to court. It passed such a verdict and how can citizens think for themselves now? They must respect that decision.

Well, read the convention by which the court judges.

Can they complain now? What comes after this? Nothing? This verdict was passed now at the time of the pandemic.

That's right. And then everyone identified it with the vaccination.

We did. And do you think that was a mistake?

It does not apply to that. It refers to what I told you. To those 9 vaccines, 9 or 10, that are used to vaccinate children when enrolling in kindergartens, schools.

And it can relate to this vaccine as well, everyone is writing about it now.

I have not read that. They probably equate that. Well, there are decisions of the European Court that I have debated on as well. One of them is the Maresti against the state of Croatia, which made the legal system…

Here you are (shows an article from a daily newspaper).

I didn't have time to look.

(The presenter reads the title) The vaccine may be mandatory.

I said that?

There is your picture here. I don't know if you said that, but that's the title.

You see, what’s important to emphasize, what I started with, and that is, court decisions are court decisions. Final, executive, in principle, they get executed, as their name says. But we are not talking about the Strasbourg court, we’re talking about domicile judiciary. But the thing is, they're not "holy cows". You can talk about them and have a second opinion. At least I've always done that and I think that's the way it is.

To whom should we give a second opinion?

Well, you give a second opinion. You send a letter to the court in Strasbourg with your opinion and argue as people will argue if they are interested in this topic.

Do you think it would change anything?

I don't believe it, but we have to say our opinions.

And tell me, does this verdict mean that we in Serbia do not discriminate? Why do we make a topic out of it? We are now interested in ourselves in the whole story. We are interested in the pandemic, the vaccine against the corona, and we are primarily interested in whether that means, since in our country children also receive vaccines and they are obligatory, that they won’t be able to enroll in kindergartens or schools without the vaccine. Does that mean it's not discrimination? Can it be as it is said here?

I quote to you how this is resolved in the European Convention, in Article 14. So, discrimination on any grounds is prohibited.

So, children shouldn’t be forbidden that here.

The Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, I think in Article 2, says that it is simply not allowed to make any distinction, on any grounds. That is the definition, that Article 2 refers to the definition of discrimination.

But it is different in practice.

That is why there is not only my institution, but also a commissioner for the protection against discrimination, and a number of institutions that deal precisely with protecting citizens from possible discrimination.

And what do you say? Has anyone come to you to ask you, e.g., whether their rights, whether their children are discriminated against if they received the vaccine?

No one has come. You see, what comes to the institution of the Protector of Citizens is a huge range of topics. Really huge range. I wish I could tell you about all the things that we do and that we did during the state of emergency, even during the pandemic.

And what do they say?

It mainly refers to what could be called the basic problem, that which is the source of all problems, and that is a certain economic situation. For example, your job. When journalists complain to us, when they come, they complain about their economic status, non-permanent contracts, small fees, etc. Then we switch from labor relations to the job and the rights, and not only of those who work for someone, but also of the owners of certain businesses. Basically, it’s all about the money, so to speak.

How much has the number of complaints increased since the beginning of the pandemic?

The number of citizens' addresses has increased about ten times. Depending on the phase, as I have said many times, the character of the complaints is not always the same. In the first part or at the beginning of the crisis, people wondered how to return to Serbia when they had obstacles passing through various countries, in terms of mandatory quarantine, etc. Then came the ban on movement at certain times, and certain groups were banned from moving, so that was really a big problem. Because, for example, there are parents who, according to a court ruling, have the right to see their children, because they are divorced, only on Saturdays and Sundays, and if movement is prohibited, how can they see them? Also, unfortunately, we are a land of old people. How can someone who needs to ask others for help and care, either members of their family, or others, how can that person get that help if he or she can't move? We have solved all that and I would not like this to have a political connotation. We really had a lot of help from the Government of the RS in all that and in correcting some of the regulations. Then there is the status of people who are employed, the work from home, the right to annual leave, the right to forced leave, or the obligation to take forced leave. There were many, many topics.

All right, but money isn’t currently the main topic, it’s the vaccination.

Because it is a current topic not only in Serbia, but all over the world.

Yes. In Italy, the Decree on the obligatory vaccination of health workers, pharmacists and staff in nursing homes has entered into force. And now we have stories that it would be good for such a decision to be made in Serbia as well. What do you think about that decision?

When it arrives to Serbia, I will argue about it. I have no jurisdiction in Italy.

You won't tell me anything.

I'm telling you everything, but I don't know what you expect.

I expect you to tell me whether compulsory vaccination can be introduced in our country now? People who do not want to be vaccinated will tell you "that is not okay, I would like to have the right to decide whether I will get vaccinated or die, or whether I will get the corona or not".

Well, any decision can be made.

Okay, but is that against my rights?

Is it against your rights or is it a matter of protecting some overriding interest?

Higher interest.

There, you said it better, higher interest. If it comes to that, the institution of the Protector of Citizens will be ready to react.

How?

By, as I quoted at the beginning of our meeting, referring to the domicile laws, or valid laws in the Republic of Serbia, the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia and the European conventions that we ratified, and we ratified all of them. And then we will give our position. And then we will fight for the protection of human rights.

And isn't that the mentioned higher interest? It somehow seems to me that everything happens for a reason, that we are spinning in circles.

You are right.

And how do we decide which is older, the chicken or the egg?

Let me tell you. For example, you have Article 2 of that same convention that talks about the right to life. You will agree that the right to life is inviolable. No one can take your life. Earlier, there was the death penalty, which was imposed in cases where everything was done according to the law, that is, a final verdict was pronounced and all possible legal remedies were used. That doesn't exist now, and I won't argue about that. But there is this paragraph 2, item 3, that says that the state can, and I am sorry, I don't want to be misunderstood, according to law, it can prevent rebellion and riots. So, it can go against someone's life, one person or a group of people. So, there are those general norms that protect, as you say, higher interests, but as I told you, there is also this Article 2 where it says that interest is...

I forgot.

I will repeat, that the interest and well-being of human beings is more predominant or higher, more important, than the interest of society or science.

And then I can tell you, okay, but my interest and right to life means that I do not want to die from corona. And if vaccination is not mandatory, many will not be vaccinated and may be able to pass on the corona to me. Or we won't be able to work, the economy will stop because of the unvaccinated, I won't have bread to eat, I will die of hunger or whatever. Is it the same, can the other side say that their right to life is actually that, that law applies to them? Can we all say that?

You see, everyone can say both.

Well, who will win?

Well, that’s a great question.

Whose side are you representing?

I will always defend human rights. And how will I defend them is the essence. Based on the existing norm. When I came to the Institution, I said: I will resent someone for sure and I resented many.

Both these and those.

You always have to resent some people. Less often the others. In principle, it’s a conflict of interests.

And who would you turn to?

Just a moment. A question arises when you resent someone, how do you defend yourself? I defend myself only by law. If it is written as it is written and if the court rules as it rules, or the Constitutional Court takes a position, the Protector of Citizens will also take his position, which is not binding by law. But he will defend his interests. What interests? The interests, primarily, of the individual, because the individual makes up society. We are a collection of individuals. Do you agree?

I agree.

And what is most difficult for the Protector of Citizens, is when you need to conflict the interest of an individual with the system and defend it, when that person, that citizen is right and when the whole system is falling down on him. Whether that will be the case in this situation, we'll see.

I now have to ask you about two situations. The first, let’s say that they introduced mandatory vaccination. And I don’t want to get vaccinated, I think that it is a threat to my right to choose, and that who knows what that vaccine may bring me. And I come to you and say, please protect my rights. What should I do? I think I have been discriminated against. They told me that vaccination is mandatory. If I don't get vaccinated, I won't be able to do this and that. What should I do?

Well, it would be easiest for me to say...

Whose side are you on?

Just a moment. To say, you know what, dear madam, since you mentioned the word discrimination, you have the institution that deals with that, and that is the Commissioner for Protection against Discrimination. Please be kind and go to her. I will not say that though, let me tell you right away, because I will do what I am obliged to do, because there is a rule that says, where you can do more, you can also do less. Given that the Protector of Citizens is an institution determined by the Constitution, Article 138, I think, it means that it is the first in the area of protection of human rights, so I will take over this case.

What does that mean?

And I will see if there is concrete discrimination, I will order the one who discriminates against you to stop discriminating.

But what does that mean? That they will tell me that I am the only one who doesn’t have to get vaccinated?

To tell you to go here, go there, do that, you understand. Now, there is a little problem here...

I knew there was another problem.

There is always a problem. If they are doing this to you on this television, which is a private television, then I would have to go indirectly...

They tell me I can't come to work because I haven't been vaccinated.

That's right. I can't go directly to the television, but I have to go to the Ministry of Labor, that is, the Labor Inspectorate. This is what I want to change in the law. To make it so that I can go directly to the one who is doing that, who is endangering human rights, instead of waiting for an intermediary institution to do it. Do you understand me?

Yes. And what did you say here? (shows a headline in the newspaper)

I didn't say that. It was written by someone.

There's your picture here.

Well, is it a nice picture?

(The presenter reads the article from the newspaper) Pašalić: "A person must give consent for a medical procedure." That's what you also told me now.

I told everyone that. I have been saying that for two days now.

But you didn't tell me one thing, so, having in mind everything that says here, can the echo of this decision be heard and can this maybe be realized in Serbia? And do you think...

You know what usually happens after a statement like that? Usually there are a number of people who say, that man is talking nonsense. And then they take another law, a third law, a convention, and then they start a debate that may or may not be necessary. But I try, really, I could have brought it on paper, read it, or simply quoted the norms. You see, when a law starts to be applied, that includes everything, the conventions, the regulations, etc. So, some legal form exists. And at the same time, the Constitutional Court, if someone addressed it, did not place any reserve on individual articles and on the law, which even if it was the worst, has to be applied until it is changed. The essence of the law is who is the beneficiary or who is the user of the law. Sometimes it is a certain social group, sometimes the whole society, sometimes it goes even wider, into international waters. Another thing that is very important is that the law is not intended for lawyers, let's be clear, but for people who do not have a legal education and to whom everything will be clear when they take the law and read it. They won't have to find a lawyer to explain it to them. And I think what I said is extremely clear. Or, it is simply clear what the one who made it and who accepted it actually wanted.

I understood that it was a wrong decision.

Which one?

The one from the beginning of the conversation regarding the European Court of Human Rights. Do you want to agree with our introductory sentence, that the ones who should suppress discrimination, actually passed a discriminatory act?

I want to say this – that people should think for themselves, to think for themselves and simply consult literature, and serious, as I would say, information, serious sources of information. When I mean serious, it means something that has been confirmed in practice for many, many years.

Okay, so what should these people now do specifically?

Who?

Well, these people that have...

Well, they lost, what can they do?

That means it means nothing to them to think for themselves.

Not true. But there is one, and I like to quote it, a determinant among lawyers – there is no justice, there are only laws.

Okay. Let us end on that. Thank you very much for your time.

The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić was a guest in the show "Pulse of Serbia" on TV Kurir.

The deputy mayor of Belgrade, Goran Vesić, believes that the citizens who received the vaccine should start living somewhat more relaxed. From next week, Belgrade will enable everyone who is fully vaccinated to buy tickets for theater and festivals with a 30% discount. I will talk about the new measures and the rights of our citizens in these very specific circumstances, with my today's guest, the Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić. Mr. Pašalić, welcome to the show. As we can see, these reliefs are a somewhat logical consequence in this very specific situation. Should people with the corona virus immunity, who have acquired it through vaccination, really enjoy more rights, and should they really relax at this point?

It would be better if you didn’t say what you said.

But I did say it, so I'm interested in your opinion.

Well, a question arises here that everyone will ask, and that is discrimination, which is regulated by Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides a framework for national legislation, including ours. Article 21 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia regulates this area of non-discrimination, and Article 21 states that it is prohibited to discriminate on any grounds. Now, Article 2 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination talks about what is to be considered discrimination.

And what are those grounds? You said on any grounds. Now, in this situation, are people who have been immunized, who received the vaccine, discriminated against, because maybe someone does not want to get the vaccine, so he is less responsible towards the corona virus pandemic, or is it the other way around, and the people who do not want to get the vaccine are discriminated against?

Article 2 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination states that, as the Constitution says on any grounds, discrimination is any kind of favoritism or the act of putting someone in a disadvantageous position. Of any kind. The question now is whether this is an affirmative measure or discrimination. The essence here, and the thing that needs to be given thought, is that there are people in our society who are absolutely contraindicated for the vaccine. Or to be clearer, who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons. I am not an immunologist, I am not a doctor, so I will not list all the diseases and cases that exist, although I know them. And now one can ask the question, what happens with all those who want to be vaccinated, but cannot be vaccinated for health reasons, who are really not to blame for that. What is their status in all this? The essence is not for us to open a debate.

I assume that the status of people who are not eligible for vaccination, who cannot be vaccinated for certain medical reasons, could be resolved as, conditionally speaking, specific.

Until I see it, I won’t be able to say it.

But what happens to people, who absolutely can be vaccinated and do not want to be vaccinated? Are they discriminated against or are the people who decided to be responsible at this time and get vaccinated, to protect themselves and their environment, discriminated against?

That is exactly why I said that now there will be great interpretations about whether it is discrimination or an affirmative measure, which would affirm the vaccination procedure itself. I'm for vaccinations. I would not have vaccinated myself if I had been against it. But you have to leave it up to people to decide for themselves whether or not they will be vaccinated with certain consequences, which will occur. First of all, when we say consequences, I do not mean whether or not they will be able to buy theater or concert tickets at a better price, but consequences in terms of their health condition.

For example, Greece has announced that we can enter that country with a vaccination certificate, but also only with a PCR test. So, is Greece at this moment violating the rules by doing this?

Greece is not a good example.

I gave an example that is the most recent.

It may be the most recent, but it is not a good example. An example you want are those countries that, without any argumentation, favor certain vaccines. They say that they acknowledge these vaccines as such, as the ones with which they will let you enter or pass through their country, but that it does not apply to some other vaccines. Now the question arises on what basis did they make that decision and how can that be allowed? Israel has decided on the measure of complete affirmation of vaccination, and the results are that there is a very small number of patients and, what is even more significant, a smaller number of deaths, so now we can theorize about what is what. But that is not the essence. The essence is exactly why law exists. And that is to make people's lives easier, safer, and not to make it harder for people because of that legal norm, but to make their lives easier and better, which is exactly why that norm exists.

That was exactly what I asked. Should people who get vaccinated live more normally in these very specific times?

All people should live normally in these specific times.

We cannot under these circumstances.

We can, even under these circumstances, but what is important is to organize so that the majority or the largest majority, which very strictly adheres to the prescribed measures, does not suffer because of the irresponsible minority that does not adhere to them. Especially since that non-compliance with the measures is not a thing which would be called negligence in law, people do not do it accidentally, but on purpose. If someone opens a catering facility and works in it even though it is not allowed, he is very consciously violating the regulations. Why would all other caterers and everyone else, who might like to go to a restaurant or cafe, suffer the consequences because of that. Maybe it is not up to the Protector of Citizens to talk about fines now, but why not, since the Protector of Citizens protects the interests of all citizens from irresponsible individuals, but I think that these measures that exist now, these fines that now exist, should be made differently. There should be a clear distinction, not between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, but between those who adhere to the measures, no matter how severe the consequences for their work, their lives, the lives of their families, and those who knowingly violate the measures, whether they are those who organize or those who visit.

And do you think that there are people who maybe respect all the prescribed measures but have not yet been vaccinated and who are endangered, or maybe there is a group of people who have been vaccinated, and then relaxed too much, so they do not respect some measures? Whose rights are then compromised?

I have always been in favor of society not being divided on any grounds. And especially not to be divided in crisis situations. And this is one of, let us say, major crises that have gripped our society, and the world globally. But I am primarily interested in our citizens, I am not very interested in what is happening in other countries. So, we should not make any divisions, we should simply bring in measures according to the advices of the medical profession, but they should not be such to hurt us or to bother the largest number of people who adhere to them. You can't really ask if now there are those who don't want to be vaccinated, but strictly adhere to the measures, and in what position are such persons now? Second, first, third? All those divisions, I was never for them.

To us, the measures are as they are and it seems to me that they are not selective. They are prescribed as they are and should be respected. Thank you for visiting.

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.

Like which?

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.

Good, but?

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...

Which one?

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?

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.

All right.

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.

 

The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, was guest in "Beogradska Hronika" program on RTS.

Were there more or fewer complaints from citizens during the pandemic? What did the employed most often complain about to the Protector of Citizens? My guest will give us answers to all these questions. Mr. Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, guest of Hronika. Good afternoon and welcome. What did you tell me? You told me all these topics which I had invited you to talk about were not interesting at all, now we’re just talking.

No, it’s just off-topic.

Why do you think that?

Because, you first said it had been a pandemic, and the pandemic is still underway. This raises a new round of topics and most importantly the topics we addressed as priorities at the start of the pandemic aren’t the same as they are now.

How are they different?

Life changes topics. The difference is that back then, the citizens weren’t familiar with this, that absolutely no one had a realistic attitude because few people knew much about this disease. And then, it naturally incited certain behavior.

And they were approaching you, right?

They contacted us so much that the number of contacts increased dozens of times compared to the previous year 2019. It started with how citizens who found themselves outside the country could enter the country and be enabled to overcome all the obstacles they had, then the state of emergency itself, the situation in the state of emergency which brought many into a very difficult situation. I will only name those people who live alone, who benefit of custodial care and assistance, and who, due to the state of emergency, couldn’t have been looked after by relatives or those who do it as a job.

And we overcame all that, it's been a year.

Yes, we did.

Let's go from the end now. What are they most often complaining about now?

They are now complaining about common problems, all of which have a dose of Covid-19 impact on either individual conditions or the collective conditions of particular social groups. This is what marked the inception, and it’ll continue and will last as long as the pandemic lasts, that is, it’ll last until the situation in our society and in the entire world, I assume, becomes closest to what is figuratively called normal or regular or regular routine before the virus. Now, when it will really come, I can't be a prophet and talk about it.

Of course. Which ministry, which institution did you file the latest request to and asked for a reply?

You mean to date?

For example.

Well, these are mostly the same questions that we ask everyone, so I can't tell you and single out any one, all ministries, most often the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Police.

And my questions head there as well. So, one of the latest reports that you issued is the request for authorities’ reply regarding the alleged replacement of babies in the "Narodni Front" Maternity Hospital. Did you get the answers, this was last week I would say?

That was last week. We always, what the law permits, set the shortest deadline for a reply, which is 15 days. As you yourself said, we have no replies yet. But that brings up another, much more important question, and that is how to act in such situations when parents have fear, be it justified or not-we’ll see in the investigation, that their child has been replaced in the maternity hospital. This is linked to the earlier story that was high-profile, and that is the problem of "missing babies".

Tell me, is that committee still operating?

It is, but then one question arises. Until this problem is resolved, there will be a certain amount of mistrust. We sent not only to the GAK Narodni Front, but also to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Police, which reacted to all this, all those who may have any contacts relevant to this case.

When do you expect the reply?

We expect in 7 days’ time and then we’ll see how they’ll reply to us and we will act accordingly. But again I open that question, what I suggested and in the case of "missing babies" there is one exact method that links parents to a child or a child to a parent, it's DNA analysis, one hundred percent certain. Formally, it is not one hundred percent, but in fact it is, and then it is easy to determine whether the child is of the parent who claims it. Let me say this. The Protector of Citizens is not the institution that implements this.

Clearly, clearly, but you are being approached by those who seek help. Another topic for us. We keep receiving complaints from citizens that are somehow related.

To labor relations, I assume.

That’s right. I’d target the Ministry of labor and labor relations. Many employers, especially retailers, took advantage of the Crisis Response Teams’ measures and practically forced their employees to use their annual leaves during the period when they were unable to work because they were closed. Do employers have the right to do that?

If they forced them, the term you used…

Wait, if someone tells you, we don’t work, everything is closed, we’re in some kind of lockdown and someone tells you - you now have to take annual leave.

You see, there is Article 116 of the Employment Act regulating the so called forced annual leave, lay off, for a maximum of 45 days in situations when the workload is reduced, i.e. when there is no work, to put it simply. This is mostly possible and is done in situations when it comes to, what is colloquially said state-owned institutions, of course with the Minister’s consent. Certainly, all of this during this period were recommendations that referred to state-owned institutions, but they were also instructive to private employers to act likewise so as not to harm employees.
Now, I use, and I thank you for the question, the opportunity to call on all those who feel that they were denied something, regardless of the number because we’ll act in the same way in each case, to approach the Protector of Citizens, and we’ll see whether it will be possible for us to act immediately or we’ll need to alert labor inspectorate.

Since many questions have been raised, I see that we’ll see each other again very soon. Let me ask you just one more thing? Were there any objections to the Crisis Response Team’s acting/failure to act? Has anyone complained to you regarding this topic?

Specifically regarding the Crisis Response Team as such, by name, no, not per se, but that’s the dissatisfaction that alternates from the fact that we were approached by those who were either unable due to the decisions of the Crisis Response Team to perform a certain job or to those who believe that these measures denied them certain rights. However, mind you, the Crisis Response Team doesn’t operate on the principle of some personal affinities and animosities.

They give recommendations.

That’s right. The extent to which it operates are in accordance with what can be called the realistic needs of citizens, it is what the Protector of Citizens investigates – a clear distinction between those who observe the measures and those who don’t. Non-observance of measures can only be done consciously, you cannot unconsciously disregard the measures if you are familiar with them, and the citizens are acquainted with the measures in the largest possible number, almost all of them. It simply should not be the case that those who act in accordance with the measures suffer because of the minority that misbehaves and who deliberately violates them for various reasons.

Okay, we put ellipsis here. We’re waiting for you to obtain the replies and then see you again in the studio to tell us the reply.

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