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Activities

Today, the Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, signed with the representatives of media associations and newspaper unions an Agreement on Establishing a platform for recording cases of security threats and pressure on journalists and other media actors. The agreement was signed with Association of Journalists of Serbia, Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina, Association of Independent Electronic Media, Media Association, Online Media Association, Business Association “Local Pres”, the Trade Union of Journalists of Serbia (SINOS), branch trade union for culture, art and media “Nezavisnost (Independence)” and the Autonomous Trade Union of Employees in Graphics, Publishing, News and Film Industry of Serbia.

Mr. Pašalić said that that day was one of the most important dates in the work of the Institution of the Protector of Citizens and expressed hope that the Agreement would advance journalists’ rights. He also pointed out that the aim of establishing that platform was the formation of a more efficient journalists’ safety protection mechanism, since accurate recording of every single case of jeopardizing the safety of journalists or any sort of pressure on journalists would contribute to a more efficient action by the competent authorities in the cases of jeopardizing journalists’ safety. The role of the media has been significant for the work of the Protector of Citizens since as much as 90 percent of own-initiative investigations were launched following the information obtained from the media, stated Mr. Pašalić.

The Protector of Citizens established that the Provincial Secretariat for Social Policy, Demography and Gender Equality had adopted the documents after the expiry of legally proscribed deadline for acting upon the Administrative Court decisions, while the RF PIO expert examination body in the second-instance procedure had acted untimely and had not submitted clear, precise, complete and logical findings, opinions and assessment to the second-instance body whereby it had contributed to prolonging the procedure and harming the complainant.

Today, the Protector of Citizens sent a special report to all local self-government units (LSUs) in the Republic of Serbia with Recommendations on conditions in Roma settlements in a state of emergency and the implementation of protection measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A large number of residents of informal settlements, nearly six hundred in Serbia, do not have access to water, electricity or the Internet and are not in a position to maintain basic hygiene or enable children to attend televised school classes. The existential problems that the inhabitants of Roma settlements encounter daily have been further exacerbated by the declaration of a coronavirus epidemic in Serbia. In order to act preventively amid the state of emergency, the Protector of Citizens met with the President of the Roma National Minority Council and the Minister of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy and urged them to undertake the necessary activities, within their competences, in all Roma settlements as soon as possible and provide them with basic living conditions, especially water for drinking and sanitation, food and hygiene packages. Also, letters were sent to all local self-government units to immediately take all measures to protect the inhabitants of informal Roma settlements.

In order to directly monitor the respect for the rights of the Roma community, the Secretariat of the Protector of Citizens, in compliance with all protective measures, did significant work on field and visited ten Roma settlements during the state of emergency, in April and May 2020. In five towns and municipalities (in Belgrade, Municipality of Čukarica, Kovin, Pančevo, Požarevac and Kostolac), representatives of the Secretariat of the Protector of Citizens together with representatives of the NGO A11, visited following settlements: Čukaricka Šuma, Cigan mala, Mali rit 1 and Mali rit 2, Sutjeska, Kanal, Stari Kostolac, Hotel Kostolac, Uzun Mirkova and Đurđeve rupe.

The special report, compiled in co-operation with the NGO A11, is the result of a visit to Roma settlements during the state of emergency and contains ten recommendations for bodies’ acting. Local self-government units were given a 60 days deadline from the receipt of Recommendations to notify the Protector of Citizens about the activities undertaken and plans for the implementation of protective measures in the event of a recurrence of the infection.

This year, Serbia marks the International Family Day, May 15, in the midst of the Covid-19 virus epidemic, during which the importance of a family for psychological, social and economic survival and activities of an individual in emergencies was once again confirmed. At the same time, certain shortcomings of systemic action have been identified in terms of ensuring the functionality of families with members with disabilities, those facing poverty, various forms of violence and social exclusion, as well as those among the most vulnerable social groups.

Since he took the office in 2017, the Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić has been pointing out to the difficult position of the most vulnerable social groups, above all families with children with disabilities or developmental disabilities. Mr. Pašalić highlights the inconsistency of the provision of the Law on Financial Support to Families with Children, stipulating that the right to salary compensation during work leave for special child care cannot be exercised for a child who is entitled to allowance for carer’s assistance.

Employed women, entrepreneurs, farmers and women performing temporary and occasional jobs do not have equal legal position when exercising the right to salary compensation after child birth and child care, and it affects the whole family, which Mr. Pašalić has been drawing attention to during the preparation of this Law. The Protector of Citizens once again indicates to the need to amend the Law on Financial Support to Families with Children in order to rectify these shortcomings.

There still are shortcomings that make it impossible to fully exercise the rights based on pregnancy, birth and child care, which the Protector of Citizens has been pointing out for years. Although the Recommendations were issued back in 2013 due to omissions in the actions of administrative authorities in situations when the employer does not fulfill the legal obligation to calculate and pay wages to new mothers, the Protector of Citizens launched an investigation, due to new complaints on similar problems, in which systemic shortcomings and individual omissions were identified in the competent authorities’ work. That was why Mr. Pašalić reissued Recommendations to competent authorities in 2018, which those authorities partially followed. At the same time, Mr. Pašalić calls attention to a grave problem of domestic and intimate-partner violence that women, children and the elderly most often face, despite the progress in intersectoral cooperation and exchange of information among the competent authorities achieved after the adoption of the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence.

Mr. Pašalić reminds that care for the elderly in a family, primarily in safeguarding their health and ensuring longer life, is extremely important for nurturing collective memory among other things, because if they leave us too soon we lose the pillars of fundamental values of our society which we pass on to our descendants.

Since the International Day of Families emphasizes the importance of a family as a basic particle of any society, Mr. Pašalić urges the competent authorities to act in favor of the family by making decisions that will ensure a better standard and quality of family life, regardless of the family’s social category.

In the build-up to the election campaign for the upcoming parliamentary, provincial and local elections, Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, urges all the participants in the election race, representatives of political parties and movements, as well as all the participants in public and political life, to be guided by the principles of democratic debate and not to contribute to partition and antagonisms in the society. We witness, Pašalić warns, civilized, democratic debate and exchange of arguments increasingly giving way to verbal and physical confrontations among participants in public life, who thus promote violence as a legitimate form of political struggle. Bearing in mind that the political struggle is most intense during the election campaigns, I appeal to all political factors to be aware of their responsibilities and uncompromisingly adhere to the principles of functioning of a modern democratic state, as the Republic of Serbia aspires to be.

I take this occasion to reiterate one more time that public authorities, organizing the election process, are required to provide for the conditions specified by Law so that all citizens of the Republic of Serbia can fully exercise their voting rights.

It is necessary to pay close attention to providing necessary conditions for exercising the voting rights of persons with disabilities, the elderly and the sick, who are often partially or completely prevented from participating equally in decision-making and expressing their political will, due to various physical and information-communication barriers. In order to improve the electoral process and make it fully accessible to persons with disabilities, the Protector of Citizens joined the Group for inclusive electoral process and rules consultation, in order to make concrete proposals for improving the electoral process, including the upcoming elections, through collaborative work of the stakeholders.

The Protector of Citizens reminds that it is mandatory to use national minorities’ languages when printing election material in municipalities where national minorities’ languages are in official use, and to have representatives of national minorities included in election management bodies in nationally mixed local self-government units.

As Mr. Pašalić says, it is necessary to provide conditions to administer the elections in the institutions for the enforcement of penal sanctions as proscribed by the Law, so that persons deprived of liberty can exercise their voting rights.

In addition, Pašalić reminds, the citizens of the Republic of Serbia who live outside the country's borders have not always been able to exercise their right to vote, although, through diplomatic and consular missions, they timely submitted requests for entering into the electoral roll that they would vote abroad.

The Institution of the Protector of Citizens will continue to pay close attention to the activities of all bodies involved in the administration of the upcoming elections with a view to protecting citizens’ voting rights.

Deputy Protectors of Citizens, Mr. Slobodan Tomić, Ms. Nataša Tanjević and Ms. Jelena Stojanović together with the Secretary General of the Secretariat of the Protector of Citizens, Ms. Olja Jovičić, participated today in a video conference attended by more than 20 EU member states Ombudsmen representatives as well as the Ombudsmen from the states in the EU accession process.

The main topic of the conference, organized by the European Union Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, was related to the impacts of the health crisis caused by the coronavirus in the field of human and minority rights, especially in exercising and observing the rights of vulnerable groups (the elderly, migrants, persons deprived of liberty), and also to the repercussions for the healthcare and social system and further democratic and economic development of states.

Deputy Protector of Citizens, Nataša Tanjević, said that since the declaration of the state of emergency in Serbia (15 March 2020), the Protector of Citizens was paying special attention to the respect for and protection of human rights in Serbia. The institution was available to citizens seven days a week, through a large number of newly opened telephone lines, by filing complaints via e-mail and by going out on the field. In the protection of human rights, special attention was paid to vulnerable groups, the protection of the rights of children, women, national minorities, persons with disabilities, migrants and persons deprived of liberty.

Ms. Tanjević said that during that period, NPM representatives continued visiting the institutions for the enforcement of penal sanctions, in order to check how measures to contain coronavirus were implemented and how in those circumstances the exercise of fundamental rights of persons deprived of liberty was ensured. In addition, several migrants and asylum seekers reception centers were visited, in order to monitor how they were treated. The NPM opened a special hotline that was available all 7 days a week from 8 am to 10 pm and responded to each complaint. The outcome of these activities were Recommendations issued to the authorities to rectify the identified shortcomings in the work.

 

In the area of freedom of speech and expression, Serbia marked no progress, on the contrary - we witnessed numerous rights violations and press freedom endangerment. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, stated that this year, in a state of emergency and at a time of unprecedented health crisis, we would face new, even more difficult challenges in safeguarding the freedom of the press and professional journalism.

Over the years, the Protector of Citizens has been drawing attention to various pressures to which journalists have been exposed in their work, ranging from difficult financial situation and unfavorable employment contracts to frequent verbal and physical attacks, discrimination and discrediting, threats and putting their safety into danger. Also, over previous month and a half during the state of emergency, the media have been exposed to additional pressures. At a time when journalists are urged to report objectively and timely on coronavirus, they work in particularly exacerbated circumstances, such as difficult access to information, exposure to insults, sexist and discriminatory attacks on social networks, as well as the fear of possible consequences for the written word.

The Protector of Citizens urges all stakeholders in public space to allow journalists’ unhindered work, without discrimination and labeling, without hate speech and intimidation, and adds that media freedom is one of the key tenets of any democratic society, which must not be jeopardized or restricted. Without a regulated position and adequate salaries, there is no free journalism and this activity, with all the praise, cannot be left to enthusiasts, because it is too serious and important for the citizens, emphasized Mr. Pašalić.

I expect from the competent authorities, and the entire society in Serbia to abide by the Law, to respect press freedom. In addition, I expect that all the media, those with national coverage as well as those with local coverage, will be equally provided with access to information that is important for timely and factual informing of citizens on all topics of public importance, said Zoran Pašalić.

Today, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens and his associates participated, via video conference, in the meeting of Euroasian Ombudsman Alliance devoted to the 75 anniversary of the victory over fascism. The meeting was initiated by Ms. Tatiana Nikolayevna Moskalkova, High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation.

Celebrating the victory in World War II is an essential activity for the citizens of Serbia, primarily because of a large number of victims it suffered in the fight for freedom in the former Yugoslavia. Out of the 1,700,000 victims, between 500,000 and 700,000 innocent people, mostly Serbs, Jews and Roma, died in the Jasenovac concentration camp in the Independent State of Croatia alone. The only child concentration camp during the War, where thousands of children died just because they had different religion and nationality, was situated on the territory of this state.

In the second part of the meeting, dedicated to the best practices of the Ombudsmen and National Human Rights Institutions during COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Pašalić pointed out that the Protector of Citizens had organized the work, even before the declaration of the state of emergency, so that the Institution was able to receive the citizens’ complaints which, at that point, increased tenfold. He highlighted that the state managed to save the elderly population in the health crisis, and to put the life and health of its citizens before the economy. Mr. Pašalić explained that in the ensuing meetings it should be discussed how to fight the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting ended with a proposal to adopt a Resolution of the Eurasian Ombudsmen Alliance dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the end of Second World War, which is expected to be adopted in the coming days by the participants in the meeting.

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