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08 March 2017
Human Rights Committee
8 March 2017
The Human Rights Committee today concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of Serbia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Presenting the report of Serbia, Suzana Paunović, Acting Director of the Office for Human and Minority Rights of the Republic of Serbia, said that Serbia was devoted to further developing its democratic society. According to the Constitution of Serbia, generally-accepted principles of international law and ratified international instruments composed an integral part of the domestic legal system and they were directly applied. Serbia was party to eight core United Nations Human Rights Treaties. Serbia had been actively cooperating with the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the field of protection and promotion of human and minority rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as in promoting the rule of law and further democratization of society.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked questions about discrimination, violence against women and girls, the appointment of the Ombudsman, prison conditions, religious communities, child labour, the rights of the Roma minority and internally displaced persons, political participation and the underrepresentation of national minorities, the independence of the judiciary, and the institutionalization and the deprivation of legal capacity of persons with disabilities. Experts were concerned about the practical application of the Convention on Stateless Persons, especially in view of the fact that Serbia was one of the countries that were hit the hardest by the migrant crisis. Of equal concern to the Committee was the slow pace of the investigations regarding missing persons from the wars in Yugoslavia.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Paunović thanked the Committee for the great importance it had given to the promotion and protection of human rights in Serbia, and assured the Committee of the Governments dedication in this regard.
Yuji Iwasawa, Committee Chairperson, in closing remarks, assured the delegation that the Committee took note of all the progress made by Serbia and highlighted the Committee’s concerns on discrimination against and social exclusion of Roma, the investigation process regarding the missing persons during the armed conflict, the investigation, and the persecution and conviction of perpetrators of war crimes.
The delegation of Serbia consisted of the representatives of the Office for Human and Minority Rights, the National Commission for Missing persons, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government, the Ministry of Educational and Technological Development, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Department for Cooperation with Churches and Religious Communities, the Ministry of Culture and Media, the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Serbia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, to begin its consideration of the second periodic report of Turkmenistan (CCPR/C/TKM/2).
The second periodic report of Serbia can be read here: CCPR/C/SRB/3.
Presentation of the Report
SUZANA PAUNOVIĆ, Acting Director of the Office for Human and Minority Rights of the Republic of Serbia, said that Serbia was devoted to further empowering its democratic society. According to the Constitution of Serbia, generally-accepted principles of international law and ratified international instruments composed an integral part of the domestic legal system and were directly applied. Serbia was a party to eight core United Nations Human Rights Treaties. Serbia had also been actively cooperating with the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the field of protection and promotion of human and minority rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as in promoting the rule of law and further democratization of society. Serbia was a country with the status of a candidate for membership in the European Union. Ms. Paunović noted that Serbia was not able to monitor the implementation of the Covenant in its Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, since the management of the Province had been entrusted to the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo according to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).
Addressing the strategic legislative and institutional framework for the protection of human rights, Ms. Paunović stated that, in addition to the already existing, Serbia had established two more human rights mechanisms: the Council for Monitoring the Implementation of the Recommendations of the United Nations Mechanisms for Human Rights, and the Council for Monitoring the Realization of the Action Plan for the Implementation of the Strategy for Prevention and Protection against Discrimination. A Strategy for the Prevention and Protection from Discrimination until 2018 and an accompanying Action Plan provided for measures and activities aimed to further contribute to the prevention of discrimination in Serbian society. By adopting the Strategy for Social Inclusion of Roma for the period from 2016 to 2025, the work on providing access to services and better quality of life for the Roma citizens, based on previous Strategy for Improvement of the Position of Roma until 2015, had been continued.
The National Strategy for the Prosecution of War Crimes, adopted in 2016, was aimed at creating conditions for a significant improvement of the efficiency of the investigation and prosecution of war crimes in Serbia. The implementation of the existing legislation, introduction of amendments, changes and additions, where necessary, had been facilitated and simplified. Serbia had also made significant progress in the legislative and policy framework, in order to protect and improve the status of women, with an emphasis on protection from domestic and intimate partner violence. Those included the Law on Amendments to the Criminal Code, the Rulebook on Detailed Conditions and Standards for the Provision of Telephone Helpline Services for Women Survivors of Violence, the Coordination Body for Gender Equality, the National Strategy for Gender Equality, the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence, the Law on Civil Servants, the “Violence Off” Internet campaign, and the project “Prevention of Gender-Based Violence” in schools, to name a few. Other developments highlighted by Ms. Paunović were the National Judicial Reform Strategy, the Code of Conduct for Members of Government, the Law on the Protection of the Right to Trial within a Reasonable Time, and Safeguards against the ill-treatment of persons deprived of their liberty.
Questions by Committee Experts
An Expert wished to know how many acting judges had been trained on the provisions of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. What steps were in place to implement the European Commission’s recommendations to that effect? What processes were in place for the domestic implementation and dissemination of the Committee’s views and observations?
Could the delegation provide specific information on the Novaković case?
Another Expert asked the delegation whether the indicators on the prevention of discrimination referred to in the third periodic report had been implemented. After three years of monitoring of the implementation of the Action Plan, what was the overall status of women, persons with disabilities, elderly, migrant and asylum seekers? While the Committee welcomed measures to protect individuals from the lesbian, gay bi-sexual and transgender community, hate crimes were still prevalent, and no final verdict had been reached in Serbian courts. Could the delegation address that issue?
The delegation was also asked to address discrimination against the Roma, including forced evictions, issues related to their inclusion in the education system and employment, and measures to counter those trends? What was the impact of such measures?
On the issue of physical restraints and forced isolation, could the delegation inform the Committee about the outcome of the investigation regarding the Veternik case, where a person who been physically restrained had died during a fire at the institution? Could the delegation also address the issue of legal capacity of persons with mental disabilities, and the free and informed prior consent of persons in institutions?
Another Expert asked what the State party was doing regarding patriarchal stereotypes which were deep-rooted in society and which portrayed a negative role of women in society. How were early and arranged marriages in Roma communities tackled? The Expert acknowledged the State party’s achievements thus far: allegedly 62 percent of the civil servants were women and over 50 percent of the managerial positions in state institutions were filled by women, including the Speaker of Parliament. Additionally, a Strategy for the Social Inclusion of Roma 2016-2025, which fought early and arranged marriages and early pregnancies in Roma communities, had been put in place.
Certain criminal offences concerning marriage of minors had not been included in the Criminal Code, which undermined the protection of minors.
An Expert asked for information on the pilot programmes for rehabilitation of Roma children, whereby they were taken off the streets and into schools?
The Expert commended the State party’s progress in terms of combatting domestic violence and femicide, on which the Committee had received details. The 16 measures undertaken by the State party attested that there was political will to fight violence against women and children. Those included the adoption of the Act on the Prevention of Domestic Violence, which included restrictive orders which could last for 48 hours and which could be extended. While those were positive achievements, there was a lack of training on human rights for civil servants and no feedback on knowledge and competences acquired during courses when these did occur. Three problems with the Act on the Prevention of Domestic Violence included delay; lack of exchange of information; and follow-up to protection measures to combat domestic violence. According to the Ombudsman, courts were not sufficiently harsh and firm in tackling violence against women and children. In light of that, the State party could consider shortening the time between approval and implementation of laws.
What was the state of play regarding the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child?
Another Expert, in a series of questions relating to the 1999 armed conflict, thanked the efforts undertaken to discover missing persons, and cooperation with regional and international institutions and authorities. How did the State party address specific allegations regarding limited allocation of funds for conducting the investigations? What was the status with regard to the protection of civilian victims of war, and reparations of victims and their families? Could the delegation address concerns that many victims had been deprived of compensation due to the limited time period within which they had been allowed to file complaints?
Question was asked on how could non-governmental organizations could gain access to the military archives concerning the fate of missing persons in the 1990s?
Regarding war crimes proceedings, an Expert noted that 876 cases were in preliminary investigation. Human rights groups had complained that at this pace only 10 percent of cases would be treated in the following ten years. What was being done to address the backlog? Had there been cases of high rank officers on the basis of command responsibility? Had the new War Crime Prosecutor been appointed, and, if not, what was the reason for the delay? What was the nature of the procedures against the Humanitarian Law Centre?
Another Expert asked the delegation to confirm whether autopsies were made in all cases related death in custody. In April 2015, the Committee against Torture had expressed concern regarding the high number of deaths in prisons, due to inter-prison violence and other factors. Could the delegation provide statistical information on that? The delegation was also asked to provide statistics related to investigations, their results, and how many perpetrators were brought to justice due to death in custody? Were remedies provided to the victims’ families?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation informed that the Constitution of Serbia stipulated that the international instruments were directly applicable by the courts. The fact that concrete court decisions did not refer to the Covenant did not mean that the Covenant was not invoked.
Training in the Judicial Academy was performed on a need-basis. The right to a trial within a reasonable time, for example, had been violated to a greater extent. Therefore, the number of trainings on that question covered 90 percent of the judges. About 60 percent of all judges and of all prosecutors had attended courses on the essence of the protection of rights under the Covenant at the Judicial Academy.
Regarding the Novaković case, the Office of Human and Minority Rights had identified the institutions responsible for dealing with it. The legal system in Serbia was such that different institutions were in charge of different cases based on the type of the case. If the case concerned criminal liability, it was treated by one institution, while if it concerned compensation, it was treated by another institution. Compensation for untimely consideration of the claim in that case were being negotiated between the lawyers of the family and the Ministry of Justice.
On questions regarding the Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms, the delegation stated that the Government of Serbia had established such mechanisms. A list of recommendations and deadlines had been set, and trainings to civil servants in charge of monitoring and fulfilling the recommendations had been undertaken. The Council would continue to monitor the implementation of all recommendations, and would remind institutions when they were behind the schedule.
Protection from discrimination was possible on different legal grounds, and there were several laws which dealt with that. The number of cases regarding that criminal offence were relatively small because those pertained to criminal proceedings which were conducted as litigation proceedings for non-pecuniary damages.
The amendments to the Law on Prohibition from Discrimination had been harmonized with European directives, and had been sent to the European Commission. The opinion of the European Commission was now expected.
The establishment of an Academy of Civil Servants was in process, and all civil servants had to be trained in human and minority rights. In the Ministry of the Interior there was compulsory training for fundamental rights. Workshops on the protection against discrimination had been started in March. An increase of 30 million dinars had been allocated to the functioning of that institution.
One of the gravest consequences of the wars in Yugoslavia were missing persons. Currently, over 10,000 persons were missing in the region, while over 70 percent of those cases had been resolved through different mechanisms, including protocols with Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, an agreement with Croatia, as well as the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue. Thousands of documents had been shared with the neighbouring countries. Over 2,500 documents from the archives had been handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross alone. In four different locations, 900 bodies of Kosovo Albanians had been handed over to their families. The location of Kisavak had been explored, and 67,000 euros had been allocated from the budget to investigate that area. More than 1,800 m2 of rock had been excavated, and within next 20 days that area would be fully explored. There had been further investigations in the areas of Batenica, Perucas, Petrovo Selo, Medvedja, Tular, Kozarevo, Novi Pazar, in the presence of families of the victims as well as European institutions. Another 400 bodies had been identified in the rivers.
The delegation stated that the conflict had taken place in Serbia between 24 March 1999 to 10 June 1999 at the time of the NATO bombing campaign. All other conflicts had taken place outside the territory of central Serbia. The character of those conflicts was different, and therefore no law was adopted in that regard, as it would address families living elsewhere. The Government was committed to finding a high-quality legal solution. All efforts were shared with the Prosecutor’s Office for War Crimes. Recently, after an area had been presumed to have mass graves, the Serbian Government had invited the Kosovo Police, the Kosovo Prosecutor, as well as families of the Kosovo Albanian victims to investigate together.
It was not true that there was a decrease in investigations, said the delegation In 2016, eight new indictments against 15 persons had been confirmed by a court. In addition, those regarded the Srebrenica case, which had been very sensitive. A total of 184 indictments, and over 5,500 victims, had been treated. The indictments amounted to a total of 800 years in prison punishments altogether. The number of indicted cases was more than the number of cases at the Hague. For the areas of Suva Reka, Bitic, Cuska, and Ljubenic, a total of about 50 indictments had been launched. Investigations regarding the head of security of the brigades were under way. Kosovo had not been very cooperative for the investigations, and grieved parties had not wished to testify before the courts. Thus, the conclusion of cases also depended on cooperation from Kosovo.
The Draft National Strategy for War Crimes and its Action Plan had been received positively by the European Commission and other international and regional institutions. The Strategy treated mass graves, missing persons, regional cooperation, and the Witness Protection Programmes which were crucial to resolving the cases.
The War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office would prepare, together with the Witness Protection Unit, a Memorandum of Cooperation, in order to make work in the future more efficient. The process for appointing a Prosecutor and Deputy-Prosecutor at the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office was currently ongoing.
Regarding the rights and position of Roma in Serbia, it was explained that Roma were among the 21 minority groups in Serbia. A body had been established for the implementation of the Roma Strategy. Additionally, the number of Roma coordinators had increased in all targeted areas, including education and health. During the previous year, a public call had been launched for public enterprises who wished to include Roma. Over 200 business had responded to that call and subsequently 60 Roma individuals, mainly women, had been employed. Regarding the inclusion of Roma children in education, in March 2016, a rulebook on detailed criteria for the identification of discrimination had been launched with a Working Group to develop instructions on its implementation. Another rulebook on the inclusion of Roma in schools had also been implemented. As many as 63 percent of children from Roma settlements were enrolled in programmes for children from age three to five, and a contract had been signed with the World Bank for the enrolment of children There were currently 175 trained Roma teachers working in schools. Special schools were meant to prepare Roma children for enrolment in mainstream secondary schools.
The Housing Law had been adopted in 2016 with the purpose of regulating, inter alia, forced evictions of Roma. Evictions organized by the Government ensured that relocation, free legal aid, and social assistance were provided.
In a series of answers regarding social care institutions, the delegation stated that the deprivation of legal capacity was regulated under two laws. In the draft amendments to the Family Law, a partial deprivation was foreseen. The obligation had been put in place for courts to review ex-officio the deprivation of legal capacity. Non-contentious proceedings were planned to amend the Law so that full deprivation of legal capacity was no longer possible. Only 1.2 percent of persons were in social care institutions voluntarily. Legal restraint was regulated under a law, which regulated the duration and procedure by the law, and the law applied to social care institutions.
Regarding the Veternik case, the delegation informed that the director and two other social workers from the institution had been suspended. The case had been reported to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Only 45 children were placed in the Veternik Home. The de-institutionalisation process had achieved some results, especially with regard to children with disabilities. There were five small residential communities, five hundred children were in foster care, and about three hundred children were still in social care institutions. There were plans to reduce this number as much as possible.
Guidelines as well as a Working Group for the investigation of instances of torture were under way, and would focus on vulnerable victims, including members of minority groups, women and children.
A Draft Law on Gender Equality was currently in the final stages of consolidation. Novelties that would be introduced by it would be increased political participation of women through quotas, whereby at least 40 percent of delegations, institutions and so forth would be composed of women. It would also focus on combatting gender-based violence, as well as multiple-discriminated women, including rural women, Roma women, and single mothers. The Draft Law would also focus on gender responsive budgeting.
A Draft Law on the Child’s Ombudsman would allow children to submit complaints to the Child Ombudsman. Following the adoption of that law, Serbia would ratify the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert asked a series of questions regarding discrimination, including reform and judicial application of the Anti-Discrimination Law and the Hate Crimes Law. Was the State party intending to put discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation as a form of the Anti-Discrimination Law? What steps had been taken to address violence against women and girls with disabilities in institutions, as well as their employment? What measures were in place for the legal deprivation of persons with disabilities, and were there plans to introduce an Ombudsman on treatment of persons with disabilities in institutions? What measures were in place to protect HIV-positive persons from stigma and discrimination, as well as their privacy rights in hospitals?
Did the State party recognize the crime of enforced disappearance, asked the Expert.
Another Expert asked how the Ombudsman was normally appointed. What percentage of recommendations addressed to public authorities were accepted, and what were not accepted?
Questions by Experts
Question was asked whether Serbia had a present or future plan to put a complete end of prison crowding. What was the percentage of use of non-custodial sanctions as compared to custodial sentences? More information was also needed on the provision of health care for prisoners, including frequency of health checks in prisons, as well as access to hospitals outside prisons.
How was the right to nationality ensured, in terms of entering the new-born child into the birth registry when neither of the parents had nationality?
Underlining a number of positive initiatives guaranteeing the rights of trafficking victims, another Expert addressed the rights of asylum seekers and minors. The Asylum Act was liberal in nature, but Serbia was no longer a country of transit since the border closing. There had been a significant backlog, and migrants had been returned to Bulgaria and other countries without a proper hearing and standard international procedures. According the Ministry of Defence, 18,000 people had been prevented from entering into Serbia. Were these people given due process, were international standards respected, and were persons dealt with on an individual basis? Refugee policy in Serbia had become very restrictive when it came to granting asylum. Was it true that the mandate of the committee that ruled on asylum applications had not been renewed since 2016, and that the Administrative Court had not handed down any rulings?
On religious communities, the Expert inquired about the rejected appeals by the Constitutional Court regarding the contested constitutionality of the provisions contained in the Religious Communities and Churches Act. Serbian law recognized seven churches. What were the practical consequences of the distinction drawn between traditional and non-traditional churches? The 2005 Budget Act provided no tax exemptions for traditional communities, and the State did not provide funds for religious teaching other than for the seven religious communities. The problem lay in the tax exemptions and subsidies, where a certain inequality was observed between traditional and non-traditional religious communities. That was considered as discrimination under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
An Expert was concerned about the slow progress with regard to child labor. What efforts were made to investigate whether parents were forcing children to child labor, and was there an integrated strategy at the national and local level to address that issue? Was there a plan to develop a general programme to rehabilitate victims of child labor and forced exploitation? What concrete steps and results had been undertaken by the Expert Team of Coordinating Commission and the Council for Children’s Rights in that respect? Had the new criminal offences regarding pornography been enforced with regards to child pornography, and with what results? The delegation was also asked to address reports where Social Labor Services had been unable to remove children from families, even when there was concrete evidence of the child having been subjected to forced labor.
There were 88,000 internally displaced persons in Serbia, said the Expert, and the situation of Roma was particularly dire. Thousands of Roma internally displaced persons were unable to register, because there was a narrow interpretation of the Law on Temporary and Permanent Residence. Was access to housing, employment, education and health care provided and what steps were taken in this respect, with regard to the Roma internally displaced persons community? To what extent was local integration of internally displaced Roma supported, and could examples be provided of such efforts?
Commending the ratification of the Convention on Stateless Persons and the efforts made on drafting the Asylum Law in cooperation with European Union authorities, the Expert was concerned with the practical application of those provisions. Allegedly, 579,000 people had expressed will to seek asylum, of which only 16 had received refugee status and 14 had received subsidiary asylum. There was inadequate application of the principle of non-refoulement, including rejection of asylum application based on nationality. There were documented reports of collective returns, pushbacks without individualized processing, inappropriate treatment of unaccompanied migrants. Did asylum seekers have a right to appeal the denial of their asylum status? What steps were taken to ensure that asylum seekers and minors had access to information and interpretation services? What criteria had been used to identify Greece, Macedonia and Turkey as safe countries, and thus deny asylum to persons coming from those countries?
With respect to unaccompanied children, question was raised on the legal obligation to assign a guardian. What steps were in place to ensure that authorities were acting in the best interest of the child, and what methods were in place to determine the age of unaccompanied asylum seekers? Did centres have adequate facilities to protect unaccompanied children? Was there capacity to provide appropriate care in the centres?
The Expert asked a series of questions regarding the political participation and the underrepresentation of national minorities, including Roma, as well as violence and intimidation towards minorities. Was there consistence in the national representation of those minorities in public offices, and how was that determined? The Statistical Office had issued Data of National Affiliation of Citizens pursuant to the law at the census in 2011, and had stated that those records could be used to establish national minorities in public affairs and public life, and to introduce a quota system if necessary. Were there such plans?
Had the State party investigated violence and voter intimidation in Serbia, in particular among the Roma community, asked the Expert. What steps had been taken to counter election irregularities, and to prevent such conduct in the future?
Another Expert thanked the State party for the answers regarding judicial reforms, including the Action Plan for Judicial Reform, but wished to know to what extent civil society was involved in its drafting and implementation. Was a similar Code of Conduct on non-interference in the judiciary, planned in the Parliament? If the Code was breached, was there a sanctions mechanism, and how were judges and prosecutors evaluated in the State party? Were steps being taken following the report on the political interference in the High Judicial Council and the State Prosecutorial Council? Could the State party address the issue of the practice of appointing judges to a three-year probationary period, which was not in accordance with the Venice Commission? The delegation was further asked to address the issue of exceptions to automatic or random assignment of cases to judges, and, notably, when and how those exceptions were invoked. Regarding the backlog in cases, steps undertaken were commendable, however the Expert wished to know whether they had borne fruit, and whether the question of quality and not just the speed had been addressed. Could the Delegation address the issue of appeal fines?
On the Draft Law on Protection of Personal Data, were bylaws that were to be passed pursuant to the 2008 Law on Personal Data approved?
An Expert inquired whether State efforts to liberalize the media market had been achieved. There were concerns about the continuous concentration of media particularly on the regional level – including the establishment of several media outlets by the same person. There were allegations that the privatization of media had not gone through, in particular regarding Tanjug, which continued to operate with public support.
What steps were taken to address reports of physical attacks against journalists and reported instances of pressure. Was the State party aware of that environment? Reports of cyber-attacks against media that were against the Government remained unresolved. There were also concerns regarding the political interference of the appointment of the Members of the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media. All that conveyed the message of a shrinking public space, and the Expert asked for a clear response by the delegation.
Another Expert asked whether the Ombudsman and the non-governmental organizations had been consulted in the drafting of the third periodic Report.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the delayed implementation of the Law on Domestic Violence was due to the six months of preparation of judges, police officers and other specialists, prior to the adoption of the law. The lenient penalties of the law were a result on the focus of Serbia on the preventive rather than punitive measures, which included the current awareness-raising campaign to that effect. Incest had been criminalized since 2009 while forced marriage had been criminalized since 2016.
On questions on the independence of the judiciary, the delegation responded that the Bar Association was independent from public authorities. After expiration of his term in office, the Prosecutor had a right to apply to the Bar Association, but the decision fell entirely upon the Bar Association.
A delegate commented that the number of questions posed by the Committee was so overwhelming that it was difficult to tackle them all. The Committee should consider changes to the method of procedure. Many of the facts assumed by the Committee simply were not correct and the delegation could not attend to them. The delegate was concerned about the intent and quality of the questions of the Committee.
The trend of deprivation of legal capacity was decreasing. The institutionalization of adults and elderly persons was still high, although significant results had been achieved. De-institutionalization was a State policy, and percentages indicated a good trend in that respect.
The allegations by the Committee on violence against women in residential care were not true, stated the delegation. Instances of abuse happened, but these were not systematic and were dealt with comprehensively.
No legal changes were in plans for the possibility for a preferred gender. Currently it was possible to change one’s name only after the change of gender, however a preferred change of gender was not possible.
The current appointment of the Ombudsman was based on a law passed ten years earlier, which would soon be amended.
In 2012, ninety deaths in prisons had been recorded, while currently there were 31,500 persons in prisons. The authorities were looking to solve those issues, including by assessing the risk of committing suicide. In 2015, over 5,000 cases of prison violence had been documented, and over 119 conflict charges had been filed with the police units. The procedure was that if a conflict between inmates was detected, they were separated. If there were elements of crime, criminal procedures were initiated. In order to counter prison overcrowding, in 2016, the construction of a prison in Pančevo had started, to be completed in 2018. The construction of another prison in Kragujevac had also been started, with construction to be completed in 2019. The reconstruction of a female prison was also planned.
Alternative sanctions were provided for convictions of up to five years in prison. Twelve percent of persons were given alternative sanctions as opposed to prison sentences; that figure was a significant increase as comparted to previous years. Prison conditions were also being improved, with plans to renovate a prison in Belgrade, reconstruction of Niš and Sremska Mitrovica, and a hospital unit in the prison in Belgrade. Health care in prisons was regulated by a rulebook, whereupon doctors visited prisons on a daily basis. When there was a need for a specialist check examination, prisoners were referred to special prison hospitals. Elementary and secondary education had been competed by over 67 percent of the inmates, while 280 persons had been trained for certain crafts and skills. Future programmes were in place for training, in cooperation with the European Union.
To protect victims of human trafficking, in 2012 a decision establishing the Centre for the Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking had been established. That center provided support and assistance to victims. The Centre provided a status of a victim of human trafficking to the person, and the findings of the Centre were used as evidence in the proceedings in Courts. The Office of the Public Prosecutor had concluded a memorandum with two non-governmental organizations providing services to victims of human trafficking.
The legislation regarding religious communities would be fully in line with the provisions of the Covenant by 2017, when the process of restitution would finalized. So far more than 70 percent of the work had been completed. There was no ban of establishment of religious communities – there was only a procedure to obtain legal personality, which did not compromise the freedom to practice one’s religion.
On birth registration, allegations that over 88,000 people had not been registered were simply not true. Prerequisites for birth registration were made regardless of whether or not the birth was registered within or after the deadline of birth registration. The procedure for ascertaining the time and procedure of birth was stipulated in a new law and was not prescribed by the Law on Vital Records. From 2012, those activities had been coordinated jointly between the Office of the Ombudsman, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Belgrade. Late registrations had led to invisible citizens thus prompting provisions to ensure registration. Training had been provided for 846 participants, including for over 100 Roma coordinators. A one-stop-shop was already in place in over 50 maternity wards, where the birth registration, birth of the child, and nationality procedures, were all made at the one place upon the birth of the child.
Regarding the series of questions on migrant and refugee crisis, the delegation informed that more than 900,000 people had transited through the territory of Serbia. Although Serbia was not a member state but a candidate country to the European Union, it accepted the quota system which it was not required to do, as part of the joint solution by the European Union. The delegation reminded the Committee that there was still no common European Union policy and position regarding the migrant crisis. Migrants mainly arrived from European Union Member States and intended and desired to go to other Member States. Some of them were recorded, received health care, and were registered for the first time in the territory of Serbia. The majority were in reception centers where they were provided with nutrition, heated facilities, activities and education. There were no fences or walls, and they were treated in the best way possible. All activities were delivered in accordance with the Plan to Respond to Migrants, Currently the third revised plan of response was in force. There were 5 asylum centres with a capacity of 810 beds and another 12 reception centres. The total capacity of those 17 centres was 6,900 beds, of which over 5,000 were built-in structures and the rest were camps. All centers had open-house rules. The establishment of camps had been necessary in order to accommodate the high influx of refugees.
At the moment, over 6,000 migrants were on the territory of Serbia, mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. The priority was to separate persons on the basis of needs and not on the basis of their legal status, although in the future there were plans to separate asylum seekers from those refugees who intended to continue their move into the European Union. Unaccompanied minors were also separated, and all premises had facilities were adapted for children. Translation was provided, and persons in contact with migrants and refugees were regularly trained, including on gender-based violence. All abuse was reported according to relevant procedures and in line with international procedures.
Regarding persons staying outside the centers, it was explained that competent authorities had repeatedly tried to transfer them from the city center, and provided them with information on a possibility of accommodation in asylum centres. Many declined because they believed that transfer from the city center would delay their departure to other countries. According to surveys, 70 percent of these asylum seekers did not wish to go to these centres. The policy of Serbia gave refugees the option to choose whether or not to be accommodated in centers.
The asylum procedure was conducted by 14 public authority officers, and there were plans to increase that number. As many as 12,811 migrants had declared the intention to seek asylum, while 96,000 were issued certificates of having entered the territory of Serbia. Most persons seeking asylum were not genuine asylum seekers and did not seek to stay in Serbia – most had left the territory before the asylum procedure was finalized. After the Balkan route had been closed in March 2016, the transit through Serbia had changed. Hungary was the only country that had allowed five migrants per day to cross through Serbia. Since July 2016, 6,500 migrants had been returned from Hungary into Serbia. The Serbian Border Police applied all measures from the Schengen Catalogue.
Unaccompanied minors were being dealt with specifically by trained personnel. Child labour would be dealt with through legislative solutions which had already been drafted. Numerous initiatives regarding children in the streets had been launched.
Regarding media for the minorities, a delegate informed that there were 143 printed media in the languages of the national minorities, and radio stations in 15 of the national monitories, 47 television broadcast programmes for national minorities.
On the issue of traditional religions, it was stated that those had been subjected to major oppression under the communist regime. Part of that oppression had involved taking away assets and real properties, and currently there was a process of restitution. Three laws regulated the process of restitution: giving back property to religious minorities, victims of Holocaust, and general restitution to people who had owned property in those days. Once that was done, there would be a full equation of all religious groups.
The Action Plan for the Participation of Civil Society ensured participation of civil society in all and any legal initiatives. There was no Code of Conduct for Parliament due to potential limitations of freedoms. Serbia was in a constant contact with the Venice Commission, which provided advice on independence of the judiciary, and all changes in that respect were subjected to a Review by the Venice Commission.
A memorandum had been signed to address attacks against journalists, in December 2016, regulating sharing data, as well as urgent action if such attacks occurred. Media privatization had been completed and regulated, with the result of only two public broadcasting services. Not a single local government was the founder of a media outlet any more. The separation of government and the protection of media plurality had thus been achieved. The Tanjug news agency had still not been deleted from the registry, however it was no longer funded by the public. It had been privatized and since there were no buyers, it would exist until it fulfilled its liabilities.
SUZANA PAUNOVIĆ, Acting Director of the Office for Human and Minority Rights of the Republic of Serbia, thanked the Committee for the great importance the Committee had given to the promotion and protection of human rights in Serbia. She hoped that sufficient in formation had been given, and that the Committee had a more clear information of human rights in Serbia. The Government was committed to human rights and to improving its work regarding the situation of human rights in the Republic of Serbia. The dialogue had been constructive.
YUJI IWASAWA, Committee Chairperson, addressing the concern of one of the members of the delegation regarding the questioning procedure of the Committee, stated that the aim of the exercise was to assist the State party in the full implementation of the Covenant. All the information raised by members had been provided by National Human Rights Institutions or civil society and was available on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He assured the delegation that the Committee took note of all the progress made by Serbia, including on violence against women, and looked forward to the delegation's replies on the other points which it had not been able to elaborate. Mr. Iwasawa highlighted the Committee’s concerns on discrimination against and social exclusion of Roma, the investigation process regarding the missing persons during the armed conflict, the investigation, persecution and conviction of perpetrators of war crimes, the rights of persons with mental and psychosocial disabilities subjected to involuntary placement in psychiatric institutions, the migrant and refugee crisis, and the procedure for seeking asylum in Serbia.
For use of the information media; not an official record