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Events

Deputy Protectors of Citizens, Mr. Slobodan Tomić, Ms. Nataša Tanjević and Ms. Jelena Stojanović and Secretary General of the Secretariat of the Protector of Citizens Ms. Olja Jovićić participated today in a video conference attended by more than 20 EU member states Ombudsmen representatives as well as the states which are 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 (elderly population, 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 Natasa 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 sending complaints via e-mail, but also 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 this period, NPM representatives continued visiting the institutions for the execution of penal sanctions, in order to check how measures are implemented in the fight against the spread of coronavirus 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 telephone line 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.

The Protector of Citizens issued an opinion to the Ministry of Justice regarding the exercise of the right to a fair trial and urged the Ministry to take all measures within its competence to enable access to alternative means and assets of communication (Skype) between the defendant and defense attorney in a separate room without third parties present, with video, not audio, surveillance, without 30 minutes restriction on communication duration, in order to create necessary conditions for conducting confidential conversation and preparation of the defendant’s defense.

Ms. Tanjević concluded by stating that in addition to numerous activities in that period, the Protector of Citizens would continue to work in the coming period on human rights and freedoms protection and promotion.

Ms. Emily O'Reilly commended the Protector of Citizens on the activities undertaken regarding visits to reception centers for migrants and monitoring how those institutions treated the migrants.

In order to monitor the treatment of persons deprived of liberty during the state of emergency, the Protector of Citizens has introduced a hotline designated for NPM, number 066 800 70 13, which is available from 8 am to 10 pm, seven days a week.

In the capacity as the National Preventive Mechanism, the Protector of Citizens, will continue, amid the state of emergency, to visit institutions where persons deprived of their liberty are or may be and act preventively in order to deter state authorities and officials from any form of torture or ill-treatment. The prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is absolute and protective measures taken by the state to contain COVID-19 must never result in any form of ill-treatment of persons deprived of liberty.

 

By visiting the Clinic for neurology and psychiatry for children and youth, the representatives of the Protector of Citizens from the Department of the National Preventive Mechanism and the Sector for the rights of the child, gender equality and the rights of persons with disabilities, marked the International Human Rights Day, wishing to highlight the importance of child and adolescent psychiatry and the problems that children and young people with neurological, intellectual and mental disabilities, as well as their parents, face in increasing numbers and at a younger age than before.

The Clinic is the largest institution for pediatric and adolescent neurology and psychiatry in the Balkans and is unique in its application of the concept of neuropsychiatry in the country, and at the same time, it is also a center for rare neurological diseases, the teaching base of the departments of neurology and psychiatry of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Belgrade, as well as the headquarters of the Association for child and adolescent psychiatry and allied professions of Serbia. This institution is unique in its ability to fully diagnose comorbidity i.e. the associated symptoms in the field of neurological and psychiatric disorders, primarily pervasive developmental disorders, which are characteristic of childhood and adolescence.

The management of the Clinic informed the representatives of the Protector of Citizens about the history of the Clinic, the organization of work and the importance of this institution in the health care system. It was emphasized that the Clinic is available to patients 24 hours every day of the year, that classes are organized for school children, and that patients from certain countries in the region are also treated at the Clinic. The representatives of the Protector of Citizens visited the Clinic's premises and accommodation facilities for children and their companions during treatment at the institution. During the visit, employees told the NPM team that there was a need to increase the capacity, i.e. the number of beds for psychiatric patients, as there are currently only ten of them. They also pointed out the need to open a day hospital for psychiatric patients within this institution, in which parental education would also take place.

Expert in the field of protection of the rights of children and youth with intellectual and mental disabilities, Melanie Reeves from the USA, is on a visit to Serbia for several days, at the invitation of the MDRI-S association.

On this occasion, representatives of the National Preventive Mechanism hosted her today at the institution of the Protector of Citizens, where she held a seminar for employees dealing with the rights of children and persons with disabilities and the NPM representatives, as well as representatives of the competent ministry, on the topic “Children and adults with disabilities have the right to live in the community”. At the end of the lecture, Melanie Reeves also spoke with the Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pasalic, about her findings during visits to state institutions and social welfare homes where children and young people are housed.

The representatives of the NPM, together with the expert, Ms. Reeves, visited the Stationary of the Center for Protection of Infants, Children and Youth in Zvecanska Street on Tuesday, which is the center's largest and most famous organizational unit. The director of the institution, Ivan Milacic, informed the guest about the institution's capacities, the methods of work and the role in the prevention of placement of children in institutions, which the center implements through numerous programs for supporting the biological family.

It was pointed out to the expert, Ms. Reeves, that Serbia is one of the countries with the least number of children in institutions in Europe, that children in Serbia stay for a relatively short time in institutions (from 5 to 7 years), and that there have been some positive results in the field of deinstitutionalization, since today there are only 675 children in institutions and about 5000 in foster families, while some 20 years ago this number was equal.
It was also pointed out that services for the support to biological and foster families are not sufficiently developed for children with disabilities and that foster parents are not sufficiently trained to take care of their needs, which is evidenced by the fact that in the past years there has been on average only one child with disabilities placed in foster families. Children with disabilities, especially those who have significant health problems in addition to intellectual disabilities, are most often not accommodated in small communities of the home type, since there are no material and staffing conditions for this.

The Protector of Citizens pays particular attention to the protection of rights of persons with intellectual and mental disabilities, a vulnerable and highly stigmatized and marginalized social group. The process of deinstitutionalization is still in its infancy, and placement in institutions remains the dominant form of protection for people with mental disorders, said Zoran Pasalic, the Protector of Citizens, on the occasion of International Mental Health Day. Therefore, it is necessary to adopt a strategy for the inclusion of people with mental disabilities in the community, and to develop life support services and networks of services for the protection of mental health in the local community.

In order to prevent any form of abuse, to improve conditions of stay in psychiatric institutions and to manage the treatment of persons with mental disabilities in accordance with the applicable regulations and standards, the Protector of Citizens, in performing the activities of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), visited all psychiatry departments at the (four) clinical centers (Kragujevac, Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad) in 2019, as well as the Center for Mental Health in Nis. A study visit to the Department of Psychiatry of the General Hospital in Sabac was also carried out.

The Protector of Citizens points to the importance of respecting the rights of persons with mental disabilities, without prejudice, participation of patients in preparation of individual treatment plans and the informed consent to a medical measure, as well as to the freedom to make a decision regarding their own life and health, except when that directly threatens the lives and health of others.

The Protector of Citizens particularly emphasizes the need to establish appropriate health care institutions for developmental psychiatry (or developmental neurology and psychiatry), since the psychiatric care of children and minors/adolescents, in small spaces, as is the case in the inpatient pediatric wards of the Clinic for Psychiatry of the Clinical Center of Vojvodina and the Center for mental health in Nis, significantly complicates the work of employees and the adjustment of psychosocial activities to the needs and capabilities of each patient.

Lack of resources to improve the material conditions of patient accommodation and the development of psychosocial rehabilitation programs for all patients, as well as insufficient number of employees, of different profiles, are the main problems faced by employees in the institutions visited.