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Events

8 March 2021. For the first time – today on International Women’s Day – The National Preventive Mechanism of the Republic of Serbia has joined with the Association for the Prevention of Torture and 36 other oversight bodies from across the globe to call for sustained government action to protect women in prison.

Around the world, more than 75 national and local independent monitoring bodies established under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) – known as National and Local Preventive Mechanisms – work to uphold dignity and fairness for persons deprived of liberty.

We undertake regular visits to all places of detention. We conduct interviews in private with detainees, family members and staff. We document how the prison environment affects women, whether pre-trial or convicted. We prepare reports to authorities that highlight the discrimination and gender-based violence experienced by women in prison, including those in a situation of heightened vulnerability due to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, among others. Importantly, we develop practical recommendations to guide changes in law, policy, procedures and practices. We do all this based on sustained and constructive dialogue with all actors across the criminal justice system.

Monitoring the situation and needs of women is an important part of our work. It has been especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has put an additional strain on prisons worldwide, presenting new challenges to staff and exposing detainees to heightened risks. We have reported – and continue to report – on the impact that restrictions implemented to contain the virus have had on women. Many have been left isolated, emotionally affected and without material support following the suspension of family visits and restrictions on daily activities. Children have also suffered by being unable to see their mother. Based on our monitoring, we have strongly advocated for the implementation of early release schemes and alternative measures to detention for women.

We use the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (Bangkok Rules), adopted ten years ago, as a compass for our monitoring and to support our findings and recommendations. We also draw on other complementary standards, such as the Nelson Mandela Rules and the Yogyakarta Principles. In strengthening protections for women in prison and promoting non-custodial alternatives to detention, the Bangkok Rules are particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We acknowledge the positive measures taken by States across the world to protect the rights of women in prison. However, there is a need for greater and sustained action, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We therefore jointly call for a renewed commitment by all States to uphold the dignity, health, safety and security of all women in prison and to establish alternatives to detention for women in contact with the law. The Bangkok Rules, along with recommendations made by National and Local Preventive Mechanisms, provide States with a solid foundation to make justice fair, accessible and safer for women.
Signed:

• Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT)
• Austrian Ombudsman Board as National Preventive Mechanism
• Comisión por la Memoria - Mecanismo Local de Prevención de la Tortura de la Provincia de Buenos Aires / Argentina
• Comisión Provincial de Prevención de la Tortura de Mendoza / Argentina
• Comité Nacional para la Prevención de la Tortura de Argentina / CNPT-AR
• Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia
• Instance Nationale pour la Prévention de la Torture (INPT) / République Tunisienne
• Mecanismo Estadual de Prevenção e Combate à Tortura do Rio de Janeiro / Brasil
• Mecanismo Estadual de Prevenção e Combate à Tortura de Pernambuco / Brasil
• Mecanismo Local para la Prevención de la Tortura y Otros Tratos y Penas Crueles, Inhumanos y/o Degradantes de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires / Argentina
• Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção e Combate à Tortura - MNPCT/Brasil
• Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención contra la Tortura y otros Tratos o Penas Crueles, Inhumanos o Degradantes - Defensoría del Pueblo / Ecuador
• Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención contra la Tortura (MNPT) / Costa Rica
• Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención contra la Tortura MNP-CONAPREV / Honduras
• Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura – Defensoría del Pueblo / Perú
• Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura / Paraguay
• Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura (INDDHH – MNP) / Uruguay
• Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura de la Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos / México
• Mecanismo Nacional para la Prevención de la Tortura, Penas y Tratos Crueles, Inhumanos o Degradantes (MNPT) / Panamá
• Médiateur du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg
• National Center of the Kyrgyz Republic for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
• National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) / Switzerland
• National Guarantor for the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty / Italy
• National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture / Poland
• National Preventive Mechanism – Commissioner for Fundamental Rights / Hungary
• National Preventive Mechanism – Ombuds Institution / Croatia
• National Preventive Mechanism – Protector of Citizens / Serbia
• National Preventive Mechanism - Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms / Montenegro
• National Preventive Mechanism - Romanian Ombudsman
• National Preventive Mechanism (Ombudsman’s Office) / Portugal
• National Preventive Mechanism of South Africa (SA NPM)
• National Preventive Mechanism of the Republic of Moldova (Office of the People’s Advocate)
• New Zealand Human Rights Commission as Central National Preventive Mechanism
• Oficina Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura y otros Tratos o Penas Crueles, Inhumanos o Degradantes / Guatemala
• Ombudsman of the Republic of North Macedonia - National Preventive Mechanism
• UK National Preventive Mechanism
• Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights
• Victorian Ombudsman – Australia

 Key recommendations made by the National Preventive Mechanism of the Republic of Serbia

In Annual Reports, the NPM of the Republic of Serbia has been indicating for years:

• Women in pre-trial detention are placed in detention units of the prisons. Relatively small number of them in one detention unit has the consequence that some of them are practically in solitary confinement during the execution of pre-trial detention, often for a longer period. Special or disciplinary measure for persons serving a prison sentence, often represents a way of executing a pre-trial detention for women.
• Enforcement of prison sanction against women is carried out in one institution for women (Požarevac Penal-Correctional Institution), which prevents them from serving a prison sentence as close as possible to their place of residence.

NPM found that investments are being made in improving the conditions for women in penitentiary institutions: during 2019, the construction of a new facility in the Penitentiary for Women in Požarevac was completed, and during a visit to the Belgrade District Prison made in 2017, NPM determined that the women pavilion was renovated. Also, accepting the opinion of the Protector of Citizens on the importance of preventive medical examinations in the Penitentiary for Women in Požarevac, this institution passed the Directive on monitoring the health condition and prevention of diseases of convicts, which determined the dynamics, scope and content of preventive examinations.

 

December 21 marks the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Rules on the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders, known as the Rules from Bangkok (Bangkok Rules). Building upon a number of UN Resolutions in the field of human rights protection, these rules particularly emphasized the need to establish global standards in the treatment of women prisoners by the competent authorities. Essentially, the Rules highlight the gender and anti-discrimination aspect, defining the protection of women's rights in certain areas such as prisons to which until then no attention was devoted.

These rules showcased the need to create a fairer and safer environment for women, with an alternative to imprisonment, especially for those who struggle with poverty, violence, mental health or have committed petty offenses. They stand for a society and a state that respects the dignity of women and strives to improve their position in all life situations. Shedding light to the fact that women in prison are usually mothers and primary carers in a family, the Bangkok Rules specify that they as prisoners should be staying close to their homes and remain in contact with their family. Prison health care and hygiene should respond to the specific needs of women, provide them with regular gynecological and specialized examinations as well as with continuous psychological support. Furthermore, prisons should provide for women's basic needs, specific to their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, ethnicity and age. Female prison staff, who should have the same opportunities in terms of training and promotion in the workplace as men, as well as safety and security at work should not be disregarded.

Within the general competence in performing the NPM tasks, the Protector of Citizens monitors the treatment of women in criminal justice system and closed type institutions and encourages the changes in practice and in law, including the issue of an alternative to remand/prison. In this regard, over the years the NPM has been pointing out to the negative aspects of the long-term enforcement of detention measures against women, given that, due to the relatively small number, some women while in detention are practically in isolation. Namely, although in the penal sanctions enforcement system, solitary confinement/isolation is a special, disciplinary measure that is strictly time limited, it is a regular manner of execution of detention for some detainees in the current practice. Although the Administration for the Enforcement of Penal Sanctions has undertaken significant activities to improve the material conditions of accommodation of persons deprived of liberty and enhance the institution ‘s capacity, having a new facility built in Požarevac Penitentiary, this still remains a sole Institution accommodating women sentenced to imprisonment, so it is impossible for the institution to be near the prisoner's home, making regular contacts with the family, important for their integration and social inclusion upon their release, more difficult.

Acknowledging the Protector of Citizens’ Opinion on the importance of preventive medical examinations in the Požarevac Penitentiary, this Institution passed the Directive on monitoring the health condition and prevention of diseases of female convicts, which determined the dynamics, scope and content of preventive examinations.

The Protector of Citizens will continue to monitor the treatment of women, as a particularly vulnerable category of persons deprived of liberty, and take activities to step up the situation in this area.

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.