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Events

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.

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.