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.

Serbia, as a member of the Council of Europe and as a state that has ratified Protocols 6 and 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which seek to abolish the death penalty, strongly opposes its existence. “Starting from the universal right to life and human dignity, which cannot be taken away from anyone, this type of punishment is absolutely unacceptable in a legal system of a country”, said the Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pasalic, on the occasion of October 10, the World and European Day against the Death Penalty.

The European Union is actively fighting for the abolition of the death penalty because it is an inhumane act that is not tolerated by the international law today. Today, death sentences are abolished in about 140 countries in the world, while about 50 countries still have them in their legal systems and in those countries up to several thousand people are executed every year. In developed countries, life sentence dominates as the most severe prescribed sentence, with or without possibility of parole.

The Protector of Citizens reminds that the death penalty in Serbia was abolished in 2002 and that it was last executed ten years before that. Despite this, the issue of the need to bring the death penalty back has occasionally been raised in public in Serbia in recent years, especially when monstrous crimes against children or multiple murders occur. “However, we must be aware that the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia itself says that human life is inviolable, so the Protector of Citizens remains determined in its position that the reintroduction of the death penalty should never be allowed”, Zoran Pasalic said.

Representatives of the NPM of the Republic of Serbia participated in the second meeting of the South-East Europe NPM Network, organized on the topic “Specific needs of minors in detention facilities” in Skopje.

The meeting emphasized that minors are a particularly vulnerable and sensitive category of citizens, and that juvenile detention is an inadequate measure and can be harmful in multiple ways, which is why it should be used as a measure of last resort, after all other options are exhausted.

In situations when juvenile detention must be applied, as emphasized at the meeting, the measure must be implemented together with fulfilling the necessary conditions – employees who work with minors must have specific knowledge of their needs and must develop a relationship of mutual trust in their work. Minors must also be allowed to attend school, as well as to access medical, social and psychological care and support. The environment in juvenile care facilities also needs to be tailored to their needs, while their rights must be presented to them in a language they understand and in an appropriate way, those are the conclusions of the Southeast-Europe NPM Network meeting.

The two-day meeting in Skopje was attended by NPM representatives from 13 countries – Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo*. In Skopje, it was also agreed that the Republic of Croatia chairs the Southeast-Europe NPM Network in 2020 as well.

The elderly, especially those in institutional care, are one of the most vulnerable groups and are at a greater risk of discrimination, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, the National Preventive Mechanism assessed on the occasion of the International Day for Older Persons, on October 1. Due to their very difficult position in certain situations, the Protector of Citizens, through the mandate of the National Preventive Mechanism, pays special attention to monitoring the actions of the competent authorities towards these persons, especially in closed departments of gerontology centers where mobile and immobile beneficiaries with dementia are housed.

In performing the tasks of the NPM, the Protector of Citizens made 52 recommendations to the competent authorities in reports on visits to the homes for the elderly, with the aim of improving the position of the elderly and eliminating the identified shortcomings in the work of the visited institutions. The recommendations were given, first of all, to improve the material conditions of the beneficiaries’ stay, to equip rooms and exercise the right to privacy and other rights of beneficiaries, as well as to ensure adequate staffing and greater involvement of beneficiaries in work occupational and culturally entertaining activities. In particular, the Protector of Citizens identified a high degree of restriction of the freedom of movement of beneficiaries inside and outside the institution and accordingly recommended that the competent ministry regulate this issue legally. The competent authorities acted on most of the recommendations.

In order to further improve the position of the elderly in institutional care, the Protector of Citizens reminded on this day that it is necessary to increase the human resources for working with the elderly in nursing homes, their constant education and sensitization is required, as well as continuous support to the beneficiaries in order to protect and preserve their dignity.

In accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution of 14 December 1990, the International Day for Older Persons is celebrated on 1 October with the aim of highlighting the importance of adapting the environment in which we live to the needs and capabilities of the elderly.