«Serbia needs to take immediate steps to address serious issues relating to the right to legal capacity of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities and their de-institutionalisation in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by which Serbia is bound» said Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights at the end of his visit to Serbia from 16 to 20 March.
«Urgent steps are also needed to ensure that forcibly displaced Roma from Kosovo* have access to adequate housing, quality education and healthcare». The Commissioner welcomes the strengthening of the domestic legislative and institutional framework for the protection against discrimination, including the adoption by Serbia in 2013 of the antidiscrimination strategy. He underlines, however, that more needs to be done to translate legislation into practice so as to improve the rights of vulnerable social groups, in particular persons with disabilities, Roma, women and LGBTI persons.
The authorities are urged to review the existing legislation on legal capacity with a view to replacing the guardianship system with supported decision-making alternatives, abolishing full incapacitation and plenary guardianship as a first step. Commissioner Muižnieks stresses that de-institutionalisation of persons with disabilities and their inclusion in the community should be put high on the authorities’ agenda and urges them to develop ambitious plans in this context. ʺAs a first step the authorities should stop placing persons with disabilities in institutions, including the Veternik institution which I visited and where I witnessed the harsh reality that 548 persons are confronted with. The road map for de-institutionalisation developed by the Ombudsman and expert NGOs provides useful guidance’’.
Gender inequality and violence against women, particularly domestic violence, are persisting problems in Serbia. The Commissioner notes the ratification by Serbia in 2013 of the Istanbul Convention and the following adoption of relevant strategic documents and protocols. The reporting of domestic violence to the police has increased but the judicial response remains inadequate, resulting notably from lenient sentences for these crimes provided for in the criminal code. The Commissioner welcomes he authorities’ commitment to address this issue.
Homophobia and discrimination against LGBTI persons, in particular in the workplace, remain issues of concern. An improved cooperation between the police and the LGBTI community is a good step in ensuring the promotion of a culture of respect and tolerance. Serbia has strong and well-functioning national human right structures, in particular the Ombudsman, working in this area. The Commissioner calls on the authorities to strengthen them co-operate with them and comply with their recommendations.
Impunity for wartime crimes, missing persons, the lack of effective and adequate reparation to all victims of the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia are serious issues that have yetto be effectively addressed by the authorities. Of particular concern to the Commissioner is the lack of an effective system of protection of witnesses in domestic war crimes proceedings. He welcomed the recent arrests concerning the Kravice and Štrpci cases as results of regional co-operation which he strongly supports.
The Roma from Kosovo who live in a number of irregular settlements remain among the most vulnerable members of the forcibly displaced persons in Serbia. In two of these settlements visited by the Commissioner - Antena and Čukarička šuma - about 100 Roma families live in seriously substandard conditions with no running water and electricity. Few of the children go to school while the problems of lack of personal identity documentation and statelessness persist despite the legislative measures adopted by the authorities in recent years.
As regards media freedoms, the Commissioner welcomes the adoption in August 2014 of three important media laws aiming to ensure media pluralism and transparency of ownership. However, the Commissioner regrets that the implementation of these laws and other media-related issues are being discussed in a highly polarised and politicised context. While urging the authorities to refrain from any actions and statements which may have a chilling effect on the media, the Commissioner invites media actors to reflect upon issues of ethical journalism and take the necessary steps to strengthen relevant standards and practice. Last but not least, the safety of journalists remains an issue of particular concern, as shown by the fact that four journalists are kept under 24-hour police protection and three cases of journalists’ murders which occurred between 1994 and 2001 have yet to be fully resolved.
The Commissioner’s report on this visit is forthcoming.
* All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo