Final Report on the National Campaign action carried out within the framework of the Council of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence
1. Legal and policy measures
Serbia is a member of both UN and the Council of Europe, and as other members is bound to comply with all the requirements and recommendations of the international organisations. Serbia is bound to establish efficient and effective mechanisms for the protection of women from violence, to protect rights to life, freedom and personal security of its citizens of both genders, to prevent violence regardless of its source and place of occurrence, and to provide and ensure for women victims of violence overall and comprehensive legal protection, social care and support to abandon the environment and situation of violence and for alleviation of its harmful consequences.
A relatively complete system and mechanisms ensuring protection of women victims of domestic violence has already been in place in the Republic of Serbia, as well as the penal policy targeted to perpetrators of violence against women, including domestic violence. During the last decade, government in Serbia has made significant progress in penalizing domestic violence and introducing legal measures to protect victims. This progress is the result of the harmonization of national legislation with international standards of human rights, and advocacy campaigns of women’s NGOs.
In 2006 a new Constitution was adopted providing for the following:
§ That Serbia is a country founded on rule of law and social justice, principles of civil democracy, human and minority rights and freedoms as well as the commitment to European principles and values (Art. 1 of the Constitution of RS);
§ That State shall guarantee the equality of women and men and develop equal opportunities policy (Art. 15 of the Constitution);
§ That mother and child shall enjoy special protection and care (Art. 29 of the Constitution)
In the preceding period common and universal criminal law instruments of protection from offences against life and limb (body), honour, reputation, sexual freedom, marriage and family.
§ In 2002, the Law on Amendments to Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia was enacted, which for the first time classifies domestic violence as a separate criminal offence and also for the first time sanctions against rape of a spouse in a marriage and of a partner in extramarital relation that is cohabitation;
§ In 2005 the Penal Code of the Republic of Serbia was including, inter alia, changes in the description of previously provided for types of criminal offences of domestic violence, milder sanctions for any form of execution of the criminal offence of domestic violence, and, particularly, violation and infringement of family law measures protection from domestic violence are classified as a separate criminal offence and as such sanctioned; the mechanism of witness and victim protection from abusive language, threats and any other form of attack is improved, as well as safeguard from human trafficking promoted and framework for the application of the restorative justice.
The Family Law was enacted in 2005, which established family law protection from domestic violence:
§ Domestic violence is explicitly forbidden;
§ Right to protection from domestic violence is recognized for the members of a family;
§ It lays down five family law protection measures from domestic violence;
§ It governs special/separate procedure in the form of the lawsuits for protection from domestic violence.
The Labour Law has been enacted which:
§ Provides for antidiscrimination measure, that is ban on discrimination of employed persons and job-seekers (Art. 18-20);
§ Provides for protection of employees from harassment and sexual harassment at workplace (Art. 21);
§ Insures right of employees and job seekers to indemnification for discrimination (Art. 23).
Current instruments of protection against legal offences in the area of protection from violence have been improved, sanctions for certain types of offences with the element of violence have been strengthened and restriction order in relation to victim, buildings or place of offence – Public Order Law and Law on Infringements (law governing so called lesser offences).
The capacities for enforcement are far from satisfactory, resulting in considerable gap between regulations and practice. Offenders are in line with the penal policy treated mildly, and there are substantial gaps among practice of various institutions.
A number of set backs are reflected in the current application of the law, such as: in relation to sentences pronounced for the criminal act/offence of domestic violence which is indicated with the inclination towards mild sanctioning of the offenders; although there are sound provisions in the law, measures of protection have not been taken as often as they should (especially the measure of moving of the offender/perpetrator from the housing), while civil suits are extremely inefficient – they last long and costs of proceedings are high, which considerably impairs purpose of the measures and their accessibility to women who belong to the poorest stratum of society.
Considerations related to the position of women and measures towards betterment of their position, including protection from violence, have also been mainstreamed, that is, included into major national strategies:
Ø Implementation of MDGs in Serbia (a paper adopted in 2007 – National task 4 – By 2015 develop system of protection of women victims of violence and system of prevention of violence against women / within framework of United Nation Millennium Declaration – Objective III: promotion of gender equality and improving position of women
Ø Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (adopted in 2002) covering, among others, indicators on the position of women, and on violence against women. Two Progress Reports prepared by PRS Implementation Focal Point have been published by now.
Ø Social Welfare Development Strategy (adopted in 2005), envisaging development of the network of community-based services, adoption of the Protocol of Cooperation (related to women victims of violence), strengthening of field-specific professional capacities of the staff in social welfare and protection (protection from abuse and neglect of children, adults, the elderly and from domestic violence), development of services of urgent intervention (24 hours on duty, establishment and support of SOS services), introducing accreditation and licensing into the system.
Ø Initial Framework of National Strategy on Fight against Violence (adopted 2005) Key goal of future National Strategy on Fight against Violence is to prevent violence in all it appearance forms, especially violence against children, women and disabled and elderly persons, refugees and other vulnerable groups
Ø National Employment Strategy (adopted in 2005) Support to gender equality with view to employment and pay and especially highlighted need to reconcile professional and family life of woman.
Ø Strategy on Fight against Human Trafficking (adopted 2006) providing direct support to victims of human trafficking and all forms of exploitation.
Ø Strategy for Improvement of Position of Persons with Disability (adopted in 2006) Specific objective 10: Develop and ensure equal opportunities for women with disabilties for their equal and active participation in community life.
Ø National Strategy on Ageing (adopted in 2006) VIII Improvement of Gender Equality – 1.6 To prevent negligent occurrences of abuse and violence against elderly, particularly women, to alleviate and eliminate its consequences by way of adoption and application of protocols on cooperation among all participants in protection of victims – from the republic level to a level of local self-government, as well as by may of leading campaigns against several different sorts of discrimination and violence through creation of local systems of support to victims of negligence, abuse and violence.
2. Support and protection for victims
In Serbia support services for women, which are funded by the State (including legal assistance and services of representation at court for women victims of domestic violence) are lacking.
The system of protection of women from violence is organized through line ministries which cover the area of labor and social policy, employment, health, education, internal affairs and judicial system, but it still exhibits certain weaknesses: the lack of action standards and mutual connections. Women NGOs, especially engaged in the field of protection of victims of violence are not included in the system in a satisfying manner. Since 2002, national, regional and local institutional gender equality mechanisms are being developed, and they actively participate in the creation of policy and provide support for system solutions. The issues related to position of women and suggestions of improvement measures, including the issue of violence against women, are integrated in the most important national strategies.
Services of women organisations are almost exclusively dependent upon the international donations. In terms of protection services for victims, interagency cooperation and operational protocols on dealing with domestic violence among all relevant institutions have not been developed in Serbia. As a rule, education and training programs for police officials, judges, prosecutors, social workers and other professionals dealing with domestic violence are not implemented on a regular and systematic basis by the state. Professionals are not ‘gender-sensitive’ and not properly trained to implement specific legal provisions on domestic violence. Implementing mechanisms and structures are generally not effective or well coordinated.
The state partially participates in supporting shelters, but without systematic strategies. Help lines providing psychological and legal assistance are also mostly operated by women’s NGOs. A number of help lines in Serbia are operated by centers for social work. Rehabilitation programs for women and children and access to specialized services, other than those generally available, do not exist. There is a lack of rehabilitation programs for domestic violence offenders in Serbia - centers for social work did provide experimental rehabilitation programs, but these were stopped due to lack of funding.
3. Data Collection
Unfortunately, family violence is even more widespread than existing data show. Relevant statistics and data are fragmented, poorly collected and not standardized. In addition, experiences of NGOs and experts that are working on this issue indicate that the majority of cases are not reported. It is very unlikely that victims report domestic violence after the first incident, they usually only report it after years of abuse. Therefore, many cases of domestic violence stay out of the records. Estimations on ‘dark numbers’ (unreported cases) range from one in three to one in ten (i.e. for each reported case there are ten unreported ones). The World Health Organization study showed followed results for intimate partner violence in Serbia. Accordingly, every fourth ‘ever-partnered woman’ has experienced physical or sexual violence (‘WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women: Serbia and Montenegro Fact Sheet’, 2005).
Sound system of the collection of data on violence against women is critical for the process of surveillance over the implementation of the law in this area and for monitoring implementation of penal policy. Absence of comprehensive and systemic research and data on incidence of domestic violence are hindrance for the adoption and implementation of effective protective and preventive legal and political measures. Although progress has been made, the data collected by the Republic Statistical Office are insufficient and as such cannot serve as a basis for monitoring of the results of institutional policy in the domain of violence against women. Therefore, forthcoming reshuffling of the Office and upgrade of their programmes and modernization of the Plan of statistical research should lead to improvement of victimological branch of statistics.
Most of the data has been collected thanks to the research of non-governmental sector, in which various good models were used and certain databases were formed. The Republic Statistical Office and NGOs point out problems in data collection, i.e. the percentage of records that were not completed or completed in an inadequate manner, as well as a high percentage of refusal to participate in a research, which leads to difficulties in creating a nationally representative sample, i.e. to a high “dark number” of overall scope of violence, meaning the violence that has not been reported and recorded. A problem also arises with the criteria for identification of trafficking victims, where it is necessary to strengthen a proactive approach.
4. Awareness Raising
In Serbia the CoE Campaign was launched with delay as at the time there were polls in the country, political campaigns that were focused to other subjects, which was followed by extended negotiations of parliamentary political parties with view to establishment of the coalition government. A major issue was a fact that, prior to the establishment of the new government, a state budget could not have been adopted; therefore only minimum funds were at disposal, which did not make sufficient basis for the implementation of the Campaign.
Nevertheless, certain activities have been carried out.
NGOs made vital contribution to the Campaign towards the development of the models of coordinated action of local communities aimed at prevention and elimination of domestic violence (NGO Autonomous women centre). The Campaign included also the presentation of Austrian model of protection of women against violence.
Parliamentary activities are in most part related to the activities of the Gender Equality Committee, which at its sessions planned and took a set of steps. On the world day of fight against violence against women a Round Table was organised facilitated by the Speaker, with the attendance of the officials of relevant Ministries, experts, NGOs and members of the Committee.
In October 2007, within the Serbia’s chairing over the Committee of Ministers of CoE, National Conference was held (within the CoE Campaign) on combating violence against women, necessity to strengthen capacities of the system of protection of women against violence, research and analysis, improvement of documentation and statistics and requirement of awareness rising on violence against women. President of Serbia, Mr. Boris Tadic and Special Representative of General Secretary of the Council of Europe in Serbia, Mr. Denis Hubert, opened the Conference. At the day of the Conference, impressive announcement was made in the national daily newspaper with the motto of Council of Europe, which warned against the harmfulness and danger of violence against women and called for the necessity to engage in the combat against it. The conclusions of this Conference are basis upon which all further activities are carried out in all relevant meetings, gatherings, and convocations.
5. National Action Plan
In January 2006, a drafting process was initiated for the preparation of the National Action Plan for Promotion of Gender Equality and Improving Position of Women, in line with the Beijing Platform. The issues and concerns covered by this Plan include: women and decision-making, women and economy, women and health, women and education, violence against women and women and media. The aim in field of violence is to build an effective framework to combat domestic violence through comprehensive long-term and short-term measures at provincial and local level. A specific budget line will be set up for the implementation of the strategy. It was designed jointly with the Gender Equality Council, numerous experts, and 33 women NGOs. The NAP is designed for the period 2008 – 2014. Unfortunately, it is still in the process of adoption, and is expected to be adopting immediately after the parliamentary polls (election are in May 2008) and establishment of the government.
Assessment of the impact of the Council of Europe Campaign
The Task Force will partly base its assessment of the impact of the Council of Europe Campaign to combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence on the following indicators. Please respond by ticking on the boxes.
1. Is any and every act of violence against women criminalised in your country?
YES x NO q
Find enclosed under 1. Legal and policy measures
2. Is violence committed by a partner or former partner punished more severely than violence among strangers (e.g. gender based violence as such or the abuse of power will be considered an aggravating circumstance)?
YES q NO x
3. Are victims enabled to seek justice in a human manner (e.g. specialised courts on domestic violence, specialised units within the police, the public prosecutor or the judiciary)?
YES x NO q
Although, there is no specialized court, victims of violence have a court protection within courts of record. Access to justice is available to victims of domestic violence in Serbia, but it is not as safe and prompt as demanded by international standards. The criminal procedure is lengthy and therefore discouraging for victims. A number of victims do not use legal opportunities to obtain justice due to lack of knowledge and information, fear of the perpetrator (related to the lack of effective protective measures), reluctance to publicize private matters, lack of confidence that the perpetrator will be brought to justice, mild sanctions and uncertainty of the result of the criminal procedure. In addition, the national research indicates that only a small proportion of all cases reported by police end up in court.
4. Does a national emergency 24/7 help-line exist free of charge for victims of domestic violence in your country?
YES q NO x
5. Have safe shelters been set up for victims of domestic violence in an adequate ratio in your member state? 1
YES q NO x
There is no shelter for women in Serbia, victims of violence, which is financed from national budget resources. Shelters are organized by Non-government organizations and basically; they are concentrated in a city’s like Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis…. From state of account, in Serbia are 7.498.001 citizens (2002.) that of women 3.852.071, there are only 6 shelters for victims of family violence, and there are five or six organizations that managed shelters with a view to insure turnover for their functioning.
6. Is administrative data being collected on victims of domestic violence?
YES q NO x
Centres for social work, hospitals, policies station, NGOs
7. Is domestic violence considered as a human rights violation to be addressed in your legal system?
YES x NO q
Note 1 The Blueprint of the Council of Europe Campaign recommends a ratio for one place in a woman’s shelter per 7.500 inhabitants.