Human Rights and Democracy Alert Newsletter - Issue #2 (15.05.2013)

15/05/2013

Threats Against Human Rights and Democracy

1. With 6.77 complaints per 10,000 citizens, Serbia is the country with the highest relative number of complaints to the work of judicial organs issued in 2012 to the European Court of Human Rights. 

2. The Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection launched a supervision procedure in several dozens of companies whose internet presentations contain detailed data on stockholders in said business entities. Besides their names and surnames, their personal identity numbers were also published, as well as addresses and the quantity of stock they own.

3. Division of labor and roles in the family and household, respectively, remains gender- determined – this is the conclusion by the Belgrade-based Institute of Criminological and Sociological Research. The survey entitled “The Gender Barometer in Serbia: Development and Everyday Life“ was carried out using a sample of 1,026 respondents aged between 20 and 50, selected in 68 municipalities throughout Serbia. The results show that 95% of men never prepare food, 87% rarely do any housework, 76% rarely go food shopping or perform chores such as ironing. More than 80% of men state that they are satisfied with such division of labor.

4. The People’s Assembly adopted the amendments and alterations to the Law on Military Security Agency and Military Intelligence Agency, which proscribe that without a court order it will not be possible to perform secret electronic surveillance over telecommunications and information systems with the aim to gather data on these communications’ participants, their frequency and locations. The new regulations also prohibit insight into the contents of communications which are subject of said intelligence activities. According to the previous law, such surveillance was being performed based on orders by the Head of the Military Security Agency, which was rendered illegal by a decision of the Constitutional Court. In a People’s Assembly discussion on these alterations, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vučić underlined that they would cause “significant problems in the security agencies’ activities“, stating that they would have a negative impact on their operativeness. Serbia is one of the few countries which lack a set of harmonized legal documents which would regulate the work of all security and intelligence agencies -- both military and civilian -- and thus reach a level of control over those services which exists in organized democratic societies.

According to information by the Security Information Agency, the number of intercepted telephone and internet communications in January 2013 amounted to 1,323, which is about 52% less compared to January 2012 (2,740). It is worth mentioning that this case relates to civilian security agencies (Security Information Agency, police), and that the surveillance over the communication is performed by public prosecutor’s orders, rather than those by the court.

5. In a comprehensive survey by the civic initiative “Serbia in Motion“ (www.srbijaupokretu.org) in which 1,260 healthcare beneficiaries evaluated the work of health institutions, and more than 30,000 evaluated the work of doctors whom they approached for help, the following results were gathered: doctors in state hospitals suggested a 17.72% of their patients going to private doctors’ offices or clinics, and 7.85% were directly asked for bribe. Since the survey was carried out only among visitors of a website (www.kakavjedoktor.org), its authors are in concord with numerous experts about the fact that corruption in the health sector has reached much higher proportions.

Out of the total number of respondents, 61% of patients stated that they were not familiar with their rights and the complaint procedure, and a high number of respondents issued serious objections to the work (or lack thereof) of the Protector of Patients’ Rights – an institution that, in accordance with the Law on Health Care, had been introduced to all health institutions.

This is only one of the aspects of the very difficult state of organization and functioning of the healthcare system, which also suffers a chronic lack of finances, basic and special medications (e.g. cytostatic drugs) and equipment (laboratory equipment and material), insufficient and unhygienic hospital capacities and other problems disabling health services users from realizing their constitutionally guaranteed rights, but also from receiving a service they pay for through the system of social insurance contributions.

6. According to information by the Institute for Social Care, the number of social welfare beneficiaries has been in a constant growth since 2006:

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

424,798

489,197

516,907

555,425

598,156

584,828

700,000

Serbia’s citizens include 1.2 million persons older than 65, and 700,000 disabled persons - more than 70% of them living under the poverty limit. Half of them believe that the state does not do enough to provide them aid.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy proudly comes out with the data that “a staggering number of 12,000 senior citizens are housed in nursing homes “ – 9,000 of them in state-owned and 3,000 in private nursing homes. The total number of such institutions in Serbia is 166, whereby the state has founded 46 of them. Out of the 120 private retirement homes, 85 are located in Belgrade and 22 in Vojvodina. This clearly indicates that the largest part of Serbia’s territory is not covered by this network, hence this category of the population -- the majority of them marginalized and impoverished -- lacks care and is referred to family and friends.

Besides the published information, it is an open secret that there are hundreds of unregistered private nursing homes in Serbia which operate against adequate legal regulations and medical and social standards.

The social position of the Roma community is particularly difficult -- their number is estimated at between 450,000 and 600,000 -- as well as that of refugees (67,000) and the internally displaced persons (210,000).

Even though the number of social welfare beneficiaries is growing, the share of expenditures for social protection in the budget of the Republic of Serbia decreased from 11.2% in 2010 to 9.4% in 2012.

The Law on Social Protection does not recognize the elderly -- especially the impoverished ones -- as a separate category of the population which requires social care and aid.

7. The Kragujevac enterprise Šumadija DES which employs persons with special needs who are rehabilitating by means of participation in the production process is again the scene of a hunger strike by six workers, who -- together with other co-workers -- protest for the fact that the employees have not received 12 back payments in monthly wages.

8. Although since December 31, 2010 legal regulations have prohibited employment in state organs without public contest, this practice has been continued. According to the data by Transparency Serbia, in the period between July 2012 and February 2013, 148 out of a total of 161 newly-installed high state officials were hired with no legal basis.

“Departisation“ was one of the main slogans in the 2012 election campaign, whereby the parties outdid each other with promises that they would end the practice of hiring “partisan soldiers“ in the state administration, public enterprises, police and judicial institutions, and in school, healthcare and other institutions under direct or indirect (media) control of the state. Instead, the shift of power brought along mass firings of civil servants installed by the previous Government: Practical Policy Center (http://www.policycenter.info/) presented data according to which, during the first eight months after the shift of power in July 2012, more than 3,000 civil servants, directors of public enterprises and institutions (judiciary , school institutions, healthcare, government agencies, theaters, museums, galleries, libraries), police and other officials have lost their jobs.

This wave of replacements included principals of many high schools, even elementary schools, the head of the Safe House for Women in Niš and the director of a tapestry workshop in Novi Sad.

9. Pregnant women and mothers of infants are one of the population’s categories particularly affected by discriminatory actions of their employers, but also by insufficient protection of the state and its competent organs. It frequently occurs that female candidates for employment in state organs are required the information whether they are pregnant or intend to get pregnant in the near future, and that subsequently – followed by various excuses – the job is given to candidates who answer those questions with “no“.

Such behavior directly contradicts not only state officials’ declarations regarding the necessity of fighting the “birth dearth” – it also represents flagrant violation of legal obligations towards maternity protection. A comprehensive research by the Association for European Integrations (AEI) – a nongovernmental organization intensively dealing with issues of harmonizing public policies, legislature and practice in Serbia with adequate EU standards – stated a series of irregularities, omissions and illegal procedures which represent direct violations of relevant legal regulations. For example, Labor Inspection does not deal with the real reasons behind the firing of this category of employees but rather decides, based on an estimate, whether such decision is in accordance with valid regulations. The Inspection and other competent agencies of the Ministry of Labor act very slowly – sometimes it takes months for them to react to an individual case – and there is no mechanism which controls an official with the Inspection and the Ministry. The report by AEI puts particular emphasis on the fact that competent organs “have an indolent attitude towards guaranteed human rights newborns’ mothers and ignore their commitment to interpret stipulations on human rights in accordance with the practice of international courts“.

Dealing with concrete cases and studying the competent organs’ behavior, AEI’s legal team has gathered the following data:

- in 95% of the cases, the Labor Inspection has rejected a newborns’ mothers’ orally submitted complaint ;

- in 83% of the cases, at least one fundamental right of the newborns’ mothers had been violated;

- in 87% of the cases, the court procedure exceeds the six-month legal deadline;

- in 77% of the cases, an infants’ mother is exposed to abuse in the period between returning to work and ultimately being fired;

- in 93% of the cases, the firing came about due to the use of maternity leave.

The AEI report also contains a series of recommendations and requirements which, as is expected, should be taken into account when drafting the new Law on Labor. The recommendations envisage the introduction of mechanisms that would prevent the stated irregularities, as well as the establishment of a special department for maternity protection with the Labor Inspection.

10. According to the data by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, there is a constant increase of domestic violence cases in Serbia. The Ministry reached this conclusion following an analysis of cases reported to centers for social work and the police. The total number of such cases in the past three years surpasses 20,000, whereas close to 50,000 have been reported only to centers for social work in the past seven years:

Year

Number of cases

2006

3,441

2007

4,703

2008

6,272

2009

7,870

2010

7,810

2011

8,481

2012

9,325

The highest number of reported cases still comes from the police (29%) and family members (22%), whereas the victims of abuse themselves have reported it in only 14% of the cases. The data by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy specify that 80% of victims and abusers are in the 31-40 age category.

The information by the Women’s’ Safe Houses point out that an increasing number of such cases – more than 20 from the beginning of this year – have a fatal outcome: the victims are most frequently women, as well as abusers who take their own lives after murdering the woman.

The Autonomous Women's Center (http://www.womenngo.org.rs/) views as particularly alarming the fact that, for example in 2011 centers for social work have, ex officio, identified only 537 victims (6.5% of the total of registered cases), which points out that this service still lacks the capacity to identify the problem of domestic violence, but also that the victims do not have enough trust in an institution they are supposed to address seeking help.

11. The Government of Serbia’s Office for Human and Minority Rights presented on April 5 2013 the draft Strategy to Combat Discrimination. The drafting of this document commenced in the context of the debate on promoting human rights and equality in the process of European integrations, and on the possibilities of promoting anti-discriminatory practices in Serbia; the draft included a visible contribution by civic society organizations, whereby the coordinators of individual thematic groups were in charge of the main aspects regarding the position, legal and factual state and envisaged objectives and measures to prevent discrimination of marginalized social groups. In the section pertaining to women, it is emphasized that the framework for this part of the strategy was informed by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the previously adopted national strategies concerning the position of women. Describing the situation (legal and factual position of women), the thematic group aimed to justify each of the proposed measures within the general and special objectives. When it comes to combating violence against women, the necessity was underlined for developing a comprehensive system of protection from all forms of gender-based violence, in accordance with adequate international instruments. As a matter of particular significance, a strong mechanism for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the Strategy was proposed, one that implies systematic gathering of data, annual implementation success evaluation, as well as the possibility of alternative reporting on the implementation of the Strategy by the civic society organizations.

 

Outlook:

Serbia is making slow progress in surmounting the difficulties it faces in the process of transition towards the status of an open society with functioning democratic institutions which provide rule of law and protection of all categories of the population, especially the most vulnerable ones. The failure to embark on an open and clear confrontation with the recent past that holds the roots of today’s paralysis of the society, economy and social services. Besides the existence, empowerment and efficient enactment of legal frameworks and adequate institutions and mechanisms, a society with a widening and deepening gap between a wealthy minority and an increasingly impoverishing majority calls for a higher level of empathy and solidarity. Herein lays a special responsibility of political, intellectual, business and media elites which should put an accelerated improvement of the entire society -- as opposed to blindly pursuing individual, group or partisan interests -- at the center of their engagement.



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