A state that does not care for war victims

A state that does not care for war victims

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At the end of February 2014, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) was informed that the Ombudsman, the Office for Human and Minority Rights of the Government of Serbia (Office for Human Rights) and the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality (Commissioner) had given up on the initiative for the passing of the new Law on Civilian Victims of War, which would acknowledge the rights of all the citizens of Serbia who have been victims of war crimes and other serious violations of human rights related to the wars of the 1990s. The HLC points out that denying the status of civilian victims to numerous categories has all the characteristics of a systematic violation of human rights, and further, that the state’s treatment of these individuals is unprecedented in the former Yugoslav region.

The fundamental rights of civilian victims of war and civilians disabled as a consequence of the war are regulated by the Law on Civilian Invalids of War, which was adopted in Serbia during the regime of Slobodan Milošević. These archaic and discriminatory legal provisions exclude a large number of civilian victims of war and human rights violations related to the war, including families of missing persons, victims of sexual violence, victims of crimes committed by Serbian forces, as well as Serbian citizens who have suffered on the territories of other states (for example, the war crimes in Štrpci and Sjeverin).

The rights guaranteed by the Law to those exceptional victims whose status has been acknowledged involve inadequate financial compensations – and only if the person is of poor material status – including the granting of health care, limited discounts for public transportation, and several other, basically insignificant privileges. A victim’s dignity is additionally debased in the bureaucratic procedure for the acknowledgement of the status of a victim conducted before the government authorities. During this procedure, persons who do not understand international human rights standards are the ones deciding on the status of the victims and, what is more, the victims are often inappropriately treated during this process.

The UN Committee Against Torture and the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner have criticized such legal regulations in Serbia.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Policy which is in charge of the enforcement of this Law, has shown no understanding for this issue. Even the ministers belonging to the political parties which allegedly hold social responsibility and solidarity as priorities in their political engagement, have not shown any interest in the improvement of the rights of citizens most severely affected by war. Furthermore, so far the Ministry has shown the most diligence in revoking the rights acquired by the civilian victims of war.

As a consequence of the attitude shown by the ministry in charge, in 2012 the HLC initiated a number of dialogues with independent institutions demanding that they engage themselves in resolving this problem. The first meeting between the HLC and Commissioner Nevena Petrušić took place on August 2nd, 2012. The Commissioner expressed her willingness to participate in the initiative together with other institutions, primarily the Ombudsman, who has the competence to propose laws. At the meeting that took place on August 23rd, Ombudsman Saša Janković delegated his Deputy, Miloš Janković, to work directly on this issue. The Deputy proposed, as the next step, a joint meeting with the Commissioner, and requested data from the HLC on actual cases of persons whose status of war victim has been denied. At the meeting that took place on October 29th, the Deputy and the Commissioner claimed that the amendment of the Law was “a definitive matter“, and that the Office for Human Rights should be included in the initiative, whereupon the HLC sent two invitations for meetings to the Office. In the following four months, the Office did not respond to the invitations. Only after a call made by the Deputy Ombudsman, did the Director of the Office for Human Rights agree to the meeting with the representatives of the HLC regarding this issue. At the meeting that took place on April 13th, 2013, representatives of the HLC, the Deputy Ombudsman and the Director of the Office for Human Rights reached an agreement to establish an expert working group for the drafting of the new law during October 2013. The HLC was to provide a comparative analysis of the law with proposed amendments before the start of the work on the new draft. The HLC completed the analysis in June and forwarded it to the Office and the Deputy Ombudsman. By February 2014, the HLC had not received any other response apart from the information that the review of the analysis was in progress. However, at the meeting with Miloš Janković, which took place on February 20th, the representatives of the HLC were informed that the aforementioned institutions were no longer prepared to support the initiative, that they had lost contact with the Office for Human Rights, and that the Deputy Ombudsman was not in a position to help as an individual.