Draft Law on War Veteran and Disability Rights retains provisions that discriminate against civilian victims of war

Draft Law on War Veteran and Disability Rights retains provisions that discriminate against civilian victims of war

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On Friday 21 December 2018, the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) submitted to the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Veteran and Social Affairs (Ministry) its comments on the Draft Law on Veteran and Disability Benefits (Draft Law). In the comments the HLC points out that the public consultation process that preceded the preparation of the draft law was non- transparent and that the text of the Draft Law, instead of improving the position of civilian victims of war, maintains the discriminatory provisions contained in the law currently in effect, as a result of which civilian victims of war are put in an unfavourable position in relation to military victims of war.

In early August 2018, the Ministry established a working group to draft a law which would comprehensively regulate the rights of war veterans. Only members of war veteran and disabled servicemen associations were invited to participate in the working group. Associations of civilian victims, gathered around the Alliance of Serbian Associations of the Families of Missing Persons from the Territory of the former Yugoslavia, as well as interested experts in the field and other stakeholders were excluded from the process. Moreover, apart from announcing that the working group had been set up, the Ministry did not publish either of the two versions of the Draft Law on its website for comments. It was from the website of the Association of Disabled Wartime and Peacetime Veterans of Serbia that the HLC got hold of the Draft Law dated 9 December 2018. By not publishing the Draft Law on its website and not including associations of war-disabled civilians and civilian victims of war in the consultation process, the Ministry made it impossible for those interested parties to contribute their views on the proposed legislation.

As regards the rights of civilian victims of war and their families, the Draft Law does not bring about any improvement. Instead, it maintains discriminatory provisions that the HLC has long criticised. Under these provisions, a victim applying for the status of a war-disabled civilian or family member of a civilian victim of war must meet several requirements cumulatively: to be a Serbian national, to have a physical disability of at least 50%, to have suffered injury at the hands of enemy forces during war or armed conflict, and to have suffered injury within the territory of Serbia. Such statutory arrangements exclude a large number of victims from the rights and benefits provided for under the law. Among those excluded are the victims of sexual violence, because the harm they have suffered is most often psychological rather than physical, and mental harm is not recognised as grounds for acquiring the status of a war-disabled civilian. Also excluded are Serbian nationals who died on the territory of other states, such as the victims of the crime in Sjeverin, and victims who suffered injury at the hands of police or military forces not considered enemy forces, such as the Ministry of the Interior of Serbia, the Yugoslav People’s Army, the Army of Republika Srpska and units under their control.

It is worth recalling that Serbia is under an obligation to harmonise its legislation with international conventions on the protection of human rights and the recommendations of treaty bodies monitoring the implementation of these conventions, as well as with the EU acquis.

The HLC therefore urges the Ministry to remove all discriminatory provisions from the Draft Law in order to provide for a comprehensive range of rehabilitation measures for victims, including financial, psycho-social, medical and legal assistance, and to provide some form of satisfaction to victims through recognition of their suffering. In this way, the Draft Law would restore the dignity of victims, improve their quality of life and contribute to non-recurrence of crimes. In order to contribute to a more comprehensive regulation of the rights of civilian victims of human rights violations committed during the armed conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, the HLC and the Centre for Advanced Legal Studies (CUPS) in 2015 jointly drafted a Model Law on the Rights of Civilian Victims of Human Rights Violations Committed during and in connection with the Armed Conflicts in the period 1991 and 2001.

Please follow this link to view the HLC’s detailed comments on the Draft Law.