Members of the Protector of Citizens’ team in performing their capacity as the National Preventive Mechanism yesterday were not allowed to visit the Adult Disability Home in Zemun and thus fulfill their mandate. Even though the team is under no obligation to announce the visits, given the epidemiological situation, the visit was announced to the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy and to the Institution as well. The visit was aimed at a thematic examination of the position of particularly vulnerable categories of social welfare services beneficiaries in home accommodation, such as adults with physical disabilities amid COVID-19 epidemic.

However, at the entrance to the Institution they were awaited by the institution’s acting director notifying them that the relevant ministry does not allow access to the premises and the realization of the NPM’s visit and that the security guards are there to prevent entry into the institution.

This ban was imposed even though the Protector of Citizens, in communication with the Ministry’s representatives, indicated on multiple occasions that the visits to social welfare residential institutions would be conducted with full respect to the proscribed protective measures, wearing protective equipment and adjusting the methodology to the emerged situation.

Moreover, the visit was not allowed, although the Ministry was notified of all international commitments that our country has entered into by adopting the Law on Ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“Official Gazette of Serbia and Montenegro - International Agreements, No. 16 / 05 and 2/06 and "Official Gazette of RS - International Agreements", No. 7/11), noting that the prohibition of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is an imperative norm that is also binding amid the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

The Ministry was also reminded of the Advice of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment relative to the coronavirus pandemic (CAT/OP/10 dated 7 April 2020, adopted on 25 March 2020), where this body took clear position that the NPM should continue to perform its mandate, i.e. to undertake preventive visits during the COVID-19 virus pandemic, respecting the necessary restrictions on the manner in which visits are carried out and with reduced social contact.

We note that the Protector of Citizens in performing the work of the National Preventive Mechanism during the state of emergency, as well as after lifting it, performed the mandate in an unhindered manner in all institutions where persons deprived of liberty are/may be placed (institutes for execution of penal sanctions, police stations, reception centers for migrants, asylum centers, Shelter for foreigners, psychiatric hospitals) and that the professional conduct of the management and the employees during the teams’ visits posed a good practice example of conduct, pursuant to legally stipulated obligations to cooperate with the NPM.

The actions of the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy not only violate legal regulations, international standards, the obligation of administrative authorities’ cooperation with the Protector of Citizens, but also it represents challenging and disabling the performance of the mandate of the Protector of Citizens in its capacity as the NPM, and all of this resulted in the impossibility to control the respect for the fundamental rights of persons who are in social welfare institutions and deter state bodies and officials from actions that might resemble torture.