The Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić was a guest of the show "News at 11" on TV Tanjug.
The Protector of Citizens has already submitted the regular Annual Report on his work to the National Assembly, and this report pointed out a major problem in society - violence against the elderly. How to stop violence against the elderly is one of the topics I am discussing with the Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić. Good afternoon and thank you for speaking for Tanjug! Let's start with the report. What is stated in it?
- The report was submitted within the deadline of March 15th. Last year we had an increase in the number of complaints, their number being about 16,000. The most important thing is that we gave a response to 87% of these complaints, which shows the progress in the work of the Protector of Citizens in solving the problems of citizens. You asked me about violence against the elderly - we watch it every day. There was one case today where the assumption is, although I will not prejudge the investigation, that the son killed the mother. A few days ago, we had another situation of violence against the elderly. There is violence in old people's homes, and that is why the Protector of Citizens puts this problem in focus, as a priority of all his activities.
How many complaints were made in the reporting period and how many were resolved?
- As I said, there were 16,000 complaints with 87% of them having been resolved.
You said that the focus of your work in the coming period will be the prevention of violence against the elderly.
- The focus is not only violence, but also the treatment of the elderly in nursing homes, regardless of whether they are public or privately owned, and in society in general, because what I aim for and what I always emphasize is that the humanity of a society is measured by caring for the most vulnerable groups, these being children and the elderly.
How common is violence against the elderly in our country?
- Mostly physical violence comes out into the public. One form that is almost invisible is psychological violence and the one rarely noticed, which we only see when we go deeper into certain complaints of citizens, is economic violence. It is a practical confiscation of the funds of the elderly, their pensions, etc. Or, in a way, preventing the disposal of money by those who are the beneficiaries of those pensions. All this is in the focus of the Protector of Citizens. For that reason one of the first activities we are undertaking in the coming period is a tour of all nursing homes, because it has a preventive effect, regardless of the fact that their number is very large. That is approximately 250 homes, of which 160 are in Belgrade. What we cannot control are illegal homes for the elderly, and the assumption is that there are somewhere between 60 and 80 of them. That is why we will turn to the relevant ministry so that it can carry out inspections.
The latest example of a case of violence against the elderly is the case of an old woman in Voždovac, if I'm not mistaken. What is the epilogue of that case?
- We will see the epilogue of that case in the coming period. We have taken all the actions, we have given the deadlines that are necessary to establish the real state of affairs, to see who did it.
Did you get another formal complaint for that case or maybe for someone else?
- Not. We do not have to act solely on the basis of a formal complaint. We often find out about such cases from the media, and then we react, we check the whole situation as to what extent that which is described in the media is really in line with the existing facts that can be proven by conducting our activities.
As far as we know, you recently talked to a colleague from Ukraine. What was it about? What conclusions did you arrive at? What can you tell us?
- I had a conversation with my colleague, the Ombudswoman of Ukraine, just as I had a conversation with the Ombudswoman of Russia some time ago. I offered to help in terms of what is in the job description of the Protector of Citizens, namely, to help those who suffer the most from the war, without entering into the character of those actions or their assessment. I talked to the Ombudswoman of Ukraine about taking care of refugees in Serbia, as well as those who passed through Serbia, about 13,000 of them, because there is a real danger, since they are women and children, that they become victims of human trafficking. I don't know how much the public knows, but, according to the new law, the Protector of Citizens is the national rapporteur for the fight against human trafficking. So, that is another additional obligation of ours. Most of those citizens of Ukraine who are in Serbia found accommodation at their relatives’, friends’, acquaintances’, and some of them are in the refugee camp in Vranje. We will visit that refugee camp in Vranje on Friday. I am in constant communication with my Russian and Ukrainian colleagues because the goal is to prevent that human rights be violated, as much as that is possible. I think we have a full moral right and obligation as someone who went through it all, someone who experienced it all during the years when there were wars in the former Yugoslavia, to help in the right way, with our experience and with great will, offering help to people who found themselves outside the borders of their state.
And what actions do you take to prevent human trafficking?
- Trafficking in human beings has been an issue I have been dealing with since 2004. It implies recognizing victims of trafficking. Often these people, who are formally called recruiters, human traffickers, they use various methods of pressure to mislead the victim, so it is very difficult to determine whether someone is really being trafficked, because often the person who is being trafficked is the last to find out that they are trapped inside the trafficking chain. It is not an easy job at all and that is why special attention must be paid to it. For this reason, I talked to my fellow ombudswoman of Ukraine, that I will contact my colleagues from the region, primarily ombudsmen, protectors of citizens or public advocates from the region, to work together to prevent people who are in transit through the former Yugoslav republics from becoming victims.
You just mentioned refugees from Ukraine, that is, we have been talking about it for a few minutes. If I'm not mistaken, there are about 2,000 refugees from Ukraine who are presently in Serbia. How will you work to protect specifically their rights?
- First, it is necessary that we all act with the aim to provide that protection. And I really have to emphasize that, that we have an exceptional cooperation with the Commissariat for Refugees, and that the Commissariat has done everything, even beyond those standards that appear or exist in European countries, to help those people. Those who are in transit should be given certain help in terms of hygiene and food packages so that they can continue their transit to the country that is their final destination.
Do you expect any of them to stay in our country?
- It's their decision. Those who remain are under the care of the Commissariat and the Protector of Citizens.
What left an impression on you regarding the previous report? Let's look at the year behind us.
- What prevails and what I have always emphasized, is that more than 70% of all complaints to the Protector of Citizens relates to economic and social problems. Or to put it more simply, these are the problems of legalization, cadastre and the like.
Thank you for your time and for speaking for Tanjug!