The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, was a guest on the "Jutarnji program" on Television Kurir.
I am talking to Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, who is a guest on our show. Good morning! Thank you for coming to our newsroom! First of all, let's start the conversation with whether you have any information on the girl's current state of health and where she will be placed?
- The important thing is that we will try to establish contact with those who took care of the girl. We will go to visit her, to see exactly what her health is like and what is planned for her in the future.
In the past few days, we have heard from the media that you have initiated investigations to control the legality of several competent authorities, six if I am not mistaken, is that right? Which authorities are under control and how is it now being determined whether there were omissions when it comes to this case?
- When a case like this happens, then there is a certain responsibility of several authorities. Maybe the connection of those authorities was missing, which led to the fact that the girl, who was exposed to neglect, I think, I will not prejudge the court's decision, found herself in that situation. We are asking for information from a series of authorities that should have dealt with the girl, who did or did not deal with her, to determine exactly whose responsibility it is, whether it is total or partial responsibility and who specifically failed there.
Which six authorities are they?
- At the level of the republic, it is the Ministry of Interior, due to the fact that there were several complaints from neighbours, as they claim, that there were constant arguments, noise, crying from the girl's apartment, so they reported it to the police. We are interested in whether this is really so, whether the police responded in a timely manner and how they reacted. Then, the Ministry of Family Welfare and Demography, which should control those centres for social work that were competent, namely those in Palilula and Zvezdara, given that the girl first lived in Palilula, and later in Zvezdara. Also, we have to mention the local self-government. The local self-government is the one that should have monitored the girl's development, in the sense of going to a preschool institution, then to a school institution, because there is a very clear Law on the Fundamentals of the Education and Upbringing System, which, in its Article 22 states that the local self-government is obliged to inform the school, that the school is obliged to inform the local self-government, because every child who goes to school must be registered by the end of February in the current year, and it must be monitored whether the child even came to school 15 days before the start of the school year. And there are also a number of details. And just as important is the Health Care Centre. Has the girl ever seen a doctor? If she has, did the doctor establish whether the girl was neglected in terms of her psychophysical development, because in our practice, we have had such situations where the child absolutely does not correspond psychophysically to the age at which he/she is. Also, whether the girl was neglected in terms of personal hygiene, in terms of her health status in a general sense. The most important thing is whether there was anything on the girl that would indicate violence, injuries or anything related to that. And also, the compulsory vaccination before starting school. We sent the so-called act of cooperation, since we do not have the right to control the courts, prosecutor's offices and a number of other institutions that I am not going to mention now, to the First Basic Court, to inform us in general about the content of the judgment that caused the child to be assigned to one parent, given that, I think it is very important and I have to emphasize it, the Palilula Centre for Social Work has informed us of what kind of family the girl was in.
Okay. There is also the question of whether proceedings have been initiated against the "Dr. Laza Lazarevic" Psychiatric Clinic, which stated in its expert report that the parent, i.e. the father, is capable of taking care of the child.
- The finding and the opinion of the neuropsychiatric, or any other experts, are incorporated in the judgment. If the court accepted the finding and opinion, it considered it valid. So, we will see.
So, within what you have already explained.
Everything we are talking about really cannot leave us neutral in this whole story. And during all these days of following the story, one question is constantly repeated. How is it possible that the child was invisible to so many institutions that you talked about in the previous minutes. Do you understand how this could have happened, that so many institutions failed, in a manner that is yet to be determined, but obviously someone did fail in this case? So, how was the child invisible for three years?
- I have to say, the child was not invisible. I heard that expression on several televisions, in several media. The child was not invisible. The child was born, registered in the Register of Births, the child lived in its registered location, that is, where her parents lived, the guardian who has been granted guardianship by a court decision. So, the child was not invisible. A different question arises, though. Did the information system among all those who should monitor situations like this work, that is, when there is a problem in the family between partners, between children and parents, when there is a possibility that someone in the entire family, in this case a child, will be exposed to either gross neglect or violence, the whole structure of those services must monitor that. So, the child was visible. It was known where the child lived. All the general information on the child were present, that everyone who lives in this country has. So, from the Register of Births and onward.
Mr. Pašalić, we have listed all the institutions against which proceedings have been initiated.
- I have to correct you. We can't say against which, because we haven't established that yet.
Sorry. The procedure has certainly been initiated and responsibility is being investigated. But, can individual responsibility be established when we talk about this case, because often when we have cases like this, individuals are hiding behind institutions. And now, correct me if I'm wrong, maybe we in the media don't follow cases to the end, is individual responsibility determined? Do we end up with a name and surname that made a mistake and that person ends up being held accountable for it?
- Absolutely yes. When the responsibility of an institution is established, as you said, of an authority, then we can see who acted in that authority in a specific case. And did the person do what he/she was obliged to do according to the law, and according to the job description. Is it a matter of more frequent contacts, or the reports to the competent authorities, or contacts with other authorities dealing with the protection of primarily children. In this case we have a child. What the Protector of Citizens insisted on all the time, which can be read about in the media, is that the child must have watched the violence that happened in that home. By the very fact that she watched violence, she becomes a victim of violence. According to our research, it has been shown that a child who was not subjected to violence, but only observed it, already reacts to it with traumas that are later transmitted to their life and to their family. That is why we insist on paying special attention to children. Therefore, my answer to the question you asked will be yes. It is possible to determine individual responsibility, that is, the exact name and surname of the person who made a mistake and did not perform his/her job.
Are those also the expectations now at this point?
- That’s right.
Okay. We also had another piece of information that the family has been on the records of the Centre for Social Work since 2015 and that the Centre for Social Work at that time was of the opinion that the parents were not eligible to take care of the child. In the meantime, the expert examination that we mentioned was done and the opinion was given that the father is eligible and that the child can return to the father's family. After that, the child's functioning was monitored for the next two years. Is two years enough to monitor the functioning within the family and to monitor the condition of the child itself, or do you think it should be a longer period?
- The situation is monitored until the moment when it can be seen that the circumstances have changed for the better, that is, that the child lives, to put it colloquially, in normal circumstances. It is not bound by a deadline, not prescribed by a deadline in that sense.
Okay. Since we know all these details, we come back to the question of how is it possible that so many omissions were made. When can we expect information based on all these procedures?
- The deadline, since we sent it yesterday, as far as I know, is the 15th day from yesterday's date. We expect to receive the information sooner, as we have indicated that the case is urgent. So that's the deadline. But we expect to get the information sooner.
At the end of our conversation, let's look back at another case that marked the days behind us. You launched a control investigation into the work of the City Centre for Social Work Jagodina and the MoI based on media information that a mother of five children died of injuries in Jagodina, after being beaten by her extramarital partner who was arrested. And it seems to me that in these three months, this is the 11th case of femicide.
Tenth. What information did you actually request from the Centre and the police?
- First of all, did the Centre for Social Work have insight into the relations in that family, and if it had insight that the relations were bad, what did it do? Exactly because of what I said a little earlier, which is violence against children, that is, because children watch violence, to put it colloquially. Then, as far as the MoI itself is concerned, were there any reports by the neighbours, relatives or anyone, that relations were disturbed in that family, so to speak, although that is too mild an expression. It all ended as it did, with the murder of a woman.
Thank you very much for your time!