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From the media

The Protector of Citizens joined as a remote guest in the Morning Program “Probudi se” on NOVA S TV.

During the visit to the District Prison in Belgrade, the Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, talked with the teacher of acting, Mr. Miroslav Aleksić, who has been imprisoned since mid-January on the charges of sexual assault and harassment, which is why his lawyer contacted the Protector. Are there any elements of endangering his rights, this is our question this morning for the Ombudsman Mr. Zoran Pašalić. Good morning, thank you for speaking for “Probudi se”. The talk with Mr. Miroslav Aleksić followed a complaint by his lawyer. What is it that the lawyer and the defendant complained about?

Primarily, visit to the District Prison in Belgrade, or as it is also known to the citizens - detention unit in Bačvanska Street is one of the Protector of Citizens’ regular activities. Then, my colleague Ms. Nataša Tanjević and I talked with the detainees about the conditions of their detention, and among other things, we talked with Mr. Aleksić to see the conditions under which he, as well as other detainees, is in detention. We also discussed his lawyer’s, Mr. Zoran Jakovljevic’s, complaint which refers not to conditions in detention, as press reported it, but to the court’s activities, specifically the judge for preliminary proceedings. What is the problem is the fact that…

What did they complain about, Mr. Pašalić?

Please, let me finish. We cannot control either the court or the prosecution, so regarding the activities in this respect, we’ll monitor the entire course of the proceedings, and we will certainly monitor the conditions Mr. Aleksić is in.

Now let me ask you what precisely did he complain about? What complaints did they have, in what way did the court not treat Mr. Aleksić adequately?

Mr. Zoran Jakovljević, Mr. Aleksić 's lawyer, mainly complained about Article 210, actually that Article 210, paragraph 1.2, was not being taken fully as the Law specified it, and that is when a person is being detained, it is necessary to act urgently, in it is necessary to act urgently in order to make the conditions specified for ordering detention cease, in order for the person to be released.

What else did Mr. Aleksić say, did he go beyond the mentioned topics?

We talked about the conditions in detention. This part of the conversation which we had, and which was not brief at all as Mr. Aleksić is in special health condition… The conditions of his treatment are in question, that is, administering the necessary therapy, which is necessary in order to be able to live normally and function normally, that was mainly the subject of our talk. It was also the subject of talk with those who also have health problems in the detention unit in Bačvanska Street, because the part, where they are, is practically part of the hospital in Bačvanska Street, the prison hospital.

And whether you, when you found and what circumstances did you find, were their objections justified? So, what are the conditions in which, the mentioned Miroslav Aleksić, and other detainees are staying?

What I requested from the Prison Administration was to see the part that was not renovated, so the one that is about to be renovated in the coming months, because what was important to me is whether the accommodation was adequate regarding the norms that every prison unit needs to have, and that's the number of detainees in the cells, then the conditions of accommodation, hygiene, and what I emphasized, and those are the conditions of treatment if needed.

During the conversation, did Miroslav Aleksić look back to the threat to the presumption of innocence in public, was that part of his complaints?

We talked about it, but certainly the assumption, the presumption of innocence is not a question that he could pose to the Protector of Citizens because the Protector of Citizens, unfortunately, is not in a position to control the court administration and is not in a position to comment on it from the profession, legal profession. That’s what we have insisted on many times, and that is contained in some changes that are about to happen, the Law on the Protector of Citizens, when I say some changes I mean the new Law, to enable the Protector of Citizens and to assist when citizens are in these situations.

Based on everything what you have seen, whether you got the impression, that Mr. Aleksić is staying in some conditions… Whether the conditions in which he is staying different from the conditions of other detainees and are there elements of endangering his rights and will you, as an institution, react to everything you saw yesterday?

We always react when it comes to endangering the rights of detainees, convicted persons...

And what is it exactly that you will react tomorrow?

... and persons deprived of liberty. We are monitoring the situation in detention units, prisons. As for the specific answer to your question, the conditions in which Mr. Aleksicć is placed as a detainee do not differ from other conditions or from other detainees who are in Bačvanska Street.

 

Yes ... Thank you very much, Mr. Pašalić, for sharing the information with us this morning. Zoran Pašalić for "Probudi se". Thanks again.

The Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić was guest at “TV VESTI”

Last year, the coronavirus epidemic affected our lives, as well as the institutions’ work. When and from whom did the Ombudsman protect citizens, did the institutions act in compliance with the law? Mr. Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, is my guest today. Good afternoon and welcome. Let’s first take a look back at the previous weekend, the tougher measures that were in force. What’s the Protector of Citizens’ view on it? 

Do you mean tougher measures or the general situation regarding the rise of the number of cases?

Primarily the tougher measures.

I can speak about the tougher measures from several aspects - as the Protector of Citizens, as a citizen and as someone with 15-year tenure in misdemeanor courts. This situation of course goes beyond all those which we have already gone through…. Since I advocate for and protect the interests of the majority of citizens of the Republic of Serbia, I believe that the majority of citizens should be fully protected, which means that their freedom of movement, their ability to live as close as possible to normalcy should be fully enabled. On the other hand, those who deliberately violate the Regulation with any idea should be punished more drastically. This means that by amending one article of the Law on Protection of the Population from Infectious Diseases, this could be resolved quite simply, and then Article 308 could be applied, enforcement prior to finality.

A misdemeanor warrant is some sort of solution, but it gives the possibility to defer the enforcement of the penalty, which provides someone with the opportunity to calculate with the punishment. If what I am talking about would be applied - then it is enforcement prior to finality. Working hours will be as long as they will be; I think that is not the most important thing, but the moment when working hours should end means that every following minute implies drastic sanctioning in terms of cumulative penalty. I do not plead to talk about punishment – whether it will be only fines and imprisonment or imprisonment only. Believe me, in the period when I was working as a judge of the Misdemeanor Court and a judge of the Misdemeanor Appellate Court, such methods of resolution were extremely effective. It may not be the public's expectation that the Protector of Citizens will say this, but I repeat - the Protector of Citizens protects the largest majority that adheres to all measures, and there is no reason for them to bear the consequences of non-compliance of a small or minimum number of those who absolutely do not want to consciously adhere to measures or laws. And in that way, they trigger a domino effect, and that is infections of whole families and the death of whole families.

When we talk about working shorter hours, again, what you say is your role and function to protect citizens, but we can also look at it from two sides. As citizens or beneficiaries of some services, but also as citizens or providers of some services. I refer to traders, caterers, hoteliers and others, everyone's life and survival depends.

We absolutely share that opinion, I am even in favor of extending the working hours of hospitality businesses until 10 pm, but whoever keeps the facility open at 10:01 or who deliberately keeps working and violates measures, should be drastically punished or a large number of people. They should be punished in such a way that this penalty objectively hurts, and it only hurts in such situations when the penalty is imposed immediately and when it is enforced immediately.

That means - we will enable both, but whoever breaks, the sanction will be extremely high.

Absolutely, in that way you will first relax them so that they can do their job longer because we see what is happening in West European countries. I’m constantly in contact with Ombudspersons in Europe and I know very well how citizens react to what is officially called lockdown. They react very badly; you even have the fact that many want to come to Serbia in order to relax a bit from that way of life.

And get a vaccine.

And get a vaccine if that's the goal, but those who knowingly violate the measures, there cannot be negligence. You can't involuntary keep the facility open until 1, 2 am or have 200, 300 people sitting there.

The organizer of a certain gathering is knowingly breaking, but 100, 200, 300, 400 people who are there also do so, which means that everyone should bear the consequences.

I absolutely said that it applied to everyone, but the heavier consequence should be borne by the one who organized it.

The last year has, of course, affected every segment of our lives, how did it affect the work of the Protector of Citizens. What is it that has changed?

The change was seen in a large number of complaints in the period from March to summer, from curfew or ban on movement, and it continued throughout the summer and even today. However, today that number of cases has somewhat decreased in relation to the number that appeared during the state of emergency.

Were there any specific appeals that were not so common before?

Not only that there were specific appeals but there were specific situations, from the fact that the Protector of Citizens in contact with Ombudspersons in the region should have enabled our people to return to the country first, so that they would not have to go through everything they did go through by moving through quarantines in one country and then in another; then there was a very important issue of labor relations, more precisely reports on the grounds of labor relations. What particularly interested me was the ban on visiting the close ones during the state of emergency.

Which was the case in many countries in Europe.

Yes, it was. But if you have someone who asks for and has to get custodial care and assistance and his family cannot visit them at a time when it is banned - we had to solve it and we did solve it successfully. The same goes for parents who needed to visit children on the weekends, that is, their children and it was not possible. Indeed, with very good cooperation, I must say, with the Government of the Republic of Serbia, with the Prime Minister in particular, we managed to solve such problems.

Has the coronavirus brought any problems to you as the Protector of Citizens?

It has brought a problem, if you think of it as a problem; to work from 8 am to 10 pm; to organize work in your own institution to be truly accessible to all citizens who call in. Citizens called very often, we recorded about 3,800 phone calls in that short period alone.

What did citizens most often complain about?

Freedom of movement primarily, this was the predominant complaint.

And when did that stop?

Then came the rights from labor relations, everything that could pose a problem for people as a result of the coronavirus.

Where did you most often intervene on your own initiative in the previous months?

Whenever something appears, that’s why I would like to thank all the media in the Republic of Serbia, because we most often reacted to things from the news we hear in the media. We reacted by first checking those allegations found in those media, and then we reacted to each of those situations.

What were the most common cases, can you single anything out?

I can't point out anything because that would be favoring some of the cases; there were all possible situations, mostly socio-economic areas. They are essentially interwoven into many complaints, into many difficult situations in which certain groups of citizens find themselves.

Where was the most non-compliance with the law, who did not abide by it?

Who turned a blind eye to the law and the Regulation? This is most often in local self-government units. The local self-government is what this virus has practically denied us, to visit more often and check how they work. Citizens most often complain about local self-government activities.

And they are, by the way, bound by law to cooperate with the Protector.

The law is explicit here, everyone is obliged to cooperate with the Protector of Citizens, except the ones specified by the Constitution, who we are not entitled to control. Some have turned a blind eye, either by not responding to what we tell them they have to rectify. Then you do it until they rectify it and you insist and you have to be extremely persistent to make it happen.

What is their answer for turning a blind eye?

There is no answer, they’re mostly silent. They don't answer you, and then you send again, then you send urgently. So, the new Law on the Protector of Citizens, which I hope will be in the parliamentary procedure very soon, allows the Protector of Citizens to, by shortening such deadlines, especially when it comes to emergencies, and this is assessed by the Protector of Citizens, the institution, react immediately, promptly with more drastic ways, when someone turns a blind eye to what the Protector of Citizens asks of them. And he rightly asks for that, having previously checked all the facts and with applicable evidence.

In late November last year, you stated that the pandemic had increased the risk of violence against women. Unfortunately, the pandemic has continued. What’s the situation now?

Yes, it is still the same worldwide, because people are referred to each other and people who are experts on the subject talk about it, in special, psychological conditions in which people are living, all sorts of violence are escalating. And domestic violence is one of the most common forms of violence. This begs the question of domestic violence victims’ protection. The Protector of Citizens has initiated and will continue to initiate and insist with local governments to provide all women, and the few men, who are victims of domestic violence, free of charge, mandatory examination in forensic institutes in order to link the evidence, so as not to have the situation that the victim changes the statement during the proceedings for any reason or that perpetrator is released due to the lack of evidence. It is a much worse message to all perpetrators to either not be punished or to be punished with lower punishments.

We look a little at the consequences, and maybe we should fixate on the causes.

The causes are the most important here. If we look at the consequences, then we can go to see women in prisons who reacted in such a way that after years of violence they decided to solve it radically, you know what I mean or what we see very often and that is that victims of domestic violence pass down that experience, and that it can be passed down for generations.

The news that gripped media attention here was the case of Mr. Mika Aleksić, who is suspected of raping, sexually harassing his students. According to the court's decision, Aleksić is in custody, his pre-trial detention expired, after which the court decided to prolong it until mid-March. You received a complaint by his lawyer.

The Protector of Citizens as an institution cares for all citizens with no desire to prejudge a possible court decision. There are so-called assumptions and presumptions of innocence. We will visit Mr. Aleksić as soon as tomorrow, of course if permitted to do so, although we are entitled to do it under our Law, to see the nature of these complaints. I talked with his lawyer, the complaints were related to the part that we cannot control, that is the work of the judiciary, but we will hear from Mr. Aleksić what he has to say to us.

A few days ago, we aired a story on our television about the problems that a Rwandan citizen who married our citizen had. Of course, it was about administration, paperwork and there were many problems. You made a statement at one point and said, we will resolve it as soon as possible. Was that resolved?

It was resolved and I thank the media because most of our investigations are not based on complaints but on our own initiative or information that we learn from the media. The point here is that a married couple with a child should have applied to the Department for Foreigners, because the Law on Foreigners in Article 61 provides for the possibility to allow a stay on the so-called humanitarian grounds. There are exactly listed the reasons why, colloquially speaking, the family would not split. We spoke to police representatives who told us that no such request had been made at all until that day but that the husband had also been told what to do. He did that and she was allowed to stay, with the fact that that stay is allowed for a year or less, and it should be extended 3 months prior to, and no later than 30 days until the expiration of the residence permit.

I have one final question. You have been in the position of the Protector of Citizens for almost 4 years, is there anything that have not yet managed to solve?

Of course, there is an essential point, and that is that the citizens of the Republic of Serbia know that they should always turn to the Protector of Citizens, and that the Protector of Citizens will always respond in a situation when it is possible.

You don’t think they know it?

They don’t. I was astonished, when I took this office, that the citizens don’t know at all what the Protector of Citizens does. Through visiting all places in Serbia, meeting citizens, speaking in the media, I really endeavored to convey the message – approach the Protector of Citizens. We knew about the case you mentioned, they are countless. We have gone towards the citizens, and they didn’t go towards us. We wish that citizens go towards us and we will solve all the cases that we are entitled to solve under the Law. We hope that through the amendments to the law, we will be provided with a very wide range of possibilities.

Do you respond to every complaint that you receive by e-mail or phone call?

We respond to every complaint, but I insist on, if the circumstances permit it, mandatorily making the phone call to the complainant or invite them. I do it myself; I call the complainant, talk to them and see where we can really help as an Institution. If we cannot do it for any reason –the statute of limitations ran out, not within our competence, you need to say that to the citizens regardless of the fact that it causes resentment of those persons. However, other than in this way, you can’t communicate with the citizens, when in this function.

Thank you very much for being our guest today.

The Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, was guest in “Pravi ugao” TV show on Radio Television Vojvodina.

Good afternoon. We’re in “Pravi ugao” on Radio Television Vojvodina. I’m Ljubica Gojgić. Several NGOs stated recently that UN Independent Body might deny the highest A status to the Protector of Citizens in Serbia, that for the first time since the establishment of the independent body they might challenge the quality of meeting international human rights protection standards. The Protector of Citizens, who is a guest in "Pravi ugao", says that the objections are not grounded, and that a better testimony of the work is the number of citizens’ contacts to the Ombudsman over the last year and in 2019. Mr. Zoran Pašalić is in the studio of Radio-Television Vojvodina.

This is about, to make it simple for the viewers, a body that in a way verifies the quality of work of the Protector of Citizens, having in mind international standards when it comes to human rights protection. In a statement that you released when the news appeared, you stated that we, that is, you, still have that highest A status, that the status has not been downgraded for the Institution, but extended the verification period of your work until October 2021. So, what is this about? Do you have the highest status or has it perhaps been called into question?

Let me first say – this as, you read, speaks about the tendentiousness of what has been written, and that is what I don’t want to discuss for a simple reason. GANHRI is an Institution at the level of all world’s countries with similar Ombudsman Institutions, name them Committees, Protector of Citizens, Ombudsmen or otherwise. They award three statuses – A, B and C. A status is granted to most of the European countries, including us. B status, you have seen it yourself, is granted to a Sweden, whereas C status is granted to a Switzerland. And the essence is that this A status is reviewed every five years, not in relation to what you said and how it is written on the quality of human rights or what has already been said there, but in reference to the Paris Principles which include certain activities.

But the Paris Principles, to explain again for viewers who are not so close to it, they’re about verifying how the institution of the Protector of Citizens does its job and how active it is.

The bottom line is this, if I may interrupt you. The crucial thing is in this - the Protector of Citizens is a national institution that is accountable, so to speak, exclusively to the citizens of Serbia, directly or indirectly through the Assembly, which elects the Protector of Citizens and is the only one in this country who can dismiss him from office. I sparked the inception, for now informal, I hope it will be formal, of the Network of Ombudspersons from the Balkan region. Then, I signed, myself, dozens of bilateral agreements, believing that much more important is to keep a very frequent contact with countries that have a similar situation as ours or differ in that they have a very developed, at least declarative, protection of human rights. This is more important to me because I have those contacts all the time. Meetings that take place in these large organizations are once annually or biannually.

The strangest thing for me in all this is that someone won’t give a clear idea of who they are, what the interests and tasks of those organizations are. They bring together these institutions, as I said, which address the protection of human rights, and the essence is that the status and membership, that is, membership, is voluntary; and when it comes to the status itself, trust me, I tell you this now, to me it’s more important what the citizens of Serbia think about me, what attitude they have towards the Institution, than the one that have different citizens’ associations that are colloquially named non-governmental organizations, because there’s no legal-factual status of an NGO, but only citizens’ associations, and there are tens of thousands of them in the Republic of Serbia. Just a second.

Fine, fine, but let’s just break this down, that…

I have maintained good relations with citizens’ associations, not in Belgrade, not with those who have the ambition or believe that they are particularly significant and important, but with all those operating in the Republic of Serbia. So, not only in Belgrade, but everywhere in the Republic of Serbia. In the town of Trstenik for example, there’s a citizen’s association with far better results than those who constantly try to stand out by calling out or criticizing the Protector of Citizens’ work for reasons I don’t know.

This is multilayered. So, let’s first say about the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI).

There’s also European Institution, Global, Mediterranean.

These are your colleagues world-wide. It can be concluded that now you completely don't care if we have, when you say a Sweden has B status, it really is true, as well as Austria, Belgium and Cyprus. Romania and Switzerland have C status. Do you wish that the Protector of Citizens in Serbia retains the A status? That’s the highest one.

I’ll answer like this. I wish that the trust of the citizens of the Republic of Serbia and those who are on the territory of the Republic of Serbia in the Protector of Citizens as an institution to constantly grow, which the results indicate. When asked who they would turn to first, citizens put the institution of the Protector of Citizens in the first place. Three times more than in relation to all individual citizens' associations, which is what is important to us. Then, it is very important for us to have ombudsmen and institutions dealing with the protection of human rights in the region, in the surrounding countries, to have good relations with them.

Ok, and they are part of the Network, as well.

Yes, but someone from Geneva will certainly not solve the problem that emerged, say, at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis or state of emergency, and that is, the travel of our citizens who had to cross the territory of Slovenia and Croatia to enter Serbia, and in both countries they were facing quarantines for e.g. two weeks, and it was a very complicated trip for them. Moreover, we solved it precisely due to good cooperation with the Ombudspersons from the region. Or if, in a country with which we have bilateral agreement, a problem emerges that our citizen is detained/imprisoned, and there is a very dubious or relatively determined legal basis for that, so only through bilateral cooperation do we solve that problem.

Or to be clearer, it is important to me how much trust the citizens of Serbia have in us. We do not operate based on statements since I have been the head of the Institution, based on proclamations, based on some, say, writings about this or that. We handle concrete situations, we address concrete cases, concrete human destinies, on the grounds of proven facts.

The Protector of Citizens is a young Institution in our country. In previous periods, there was also that constant looking up to the world, of countries where that experience is longer lasting. Therefore, I ask you how you explain this situation. This would be the first time.

Well, here’s a situation.

This would be the first time…

You have, Sweden has B status, and Sweden is considered the progenitor of the ombudsman institution. Do you need a bigger explanation? I can now draw you into that story completely, but we would spend the whole program talking about what the A status, B status and C status that these countries now have practically means, although there will no longer be C status.

Do you consider the fact that status A has not been confirmed, but you have to wait until the end of this year, a criticism of your way of working?

No, because I think that when I had, we will call it an interview with GANHRI representatives, I spoke about what is in the interest of the citizens of the Republic of Serbia. I don't care if anyone likes me.

What could they not like?

I absolutely don’t go there. We’ll see in October whether they did or did not like something. However, my goal is not to please anyone. My goal is to fulfill in accordance with the possibilities of the institution and my own, to fulfill realistically, not to issue proclamations, announcements. Mind you, it's easiest for me to sit in the office and issue statements on the day of this, that or to condemn or support. That is not the job of the Protector of Citizens. This has been done in the institution for a long time. The job of the Protector of Citizens, if need be, to go in the mud, to go among people who are in trouble, to go among people who are sick.

Is it correct to conclude that GANHRI's assessment that we should wait before the status is confirmed, which is confirmed once every five years, was preceded by a warning coming from the non-governmental sector in Serbia that, as one of the explanations says, citizens trust the institute of the Protector of Citizens has decreased and that the Protector of Citizens no longer deals with the issue of human rights in the way it has been done?

All right, let's agree with what was written.

Here it is...

I can only say…

YUCOM - Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights…

Let go, let's not bid.

... wrote that over the last five years...

Please.

The integrity of the institution was significantly reduced…

Ljubica, let's mention all non-governmental organizations that deal with…

OK.

Let's not favor anyone.

Without mentioning the ones that drew attention.

Let's not mention anyone, please.

These are the Belgrade Center for Human Rights...

Let's just mention this…

Crta…

Let's mention what is essential.

The Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights and A 11 Initiative for economic social…

This is important - that the trust in the Protector of Citizens, which I talked about a moment ago, that these selected associations of citizens participated in that research, and that the Protector of Citizens with the greatest trust is far more than all citizens' associations individually.

Okay, 26 percent, and that may be questionable, Mr. Pašalić. Is that enough? Is that positive?

We are not speaking about 100 per cent, 15 per cent. We are speaking about an abundance of Institutions – including those that can be encompassed within the executive. And then in reference to that – a quarter, over a quarter. And, if you believe that that’s low, I cannot agree with you. Another thing, during the state of emergency, when there was а huge outcry about human rights violations, there was another situation, another independent institution conducts research and says: Who would you turn to first? And everyone says - the Protector of Citizens. That's what I’m interested in.

Then how did this conflict come up?

There’s no conflict.

You should be on the same task.

We can’t be on the same…

Belgrade Center for Human Rights is a renowned non-governmental organization...

No, please, come on. Who gave them the reputation? You, these people recording this? Who?

Citizens as well.

But how, when did they give it, they have 8 percent, as you said, and we have 26 percent, and they exist longer. You know what the point is? The point is that we are held accountable, and citizens' associations aren’t accountable to anyone.

But, you let them voice…

Wait, please allow me

...their attitude.

Everyone can speak up.

And about the work of the Protector of Citizens.

Sure.

To the media.

Everyone may say everything. I have always supported that. So, it’s not the problem in speaking up. I even like criticism myself. But it has to be informed criticism. You can’t just be saying something that is not true.

Fine, so let’s be specific. From the decision’s rationale…

Or something is not true. But you have to substantiate it with evidence, right?

From the decision’s rationale to put on hold the status reassignment, verification of the status, they say that it reads like this...

It’s not put on hold, please. And that is wrong. I was there, I was talking to these people from GANHRI.

That the status issue will be resolved in October.

No, but deferred.

Deferred.

The first day was postponed due to technical problems that these people had where they organized. The second day went the same with technical disturbance. So we then extended that time indefinitely. You have it recorded. The representatives of those citizens' associations watched it. And then it was deferred to October.

So, you don’t think that it is a matter of criticism, substance, but a technical issue.

Let me tell you, I repeat once again, I'm tired of it, but since it's you, I'll repeat. The only judgement I’m interested in is the judgement of the citizens of the Republic of Serbia, and nothing else.

Let me please read just this. From the GANHRI’s explanation, delays in resolving citizens’ complaints and a significant backlog in the number of complaints received since 2017 may indicate reduced citizens' trust in the work of the institution. Second thing, lack of activities of the Protector of Citizens related to the protection of…

Let me answer the first point. You see, since I have been heading the Institution, we stopped doing things following an old principle – receiving everyone’s complaints, handling it and after three months or some time, informing him/her that it’s not within your competence. Or that he/she hasn’t already exhausted all legal remedies, which is mandatory according to the applicable Law. That person is being informed that the complaint can’t be handled. Or, that the deadline came out or that legal means weren’t exhausted, or that it is about those that the Protector of Citizens is not mandated to control, you know that, let’s not enumerate. So, in this way, you reduce the number of complaints in the handling process, but you have a higher number of complaints. Secondly, what I have established is immediate contact with the citizens. Immediate means that you go on field, talk to people, you hear their problems. I don’t operate with numbers, I operate with results.

However, you gave the information that there were, that the number of complaints surged.

I had to. You know why? Because it is obligation of the Protector of Citizens as the Institution to inform yearly the Assembly that appoints him.

OK, are there more or fewer complaints?

Well, how can it be fewer? Here, take, compare the numbers.

Yeah, that’s what I’m asking you. In the report that you presented to the Assembly, you said that the number of complaints is on the rise?

Not that it is on the rise, but we had so many unfortunately, it’s due to the epidemic in 2020. There have never been so many contacts, which speaks about the fact that the citizens of Serbia have chosen us to turn to when in challenging times.

Lack of activities of the Protector of Citizens regarding economic, social and cultural rights, and regarding the protection of economic, social, cultural rights, and fable response of institutions to the recommendations you issue in that area.

The weaker response of institutions to recommendations in this area is incalculable. That has remained the one constant. So, we do not have the recourse to force someone to act. What has been done before, what I do not do, and that is to simply thank the institutions for taking it into consideration at all. We now use another Article of the law, which stipulates that in case they do not act, we use what the law gives to us, we will ask for the officer’s dismissal from duty. That was not written before. Now, the thing is that this, which speaks of economic and social problems, is our focus on economic and social problems.

The most complaints of that type…

Most of all, not only that there are the most addresses about it, but all the problems or most of the problems of the citizens of the Republic of Serbia are basically socio-economic in nature.

Are you afraid, that's the question?

Of what or whom?

Since you were appointed, do you shy away from one or another political group? Do you shy away from the authorities? Do you consciously not enter into cases where you would come into conflict with the representatives of the ruling party and the ruling coalition? On the other hand, you were called out in the parliament when you presented the report, that you follow with insufficient attention the statements of the opposition and them attacking on the President, the Prime Minister, and MPs. So, that is a question raised in your case even more than in the case of your predecessor. Do you make political calculations?

Firstly, it has never been a problem for me if someone disliked me if I can defend what I claim, and that is that what I said is supported by evidence. And because of that, we have attacks from both, from the third and from the fourth. You mentioned two sides. I can list ten more sides that attack the institution and me personally. But trust me, I have no problem nor do I shy away from anyone if what I say either orally or through a recommendation is based on law and supported by proven facts. I avoid, and I will never do that while I am in office, to give arbitrary statements or assessments, purely to make someone to like me, either one or the other or a third or fourth party, that something difficult to verify or something not fully proven.

How will this unwholesome state of affairs be resolved now between the Protector of Citizens and part of the non-governmental sector, if you say that they are incompetent and malicious?

I didn’t say it.

If GANHRI says…

No, I didn’t say that they…

... that cooperation with the civil sector is even your obligation.

So you see, if someone tells you to hang out or spend time with someone, does that oblige you? If you have another circle of people, with whom you are more comfortable, or you cooperate better or you cooperate better or you think that these people are, let's say according to some of your criteria, better educated. With non-governmental organizations, as you called them, and I repeat, these are citizens’ associations and there’s a large number of them in the Republic of Serbia. I really don't want to favor anyone.

You won't choose those closer to you?

I will select, I will chose as per the one who knows how to do his job better, who is more diligent, who is more thorough.

Do YUCOM, Crta and Belgrade Center…

It’s absolutely not important.

… know how to do their job?

Leave it to those who will think about it. And these are the ones who will give them certain projects believing that they are doing better than others. But then I ask you a question. There’s no monopoly in Serbia. Outside Belgrade, there are plenty of associations, as you call them NGOs, which work extremely well, but which cannot reach what the existence of such associations is based on. And those are projects. Why would I insist on someone from Belgrade, when in Novi Sad, Niš or in smaller places, Čačak, Kragujevac or in some much smaller place there are also citizens’ associations that do something very diligently and thoroughly. Now, because it might be understood pejoratively, I won’t name and compare with those with whom we cooperate and are absolutely unknown to the public. If someone thinks highly of himself, and thinks he is important, that’s his right and I don’t go into that. But...

Then it's more, more than what anyone thinks.

Exactly.

When you say YUCOM, Crta, Belgrade Center for Human Rights, those organizations mean something to this public and this society.

If I were to mention the Association of Young Enthusiasts from Kragujevac 500 times now, out of great respect, if I repeated it 5,000 times, you would remember that name. Right?

I‘d probably remember both the name and some of the activities.

Yeah, both the name and the activities, that’s right.

Well, let's give a few, Mr. Pašalić, if you agree just a few examples.

Or the Association of Gardeners from Temerin that has very serious activities. Don't take that this is pejorative. I trulz appreciate those associations.

From the point of view of human rights protection.

From the standpoint of what they do. You see, I can proclaim the protection of human rights. Give me something specific. Give me.

Let’s be specific.

What someone did.

This interpretation appeared. The Protector of Citizens rejected the initiative of a non-governmental organization to discuss and address the issue of high mortality rate among doctors and medical staff in Serbia during the Covid.

Well-said, Ljubica. Thank you for this. Be careful, read again what you said. High doctor mortality rate. There are so-called captivating, suggestive questions. You’re suggesting to me that there is a high mortality rate among doctors.

I’m not.

Wait, the question is suggestive. So read it again.

Is it 77, that’s what the doctors say, Mr. Pašalić, is it 77?

No, the doctors didn't tell us that. No, the doctors told us…

Yes, that's what the doctors said.

Let me finish, please. If the doctors had told us that, we would have done the same as anyone. And that is, we would instruct what the basic law states, and I will not violate the law.

Yes, but you could see it in the media.

May I just finish, please?

Yes.

So, you’re addressing the first institution that’s the first relevant to give you the information. It is known who it is. Ministry of Health, right, or Batut.

OK.

In case they don’t give you that information because of the most usual, as it were, work that the institution of the Protector of Citizens performs, and that is the administrative silence, you are contacting us. So we are instructing that citizens’ association of to follow the path specified in the law.

So you didn’t reject, but… Ok.

You see, you know what, they are the first ones who should be familiar with the terms. You can’t just be saying anything, I mean if you handle.

So, if…

Here, I’ve got to explain.

You didn’t reject.

No.

But you instructed.

Please. I have to clarify this. They use the term, say, "ex-officio" official duty. Everyone educated knows that duty implies something that must be done, the so-called imperative norm. That does not exist in the law. The law states that the Protector acts on complaints and on his own initiative.

Maybe that’s what they had in mind - own initiative.

Well, you can't mean it. Either you will express yourself properly or we will treat you like someone who doesn’t know how to do their job.

Is there, do you find beyond that request, do you find something that could be a topic for the Protector of Citizens in that story?

I’ll tell you instantly.

A large number of almost 80 doctors...

Firstly, there are two data. Please.

… because you dealt with another topic and that is the death toll. And that's where you were looking for…

Firstly, I don't like playing guesses with the number of the dead. Secondly, it's something I can't get over, every life is important. Be it one life or 70, 2, 3, 4, according to the report given by the Chamber of Doctors, Pharmacists and Dentists, that is, the Union, sorry. But you also have the Medical Chamber, which provided other information, 45 deaths. Then you have the Union of Nurses and Technicians set the data on 32 deceased nurses.

Is that an issue that needs to be clarified?

Well, all that should be. These are all people who worked in healthcare and who passed away. What they died of cannot be speculated upon. To do it would be, if not unserious, then distasteful. Because that's where the equivalent is put in the environment. With data that are totally incorrect. And why are they incorrect? This is someone who has contacts with the ombudsmen of those countries speaking and who, not daily but monthly, goes through the problems that they have, including those that we have.

I wanted to ask you… You announced several scoops. One is, for example, that the deadline for the Tax Administration has just expired.

No, the deadline for the Tax Administration is to expire if we are speaking about freelancers.

For them to submit to you the data on the investigations initiated in relation to the so-called freelancers. Were they informed on time what their liabilities were? Can they charge taxes for five years, for previous five years? Under what conditions? And what happened there that spurred the protest of the citizens?

The absolute statute of limitations expires after 10 years. So, 5 years is some sort of prospective deadline, and I wouldn’t go there now. The point is this. Whether the taxpayers under the so-called income tax, who are obliged to report income on their own were on time, and in a specific way, because they are gentlemen the tax payers, I live off them, and all those who work in the public sector and who get paid from the budget live off them. Was everything done to inform them on time on their liabilities? Only then, can we speak about their obligations if they really exist.

Because if they failed?

And only then, just a moment, then about what their liabilities are. How is the interest calculated for them? Is it calculated fairly? And then, on that occasion, we speak about the share of the tax, for which the statute of limitations expired, which is irrecoverable. That's right, that simple question should be raised. Because, in order for someone to be motivated to pay taxes, then the tax rules must apply to everyone in the same way. I mentioned that when we talked about the cases of these, I'll call them, schools, that's how they're called. Supervise them, don’t check just one group but check all, and we in turn will check how you control, whether you controlled in a way that is proper. We expect the response on Friday, and a meeting on Monday. As soon as we receive the response statement from the Tax Administration, we will start checking everything that I have told you.

Serbia MOI was obliged; the deadline has expired these days to submit a report to you on how the MOI officers treated the people who protested in July 2020. The deadline has expired, and as you told me, the recommendation is now done. What will be in the recommendation?

Not for everyone. The recommendation is completed, where we have absolute evidence, like footage where you can see the excessive use of force, MOI members so, police, gendarmerie, who have used excessive force. So, identification.

What’s going to be recommendation there?

The point is in this, identifying the persons who have used excessive force. One, ten, a hundred police officers, it’s practically meaningless unless we ascertain the names of those persons. The part that will be investigated for some more time is where you have no footage, where you have no material evidence, where you have the word of the one on whom excessive force was applied or he/she deems that excessive force was applied, and the one who applied the force.

And what’s the Recommendation? Sanctioning, suspensions of police officers who…

Not a chance that it’s going to be just that, there’s where comes the most important part. There’s nothing substantial in just sanctioning someone. Instead, you have to create conditions for that not to happen. So it is clear when you have footage that you can have a clear identification of who is doing what on that footage.

And a final question. What will happen, what is the fate of Mr. Đorđe Joksimović, the father of three children, three daughters, who served as the inspiration for the film, and who claims that the state took away his children?

No, he doesn't claim that, please don't. It has been misused so many times that he…

Right, who the children were taken from and given to foster parents. It was conceived in the public…

And why do you use the term taken? No one kidnapped or took the children. In simple words, the Social Welfare Center considered….

Children aren’t with him.

The children are definitely not with him. They are in a foster family. And Mr. Joksimović Đorđe…

…has come to beg you to help him get his children back.

No, he didn’t come to beg me, I invited him. No one’s begging me. He came to the meeting to acquaint me with all the facts that he considered relevant.

Because he wants the children back.

That’s right. On the other hand, there’s the Social Welfare Center Report that came through.

You got it.

On the third part.

Kragujevac

That's right, the report of the Ministry that we received the second day after we requested it.

What can you do?

What I did today, and here, it is a sort of scoop for you, I talked to Mr. Jokismović. These days, I will see his lawyer, who will bring me what he has regarding the necessary documentation, but what is basic, and what I asked him, and that is that he should initiate the procedure for the restoration of parental rights. I cannot return the children to him, or you, or anyone, only the Court, not even Social Welfare Center, and in that procedure to determine whether he meets the requirements. And for his part, the Protector of Citizens will do what he needs to do. We will not roll the papers over, so to speak so colloquially, and release a statement and say: Here, the Protector solved the problem in half an hour. Bravo to the Protector of Citizens. We will address the problem very diligently.

Did Social Welfare Center…?

Please let me finish.

… work properly?

Excuse me, I told Mr. Đorđe, looking him in the eye just as I look at you, what we make as a conclusion and as a recommendation, we can defend in court. Whether you will be satisfied or dissatisfied, I cannot prejudge until I have an insight into everything. But certainly, we won’t permit that the children be in a family other than yours due to somebody’s mistake as you said, someone's mistake, intention, abuse.

 Thank you for being guest in “Pravi ugao”.

The Protector of Citizens Mr. Zoran Pašalić in “The Dawn” TV show on K1 TV


The procedure of taking away the children of Mr. Đorđe Joksimović from Kragujevac, based on which the film “Father” was made, is being reconsidered. The Ombudsman also targets the Tax Administration regarding the freelancers issue. This morning, I’m talking to Mr.Zoran Pašalić about it, and about the Aleksić case. He’s the Protector of Citizens. He’s my guest. Good morning, welcome. Thank you for being at “The Dawn”. Tell me, personal initiative, so a personal question. Why did you launch a personal initiative for a personal reinvestigation of the work of the Kragujevac Social Welfare Center, which omissions were made in the case of Đorđe Joksimović?

- First, I have to say that what you have the right to, what the citizens of Serbia have the right to, we don’t have with respect to work, and that’s an emotional response to each of these situations, so to speak, which aroused public interest. The case we’re talking about was before the Institution in 2015, when Mr. Joksimović from Kragujevac approached us because he was dissatisfied with the work of the Social Welfare Center, primarily with the removal of children to foster families, but also with the fact that the Social Welfare Center’s appeal triggered the procedure of deprivation of parental rights. And that procedure was completed in a way it was, in the sense that the institution that approached the Ministry competent to control the work of social institutions didn’t acknowledge that one right of the parents was violated. What we initiated the day before yesterday is a re-investigation of the entire case, and we expect, considering that the investigation began one or two days ago, that in a couple of days, in communication with Social Welfare Center, we’ll receive complete documentation and then launch the investigation again. The reasons lie in the fact that there are some new details that we have to reconsider, I tried several times to get in touch with Mr. Joksimović, I hope that today I’ll manage to have a phone talk, because I want to hear his story, as they say – let the other party be heard. Only when we have all that, colloquially speaking, on the table, can we make some conclusions. Otherwise, it’d be too soon and prejudging.

I see. However, at the same time, there are reasons why something that the institutions have put an end to is being launched.

- We don’t make closures in situations when there are some new facts. Since this case, as I said in July 2015, and we’re in 2021, it’s been five years. We’ll reinvestigate the new facts that might impact making a different decision.

Good. So, you don’t challenge work and decisions…

- We reinvestigate what’s new in reference to what happened before.

OK and what happened actually? So, for those that haven’t heard about Đorđe Joksimović, he’s a man whose children were taken away, as far as I understood, correct me if I’m wrong.

- Yes, three daughters.

Three daughters were taken from him because of poverty and placed in a foster family.

- Sorry, I’ve got to interrupt you. Due to poverty, no one was deprived of their child.

OK, but why?

- Because there’s children welfare relative to living conditions of those children. Nutrition, hygiene, upbringing, I’m not saying that those conditions haven’t been met nor do I prejudge our decision, we’ll see how true all that is. In general, when the children are taken away and placed in a foster family, in that situation you need to act very cautiously and very carefully. I’m not saying that Center’s mistakes are non-existent, nor that they exist. We’ll see, we’ll investigate in detail and then we’ll make a decision. The point here and the most important thing for us is to protect the interests of children. Not because we react emotionally, because it got media attention, but to protect the interests of the three little girls.

Okay, and then again, if I understand right, the fresh thing is actually that he’s now financially better off than when his children were taken away. Right?

- I don't know that, nor will the institution deal with it at all. The institution will handle the children’s position. One can be more or less financially secured and provide what children need. Even within the limits drifting to poverty, it’s absolutely not that.

Okay, I'm just asking you.

- It is not a requirement, we reconsider…

And what’s the requirement?

- The requirement is that there’s no child neglect, that you don’t have a position of children that’s not adequate in relation to their needs. Hygiene, nutrition, parents' attitude to children. You see, anything I might say now would again drag the emotions of the public to one side.

Fine, but I'm asking you what's new ... What's new that got you involved in the entire case?

- We always get involved in the case when there is a suspicion that something that was done in the previous period, whether by our institution, or by another institution, is subject to changes that could affect making a different decision at this point. So, things change in every person's life, including here.

Yeah, I understand, you said that there have been some new circumstances, so I’m asking you what are the new circumstances that occurred in the case of Đorđe Joksimović, on the grounds of which you decided to get involved and reinvestigate the entire case.

- I told you that before we ascertain every detail, so, both sides, I won’t answer that question. Only when we find out…

Oh. Well, he can't do that either, I understood that you can answer the question why you got involved and what the new circumstances are, so I insist on that, otherwise…

- Circumstances are, firstly, the passage of time, and then whether the conditions that are now relatively different, not in relation to his property status but to the status of the children, have changed significantly so that the decision can be changed. Certainly, we are concerned exclusively with the interest of children, nothing else is important to us at the moment.

Okay. So, when talking about Social Welfare Centers in general, and we’re talking about the Social Welfare Center "Sloboda", then the experts who appeared here have said that in the first place here the endangered rights were those of children, as well as those of the father. Do you perceive the father as a figure you should stand behind?

- Absolutely. Both sides are always looked at, and the priority is the interest of the children of course.

Both sides or one side?

- They’re two sides, I'm not saying that they’re opposing, but two of them, so you have the interests of children and the interests of parents. They may be common; they may not coincide in some things. That is why I said at the beginning, we cannot see things emotionally, we’ve got to see the real picture, what the best interests of children are, but certainly if a parent, in this particular case the father, is denied a right, we’ll react in that situation.

What can you do as an institution? So, are you an institution that will get all other competent institutions up on their feet, or have you got some executive power to put an end to this in this particular case, or at least to solve it temporarily?

- Thanks for the question. We don’t have executive powers, we don’t have a sanction behind us in the true sense of the word, as the public expects, and that’s someone to be punished. There is a sanction for someone to be laid-off, dismissed from office, but to raise the public to its feet as well as the highest institutions that deal with this issue, that we can do.

Okay, and that's important, it's important to point that out, and it's important at that very moment if it happens. Let's not prejudge, if you think that the decisions that were made are wrong, I believe that you and the public by your side will get this through.

- That's right.

This case and we all hope for that.

- But we have to ascertain that and prove it with concrete facts.

How much time do you need, approximately?

- According to this law, which is currently in force, we are bound by some deadlines that are longer, but this situation is being done in an urgent procedure that should shorten that time. As soon as we get, I hope in the following few days, all the documentation we asked for, we’ll talk to the father, to see his point of view, no matter how subjective or objective, and then we’ll do it very quickly.

Okay, quickly meaning days or weeks?

- Quickly meaning days.

Well, when speaking about what’s on in Serbia, I’ll leave the story of teacher Aleksić as the final topic, but I’m interested in what’s actually happening with freelancers and the Tax Administration, you’re monitoring that situation these days as well? So who made the omission here? Citizens complain that they have to pay tax for which no one has submitted anything and which concerns previous few years, is the payment of debts or the way it’s carried out, in your opinion, controversial here.

- We must first determine exactly the one who is responsible, and who does what and what’s whose obligation. On the one hand, there’s the obligation of citizens to pay taxes, on the other, there’s the obligation of the Tax Administration to treat citizens as tax payers, the ones who finance everything, including my Secretariat, in the work they do, so they must be treated in the right way. According to Article 24 of the Law on Tax Procedure and Administration, there is no obligation of the Tax Administration to provide information in terms of mass information, but must respond to each individual contact. To make it simple, you start a business, you go to the Tax Administration and ask for everything that relates to some of your future allowances based on that activity. But, if the Tax Administration quarterly in the media, I don’t know if it was in yours, it was on RTS, announces in two days or three days you have to pay property tax, the quarter ends, then the question of activities in each of these situations arises.
What is a problem in Serbia, that’s the so-called tax culture. In Serbia, you do not have tax advisors; in Serbia you have accountants, bookkeepers, no offence to anyone, or lawyers. With lawyers dealing very little with taxes or very few of them. You don't have anyone to turn to. Let one of these people, tax advisors, explain to you during any action that you take in order to become a taxpayer, and that is now the situation of citizens and freelancers who have to pay taxes. I think a compromise needs to be found in all this. Because what we have come to, although that procedure is far from over, there’s truth on both sides.
If the Tax Administration said - no, they had an obligation and we don't care, they have to pay tax, that’d be one thing. And they say, yes, but we haven’t been informed, that’s another matter. In all this, we’ll do literally everything to solve this problem. Why? I’d draw one comparison that may not be the most adequate: it’s a saying that an organism is as old or young as its blood vessels are old, or young, so in good state. The tax system is the bloodstream of the state. Without it, the state cannot function, and it must really be arranged so that you know at all times what your obligations are, that the state gives you all the information and what I may have pointed out too colloquially, and that’s when you come to the Tax Administration, everyone in the Tax Administration knows that you are a gentleman, a taxpayer, from whose giving when they add up, the whole state that’s on the budget makes a living or the one part that’s on the budget.

What are the omissions, I don't understand, what are the omissions made by the Tax Administration with freelancers then?

- We’re just figuring that out, you see that case…

You are just determining. Okay, but what are ...

- There are situations where you can react urgently, there are things where you have to go through the complete documentation, not just the story but individual solutions, statements by the Tax Administration, calculations, the manner of calculations, whether what’s called relative or absolute statute of limitations is being handled, obligation which the taxpayer has, as well as the obligation that the Tax Administration has towards him.

Right. Then you’ll state your position.

- That's right.

Okay. Finally, I am interested in the Aleksić case. Yesterday, believe me, we spent the day on the phone, looking for who’s in charge of acting, sports, singing, modeling schools, which institution in the country issues permission to you, or anyone to open a school of something, to be called a teacher, to engage in pedagogical work, and to be remunerated for that pedagogical work. Do you know who that institution is?

- For this type, let’s call it a school, you used that term, as far as I know, the only Ministry, the Ministry of Education, should be in charge, but it does not deal with this type of school.

Yes, so not at all?

- This is an ad hoc school; I don't want to underestimate anyone. And there’s many of those.

All children go to those, as you said, ad hoc schools of acting, singing, which the state doesn’t recognize in any other way except in the APR and as those who pay taxes. I didn’t know that if you don’t issue a diploma recognized by the institutions of Serbia, you may operate as an economic entity and bear absolutely no consequences for that.

- Not the consequences, but you aren’t subject to checks relative to the kind of pedagogical work you do, what your methods in that pedagogical work are, what the consequences for the psyche of those children are.

Absolutely, that’s very important.

- That’s the most important thing, because it’s not a matter of you teaching someone to act, do ballet, I apologize maybe it’s not the right expression, but to have serious pedagogical work. What we have, I must say, neglected, we talk all the time in these schools as well, which we call regular schools, about education, and there’s little talk about the thing used a hundred years ago when I was in school, and it’s pedagogy and education.

May I ask you something?

- Go ahead.

I’ll ask you publicly, because I cannot believe that apart from paying taxes there’s absolutely no obligation of any school owner, anything in Serbia which works with children, to, as the Protector of Citizens, take the initiative that the schools where we send children, be them sports, acting, art, whatever, are placed under the auspices of the functioning of the laws of this state in the sense that only the one who is a pedagogue, who has proper education, and with a license issued by the state may work with children.

- Certainly, thank you for the initiative, what’s most important here, and that’s the educational inspection which must, pardon for the wording, no offence to anyone, visit those ad hoc schools and control them in that way.

They are not competent, someone must...

- I know they aren’t competent, but someone has to be.

But that's why I'm asking you who to turn to?

- We turn to, or you, you’ve started the initiative, we, as the official institution that handles it, turn to the Ministry of Education to regulate this area. Because it turned out in this case, which I do not want to prejudge, I said at the beginning that we cannot work under emotions but following the facts, that this area must be regulated because there is an incredible number of these ad hoc schools.

And well, what are we doing now, please tell me?

- The law is being changed; a legal initiative is being launched to amend it, to state exactly what and who must fulfill when opening such a… sorry but its’s firm.

It is a firm, there’s nothing to apologize for, it’s a firm, it’s the only thing registered in the APR.

- It must meet certain conditions, if you have to meet the conditions when you open a bakery, and that’s the height of the tiles, the conditions of the workers and so on, the assumption is that there should be much stricter conditions here.

Okay, who’s launching this initiative now?

- The Protector of Citizens.

Are you going to launch it?

- We’ll launch it, for sure, because that’s the point, you‘ve hit right at the center. I mean, this is going to end with a court epilogue, what’s it going to be, I don't want to prejudge. I don’t want to violate the presumption of innocence, nor do I want to say anything in the sense that we do not protect the victims. We’re an institution that primarily protects victims, i.e. someone who has experienced a behavior or an action or a crime that has survived. We have been doing it all the time, but the point of this is that someone has to control that field seriously.

Thank you very much for being our guest.

- Thank you for inviting me.

Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić on Prva TV "Morning"

The case of a father from Kragujevac whose children were taken away by the social service is in focus again. The Protector of Citizens requested a re-examination of the case, so we have Mr. Zoran Pašalić today with us. Good morning and thank you for being our guest. Before we start discussing this case, we had a remote guest switched in, you saw that she’ll be questioned today, I assume that you’ve been following the entire situation related to Mr. Mika Aleksić. Front pages, literally the central topic. How does an independent control institution such as the Protector of Citizens comment on this case?

Simply. When you organize any activity, any work related to children, it is mandatory that you act in accordance with certain regulations. Let me give you an example: when you open a kindergarten, it’s a huge pile of paperwork where not only the owner but all the employees are being checked. The question arises, who checks? I named them ad hoc schools in one TV program regardless of what these schools do. To make it more precise, in the list of jobs or activities there are groups into which this can be included, but who controls that? Are they subject to control at all? The point is: wherever one works with children, it must be strictly controlled.

Further to all the information obtained, we’ve launched an initiative to the Ministry of Education to identify the shortcomings in the existing Laws and to rectify them, so everyone who works with children or minors, or those who can be considered a younger or older minor, must be constantly in the focus of the public. That's what this is all about. Another thing, related to what’s also been a topic these days and what we’ve taken part in and we hope for the results soon, and it burdens the citizens as well, and these are citizens who are burdened with taxes for the activity they perform, it begs the question of how the schools are treated in the tax system. Today, virtually an hour ago, we have drafted an Initiative to the Ministry of Finance, where we will see who and how controls those, I may freely say, companies. If you open a bakery, you need to meet certain conditions in order to be able to start the activity, and there’s the question of controlling these activities. I don’t underestimate, don’t get me wrong.

This case unfortunately unveiled many issues and many deficiencies.

You know why. The newspapers are filled with it. But, the point is, not to cover what is now a sensation and what will be a sensation for some time by some other news, and then it will happen to us again after a while. So, everyone who has contact, who works with children, no matter what they do, must be strictly controlled.

That is why I hope that your appeals, as the Institution of the Protector of Citizens, will be heard. I’ve got to add, you said a moment ago when you open a kindergarten, you have a pile of paperwork that you have to fill out.

That’s right.

I believe that this case will reach you as well, the front page of “Srpski Telegraf” Daily, horror videos, a kindergarten of horror, a child with autism locked in a pantry and beaten. As of yesterday, that video can be found on social networks. 

We know about it. That’s our case today, actually we’ll go through it now. We just get most of the information from the media and then we check it all and investigate it.

Is your voice heard, I’ve got to ask you that?

It is. What is the most powerful weapon of the Protector of Citizens is that since my arrival we take an emotionless approach in terms of profession, and not as persons, as individuals. We check every fact and take into account only proven facts, so our recommendations, the ones that we issue are taken very seriously.

Has it ever happened that someone immediately applies to you and presents you with a case of abuse and harassment of any kind?

Hundreds of times. You know that since when I came to the head of the Institution, I practically opened the Institution’s doors and received citizens. Unfortunately, this pandemic has suspended it a bit. But, in direct interviews with the citizens, I’ve heard hundreds of times that there are, so to speak, examples of blackmail, abuse - verbal mostly, physical not so much. What’s the problem here? The Protector of Citizens doesn’t have the possibility to control the prosecutor's office or the courts, nor can he interfere or plead the case either in the charges or in the verdict, and he has to stop there and, unfortunately, refer the one who experienced abuse to the court, police, prosecutor's office.
What we do and what we can offer is protection by the institutions that are obliged to protect such a person. Also, in the investigation itself we advocate the use of all means in order to protect, particularly with regard to the young ones, the injured party who has suffered violence and who is giving a statement, so that it doesn’t happen that the statements have been in the press, in the media several times these days, and that’s secondary victimization. Believe me, in talking with people who have suffered violence, I’ve heard hundreds of times that it was much harder for them to have to go back several times through what they had gone through in real life, giving testimonies, two, three or even more times.

The case we primarily invited you for, and thank you for intervening, to have your opinion heard regarding the case of Mr. Mika Aleksić, you had the case of the father from Kragujevac, Đorđe Joksimović, re-investigated. Why? Is there… is there any hope?

You see, this is a serious Institution and I try to do my job as seriously as possible, so I don’t want to foretell anything. The point is that the case was before the Institution in July 2015, before I came there, and what I have noticed is a serious lack of empathy from the Institution’s part. One cannot be administrative when there are such cases, the Protector of Citizens is neither a court nor an administrative body that can only look through the papers, you must hear all parties, you must hear the parents, if possible, if they want, without any pressures, even the children, who are, as it were, the focus in that case, to take all the facts into account and only then to draw conclusions and make recommendations. It doesn’t happen to me for the first time that I see when opening some earlier cases that it was mere administrative business, and that essentially the focus wasn’t the thing that’s been in focus now since I have come, so: the citizen, their rights, of course in accordance with the Law, the regulations, but very cautiously.

Đorđe Joksimović will soon be here in the studio and we’ll of course hear his account, what all of us are interested in.

Mr. Đorđe Joksimović and I talked and I’ll wait for him to have a meeting at the Institution. I really wish that he, no matter how long it takes the gentleman, tells me his account of the events.

In the public we’ve heard hundreds of times, as you’ve said yourself, this process has been lasting for five years, he was being given different tasks as it were by the Social Service and as he said, he did everything he was required to, but still didn’t have his children back. What’s the problem?

We’ll see.

I’m asking you personally.

We’ll see because the case was open two days ago.

What’s the procedure now?

This is the procedure: we would contact Social Welfare Center to send to us all the documents at their disposal. We’ll talk to Mr. Joksimović as well. I arranged a meeting in the line ministry today, and we will have some talks there as well. If necessary, I’ll go to the Social Welfare Center personally, only when we have the whole picture then we will provide a statement, you may invite me to give you based on what we learned, to detail the case and what you say, to see which are rights and that those rights are respected.

I sincerely hope that we will be able to change something together. It’s been five years, and I believe that it’s about time for the father to be with his daughters.

I agree.

You’ve just said that the coronavirus has disturbed your work. You had interviews with the citizens, what’s bothering us the most now, in 2021, are they applying?

They are.

What do they complain about?

In 2020, citizens applications surged ten times. We worked until 10pm, but when it was necessary we worked over the night as well. What’s basic, that’s the fear. The fear from illness, the fear from death, the fear from being made redundant, fear of not being able to feed the family, then the ability to move, the ability to travel. What we all people love, that’s to have the opportunity to relax, at least in specific time intervals such as the virus, this pandemic brought it to a halt. It was very important during all that time whether the protection measures were respected and we went to, I will call them tentatively, companies, firms, whatever, which did not respect measures such as more people in one room than proscribed all the way to protective equipment.

There was an initiative launched recently about the check regarding the number of doctors that have died, although based on the data we received, in other countries, i.e. in the neighboring countries, what they have stated is absolutely incorrect, and that is that in some countries no deaths of doctors have been registered. Not only that the cases of deaths have been registered, but, given the excellent cooperation, it was just yesterday that we talked with the Ombudspersons in the region, there are cases of suicide of the doctors, there are cases of suicide of the persons who in that chain of combating the epidemic couldn’t sustain the pressure in other countries or in the countries in the region. All this creates an image on the basis of which we can act, of course leaving each of the institutions to do their job. We don't have the capacity to do everyone's work either.

Nor you should.

I don’t think we should.

It’s important to draw attention.

Certainly.

Such as this particular case of Đorđe Joksimović. Thank you for taking the time for our morning program.

Thank you.

So we'll follow this whole case together.

Certainly, yes.

And we’ll hope for the positive result of the entire story.

We’ll now meet with Mr. Joksimović. We'll talk after that.

He’ll be here with us very soon. Thank you again.

Thank you.

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