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Opinions and Statements

Upon learning that there is a suspicion that one of the broadcast videos was violating child rights, the Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, launched an investigation to control work legality and regularity of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (REM).

With a view to taking measures within the competences and safeguarding the best interests of the child, Ms. Jelena Stojanović, the Deputy Protector of Citizens for Child Rights and Gender Equality, initiated own initiative immediate control of the REM’s work scheduled for 2 June 2020.

Within the instigated investigation, Ms. Stojanović requested REM to submit information on what control measures and activities the REM had taken on suspicion of child rights being violated by broadcasting media content, when and which media service providers informed REM that a complaint for non-compliance with the rules on the protection of minors had been filed, as well as whether, when and which media service provider had submitted a request to REM for an opinion on the program content compliance with the Rulebook on the Protection of Minors’ Rights in the field of Providing Media Services.

The Deputy Protector of Citizens also requested REM to provide information whether the regulatory body had examined if the broadcast media content had been in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as with the Law on Electronic Media and the Rulebook on Protection of Minors' Rights in Media Services, the implementation of which REM monitors.

In addition, Ms. Stojanović requested REM to provide responses within 15 days on all questions, as well as on the planned measures and activities if none had been undertaken up to that moment.

The Institution of the Protector of Citizens is mandated to control the work of the organizations with delegated public powers, REM being one of them, pursuant to Article 1 of the Law on the Protector of Citizens. She has pointed out that neither monitoring the work of media service providers, nor prohibiting nor approving the broadcasting of any sort of media content falls within the Protector of Citizens’ competence, even though sometimes it might be erroneously concluded.

The Deputy Protector of Citizens has once again urged all social life stakeholders to mandatorily respect child rights and to act in the best interests of each of us, as assessed in every specific situation, as well as to interpret and implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child with a view to advancing physical, mental and moral development of a child.

Ms. Stojanović has also called on REM to carry out its control activity as soon as possible if it has failed to do so up to now in order to react as urgently as possible, if a violation of the rights of the child is established, pursuing the best interest of the child as the most vulnerable category of the population. Every state authority, institutions and public institutions in every activity, affecting the child directly or indirectly, must attach paramount importance to the best interests of the child, the Deputy Protector of Citizens has said.

The Protector of Citizens denied the allegations of the "Belgrade Center for Human Rights" that he had declined the initiative of this citizens’ association to, as they stated, "ex officio determine the reasons and possible omissions of competent institutions in the health care system" and issued a rebuttal of such allegations.

The rebuttal notice follows in its entirety:

The allegations of the "Belgrade Center for Human Rights" expressed in their statement that the Protector of Citizens declined the Center’s initiative to “determine ex officio in the control investigation the reasons and possible omissions of the competent institutions in the health care system…“ are a downright falsehood.

With complete understanding that citizens and citizens' associations are under no obligation to know the legal terminology and all laws, the Protector of Citizens primarily indicates that the notion "ex officio" is unknown to both the Law on the Protector of Citizens and the Institution of the Protector of Citizens.

The Law on the Protector of Citizens strictly specifies that the Protector of Citizens initiates investigations upon citizens' complaints or on own initiative. While individuals and citizens' associations may attach themselves special importance within a society, it does not bind the Protector of Citizens, since this institution has the same attitude towards everyone - either citizens or citizens' associations.

The allegation that the Protector of Citizens, as stated by the BCHR, declined the initiative of this citizens’ association, is another falsehood. The truth is that it instructed the BCHR to, pursuant to the Law on the Protector of Citizens, exhaust all legal remedies prior to filing a complaint to the Protector of Citizens.

The Protector of Citizens presumes that that the reply regarding the received initiative fell into unprofessional hands and therefore reiterates that Article 25 of the Law on the Protector of Citizens stipulates that, before addressing the Protector of Citizens, the complainant is obliged to attempt to protect his/her rights in appropriate legal proceedings.

Considering that the Protector of Citizens operates only and solely pursuant to the Law and not pursuant to affinities and animosities, he once again indicates that this would be the only legal way and urges the "Belgrade Center for Human Rights" to act in this way regarding its initiative.

Pursuant to the Law on Public Information and Media, which specifies that the interest of the public is to hear all parties, the Protector of Citizens expects that you publish this reply to Belgrade Center for Human Rights’ allegations on the web page of your media outlet.

Upon learning from the media that children in a privately owned kindergarten in Belgrade have been suffering violence by kindergarten teachers, the Protector of Citizens instigated own-initiative investigation to control work legality and regularity of the Belgrade City Secretariat for Education and Children's Welfare.

The Protector of Citizens requests the Secretariat to submit a report on the activities undertaken in this case within 15 days, as well as a written record on the supervision of the work of the privately owned kindergarten institution "Zamak" in the City Municipality of Voždovac.

Bearing in mind that the City of Belgrade is not the founder of this kindergarten institution, but it only allocates funds for partial reimbursement of expenses of children’s stay in those institutions, the Protector of Citizens requires the Secretariat to include in the report the information on how it carries out the monitoring over the preschool institutions’ work.

The Protector of Citizens is preparing an Initiative for amending the relevant applicable regulations which would regulate in detail the provision of education and teaching services by individuals and legal entities, regardless of the form of registering their activities.

“Many business activities with less social significance than children's education are demanded to meet stringent requirements. We often forget that educating children includes not only schooling but upbringing as well. We will launch an Initiative to amend the current regulations so that it no longer happens that everybody may work with children without meeting the fundamental requirements”, the Protector of Citizens Mr. Zoran Pašalić stated.

The Initiative prepared by the Protector of Citizens should make it possible to determine whether natural and legal persons who intend to engage in the education and upbringing of children meet the requirements that apply to other educational institutions in terms of staff, technical and pedagogical requirements.

“I would not like that the case of female citizens who have been reporting sexual abuse for several days be forgotten when it ceases to be interesting in the media and that something similar reappear sooner or later without the issue being substantially addressed. And it is certain that this is not the only such case, " Mr. Pašalić said.

Mr. Pašalić underlines that it is necessary to regulate the system so as to ensure that people working with children, regardless of the type of education they provide, are being supervised by those who are required by law to take care of children and control what those people do and how they work.

“This is a very sensitive area that should not leave room for vague and emotional assessments. Victims should be enabled to turn to adequate institutions that should investigate their allegations, including the Institution of the Protector of Citizens, which has always provided protection to all vulnerable individuals and groups," said the Protector of Citizens.

Mr. Pašalić states that this is a very extensive and demanding job, but that it is the only way to protect the entire education system because the data of the Protector of Citizens based on complaints and information from the media suggest that this phenomenon is most prevalent in the field of education and employment.

On 2 June 2020, Deputy Protector of Citizens for Child Rights and Gender Equality Ms. Jelena Stojanović and the associates from Child Rights Sector participated in the online meeting of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) with the aim of exchanging experiences on the challenges that the institutions have been facing during the state caused by the COVID-19 virus.

At the meeting, the Ombudspersons stated that they had organized their work remotely and that all the countries had been facing identical challenges in exercising child rights.

Ms. Jelena Stojanović pointed out to the conference participants that the institution of the Protector of Citizens in Serbia worked with higher intensity and that the activities were primarily aimed at solving specific pandemic-caused problems.

Citizens' addresses and media reports provided information about the problems that children and parents encountered which were responded to immediately, by directly addressing the competent authorities in order to rectify omissions, as well as by issuing initiatives to amend regulations that endangered the rights of parents and children.

Regarding the communication with citizens, counseling and psychological assistance were provided daily through five new telephone lines. The help of a psychologist from the Child Rights Sector was unique among the members of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children. A mobile team of the Protector of Citizens Institution amid the state of emergency worked intensively and round the clock, and they monitored on field the respect for the rights of citizens, particularly children.

Also, the Deputy Protector of Citizens emphasized that a large number of parents turned to the Protector of Citizens, which confirmed that the parents recognized the Protector of Citizens as an institution they trust and can turn to for help.

After the Protector of Citizens received the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media’s (REM) statement and performed direct monitoring on 2 June 2020 over this body’s work, and regarding the video featuring a child and REM’s decision to ban its broadcasting, the Protector of Citizens requested today REM to submit answers to additional questions.

The Protector of Citizens asked REM to inform it whether the broadcasters acted in accordance with the decision dated 1 June 2020 in the period since the public announcement of the REM decision to the formal delivery of the decision to the broadcasters, as well as after the formal delivery of the decision.

At the same time, the Protector of Citizens asked REM to inform it whether REM, within the monitoring of the work of media service providers, was determining whether the broadcasters paid special attention required in the case of participation of minors in the program, which is the obligation of broadcasters specified in the provision of Article 68, paragraph 11 of the Law on Electronic Media and Article 22, paragraph 5 of the Rulebook on the Protection of Minors’ Rights in the Field of Media Services, both prior to broadcasting the video and for the period from the moment of public announcement of the decision of REM on the ban on further broadcasting of the video. In addition, the Protector of Citizens asked REM to inform him about whether and what measures it had taken against media service providers.

Pursuant to the Law on the Protector of Citizens, REM is given a period of 15 days to respond to the Protector of Citizens’ request.

The Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure will propose to the Government Amendments to the Law on Legalization of Facilities that will enable the owners of illegal facilities, for which the legalization procedure is being conducted, to connect to the infrastructure temporarily, until the final completion of the legalization procedure.

The Protector of Citizens believes that the purpose of the proposed Amendments of the provisions of the Law on Legalization of Facilities would be achieved by deleting the paragraph 2 from Article 41 from the Law on Legalization of Facilities proscribing the economic offence for a public company, public utility company or another legal entity, which connected the facility in the process of legalization to the network or infrastructure.

The proposed amendment to the Law will influence the protection of citizens' rights, an adequate standard of living and the establishment of uniform and equal position of citizens who are in the same legal situation.

When assessing the mentioned act submission, the Protector of Citizens had in mind the fact that this is a larger group of citizens, including particularly vulnerable groups, which pursuant to the Constitution and the Law enjoy special protection, such as the elderly and people with disabilities, children and pregnant women, the Initiative for Amendments to the Law on Legalization of Facilities reads.

Today, the Deputy Protector of Citizens for Child Rights and Gender Equality, Ms. Jelena Stojanović, called on the competent authorities and all public life participants to adopt a Code on Citizens’ Rights оnline, which would recommend the rules of conduct for participants in this area in order to protect the rights of citizens, especially children, from hate speech and discrimination on any grounds.

In addition, Deputy Stojanović has requested the Public Prosecutor’s Office for High Tech Crime to take actions within their competence in order to criminally prosecute the ones suspected of having committed the criminal offense of Racial and Other Discrimination under Article 387 of the Criminal Code.

“Online discriminatory behavior and statements, such as those addressed to Roma national minority children have to be sanctioned at once by competent authorities. Thus, I ask the Public Prosecutor's Office for High-Tech Crime to react urgently regarding the latest discrimination against Roma children on social networks”, Ms. Stojanovic said.

“Safeguarding child’s rights and best interest should be a priority not only in the competent authorities’ work, but also the society as a whole,” stated Stojanović and urged all participants in public communication to refrain from statements and behaviors that incite racial or any other discrimination.

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