The Committee on the Judiciary, Public Administration and Local Self-Government organized a public hearing on the Bill on Ascertaining the Facts about the Status of New-Borns Suspected to Have Gone Missing from Maternity Wards in the Republic of Serbia.
In addition to the members of the Committee on the Judiciary, Public Administration and Local Self-Government, Committee on the Rights of the Child and concerned MPs, the public hearing was also attended by representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Council of Europe Office in Belgrade, representative of the Department for the Execution of Judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, Deputy State Attorney and representative at the European Court of Human Rights, as well as representatives of the Association of Parents of Missing Babies of Serbia, Association of Parents of Missing Babies of Vojvodina, Association for the protection of the rights of parents who suspect their children were kidnapped from maternity wards and children seeking their biological parents “Missing Babies of Belgrade”, Association for Truth and Justice about the Babies and the Belgrade Group of Parents of Missing Babies.
The public hearing was opened by the Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and Speaker of the National Assembly Maja Gojkovic who said that the public hearing provides the MPs and representatives of relevant institutions and associations with the opportunity to help improve the text of the Bill handling this very sensitive and complex matter.
“I would like to take this opportunity to stress that the state wants to protect the rights of its citizens and face one of the most serious violation of human rights of the past, with due respect for the fate of these families”, said Gojkovic.
Gojkovic said that back in 2005 the National Assembly set up a board of inquiry to ascertain the truth about the new-born children missing from maternity wards in several cities in Serbia and added that the adoption of this bill has become an obligation for our country based on the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in 2013, in the proceedings of Zorica Jovanovic v. Serbia, aimed at ensuring that a mechanism is put in place to provide individual compensation to all parents. This issue is affecting a large number of individuals in our society in a very sensitive way, Gojkovic said, adding that she was aware that this topic was still a living source of debate and called for a responsible approach so that the conclusions of this public debate yield serious and realistic solutions.
Frederick Sundberg, Head of the Department for the Execution of Judgements of the European Court of Human Rights said that though the final ruling in the case of Zorica Jovanovic v. Serbia was passed in 2014 we still have no findings about the missing children. Resolving this issue requires good mechanisms and change of regulations concerning the future. This Bill is just the first step which should be followed by an investigation, however the latency of the Bill is not only Serbia’s problem, it Europe’s problem and it is up to the authorities to demonstrate commitment to European values and human rights. Sundberg said that the Committee of Ministers expects Serbia to set up investigative mechanisms which should have a decisive influence on strengthening an independent supervision over the databases and opined that the results of the consultations with the associations of parents are a vital practice which should be continued. He said that he would return to Strasbourg with indications that, at this moment, there are concrete prospects for the adoption of the Bill with amendments that might come from today’s public debate, despite the general dissatisfaction and non-execution of the judgement.
Assistant Minister of Justice Cedomir Backovic said that the Ministry was tasked with proposing a lex specialis to make sure the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights is executed, though it has no connection with the problem. He opined that the Bill is drafted in line with the normative profession, but the ultimate responsibility for its quality lies with the MPs as representatives of the citizens, since laws are adopted by the National Assembly.
“In the Bill before you, the Ministry of Justice started with the supposition that the relevant institutions would do their job right, if that is not the case then it is not up to the Ministry but to all of us here”, said Backovic.
Representatives of five parents’ associations took part in the public hearing, stating that after a great many years this was the first time they were taking part in a gathering of this kind and were given the opportunity to speak their mind and weigh in on the proposed Bill.
Vladimir Cicarevic of the Association of Parents of Missing Babies of Serbia asked that a law on stolen babies or lex specialis on child trafficking in Serbia be passed and that this Bill be withdrawn from procedure and all the relevant ministries talk with the associations of parents of missing children about a new bill. The theft of babies is the number one topic in Serbia and it is still going on, he said adding that he would not stop with the proposal to pass a lex specialis that will have no problem with retroactivity and criminal liability. Ana Pejic of the Association of Parents of Missing Babies of Vojvodina opined that the epilogue of the Bill would be that the children remain missing and no case is solved. The disputable provisions of the Bill are the way the status of the children and the compensation is determined, no legal remedy after the judgement and the way the DNA register is managed and concluded that the Bill can be the beginning of a solution but only with substantial amendment. On behalf of the Association for the protection of the rights of parents who suspect their children were kidnapped from maternity wards and children seeking their biological parents “Missing Babies of Belgrade” Milena Jankovic said that the adoption of the Bill is the beginning of resolving the issue through the institutions of the system, but that is not enough, and the Bill as it is now will not be the way to set up a mechanism to resolve the issue in any lasting manner. Her Association had submitted amendments to the parliamentary groups at the National Assembly, she said adding the biggest objection is the objective of the Bill. She asked the MPs to set up a working body comprising all the relevant factors to draft a new bill and find an acceptable solution both for the state and the parents. Radisa Pavlovic of the Association for Truth and Justice about the Babies said that Serbia is under a lot of pressure because EU countries are involved in the trafficking of the missing children from Serbia. He criticized the Bill’s failure to treat criminal liability and asked the National Assembly to make sure the Bill never makes it to the agenda. He accused the Serbian judiciary of corruption, stating that no judge can rule in these cases alone, they require collaboration with the police and parents. This association asked for the establishment of a special prosecutor’s office to deal with these cases. Mirjana Novokmet, President of the Belgrade Group of Parents of Missing Babies, said that the parents have for 17 years been asking questions which have remained unanswered and opined that this Bill was unacceptable for the parents especially since it was drafted with no public debate or taking the parents’ proposals into consideration. She asked for an investigation of the missing children’s case, with special authorizations, because the existing Bill does not investigate what happened with them.
MPs Dr Aleksandra Jerkov, Tatjana Macura, Sonja Pavlovic, Gorica Gajic, Dr Muamer Zukorlic, Natasa Mihailovic Vacic, Committee Chairman Petar Patrovic and Goran Bjelovic of the Belgrade Faculty of Medicine also took part in the discussion.