23 February 2022
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of Serbia, commending the State on its almost universal health care system and asking about its progress in preventing forced labour and protecting human rights defenders.
A Committee Expert commended the health care system in Serbia, which was almost universal, but noted that there were issues concerning the financial stability of the system, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another Expert said that an area of concern was forced labour, reminding the Government of the duty to protect the labour market from human rights abuses. The mining sector remained an area of concern. On human rights defenders, a Committee Expert said that despite major improvements since the wars of the 1990s, their situation still remained difficult. It was reported that human rights defenders in Serbia operated in a hostile environment and regularly received online harassment and direct attacks. What was being done to better protect human rights defenders, especially those defending vulnerable groups?
The delegation said that the health care system was funded by an annual budget from the Government. In response to the pandemic, funds had been reallocated for crisis purposes and for providing priority health services for COVID patients. On forced labour, the delegation said that recipients of social welfare were not required to participate in unpaid labour but could participate in work experience voluntarily. However, some social work centres had misinterpreted these rules.
On human rights defenders, Gordana Čomić, Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue of Serbia and Head of Delegation, said that a strategy for the protection of human rights defenders had been drafted, aiming to deal with all the difficulties. Mechanisms would be insured using an inclusive process.
In presenting the report, Ms. Čomić said that Serbia was committed to strengthening the democratic society, which included respect of human and minority rights, paying special attention to promoting the rule of law and protecting human rights. Serbia paid great attention to improving the institutional framework.
In terms of legislative activity, many laws had been adopted. The Government’s Work Plan for 2022 envisaged ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.
The delegation of Serbia was comprised of representatives of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technological Development; the Ministry of Family Welfare and Demography; the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs; the Police Directorate; the Permanent Representative of Serbia to the United Nations Office at Geneva; the Acting Assistant Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue; the Deputy Commissioner for Refugees and Migration; the Assistant Director of the Police; and the Assistant Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija.
In concluding remarks, Michael Windfuhr, Committee Expert, thanked the delegation for its detailed and direct answers, and for pointing out the institutions that it intended to strengthen. He was glad that the State party planned to ratify the Optional Protocol of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Ms. Čomić expressed thanks for the Committee’s interest regarding the pursuit of economic, social and cultural rights in Serbia, and stated her hope that measures in place and future measures discussed would help to improve the economic, social and cultural rights of Serbian citizens.
Mohammed Ezzeldin Abdel-Moneim, Chair of the Committee, stressed that economic, cultural, and cultural rights were important human rights, and called on Serbia to uphold their importance.
The Committee will next meet at 11 a.m. on Thursday, 24 February, to conclude its consideration of the third periodic report of Uzbekistan (E/C.12/UZB/3).
The Committee has before it the third periodic report of Serbia (E/C.12/SRB/3).
Presentation of Report
GORDANA ČOMIĆ, Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue of Serbia and Head of Delegation, said that Serbia was committed to strengthening the democratic society, which included respect of human and minority rights, paying special attention to promoting the rule of law and protecting human rights. Although Kosovo and Metohija were an integral part of the territory of Serbia, Serbia was not able to monitor the implementation of the Covenant there as they were under the management of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. Serbia paid great attention to improving the institutional framework, and had established, among others, the Council for National Minorities, in order to achieve full inclusion of all minorities; a coordination body to improve the social inclusion of Roma men and women; and a National Contact Person for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Issues. In terms of legislative activity, Ms. Čomić said many laws had been adopted, including a law on gender equality and amendments to the law on the prohibition of discrimination. The Government’s Work Plan for 2022 envisaged ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Covenant. Strategies had been adopted regarding violence against children, gender-based violence against women and domestic violence, gender equality, and developing a stimulating environment for civil society.
Serbia aimed to maintain macroeconomic stability and activities aimed at creating new jobs, increasing the minimum wage, and reforming the system of social benefits. The share of public expenditure for social aid, benefits and transfers was 14.8 per cent; the 2.9 per cent expenditure on social aid alone was insufficient. Following the outbreak of the pandemic and the introduction of a state of emergency in the country, social aid was automatically extended to beneficiaries whose rights expired during the first wave of the crisis. Local governments distributed aid packages, and humanitarian aid was provided to a number of Roma settlements with assistance from the United Nations Children’s Fund. Ms. Čomić said that Serbia managed migrations in accordance with human rights standards and commitments, providing basic conditions for all migrants, regardless of their status, for living, accommodation, food, hygiene and clothes. Emergency health care was provided to everyone, as well as protection in connection with childbirth and motherhood. Refugees and asylum seekers had the right to work, health and social protection, and support in integration, with special attention paid to the protection of children.
The results of the reform of the education system in Serbia had contributed to a reduction in the number of students with disabilities who were educated in special schools for students with disabilities. There were also continuous support measures in the education of Roma children and students. On the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, an online debate on the art of resistance to the pandemic, and on ways to deal with the consequences of the pandemic in the cultural sector, had been held. Financial aid was paid to independent artists, and cultural experts by the Ministry of Culture and Information as a result of the pandemic.
Ms. Čomić concluded by emphasising that Serbia was aware of the existing challenges and remained consistent in its efforts to reach standards in terms of improving the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights of citizens.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert noted that the economic, social and cultural situation of Serbia had been influenced by the pandemic and asked about the plans for training judicial institutions on economic, social and cultural rights, particularly those dealing with vulnerable groups. As for the office of the ombudsmen, the majority of cases concerned economic, social and cultural rights. The institution lacked funds and had limited office space and the Expert asked if there were plans to increase the budget and the office space? The Committee Expert asked about human rights defenders, saying that despite major improvements since the wars of the 1990s, their situation still remained difficult. It was reported that human rights defenders in Serbia operated in a hostile environment and regularly received online harassment and direct attacks. What was being done to better protect human rights defenders, especially those defending vulnerable groups? Were the cases of harassment being investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted?
The topic of free legal aid was raised, with the Committee Expert asking if there had been an evaluation of the law for legal aid for its designated group, and if it was available to stateless people. Would an information campaign be developed on this aid and its access? The Committee Expert expressed concern that civil society involvement was lacking in strategies, including the national housing strategy and the Roma national strategy, asking how this would be overcome. Several reports had been received that the strategies adopted under COVID had affected the most marginalised Serbians disproportionately, including Roma, people with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Had the State party evaluated the COVID-19 measures? Were they proportionate and did they take the rights of the most vulnerable population into account?
The Committee Expert said that an area of concern was forced labour, reminding the Government of the duty to protect the labour market from human rights abuses. The mining sector remained an area of concern. Given the huge amount of mining projects in Serbia, how would the Government increase the number of mining inspectors? It was noted that while the legal framework of fighting corruption was in place, it was not fully integrated in practice. The Committee Expert said that public budget cuts had been implemented, which had affected the most vulnerable population. Pensions had also been reduced. It was reported that Serbia’s COVID responses packages were often redirected to the military and other activities; could the State party elaborate on this?
The Committee Expert recognised that a new law and national policies had been adopted, recognising groups which needed attention, including people living with disabilities. What were the key priorities in this area? Serbia had been taking steps to counter discrimination against minorities; however, the Roma group remained the most vulnerable, with a high risk of forced marriage. What measures were being taken to make sure the strategy for social inclusion was implemented, and the Roma people were being looked after? What was being planned to assist internally displaced people with their identity and birth registration and access to economic, social and cultural rights? The Committee Expert noted that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people faced many challenges and a law allowing gay unions was not yet implemented. Could an update be provided on this? How would the Government ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence were prosecuted?
Responses by the Delegation
GORDANA ČOMIĆ, Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue of Serbia and Head of Delegation, said a plan for gender equality would be adopted shortly. The draft law for human rights included the establishment of institutions to ensure gender equality existed in Serbia. Legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people had been drafted; however, the President had said he would not sign something that was not in the Constitution. The number of attacks in this area was not available, but the Ministry had done a lot of work to reduce the number of attacks. A strategy for the protection of human rights defenders had been drafted, aiming to deal with all the difficulties. Mechanisms would be insured using an inclusive process. Civil society development strategies were being developed. Ms. Čomić said there was a problem with founding institutional dialogue. Civil society was a necessary pillar for democracy and Serbia needed to create a society where non-governmental organizations could actively participate.
The delegation said the public housing strategy had been in process for the last 20 years. A new draft strategy with amendments provided by civil society organizations was available online. Regarding accessibility to public institutions, a programme had been implemented, strengthening capacities in Serbia. Over 40,000 Roma people were living in substandard settlements and they made up the poorest and most vulnerable part of the population of Serbia. The United Nations was urged to assist Serbia in this respect? In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional number of staff in social welfare institutions had been hired. In 2020, there were around 4,000 people with disabilities housed by social welfare, with the largest number living in communities and with their families. An action plan was being drafted which would outline the strategy relating to people with disabilities, with the goal being to have the largest number of people with disabilities included in the community. The social welfare budget had been reduced and was insufficient to direct funds to the poorest categories.
The delegation responded to questions on training of public prosecutors and judges, saying this was included in the action plan for 2023. A number of training courses were occurring on a daily basis. Regarding the law on free legal aid, people had rights to legal aid, regardless of their citizenship, including persons under mandatory psychological treatment, children whose rights were decided by the courts, people who had protection under domestic and human trafficking, people seeking asylum in Serbia and refugees, and others.
As for internally displaced persons, over 200,000 people had been received over 20 years. Many of these people were needy, with no housing arranged and no income. This situation was unsupported in Serbia as all the collective centres had now been closed by the State. Intensive work remained on resolving the housing issues for internally displaced persons. In terms of reception centres for migrants, they were all open and the army was not present in a single centre. All centres regardless of status were available to cater to migrants’ needs, with support from the European Union. The capacities of the staff were being developed through professional development training.
The law on asylum was adopted in 2018 and was aligned with the European Union directives that regulated the field. Every foreigner seeking to cross the border would be registered and referred to the asylum centre. In collaboration with the European agency for asylum, training and processes for access to asylum were being developed. The law stated that persons had 15 days to submit an application for asylum; however, missing the deadline did not prevent the asylum procedure. When it came to deadlines for decision making on granting asylum, these were short, taking around three months which could be extended in specific circumstances. The extensions often occurred in certain categories of vulnerable persons.
Ms. Čomić responded to the questions on mining, saying that the Government had cancelled the regulation enabling the exploitation of lithium a few weeks ago, doing their best to rectify 80 years of mistakes. It was important to Serbia to decide what was best for the future and to harmonise a green agenda; this was a solid conviction of the Government. Ms. Čomić said that measures of aid had social value, not just material value, as people received money addressed to them in their own bank account, making them feel visible. She noted that while all measures within socio-economic plans were not good, there was also the need to look at the social added value brought on by a purely financial measure.
Follow-up Question by a Committee Expert
A Committee Expert said that the Committee had been informed that the Optional Protocol would be ratified, asking about the process and the time frame.
Responses by the Delegation
GORDANA ČOMIĆ, Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue of Serbia and Head of Delegation, said that the Government had included ratification of the Optional Protocol in its plan for 2022 and this was envisaged for the second quarter this year. The entire process should be completed by the end of 2022.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked the State party about access to formal employment for hard to employ persons. Could the State party clarify the process of deciding who belonged to the category of hard to employ persons? How was the State party planning to enhance the sustainability of this policy? What types of employers, public or private, were mandated to employ these people? How secure was the employment? Could the State party provide information on the consultative process on vulnerable groups? Roma people continued to be in vulnerable situations. The Committee Expert said that it would be helpful to obtain clarification from the State party on the number of Roma people who had jobs in the mainstream market. On persons with disabilities, what was the total number of people with disabilities in Serbia? Was current data available on persons with disabilities who were employed? What was the status of reasonable accommodation? Were statistics available on redundancies and people with disabilities?
The Committee Expert asked about the Labour Law and the rationale behind it. The pandemic had triggered a number of concerns for the Committee on just and favourable work. How did the State party provide protection to frontline workers? Was the Serbian Government planning to adopt special measures on employment for vulnerable groups? Could the State party provide the total number of labour inspectors and the misdemeanours and penalties which had been handed out in response to violations. The current scope of labour inspections was limited. Was there a plan or policy to extend the scope to cover all areas of work? Could the Committee provide information on the role of inspectors on preventing human trafficking? A centre for trafficking victims had been established – how had the inspectors coordinated with the centre?
The Committee Expert asked the State party to update whether a new law protecting the right to strike had been passed. Had the State party embarked on a new economic reform programme? The Committee Expert noted concern about the informal sector, saying that migrant workers were often part of the informal sector and did not receive any legal benefits. How would the State party respond to these alarming issues? What had been the impact of COVID-19 on the Serbian economy? What was the current budget allocated for social benefits? Were some groups excluded from these benefits, such as Roma?
Responses by the Delegation
GORDANA ČOMIĆ, Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue of Serbia and Head of Delegation, said that reliable data on the Roma community would be available in April. There was data available from the census, but it was incomplete. Employers were not allowed to ask about ethnicity, so there was no complete data available on Roma in the workplace. The Action Plan for Minorities was being drafted.
The delegation stated that the employment policy was highly prioritised. The results of the National Strategy on Employment for 2011-2021 had been analysed and a mid-term report had been released. Women made up 53 per cent of people in active employment in 2011, and this rose to 56 per cent in 2019. Two per cent of people in active employment were members of the Roma community in 2011, and this rose to five per cent in 2019, as a result of Government support measures. Benefits were provided to employers who employed people under 30, elderly people, members of the Roma community and low-skilled people. Training and support in finding work was provided to unemployed persons, and financial support was also provided to self-employed persons and employers of people with disabilities.
Co-financing employment policies with local governments had had very positive results in tackling unemployment. There were 107 requests for co-financed measures in 2020, and support was offered to local Governments to fully finance such policies.
Three main goals for improving the employment sector had been set, including improving the position of unemployed people from disadvantaged groups. On 31 November 2021, there were 28,254 Roma persons registered as unemployed. The Government was working to improve the socio-economic position of the Roma.
Toward the end of 2020, there were over 19,000 persons with disabilities registered as being unemployed, including 8,000 women. Measures were in place to support disabled persons to find employment.
Two reports on the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market showed that there had been little impact of the pandemic on jobs due to Government support, and in fact the labour market had improved as fewer young people entered the labour market. However, women had had more difficulties during the pandemic.
The programme “My First Salary” was established to enable young people with secondary education degrees to gain additional skills and experience through apprenticeships. Members of the programme received financial aid and insurance. Over 8,000 people were included in the programme in 2021.
The Law on Professional Rehabilitation would be amended to address issues concerning working capacity, and to consider special forms of employment. Under the Law on Employment of Persons with Disabilities, employees were entitled to test their working capacities. Each year, the number of people who assessed their working capacities was rising. In February 2021, a five-year employment strategy and a three-year action plan to improve employment legislation had been enacted.
Public service employee salaries were regulated by State legislation, and there was no difference between the wage entitlements of men and women. Equal pay was provided for equal work. The Labour Law specified that any agreement in which men were paid more for work than women would be null and void; affected parties could lodge complaints.
In 2021, the minimum wage was 183.93 dinars, an increase of 6 per cent compared to 2020, and this had increased by a further 9 per cent in 2022 to 212 dinars. Minimum wage was determined by the Socioeconomic Council after 15 days of negotiations. A range of parameters were analysed to determine the minimum wage, including the consumer’s basket, the employment market, and average salaries. If any of these parameters changed, the Council was obliged to review and revise the minimum wage on an annual basis. The minimum wage was applicable to all employees regardless of sector. The role of the National Agency for Mediation and Peaceful Resolution of Labour Disputes in governing labour disputes was expanded in 2018. The Agency had resolved more than 20,000 labour disputes, including 5,933 procedures related to failure to pay wages or benefits. Employers were obliged to submit reasoning for not paying salaries to employees to the Agency.
An “employee” according to the Labour Law was a natural person with a labour contract, and all provisions in the Labour Law related to employees. The State was considering extending this definition.
On the draft law on the right to strike, the delegation stated that a working group had assessed it and a public hearing had been conducted in order to align opinions. Many of the proposals from trade unions were accepted. The law would be equally applicable to both private and public sectors. The draft law was also submitted to the International Labour Organization for assessment related to international standards. Under the new law, the minimum labour process would be established in conjunction with an organized trade union in agreement with employees and employers, and employees had the right to challenge their minimum labour process. The draft law also required that records be kept on strikes.
The delegation further stated that simplified work agreements allowed for seasonal work in the agricultural industry, providing employees with basic labour rights and insurance, including the right to be paid the minimum wage, the right to a pension, and the right to disability insurance. The payment for unemployment was still provided for seasonal employment. This was applicable to foreign citizens as well as domestic citizens. There were 311 employers and over 60,000 seasonal workers, including only three foreign workers in 2019, and in 2021, there were 405 employers engaging over 70,000 seasonal workers, including 192 foreign workers. There were 146 seasonal workers found in inspections who were not registered, and these were all Serbian citizens. Most seasonal workers were unemployed and over the age of 60. This law enabled the protection of the rights of seasonal workers.
The Inspectorate within the Labour Ministry conducted inspections related to various discrimination laws, including employment of foreigners, disabled persons, and women. Technical measures related to health and safety were also inspected. The Inspectorate had 269 inspectors, and there were plans to increase this number by 40. Inspectors had conducted over 60,000 inspections in 2021, with over 3,000 people found to have been working without a contract and given formal contracts. Seventy-five criminal charges were brought against employers for health and safety reasons. These inspections focused on reducing the spread of diseases, including COVID-19, ordering measures to be implemented within businesses to prevent the spread of diseases. Ninety-three per cent of inspections were carried out unannounced. The Inspectorate also worked to uncover and prevent illegal employment.
A hotline was also established for reporting inappropriate payment related to maternity leave, and the Inspectorate published a list of employers that did not provide appropriate provisions to mothers.
Further, the Inspectorate worked to prevent child labour. Ten children had been identified as being employed illegally, and six of these children had been given formal contracts with the permission of their careers. In 2020, the Inspectorate implemented measures to identify and prevent child labour.
Social welfare institutions were required to report on COVID-19 cases. Help and aid was distributed to members of the Roma community, and an agreement was signed with the Red Cross to provide foodstuffs and supplies to disadvantaged children. Pensioners and beneficiaries of social welfare were provided with financial support, and protective equipment was supplied to institutions. Since December 2020, a free vaccination programme had been carried out. Technical equipment was distributed to disadvantaged children and elderly people, and training was provided to these people. A hotline was also set up regarding Government support related to COVID-19.
The number of persons living below the poverty threshold had been reduced during the pandemic due to Government support measures. The Government aimed to increase the social welfare budget, which had not been adequate for supporting disadvantaged families during the pandemic. Financial benefits for children and vulnerable groups had an important role in reducing poverty. A social ID register was being planned to identify people in need and provide support effectively. The register would also allow beneficiaries to obtain social welfare more easily. Foreign citizens and stateless persons, as well as persons seeking asylum, could also apply for social benefits. Children seeking asylum could also apply for benefits.
Recipients of social welfare were not required to participate in unpaid labour but could participate in work experience voluntarily. However, some social work centres had misinterpreted these rules. Measures were in place to support the inclusion of recipients of social benefits in society.
There were also efforts being made to reform the Law on Social Protection, and reform had been made to the Law on Social Benefits for Children. Support had been provided for children with disabilities through this law, regardless of their social status. Pre-school education costs for children with disabilities was provided under this law.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert thanked the delegation for the detailed information provided and expressed hope that further disaggregated data could be obtained through the social ID scheme.
On human trafficking, the Expert noted the progress made in the State report on the establishment of the National Coordinator for Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings in 2017. However, the Expert noted that the Centre for the Protection of Human Trafficking Victims was understaffed, with five staff members handling 83 cases in 2018. What was the State party’s policy on providing resources for the Centre? Further, what was the State party’s policy on providing resources and support to victims of trafficking?
The Expert welcomed that Serbia had set up the Council for the Suppression of Domestic Violence in 2017 to monitor the implementation of the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence. The Expert noted, however, that domestic violence cases had increased during the pandemic worldwide. What were the implications of the pandemic on domestic violence cases in Serbia? How many social protection organizations were working on the issue, and what was the budget that they had been allocated? Was there a training programme in place for judges and judicial personnel regarding domestic violence?
The Expert noted that 2021 amendments to the Law on Financial Assistance to Families with Children had addressed some of the points raised by the Committee. However, the Expert raised concerns about the lack of assistance provided to Roma children and children of foreigners. What were the State party’s plans to address this?
Further, the Expert asked about progress made since the 2017 concluding remarks of the Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding the provision of care and guardianship protection to unaccompanied and separated children. Had the decision-making procedure regarding the granting of asylum been standardised?
Finally, the Expert noted that child marriage was prevalent among Roma girls. What progress had the State party made in terms of legislation, policies and practices that mitigated child marriage, especially for the Roma population.
Another Expert noted that Serbia had a high poverty rate (around 25 per cent) considering its high income. The Expert asked about the results of the poverty reduction strategy in the country. Further, the Expert noted that the tax system lacked progressivity, and taxes for high income earners were too low. What was being done about this?
What was being done to support specific groups such as Roma and persons with disabilities? What housing support was being provided to these groups? The Expert noted that the statistics that the State party had provided were not sufficient. Forced evictions had been made without following international standards. What was being done to comply with international standards regarding forced evictions?
The Expert commended the health care system in Serbia, which was almost universal, but noted that there were issues concerning the financial stability of the system. There were also disparities in access to health based on income. What measures were in place to support the financial stability of health care and ensure equal access.
Further, the Expert noted that institutionalisation and consent were issues for mental health patients. What measures were in place to support the deinstitutionalisation of mental health patients? Finally, the Expert noted that harmful drug use was criminalised in Serbia, and that harm reduction programmes had been made smaller. Did the State plan to revise its drug policy and decriminalise drug use, and increase its support for harm reduction programmes?
A Committee Expert asked about the effects that COVID-19 prevention measures had had on limiting citizens’ enjoyment of human rights, particularly the right to education. How had measures affected the Roma community? What was being done to prevent school dropouts?
Serbia’s responses to the list of issues (paragraph 109) indicated that the quality of education had improved in Serbia. The Expert welcomed this but asked how the quality of education was measured.
Around 2.9 per cent of the school-age population were outside of the education system. What was the reason for this?
The number of Roma children accessing pre-primary education was significantly lower than that of the general population and access to higher and university education was again much lower. What were the causes of the insufficient results and what additional measures would be taken to improve the results?
There was a shortage in the number of teachers able to serve children with disabilities. What programmes were in place to correct this situation?
There was also a significant number of youths in prisons who did not have access to secondary education or, where appropriate, primary education. What measures were in place to ensure and promote education in the country’s prisons?
On cultural rights, the Expert asked the delegation to clarify the meaning of the “unity of the cultural space”, which the delegation expressed as a principle it intended to uphold. How was this principle compatible with cultural diversity?
How did councils of national minorities work in practice to uphold the minority cultural policy? A 2020 report from the Citizen Ombudsman found that councils made limited use of the resources available to them. Why was this?
International statistics indicated that the vaccination rate against COVID-19 was at 50 per cent, in comparison to the 60 per cent figure given by the State party. What was the reason for this discrepancy? Was the Government working to provide the population with information on vaccinations based on verified scientific information and protecting against misinformation?
Responses by the Delegation
Two social dialogues on mental health had been held, and further dialogues would be held to remove the stigma related to mental health. Bulgarian minorities had been included in the drafting of an action plan toward supporting the human rights of minorities.
Serbia tried to make timely responses to all forms of violence, and had a zero-tolerance policy, especially regarding violence against children. The Council for Children’s Rights initiated policy regarding children’s rights. It also examined the effects of measures taken and the protection of children. In 2021, the Council had drafted a new Family Law to prevent underage marriages and ban corporal punishment. The State planned to adopt the law this year. In the law, child marriages were considered to be a form of violence against children.
Awareness raising campaigns were also conducted to prevent child labour, and the State had provided guidance to social welfare organizations regarding protection against child labour. The State had established a platform for protecting children against violence and providing timely responses. This platform would submit reports on children’s rights to organizations working to protect children. Foreign nationals with permanent residency were entitled to social support for up to four children.
There were 10 licenced safehouses for female victims of violence. Serbia had adopted a 2021-2025 strategy for preventing domestic and other forms of violence against women. In 2021, there were 2,681 calls to the domestic violence hotline. The social welfare centre provided legal and financial aid to victims of violence.
The level of poverty fell from 24.3 per cent in 2018 to 21.7 per cent in 2020. In 2015, during the height of the migrant crisis, the Serbian Government passed instructions to social welfare institutions regarding their work with migrant children, and workshops had also been carried out.
There were 23,218 new medics hired full-time between 2014 and 2020. Some 4,297 new medical professionals were recruited in 2021. Under COVID measures, new medics could be hired without the Government’s approval. The health care system was funded by an annual budget from the Government. In response to the pandemic, funds had been reallocated for crisis purposes and for providing priority health services for COVID patients.
Health care services were provided for all insured citizens without division between the affluent and the poor, and the Government planned to expand these services in both private and public practices, aiming to reduce waiting lists and improve the quality of services. Roma community members and other vulnerable groups were beneficiaries of health care services. The health care system worked on the basis of fairness and equal access for all.
Serbia had medium development with regards to contraceptive devices and reproductive health. A national action plan was in place to promote reproductive health, raise awareness, and support family planning. Contraception was made available on prescription.
Psychiatric hospitals were being developed to provide better support to people with mental disabilities. There was also a programme in place to support the rehabilitation of drug users into the society.
The COVID situation had impacted citizens’ right to education. The Ministry of Education had successfully organized distance education in Serbian and eight minority languages within a few days after the announcement of the state of emergency. At the current time, classes were provided in schools with appropriate prevention measures, such as masks, in place.
The Government had provided more the 5,000 information technology pieces for disadvantaged students. During the time when online teaching was provided, 99.28 per cent of students were covered by distance education, including over 96 per cent of people with disabilities. Online classes were also provided through television broadcast for students who did not have Internet access. The “Closing the Digital Gap” project supported vulnerable children, providing technology to schools with Roma students and training for teachers. Statistical data showed the improvement of the quality of the education system: quality, relevance and coverage. The PISA assessment showed that the Serbia education system was more righteous for girls and vulnerable children, shown by results in science.
The delegation welcomed the Committee’s recommendations regarding measures for supporting the Roma population. The State issued scholarships and carried out support programmes for Roma children, and the delegation expressed hope that Roma children’s educational statistics would improve in time.
Affirmative measures were in place for students with disabilities, including adaption of final examinations to the educational needs of each student. The Early Education and Care project, carried out since 2016, established free spaces within the pre-school education system, and the curricula were being reformed to make pre-school more child-centred, inclusive and holistic. There were lower numbers of Roma children in pre-school, but this project was working to increase the number of Roma children in pre-school. Every child had the right to formal primary and secondary school education free of charge, and an intensive Serbian language course was provided for migrant children free of charge.
The delegation stated that in one institution, there was 142 incarcerated adults enrolled in primary or secondary education, as well as vocational education and training. The delegation asked for the Committee’s sources regarding the number of young people in prisons.
The Ministry of Cultural Information was implementing all provisions of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Convention, and was fully committed to achieving its goals. To protect cultural diversity, the State had preserved cultural heritage, held cultural productions, and financed projects with the aim of improving cultural expression. The Ministry had provided minority councils with training in cultural promotion. For example, there were affirmative action measures aimed to preserve Bulgarian culture held in coordination with the Bulgarian minority council.
Disinfectant packages were distributed to individuals living in social housing during the COVID pandemic. Individuals were required to report on social housing conditions, such as members of the Roma community. Private investors provided support for social housing in Belgrade only.
Refugees were provided with identification documents on the condition that they had a registered address. These allowed refugees to access all of their rights wherever they were living temporarily.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
An Expert expressed thanks to the delegation for answering the Committee’s questions directly. Further, the Expert encouraged the State party to work on the content of general comment 25 on science and economic, social and cultural rights, saying that it would help to refine the State party’s provisions.
Another Expert asked about the independence of the judiciary, noting that the recent reform was not enough to ensure the independence of prosecutors. What was being done to ensure this independence?
What measures were being taken to address the disparity in labour participation between men and women?
Another Expert noted the lack of data provided, expressing hope that the social ID would help to improve data collection. The Expert asked for more information about this scheme.
The Expert also expressed concern about the adequacy of resources allocated to prevent trafficking and asked for more information about their effectiveness.
Further, the Expert asked about the social safety net for pre-school education for Roma children and other disadvantaged children.
Another Expert asked what the most important challenges were and the lessons learned by the State party through providing education during the pandemic, especially through providing education to disadvantaged groups.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation replied that it would do what it could to improve statistics in the future.
On gender equality in the workforce, the delegation stated that the less-represented gender had to have at least 40 per cent participation in all sectors. It was a challenge to increase the participation of men in some sectors as well as women in others.
The State had asked civil society groups to provide input regarding reform of legislation.
Regarding vaccination, the State was working to promote vaccination and fight fake news, doing everything in its power to provide correct and verified information. It was also working to provide vaccinations to disadvantaged groups and protect the health of the populace.
The Government was working together to improve and digitalise data collection, through the construction of online platforms.
From the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government had learned that vulnerable people were made more vulnerable in crises, and that new teaching and learning techniques were required to provide quality education and protect human rights. Further, the Government had found that the crisis had accelerated the digitisation of the education system and the community.
MICHAEL WINDFUHR, Committee Expert, thanked the delegation for the detailed and direct answers, and for pointing out the institutions that Serbia intended to strengthen. He encouraged the State party to continue with its commitment to protecting the rights of disadvantaged groups. He was glad that the State party planned to ratify the Optional Protocol. Mr. Windfuhr called on the State party to communicate its plans to Serbian citizens.
GORDANA ČOMIĆ, Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue of Serbia and Head of Delegation, expressed thanks for the Committee’s interest regarding the pursuit of economic, social and cultural rights in Serbia. She noted that missing answers to questions would be submitted in writing. She expressed hope that measures in place and future measures discussed would help to improve the economic, social and cultural rights of Serbian citizens. She hoped that the Committee would maintain its dialogue with the Serbian delegation so that its goals of strengthening economic, social and cultural rights could be achieved.
MOHAMMED EZZELDIN ABDEL-MONEIM, Chair of the Committee, expressed nostalgia regarding Belgrade, recalling the Non-Aligned Movement triggered in 1961. This movement, he said, had greatly influenced the work of the United Nations. He stressed that economic, social and cultural rights were important human rights, and called on Serbia to uphold their importance. The State party delegation had shown that it was more than qualified and capable of implementing measures and protections to uphold those rights.
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