The ‘invisible people’ of Serbia

The ‘invisible people’ of Serbia

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There are over 20,000 people under guardianship in Serbia. But the issue of securing the right to be recognised as a person before the law of people with disability is rising on the political agenda. But there is still much to do, writes Biljana Janjic of Mental Disability Rights International – Serbia (MDRI-S).

Do you know that over 20,000 people are put under guardianship in Serbia and that every single year more than 3,000 are deprived of their basic rights and power to make their own decisions? Beside the very restrictive legal system, the practice makes persons with disabilities even more vulnerable to abuse and ill-treatment, using their vulnerability to deprive them of all their basic rights.

The issue of legal capacity is moving higher on the agenda of public interest in Serbia. Important Serbian multimedia portal “Pescanik” has dedicated the whole section to this topic – People who disappear with “author texts, laws, videos and audios about finding the ways to make people with disabilities visible, especially those who are deprived of legal capacity and who live among us but in the status of civil death.” Pescanik supports disability rights advocates to improve understanding of the importance of legal capacity for persons with disabilities.

On April 6, 2015, “Pescanik” organized a round table discussion on this topic with the leading role of PERSON partners in Serbia and relevant experts. The speakers highlighted the most relevant human right abuses in the cases of legal capacity deprivations and called for the changes of the practice and legislation in Serbia in accordance with the international standards.

Although data are not reliable, the reports show that over 20,000 persons were under guardianship in 2012, with the 20% increase in comparison to 2011. Ms Kosana Beker, Assistant to the Commissioner for Protection of Equality emphasized “a worrisome increase in deprivations of legal capacity in Serbia” and said that the reasons for legal capacity deprivation were usually mental or psychosocial disability thus constituting discrimination on the grounds of disability. Although the Serbian law defined some less restrictive measures, they had not been used in practice as stated by Ms Dragana Ciric Milovanovic, Executive director of MDRI-S. Even if the court makes a decision on partial legal capacity deprivation, the areas in which a person can make independent decisions is not listed or elaborated, which practically leaves a person without possibility to exercise his/her legal capacity. The flaws in the procedure and abuses by the guardianship authority were also discussed by Ms Kristina Todorovic from the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM), who represents persons with disabilities at the court in sustaining or reinstating their legal capacity. The insight into the cases shows that the center for social work initiates the proceedings when a person comes to ask for financial support or when the center employees “recognize a person has a mental disability.”

Guardianship has usually been falsely portrayed to families as a protection measure. As Jelena Mihajlovic Markovic, an advocate and a mother of a young man with autism said that she thought she had no other choice when her son turned 18. “At that point, I did not know about the consequences of legal capacity deprivation, nor they were explained to us by the center for social work.” When they realized that Misa has been deprived of all fundamental rights, the family has been trying to restore his legal capacity.

The information from the round-table was published in different national media. In addition, many people address MDRI-S for help, which shows that the PERSON project gives visible results in information sharing, but also in providing direct support to persons at risk of losing legal capacity.

The whole conference in Serbian language can be watched at Media center website.

 

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This document has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of PERSON (Partnership to Ensure Reforms of Supports in Other Nations) and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.