Serbia’s institutions fail to protect women from violence

So far this year, 16 Serbian women have been killed by violent partners.

Omissions by Serbia’s state institutions in cases of violence against women, primarily a lack of exchange of information, increase the number of death, according to the findings of Ombudsman Saša Janković. 

The data published by the NGO Women Against Violence Network, every year between 30 and 40 women are killed in Serbia. This year has brought no improvement, with 16 killed so far.

Improving the framework for suppressing violence against women is one of the criteria in Serbia’s EU membership negotiations.

On 28 July, Janković presented the results of control procedures in 14 cases of murder of women, and in as many as 12 cases found errors in the work of the state bodies prior to the murders.

“That does not mean that anyone but the murderer is guilty of someone’s death, but had those omissions not occurred, the probability of a fatal outcome would have been lower,” Janković told a conference in Belgrade on the role and responsibility of the executive government in cases of violence against women.

He said that one of the most frequent problems was the fact that the police, social centres and health care institutions did not exchange information, some of which was vital to the victim’s protection.

“In 12 of the 14 cases, the competent bodies were aware of the violence against women, but failed to take timely measures prescribed by the law or failed to do anything at all,” said Janković.

In his words, it is not always checked whether the individual reported for committing violence owns a weapon. The victim is often told to lead proceedings on her own, while the violence is qualified as a family problem and a marital conflict, as a result of which the case is not investigated and the victims are not given aid.

The ombudsman from January 2013 and June 2014 conducted research that revealed the police in the given period filed 5,352 criminal reports, 4,399 of which pertained to violence against women. In 71% of the cases, the reports ended with an oral warning to the perpetrators.

Just 25% of the criminal reports reach the stage of charges, with the sentence in two thirds of cases being probation.

Janković recalled the existence of documents regulating measures to be taken in cases of violence against women, namely General Protocol of Cooperation and proceedings of institutions, bodies and organisations in situations of violence against women in family and partner relationships, enacted in 2011, as well as the Ministry of Health’s Special Protocol for the Protection of Women, dated to 2010.

Janković said that the consistent implementation of all regulations and procedures for the protection of victims, the introduction of concrete responsibility for negligence in the competent bodies and services and the provision of conditions for the bodies’ work, as well as the additional advancement of legislation based on experience from the implementation of existing regulations, are all key conditions for improving the situation.

“On 27 July, based on the findings and the latest 12 cases, recommendations were given to the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy, Ministry of Health and the Provincial Secretariat for Social Policy, Demography and Gender Equality,” he said.

The problem was also recognised in Brussels, hence the EU has made the improvement of the framework for curbing violence against women one of the criteria for progress in the accession talks, in Chapter 23 on fundamental rights. Serbia is being asked to enact a new National Strategy and Action Plan for the prevention and suppression of violence against women in families and partner relationships, as well as to build the institutional capacity to actually implement these strategies.

The NGO Women against Violence Network points out that the number of murders and cases of violence is also affected by cultural patterns and the legacy of the wars of the 1990s. A lack of reaction from the community, the treatment of abuse as an insignificant act, patriarchal behavioural models, as well as the prevalence of weapons and violence as the heritage of the wars, are some of the elements listed by the network following the latest dramatic murder case in early July. A woman who had been in the process of divorcing her husband was found dead in the small town of Žitište, along with her female friend and three men, and more than 20 people were wounded.

Autonomous Women’s Centre representative Tanja Ignjatović announced that the Women Against Violence Network would submit a petition to the Serbian parliament to proclaim 18 May a day of remembrance for murdered women.

She said that the loss of the murdered women was irreparable, adding that the problem of violence against women was “deep, systemic and always the same,” which was why the entire system had to change, instead of reactions in individual cases.

“There are laws and protocols, but they are not being implemented,” said Ignjatović, recalling some of the drastic examples of murders of women in the past years.

She further said that there was a growing tolerance and insensitivity to violence in society, as well as a lack of public apology from at least “the one who should be morally accountable”.

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