International Status of the Protector of Citizens Threatened due to Departing from International Principles of Functioning of Independent Human Rights Institutions

The Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) reached a decision to, for the first time, defer the confirmation of Serbia’s national human rights institution’s, i.e. the Protector of Citizens’ “A” status pertaining to the observance of the Paris Principles, stated the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights – YUCOM, A11- Initiative for Economic and Social Rights and Crta. This decision indicates that the Protector of Citizens does not fully comply with the international standards for institutions dealing with the protection of human rights. The decision also indicates that the international community recognizes the progressive deterioration of the Protector of Citizens work, which threatens to turn this important institution into a formality, stripped of its essential role in the protection of the rights of citizens. It is necessary that the decision be understood as an alarm and a call on this institution to urgently respond to problems in its work and improve the poorly rated areas, in order to keep the highest international rating. The Protector of Citizens was granted “A” status for the first time in 2010, which was confirmed in 2015, while the SCA made this assessment in December 2020, based on an analysis of the work of the institution between 2015 to 2019. 

The SCA explained that it did not confirm the Protector of Citizens’ “A” status due to:

  • delays in resolving citizens’ complaints and significant reduction in the number of complaints received since 2017, which may indicate a reduced citizens’ trust in the work of the institution;
  • insufficient activities of the Protector regarding the protection of economic, social and cultural rights and weaker response of institutions to his recommendations in that area;
  • unsatisfactory work on cases of police abuse and reduction of the number of visits of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) in the observed period;
  • non-transparency and insufficient involvement of civil society organizations in the process of electing the Protector of Citizens in 2017;
  • poor cooperation of the Protector of Citizens with civil society organizations. 

The SCA stated that the Protector is expected to promote and ensure the respect for all human rights, democratic principles and strengthening the rule of law in all circumstances and without exception, as well as to act with increased vigilance and independence in situations of serious human rights violations

Given that the percentage of implementation of recommendations related to economic and social rights, which are the subject of the majority of the complaints received by the Protector of Citizens, is significantly lower than the percentage of implementation of other recommendations, the SCA requested additional information on the effectiveness of the Protector’s work in the field of protection of economic and social rights. The SCA concluded that the Protector likewise did not provide adequate information on his work in relation to widespread police violence and abuse of persons deprived of their liberty, in response to which he pointed out drug abuse and corrupt behavior of officers in closed institutions as key problems. The ombudsman challenged before the SCA the accuracy of the claims of civil society organizations that by the end of 2018, the number of visits to NPM police stations was decreasing every year, even though that information was taken from the publicly available annual reports issued by that body. Considering that, according to international standards, the election of the management of the national human rights institution must ensure pluralism and be merit-based, the SCA supports these standards becoming a formal part of the ombudsman election process in Serbia. This requires the introduction of the obligations to: issue public calls for candidates for the position, enable application by a large number of candidates, conduct comprehensive consultations and evaluate applications on the basis of pre-established, objective and publicly available criteria. The SCA pointed out that the cooperation of the Protector with civil society organizations and domestic human rights defenders could be improved. 

Expecting that steps will be taken to resolve these issues in the subsequent deadline, the final decision on the accreditation of the Protector of Citizens has been deferred to the end of 2021, when the institution will either be granted status “A” – which indicates full compliance with the Paris Principles or status “B” – which signifies their partial respect.

The signatory organizations look forward to the resolution of the key problems in the work of the Protector of Citizens, with a view to the enhancement of protection of human rights of all citizens of Serbia.

The analysis made by the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights and the Belgrade Center for Human Rights on the work of the Protector of Citizens from 2015 to 2019 from the perspective of the Paris Principles is available here, while the joint submission prepared by A 11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights and Crta for the occasion of the GANHRI re-accreditation of the Protector of Citizens is available here