Over seventy families have lived in the facilities of the former company “Vijadukt” in Resnik, mostly Roma men and women, who moved in the abandoned workers’ barracks. In addition to the Roma population, internally displaced persons from Kosovo, refugees from Croatia, as well as former “Vijadukt” workers also lived here. It is estimated that about two-thirds of them lived on financial social assistance, while the rest earned income through informal work by collecting secondary raw materials. For most residents, these buildings represented the only roof over their heads.
In mid-July last year, the residents of this settlement informed Initiative A 11 that the mayor of Rakovica and the head of the Department for Property and Legal Affairs had verbally ordered them to move out within 14 days, under the threat of demolishing their homes, because they are at a location intended for the construction of a bypass around Belgrade, and the pressure was also coming from the contractors. Initiative A 11 contacted and reminded the competent state authorities of their obligations based on the law and ratified international treaties, which should have been implemented in this case. In accordance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the Law on Housing and Building Maintenance, no person or family can be evicted from their home unless they are provided with adequate alternative accommodation. Domestic regulations stipulate that a local government unit first must adopt a resettlement plan, conduct a consultation process with the community on possible housing solutions, and adopt a decision on the need to relocate, after which it may issue an eviction decision, to which residents have the right to appeal. During the meeting in October, Initiative A 11also reminded the employees in the office of the Prime Minister and the representatives of the Corridor of Serbia of these obligations.
The Protector of Citizens also got involved in this case, invoking his role of mediation in the preventive goal, in order to protect the guaranteed rights of the inhabitants of this settlement. Unfortunately, this mediation resulted only in financial compensation for eviction, in the amount of 19,000 euros to each family from the settlement, which is why the residents accepted the only option offered to them and declared that they would move out within seven days of the payment. Such a decision is not only not in line with the state’s obligations to make maximum use of available resources for the progressive realization of economic and social rights, but for 1,406,000 euros, which was the least amount of this compensation, minimum of 55 social apartments could be built, addressing the housing needs of most of these families. Instead, they are left to themselves to find a new home in a very short time, because due to the long-term inactivity of the competent state authorities, it was necessary to find an “instant” solution for the demolition.
In the end, the promised compensation was paid on the last day of 2020, while the excavators arrived on the first working day of the new year, when one barrack was demolished, whose tenants failed to find other accommodation during the three days of the New Year’s holidays. After contacting the Protector of Citizens and his intervention, the eviction was completed a few days later, when all the buildings were demolished. None of the observers and representatives of organizations working in the field of human rights were present that day, alongside competent public services, while no documentation was provided in order to prove possible damages and losses. Apart from such an illegally conducted eviction procedure, all residents of the settlement have signed statements waiving the right to appeal or use any other legal remedy related to this procedure. Such a waiver is completely legally null because it is contrary to the public interest, it is not consciously and freely given, instead, it was conditioned by the compensation and pressure, which did not allow residents subsequent complaints, and at the same time deprived the competent state authorities of any further obligations to them, such as to provide post-eviction support for all household members, like assistance in providing health or social care. These obligations were annulled by signing the statements, with the mediation of the Protector of Citizens, who not only failed to exercise his powers and control the work of the competent state bodies, but also actively contributed to further endangering the human rights of “Vijadukt” residents.
Initiative A 11 has addressed the Protector of Citizens, the Mayor’s Office and the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure about this case, as well as other competent authorities, in order to inform the general public about the irregularities of state bodies in the process of evicting residents of the settlement “Vijadukt”, and to prevent and avoid similar proceedings and gross violations of human rights of socially vulnerable people in the future.