The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality issued an opinion based on the complaint of the A11 Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, stating that the Social Welfare Center in Pozarevac (hereinafter: SWC) had committed an act of discrimination by calling to account persons who requested protection from discrimination.
Namely, A 11 Initiative filed a complaint because it observed that a large number of residents of a social housing complex in Uzun Mirkova Street in Požarevac, wherein 21 internally displaced Roma families live, have issues with the treatment received from the Požarevac Social Welfare Center (hereinafter: SWC). The residents of said housing complex complained to the A 11 Initiative team that the SWC refuses to receive their requests, as a result of which they are unable to exercise their rights, and that the proceedings are usually terminated via oral notification that they do not have the right to submit requests. The circumstance that the access to the right to social protection is denied to a group of persons with common personal characteristics –internally displaced Roma – indicated to a discriminatory practice, which is why the complaint was submitted to the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality.
However, throughout the complaint procedure, contrary to the prohibition of calling to account, the SWC Požarevac invited persons which the A 11 Initiative had proposed as witnesses of discriminatory treatment and interrogated them on the circumstances that are the subject of proceedings before the Commissioner. The record of their hearing was delivered to the Commissioner as evidence of non-discriminatory practice. Regarding this circumstance, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality stated in an opinion that “the statements were not taken within the administrative procedure to which the Center is authorized … it is obvious that not only the free oral presentation of the parties is included, but also that they were tendentiously asked questions”. In the opinion it is also stated that the delivered statements “Rather leaves an impression of a fearful body of individuals questioned by public authorities regarding statements made in the procedure for protection from discrimination, than that of a free and unimpeded citizens’ giving a presentation”.
We also point out that although violation of the law was found in the part of the proceedings related to the victimization of the witnesses, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality could not establish whether the law was violated in relation to the part of the procedure which was the reason for filing the complaint, that is, the circumstance that the SWC Požarevac refuses to receive and act upon the requests of internally displaced Roma in Požarevac. A 11 Initiative takes a stand that this circumstance should not remain “undetermined”, especially bearing in mind the rule on the burden of proof in proceedings for protection against discrimination and the fact that the Center for Social Work Požarevac, in addition to unlawful interrogation of witnesses, did not submit any evidence in support of the claim that there was no discrimination.Also, another circumstance that occurred after the submission of the complaint is that almost all residents of this informal settlement have achieved or are in the process of exercising the right to financial social assistance, and we expect that the full realization of the right to social protection of this group of persons will happen.
Finally, in the opinion it was recommended that SWC Požarevac sends an apology to the persons who were questioned on the circumstances of the complaint within 30 days, holds training for its employees on the subject of discrimination against internally displaced persons, and that they do not take discriminatory actions in the future. After receiving the opinion, and in contact with the A11 Initiative, the Požarevac SWC agreed that the representatives of this organization conduct training for the employees in the Center on the topic of equality and prohibition of discrimination. The A11 Initiative expresses readiness to help educate and sensitize employees in the Požarevac SWC and expects that all necessary steps will be taken in the coming period in order to fully realize the recommendation.