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„The issue of missing babies – the parents are waiting for the state’s response“

The non-governmetal organization ASTRA and the Belgrade group of parents of missing babies organized a press conference „The issue of missing babies – the parents are waiting for the state’s response“ on 30 May. The reason for organizing this event was the International Missing Children’s Day, but also the deadline for investigating all the cases and for compensation of parents as per the order of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which expires in September.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in September 2013 that the Republic of Serbia had violated the right to privacy and family life of Zorica Jovanović. Mrs Jovanović appealed to the Court in Strasbourg as she had doubts that her son had not died as she had been told in the maternity hospital in 1983, and that the state had been silent for three decades related to the fate of her child. The attorney Tanja Drobnjak, says that the decision in the case of Jovanovic versus the state is not only important as it confirms damage claims of the plaintiff  Zorica Jovanovic, but also of all other parents through this individual satisfaction and establishment of a mechanism to secure reliable answers related to the fate of each individual child.

The importance of the issue of missing babies in our country is corroborated by the data ASTRA has collected through the European line for missing children 116 000. Up to 62% of the calls of citizens of Serbia to this number last year were related to the issue of missing babies, while in the other European counties up to 80-90% calls are related to the runaway children. “These are the calls by mothers who had the same doctors present at birth of their children, parents who had healthy children at birth and who were told soon after that their child suddenly passed away, parents who were not allowed to bury their child, who received an official document by the Public Company for Funerals that their babies had not been buried…” said Elena Krsmanović from the non-governmental organization ASTRA, listing the discrepancies recorded in these cases.

Especially worrying are the data of the Belgrade group of parents of missing babies, which show reasonable doubt that 6000 families were separated from their babies, with an excuse that the children were stillborn. “It is a shame for the state that a mother needs to plead for the truth about her missing child. That child is not a button to get lost. For years, cries of mothers have been heard, of fathers, brothers and sisters, and they have reached the international court, while our own state is not ready to help us find the truth and finally either bury our children, or meet them.” said Mirjana Novokmet on behalf of the Belgrade group of missing babies.

The Ombudsman also appealed for an investigation of the missing babies, and in 2010 he submitted a report with recommendations to the Government and the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, which was presented at the press conference by the Deputy Ombudsperson for the Rights of the Child, Gordana Stevanović. Numerous problems were identified in this document, and it was said in the conclusion that without a separate investigation of specialized state organs, it could not be claimed that the babies had not been illegally separated from their families. Such an investigation, however, has never been initiated.

Vanja Rodić, the representative of the Republic of Serbia in front of the European Court of Human Rights and a member of the Working group responsible for enforcement of the court decision, also appealed to the public at this gathering and presented the steps initiated to enforce the decision, among which is the establishment of the working group responsible for this task.

Although the court ruling explicitly states that the accused state must implement all measures within one year, if possible by a lex specialis and establish a relevant mechanism, such initiative has not been launched by the state, but by the Belgrade group of parents. „The law model needs to allow parents who suspect that their children indeed died in maternity hospitals, to receive satisfaction from the state for numerous years of uncertainty, for the unsuccessful search of the truth about their children, for the silence, inactivity and neglect.  Serbia is, after the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, facing not only legal and ethical duty of her state officials, but also the attention of European institutions, and especially the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers, related to monitoring of actual respect of human rights and the rule of law in Serbia.”, said Prof. Vesna Rakić Vodinelić, who participated in the drafting of the law.

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