CESCR’s recommendation – Serbia to ensure effective access to personal documents for Roma and displaced persons, and in the meantime to facilitate their access to economic, social and cultural rights

Ivana Stankovic, Programme Coordinator, Praxis
/ 5 mins read

In May 2014, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considered the Second Periodic Report of Serbia on the measures applied and results achieved in ensuring the rights acknowledged by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In its concluding observations, the Committee pointed out as follows: 

“While noting the recent amendments to facilitate birth and residence registration, the Committee is concerned that a number of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons remain without personal identity documents, thereby limiting their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. The Committee is also concerned that many internally displaced Roma living in informal settlements without a registered residence did not have their permanent address re-registered (arts. 2, 9, 11, 12, 13 and 14). 

The Committee recommends that the State party ensure effective access of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons, in particular Roma without registered residence who live in informal settlements, to procedures for birth and residence registration in order to facilitate access to personal documents, including birth certificates, identity cards and work booklets. In the meantime, those affected should have access to economic, social and cultural rights.” 

This Committee’s recommendation is only one of several recommendations issued to Serbia over the past years related to the violation of human rights of the persons who have not been registered at birth and who are at risk of statelessness, and related to the state’s obligation to find a systemic solution for the respective problem. The previous recommendations called on the authorities of the Republic of Serbia to establish a system that would allow exercising the right to late birth registration and consequently acquisition of nationality, while the latest one, though recognizing what has recently been done at the legislative level, calls on efficient application of the rules and regulations. In addition, the Committee went a step further and recommended that access to socioeconomic rights be meanwhile ensured to the persons deprived of access to personal documents. 

However, unlike the recommended, the everyday life of persons at risk of statelessness - those trying to register into birth registries, acquire nationality and/or have it determined and obtain an ID card, is utterly different. Their access to socioeconomic rights is almost entirely limited. Unless they regulate their nationality status, these people may receive only emergency medical care and enrol in primary school. All other rights are inaccessible to them. Specifically, it means that they cannot have regular medical check-ups or receive medicines, they cannot be the beneficiaries of social welfare assistance, nor can they get employed, acquire immovable property or get married. Since the majority of the affected persons belong to the Roma ethnic minority, they are most often discriminated against in an attempt to exercise any of the guaranteed rights. 

Raman has been a client of Praxis since 2009. Before the adoption of the new law prescribing a non-contentious court procedure for determining the date and place of birth, he could not register into the birth registries in an administrative procedure, because he did not have personal documents for his parents. The only document he possessed was his mother’s birth certificate. As for his late father, Raman did not possess any document. 

Praxis initiated a procedure for determining the date and place of birth for Raman back in October 2012, but the respective decision was not reached before May 2013. Only in December 2013, one year and two months after the initiation of the procedure, did Raman manage to obtain his birth certificate. 

However, even after the registration in the birth registry, the issue of Raman’s nationality remained unresolved as it was impossible to obtain evidence on the nationality for his parents, which is the precondition for him to have his nationality determined on the grounds of being born in the territory of Serbia and based on his origin. Raman’s mother possesses only her birth certificate but no evidence based on which her nationality could be determined. As for the father, Raman managed to obtain only his death certificate. But, the registration of the fact of birth and citizenship for his father could not be found in the civil registries on the basis of these data either. 

Since he has not managed to obtain a certificate on Serbian nationality either for his father or mother, Raman has no evidence needed for the initiation of the procedure for determining his nationality. In March 2014, Praxis submitted the application for Raman’s naturalisation with reference to the provision envisaging that a person born in the territory of Serbia may be naturalized if prior to submitting the application, he/she has been residing uninterruptedly in Serbia for at least two years. But due to the lack of documents and the fact that he has been living in an informal settlement, Raman has never had his residence registered. He only has indirect evidence on his stay in Serbia, such as the evidence on procedures conducted on his behalf and statements of witnesses. Therefore, it is uncertain whether the Ministry of Interior will find it sufficient for proving the interrupted stay, which entails the uncertainty of the outcome of Raman’s naturalisation procedure. The decision making process in naturalization procedure is discretionary and in case it is negative, Raman will be left without any possibility to acquire Serbian nationality. Moreover, he will not be able even to have his stateless status determined as there is no such procedure prescribed in Serbia. 

In the context of Raman’s case and any similar life situation, the recommendation of the Committee reading that the access to socioeconomic rights should be ensured to undocumented persons until they regulate their status, seems now even more important. In the case of Raman, the meantime has been lasting for 27 years during which he has been living without a nationality and basic personal documents. Only the procedures through which he has been trying to regulate his status have lasted for more than two and a half years, and it is still uncertain whether and when Raman will finally acquire Serbian nationality. Meanwhile, instead of having access to at least minimum socioeconomic rights, Raman lives with his common-law wife and their five children in the shacks in the woods. He has not been registered as the father of his children; he has not finished school; he has never had a formal employment contract; he does not receive social welfare and cannot receive medical treatment. 

Perceived through the prism of the everyday life of an individual, the issue related to efficient application of regulations, meeting of deadlines and ensuring access to nationality and basic rights is the minimum needed for a decent life.

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