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Photo: Ministry of Internal Affairs

Vanja Macanovic from the Autonomous Women’s Center spoke today at the “Turn Off the Violence” conference organized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy. Her complete speech is below:

Respected Mrs. Kuburovic and Mister Stefanovic and Mister Vulin,

Respected associates (all of us here who have chosen to provide protection to victims of domestic violence),

In the name of the Autonomous Women’s Center, I wish to thank you for inviting us to today’s conference.

For us this represents an improvement in relations between these Ministries and our organization, a women’s feminist organization, with all the challenges our cooperation entails. We agree that this cooperation isn’t easy. However, if we managed to come this far – to the point where we can exchange opinions, even when these opinions may be in opposition – this is still a major advancement we have achieved.

We chose to believe that 2016 is a year of success for all women victims of all form of male violence in Serbia.

However, this year did start in January with a rejection of our proposed amendments to emergency police protection measures, which were at the time proposed by Parliament Member Dusan Milisavljevic in relation to the new Law on Police. The justification we were given for this rejection was that our amendments would have been unconstitutional. 11 months later, on the initiative of the Ministry of Justice, police were granted said authorities for action. Maybe they weren’t exactly as we requested, but we agreed to them after receiving  all guarantees that measures will be implemented and prolonged in the manner stipulated by the new Law on Domestic Violence Prevention.

We also consider it a great success that today we see that the criminal acts we proposed with the Ombudsman five years ago to be included in the Criminal Code, have finally become part of the said Code. Of course, we haven’t yet still completely harmonized our laws to the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, but we are at a good start.

As members of the European Women’s Lobby, we have opportunities to exchange experiences with other women’s organizations throughout Europe. Because of these opportunities we can see that certain provisions of Serbian laws are more advanced than legal remedies of some other European countries. About 5-6 years ago women’s organizations in Bulgaria boasted how they managed to make violations of protective measures a criminal act, even then I could proudly say that we’ve had this provision in Serbia since 2005.

So you can see how shocked we were when it was proposed that this same provision criminalizing violations of protective measures in accordance to the Family Law be rescinded. You understand why we fought so hard not to allow this proposition to pass in the National Assembly. I hope we succeeded in this endeavor.

However, the fight for better treatment of women victims of domestic violence is not over.

If you prohibit us – a specialized organization that has been rendering free legal services for 23 years to women victims of violence – to continue doing what we do best, you will not be harming us, but rather those women and children who are most in need of our professional help. Should that happen, even these laws that were just adopted will not be enough to guarantee the right to accessible and quality legal protection.

Thank you.