23. Sep 2013, ref. no. 027-02-55/2013-02
MINISTRY OF JUSTICE AND STATE ADMINISTRATION
NIKOLA SELAKOVIC, Minister
Dear Mr. Selakovic,
Based on the information from the media that the Obrenovac Municipality’s Registry office conditioned the conclusion of the marriage of two persons with hearing impairment by the engagement of a court interpreter for sign language, whose services the couple was supposed to pay by themselves, I am free to point out that such treatment of the Obrenovac Municipality’s Registry office regarding the persons with hearing impairment is unacceptable. By doing so, the people with hearing impairment have been placed in an unequal position, since they have been given a condition for the conclusion of their marriage that is not imposed on other citizens in the same situation. Namely, citizens who do not have a hearing impairment and who want to marry in the Municipality of Obrenovac have to pay a fee of 280 dinars for that service, while persons with hearing impairment are required to pay, in addition to this fee, a remuneration to the court interpreter in the amount of 10,000 dinars.
As you well know, the Republic of Serbia has significantly improved the legal and social position of people with disabilities over the past years, but has also committed by ratifying international conventions and adopting domestic legislation, to permanently improve the position of this group of people. Hoping that the achieved results will be preserved and improved, I am obliged to remind you of the key conventions and regulations that the Republic of Serbia is obliged to implement.
The Republic of Serbia has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which prescribes in Art. 2 that discrimination based on disability is any unjustified differentiation, exclusion or restriction, whose purpose or consequence is to limit or deny recognition of the enjoyment or exercise of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the fields of politics, economy, social, cultural, civil rights and any other areas.
Provision of Art. 21 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia prohibits any discrimination, direct or indirect, on any ground, and in particular based on race, gender, nationality, social origin, birth, religion or other belief, property, culture, language, age and psychological or physical disability.
The constitutional prohibition of discrimination is further elaborated in the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination, which defines discrimination as any unjustified differentiation or unequal treatment, or omission (exclusion, restriction or preference), as compared to individuals or groups as well as members of their families, or people close to them, in an overt or a covert way that is based on race, color, ancestry, citizenship, nationality or ethnic origin, language, religious or political beliefs, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, financial status, birth, genetic characteristics, health, disability, marital and family status, previous convictions, age, appearance, membership in political, trade union and other organizations and other real or presumed personal characteristics. The provision of Article 15 regulates discrimination in actions before public authorities as a special case of discrimination, and stipulates that everyone has the right to equal access and equal protection of their rights before courts and public authorities. Also, the same article stipulates that the discriminatory treatment of an official or a responsible person in the public authority is treated as a serious violation of work duty.
In this specific case, the provisions of the Law on Prevention of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities are also relevant, which is based on the principles of prohibition of discrimination against persons with disabilities, respect for human rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, inclusion of persons with disabilities in all areas of social life on an equal basis, in all processes of decision-making on their rights and obligations and the equality of rights and obligations. Provision of Art. 4 of this law prescribes the duty of the public authorities to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the rights and freedoms without discrimination. In accordance with Art. 11 para. 1, public authorities cannot discriminate against persons with disabilities by their actions or omissions, while according to Art. 13 paras. 1 and 2, discrimination on the basis of disability is prohibited in relation to the availability of services and access to facilities in public use and public spaces. Service in the sense of this law implies, any service provided with or without compensation, by a legal or natural person within the scope of their work, or permanent occupation.
The UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for persons with Disabilities from 1993, accepted by the Republic of Serbia in 1995 are of particular importance for the rights of persons with disabilities. Although these rules are not legally binding, there is a moral and political obligation for the UN member states to implement them. The purpose of Standard Rules is to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the same rights and obligations as other members of society, with the particular importance of ensuring accessibility to information and communications. Namely, in order to achieve accessibility of information and communications, it is necessary to develop a strategy that will make the information services and documentation available to various groups of people with disabilities. Braille letters, recorded tapes, large print letters and other appropriate technologies should be used to allow people with visual impairments access to written information and documentation. Similarly, appropriate technologies should be used to allow people with hearing impairment or difficulty in understanding access to verbal information.
It is important to point out that, in order to empower people with disabilities to the position of equal citizens, the Republic of Serbia adopted the Strategy for Improving the Position of persons with disabilities. The goals of the Strategy were established for the period between 2007 and 2015 and a special Goal 15 indicates the need to ensure the accessibility of information, communications and services, including the application of information and communication technologies, as well as other scientific achievements, in order to create equal opportunities and improve the situation of persons with disabilities. Within this goal, it is stated that it is necessary to develop accessible information mechanisms for disabled users, including interpreters for the sign language.
Bearing in mind the regulations and standards that the Republic of Serbia is committed to, I hope and expect that you will use all of your competences and ensure that persons with hearing impairments have the services of sign language interpreters available in all proceedings before the public authorities in which they participate, in order to prevent any further discrimination against persons with hearing impairment in proceedings before public authorities.
With sincere appreciation,
COMMISSIONER FOR THE PROTECTION OF EQUALITY
Dr. Nevena Petrušić