no. 021-00-449/1/2023-02 date: 24 April 2023
MINISTRY OF CONSTRUCTION, TRANSPORT AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Goran Vesić, Minister
Subject: Initiative to develop a long-term systemic plan at the national level for the removal of architectural barriers and the improvement of accessibility in all buildings in public use and public areas
Dear Mr. Vesić,
The Law on Prohibition of Discrimination prescribes that the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality monitors the implementation of laws and other regulations, initiates the adoption or amendment of regulations, and gives an opinion on the provisions of draft laws and other regulations to promote equality and protection against discrimination.
In this regard, we point out that the Law on Prevention of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities prohibits discrimination based on disability regarding the availability of services and access to facilities in public use and public areas. Under public use facilities, in the sense of this law, the following are considered: facilities in the field of education, health, social protection, culture, tourism, or facilities used for environmental protection, protection from natural disasters, and the like, while as public areas, in the sense of this law, the following are considered: parks, green areas, squares, streets, pedestrian crossings, other public roads and the like. The law further stipulates that local self-government units are obliged to take measures to make the physical environment, buildings, public areas, and transport accessible to persons with disabilities (Article 33), while the provisions of Article 38 stipulate that all bodies of state administration, territorial autonomies, and local governments are obliged to undertake activities aimed at creating equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and to ensure the participation of persons with disabilities and their associations in these activities.
Article 21 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia prohibits any discrimination, direct or indirect, on any basis, in particular based on race, gender, nationality, social origin, birth, religion, political or other belief, financial status, culture, language, age, and mental or physical disability.
The constitutional prohibition of discrimination is elaborated in more detail in the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, which, in the provisions of Article 2, prescribes that an act of discrimination means any unjustified distinction or unequal treatment, i.e., omission (exclusion, limitation, or giving priority), to persons or groups as well as members of their families, or persons close to them, openly or covertly, which is based, among other things, on disability and other real or assumed personal characteristics. Article 26, paragraph 1 of this Law stipulates that discrimination exists if respect for equal rights and freedoms of persons with disabilities is acted against in political, economic, cultural, or any other aspect of public, professional, private, and family life.
The Republic of Serbia adopted the Law on Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, whose goal is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities and promote respect for their inherent dignity. The Convention defines discrimination based on disability as any difference, exclusion, or limitation based on disability that has the purpose or effect of impairing or abolishing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other area, on an equal basis with others. The Convention covers all forms of discrimination, including the denial of reasonable accommodation, and the contracting states undertake to prohibit any discrimination based on disability and guarantee equal and effective legal protection to persons with disabilities against discrimination on any basis. Article 9 of the Convention stipulates, among other things, that in order to enable independent living and full participation of persons with disabilities in all spheres of life, contracting states take appropriate measures to ensure access for persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, transportation, information, and communications, including information and communication technologies and systems, as well as other amenities and services available to the public. Measures that include identifying and removing obstacles and barriers to access refer, among others, to: buildings, roads, means of transport, and other indoor and outdoor amenities, including schools, residential facilities, health facilities, and workplaces.
The Republic of Serbia adopted the Strategy for the Improvement of the Position of Persons with Disabilities in the Republic of Serbia for the period from 2020 to 2024 which indicated that accessibility is a prerequisite for independent living, full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society and free exercise of all human rights and basic freedoms, equally with others, and applies to persons with any type of disability. In the overview of the situation, the Strategy states that regardless of the existing regulations, people with disabilities still face obstacles in performing daily activities when moving, using transportation, and entering and moving through various public facilities, as well as residential facilities that are still not accessible, which, to a certain extent, prevents them from accessing goods and services and inclusion in society in general. The general goal of the Strategy is to equalize the opportunities of persons with disabilities to enjoy all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights with full respect for their dignity and individual autonomy, ensuring independence, freedom of choice, and full and effective participation in all areas of social life, including community life. Three specific goals are planned to achieve the strategy’s general purpose. The first specific goal: Increased social inclusion of persons with disabilities will be realized, among other things, through the consistent implementation of regulations, the strengthening of inspection supervision, and permanent training; by systematically including accessibility issues so that programs, plans, and projects are mandatorily developed with a built-in accessibility component, following the principle of “Universal Design”, as well as by overcoming the obstacles faced by persons with disabilities in exercising their rights as individuals, consumers, participants in the cultural, economic, political, sports and other life.
The Action Plan for the implementation of the Strategy for Improving the Position of Persons with Disabilities in the Republic of Serbia for the period from 2020 to 2024 foresees that, in the period from 2021 to 2022, the Ministry of Construction, Transport, and Infrastructure is one of the institutions responsible for the implementation of measure 1.1.1. Ensuring full accessibility of objects, public areas, information, services, and products to people with disabilities to achieve the General Goal 1 of the Strategy. The Action Plan foresees activity 22.214.171.124. Creation and implementation of an operational plan for accessibility, within which the Ministry of Construction, Transport, and Infrastructure is envisaged as the authority that implements this activity.
The Commissioner specifically points out that the provisions of Article 5 of the Law on Planning and Construction prescribe that buildings for public and business purposes, as well as other objects for public use (streets, squares, parks, etc.), must be designed, built and maintained in such a way that all users, especially people with disabilities, children and the elderly, enjoy unimpeded access, movement and stay, i.e., their use according to the appropriate technical regulations, whose integral part are the standards that define mandatory technical measures and conditions of design, planning, and construction, which ensure unimpeded movement and access for persons with disabilities, children and the elderly, as well as that residential and residential-business buildings with ten or more apartments must be designed and built in such a way that all users, especially people with disabilities, children and the elderly, can have unimpeded access, movement, stay and work.
From all of the above, it can be concluded that the positive regulations of the Republic of Serbia, including the Law on Planning and Construction, guarantee persons with disabilities the right to accessibility to the physical environment on an equal basis with others. In practice, the exercise of that right is hindered. The Strategy for Improving the Position of Persons with Disabilities in the Republic of Serbia contains data that indicate the inaccessibility of public facilities, especially those in which various rights are exercised, such as centers for social work, local self-government units, post offices, police departments, and the Republican PIO Fund, is still pronounced, despite numerous albeit unsystematic interventions, which is an obstacle for persons with disabilities to realize their guaranteed rights in the fields of education, health and social protection, judicial protection, culture, information, sports, and other areas.
During the long-term practice of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, citizens addressed this authority with complaints about the impossibility of persons with disabilities entering and moving independently in various public facilities and areas. For example, in 2022, a large number of complaints were sent to the Commissioner due to the inaccessibility of various buildings (60% of the total number of complaints filed on this basis), bearing in mind that accessibility, both architectural and informational and communicational, is one of the basic prerequisites for equal participation of persons with disabilities in all areas of social life. These complaints refer to the inaccessibility of health centers, health care services, cinemas, schools, museums, and office premises used by the Republic Health Insurance Fund branches and the Republic Fund for Pension and Disability Insurance. For many years, the Commissioner has continuously, in various ways, both in specific cases and through recommendations for measures to improve equality and initiatives, but also recommendations to public authorities, through their regular annual reports, indicated the necessity of intensifying work on the application of universal design in all areas with the aim of enabling unhindered access to public facilities and areas, public transport, information, communications and services for all citizens.
We would like to remind that at the beginning of 2023, the Commissioner sent to the Ministry of Construction, Transport, and Infrastructure the Initiative to amend Article 135, Paragraph 8 of the Law on Planning and Construction, so that this law prescribes, as an exception, that the realization of works on construction land or an object that is owned by more than one person will not require the certified consent of those persons, if the works relate to achieving unimpeded movement and access for persons with disabilities, children and the elderly, without referring to the provisions of another law that also provides for the consent of other owners.
Also, in March 2023, the Commissioner sent the Initiative to the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure to amend the Draft Law on Amendments and Supplements to the Law on Planning, and Construction so that the Elaborate on compliance with accessibility standards is an integral part of the main project that represents proof of compliance with accessibility standards, as well as that it is necessary to amend the corresponding provisions of the Law on Planning and Construction that refer to the content and mandatory elements of the main project, i.e., the project for a building permit and the project for execution, and foresee the obligation following which these projects, i.e., the corresponding project, contain evidence of compliance with accessibility standards through the Elaborate on compliance with accessibility standards as a mandatory integral part of the project.
Accessibility is one of the basic prerequisites for the equal participation of persons with disabilities in all areas of social life, and although the normative framework in the Republic of Serbia is satisfactory, persons with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable and discriminated social groups in all areas of public and private life. Obstacles to the equal inclusion of people with disabilities in all social relations start from the sphere of education and employment, further worsening their position due to the lack of effective support for independent living. Ensuring the accessibility of facilities and services is a prerequisite for the independent life of people with disabilities because it enables active participation in all areas of life on an equal basis. If only one of the elements of accessibility is not adequate, a person with a disability will find themselves in a situation called a “broken chain of movement”, that is, they will be brought to a situation of incapability, in which they cannot function independently.
Considering all the above, the Commissioner believes that it is necessary to create a long-term systemic plan at the national level to remove architectural barriers and improve accessibility in all buildings in public use and public areas.
With this systemic plan, it would be necessary to determine facilities in public use where the removal of architectural barriers would have to be a priority and whose accessibility should be achieved in the shortest possible time to fulfill the citizens’ needs to exercise various rights and services, such as facilities used by centers for social work, health, preschool and educational institutions, pension, and disability insurance funds, etc. In the case of other buildings, especially those for which there are administrative or other difficulties in achieving accessibility for people with difficulty moving, such as older buildings, buildings declared a cultural monument or under a special protection regime, etc., accessibility could be ensured in the longer term, after a professional and precise assessment of all available possibilities, in order not to impair their historical and cultural value or to possibly find other adequate facilities for the same purposes.
The systemic plan for removing architectural barriers and improving accessibility should, in the sense of the above, contain extremely optimal deadlines, which do not necessarily have to be short, but reasonable, concerning the current situation, and a comprehensive overview of the possibilities concerning the specific situation, at the same time taking into account and being guided by the interests of citizens for whom accessibility is an obstacle to the exercise various rights.
For the implementation of all activities to ensure the accessibility of public facilities and areas, it is necessary to precisely define competent entities, cooperation with local self-government units and other entities (such as authorities responsible for the protection of cultural monuments, experts in the relevant fields, civil society organizations, etc.) whose actions and cooperation can have an impact on the realization of concrete activities.
A systematic plan to solve the problem of accessibility of public facilities and public areas would represent an important step towards fulfilling the state’s obligation following recognized international treaties and regulations of the Republic of Serbia to take appropriate measures to enable people with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all spheres of life, especially bearing in mind that the removal of physical barriers on objects in public use is beneficial for all citizens, both those who have difficulty moving or the elderly, as well as for parents with small children, and all others, following the principle of universal design.
 “Official Gazette of RS”, nos. 22/2009 and 52/2021, Article 33, paragraph 1, item 7.
 “Official Gazette of RS”, nos. 33/2006 and 13/2016, Article 13.
 Constitution of the Republic of Serbia (“Official Gazette of RS”, nos. 98/06 and 115/21)
 “Official Gazette of RS”, nos. 22/09 and 52/21, Article 2, paragraph 1, item 1
 Law on Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“Official Gazette of RS – International Treaties,” no. 42/09)
 Article 1, paragraph 1 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
 “Official Gazette of RS”, no. 44/2020.
 “Official Gazette of RS”, no. 37/2021
 “Official Gazette of RS,” no. 72/09, 81/09 – corrected, 64/10 – CC decision, 24/11, 121/12, 42/13 – CC decision, 50/13 – CC decision, 98/13 – CC decision, 132/14, 145/14, 83/18, 31/19 and 37/19 – other law
 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 2, paragraph 5.
COMMISSIONER FOR THE PROTECTION OF EQUALITY