no. 07-00-175/2023-02 date: 31.3.2023.
NEW BELGRADE CITY MUNICIPALITY
Bojan Bovan, president of the city municipality
11000 New Belgrade
Bulevar Mihaila Pupina 167
Dear Mr. Bovan,
The Initiative for Economic and Social Rights – A11 appealed to the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality with a request to act urgently regarding the immediate threat of forced eviction of Roma men and women living in the informal settlement of Antena in New Belgrade. The letter stated that about 40 families live in this settlement, most of which are internally displaced from Kosovo and Metohija. It was further stated that yesterday afternoon, some of them received a decision from the Department for Inspection Affairs, Section for Communal Inspection of the City Municipality of Novi Belgrade, ordering them to remove the houses in which they live within 24 hours of the posting of the decision on the buildings. As mentioned, the decision is based on the city’s Decision on maintaining cleanliness, the Decision on communal order, and the Decision on communal inspection, which prevents the residents of this settlement from having the right to a legal remedy because the appeal does not delay execution. One of the decisions is attached. In the letter, it was indicated that the right to adequate housing guarantees the security of tenant status even in cases in which the facilities are non-standard or built without the necessary permits, and cases of forced evictions that lead to citizens being left without a roof over their heads are in direct contradiction to the provisions from Art. 11 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Also, it was stated that the way in which the City Municipality of Novi Belgrade is trying to implement the eviction is in contradiction with the provisions of Art. 78-87 of the Housing and Building Maintenance Act, which provides a clear procedure for how these evictions are carried out. Due to the immediate risk of forced eviction, an urgent reaction of the Commissioner was requested. It was indicated that the residents do not have any more detailed information about when the eviction will take place and whether they will have the right to adequate alternative accommodation after the eviction because no one from the authorities has contacted them about this. The Center for Social Work did not visit them, nor did anyone else from the relevant institutions.
The comptences of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality are prescribed by the provisions of Article 33 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination. One of the basic competencies of the Commissioner is to receive and consider complaints due to violations of the provisions of this law, to issue opinions and recommendations in specific cases, and to impose measures prescribed by law. The Commissioner is authorized to send recommendations of measures to public authorities in order to promote equality and protection against discrimination.
The Commissioner points out that the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia prohibits any discrimination, direct or indirect, on any basis, especially on the basis of nationality, sex, marital and family status, race, social origin, birth, religion, political or other belief, property status, culture, language, age, mental or physical disability. Article 76, paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia stipulates that special regulations and temporary measures that the Republic of Serbia may introduce in economic, social, cultural, and political life in order to achieve full equality between members of a national minority and citizens belonging to the majority, are not considered discrimination if they are aimed at eliminating extremely unfavorable living conditions that particularly affect them.
By ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966, the Republic of Serbia is committed to recognizing the right of every person to a standard of living sufficient for themselves and their family, including a sufficient amount of food, clothing, and accommodation, as well as the constant improvement of their living conditions.
The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, in Art. 4 of Section II, guarantees equality before the law to members of national minorities, and prohibits any discrimination. Also, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination prescribes the obligation of the signatory states to undertake, in social, economic, cultural, and other areas, if required by the circumstances, special and concrete measures to ensure the development or protection of certain racial groups or individuals belonging to these groups, in order to guarantee, under conditions of equality, the full realization of human rights and basic freedoms.
The Istanbul Declaration from 1996, which was adopted at the second UN Conference on Human Settlements, obliges the states to achieve the goals of providing housing for all residents and establishing sustainable development of human settlements in the context of progressive urbanization throughout the world. At this conference, the Habitat agenda was adopted, which emphasizes, in Article 11, that everyone has the right to adequate living standards for themselves and their family, including the right to adequate housing and constant improvement of living conditions. According to this document, the rights to housing are considered progressive legal obligations, which implies that states are obliged to constantly strive to strengthen economic, social, and cultural rights, including the right to adequate housing. The idea of progressive realization obliges the state to strive to realize the right to housing as quickly, efficiently, and completely as possible.
The constitutional prohibition of discrimination is elaborated in more detail in the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, which stipulates in Article 4 that everyone is equal and enjoys equal status and equal legal protection, regardless of personal characteristics, and that everyone is obliged to respect the principle of equality, that is, the prohibition of discrimination. Article 24 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination prohibits discrimination against national minorities and their members on the basis of national affiliation, ethnic origin, religious beliefs, and language.
Also, the provision of Article 27a, paragraph 1, of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, stipulates that discrimination in the area of housing exists if, on the basis of the personal characteristics of a person or a group of persons, access to housing support programs is denied or impeded, the exercise of rights in the area of housing is denied, if fulfillment of conditions that are not imposed on other persons or groups of persons are required to enable access to housing programs support, that is, if in access to housing support programs priority is unjustifiably given to another person or group of persons.
The Law on the Protection of Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities, in addition to the general prohibition of discrimination against persons belonging to national minorities, recommends measures to ensure equality, in the form of regulations, individual legal acts, and measures aimed at improving the position of persons belonging to the Roma national minority.
The Republic of Serbia adopted the Strategy for the Social Inclusion of Roma Men and Women in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2022-2030 in order to show solidarity towards persons and groups in an unequal position in society and to combat poverty as a precondition for the realization of human rights. One of the main goals of this Strategy is the legalization of all settlements where Roma men and women live, where possible, as well as the provision of permanent, dignified, affordable, and desegregated housing for Roma men and women who live in informal settlements that cannot be legalized for justified reasons. The Strategy stipulates, among other things, that these goals can be achieved by improving the existing number of housing units and building new ones, by providing support through education, by increasing employment and work engagement, and by providing health and social assistance, with local self-government units playing an important role.
The Commissioner reminds that international standards in the resettlement procedure include the implementation of measures and compliance with criteria before resettlement, during resettlement, and after resettlement. In this regard, it should be noted that the UN Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in General Comment no. 7, states that evictions, that is, demolitions, should not result in an individual becoming homeless or subject to violations of other human rights and that the member state must take all appropriate measures to provide adequate alternative accommodation or resettlement. The European Court of Human Rights is of the opinion that eviction from a facility, in the case when the public authority did not provide adequate alternative accommodation, represents a violation of the right to respect of private and family life from Art. 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Amnesty International indicated in its reports that Serbia should pass a law prohibiting forced evictions and provide administrative guidelines to guarantee that any future evictions will be carried out in accordance with international standards.
Also, the right to adequate housing guarantees the security of tenant status even in cases where the buildings are inadequate or built without the necessary permits, and in cases of forced evictions that lead to citizens being left without a roof over their heads it is in direct contradiction to the provisions of Article 11 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The provisions of the Law on Housing and Building Maintenance prescribe a clear procedure for carrying out this type of eviction. This Law introduces several institutes that are important for realizing the right of the Roma national minority to adequate housing, and above all, the institute of housing support, and defines the procedure for eviction and resettlement to appropriate accommodation, which is particularly important for the realization of the right to housing of Roma families living in substandard settlements.
The provisions of Article 78, paragraph 1 of this Law stipulate that the eviction of a person from a building that was built in violation of the law regulating space planning and construction of buildings, and that is located on land owned by another natural or legal person, is carried out when it is necessary and justified for the purpose of realizing the public interest, and primarily for the protection of life and health of people and the protection of property, that is, when the valid planning document foresees the bringing of land to urban planning purposes for the construction of buildings, for which the public interest is determined, in accordance with the law regulating the expropriation of buildings.
The provision of Article 79 of the Law on Housing and Building Maintenance stipulates, among other things, that if eviction is necessary, and that person and the members of their family household do not own other real estate for housing and do not have enough funds to provide other housing, that person and the members of their family household have the right to be relocated to suitable accommodation provided by the competent authority of the local self-government unit on whose territory that person resides and which issued the decision on the eviction. Also, if the person who is being evicted and meets the conditions for relocation to appropriate housing, does not reside in the territory of the local self-government unit that issued the decision on eviction, appropriate housing is provided by the local self-government unit in whose territory that person has the last registered residence, that is, in whose territory the institution or center for social work was founded, if the person has a registered residence at that address, and upon a notification of the local self-government unit that made the decision on the eviction.
State and other authorities, as well as other entities participating in the implementation of eviction and resettlement procedures, are obliged to implement it in accordance with the principles prescribed by the provisions of Article 80 of this law in terms of: legality, which means that they decide and act on the basis of laws and other general acts, as well as generally accepted rules of international law and confirmed international treaties; proportionality, which means the use of measures that are the most favorable for persons affected by eviction and resettlement, if they achieve the purpose and goal of the law; protection of dignity, which means that they respect and protect the dignity of persons affected by eviction and resettlement; protection of particularly vulnerable persons, which means that during the implementation of procedures they protect the rights of particularly vulnerable persons, especially women, children, single parents, families with three or more children, victims of domestic violence, persons over 65 years of age and persons with disabilities; mutual cooperation, which means that state and other authorities, as well as other subjects participating in the implementation of eviction and resettlement procedures, are obliged to cooperate with each other in order to protect human and minority rights and achieve the best interests of persons affected by these procedures.
We remind that several times in the last reporting cycles, the Republic of Serbia received recommendations from the treaty bodies of the United Nations that it is necessary to improve the housing of Roma, as well as to amend and supplement the Law on housing and maintenance of buildings, in order to prevent that as a result of eviction, any of the Roma men and women remain homeless, without the possibility of protecting their basic human rights. The Commissioner points out that there are such Roma settlements that, although built illegally, meet the conditions of sustainability. The introduction of such settlements into a legally defined status would enable the development and prevention of further deterioration of these settlements, a better access of the inhabitants of these settlements to public services and better social integration, as well as solving problems related to the preservation of a healthy environment and avoiding conflicts in the use of land, ethnic tensions and unequal status of the Roma population.
The housing problem of Roma in Serbia is very complex, given that inadequate housing conditions and living in informal settlements make access to other economic and social rights much more difficult. A number of Roma live in illegal settlements in conditions that are far below standard. The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality reminds that in accordance with General Comment No. 4 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the issue of legal security of housing status is of central importance for the exercise of the right to adequate housing, as protection against forced evictions, and against harassment and impediment of the enjoyment of the right to housing depend on it.
The integration of members of the Roma national minority, along with the provision of adequate and humane living conditions, represents one of the most significant goals and affirmative measures of the strategy of social inclusion of Roma Men and Women. Excluding members of the Roma population and neglecting their needs deepens the difference between this group of people and members of the majority population, which leads to a violation of the principle of equality, that is, discrimination and marginalization of the Roma population.
In accordance with Article 33, Paragraph 1, Item 9, of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, the Commissioner is authorized to submit recommendations for measures to promote equality and protection against discrimination to public authorities and other persons. In this regard, the Commissioner recommends that the City Municipality of Novi Beograd abstain from the forced eviction of the residents of the Antena Roma settlement until alternative housing is provided that must meet the criteria of adequate housing in accordance with international standards. It is important that the process of taking care of and integrating the inhabitants of the Roma settlement Antena is carried out with the active participation of those persons, respecting their needs and their right to participate in decision-making in relation to all issues that concern them, including resettlement and the way of social integration, in accordance with international standards and guidelines for the displacement of citizens from informal settlements.
 “Official Gazette of RS”, no. 22/09 and 52/21
 “Official Gazette of RS”, no. 98/06 and 115/21, Article 21.
 Law on Ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“Official Gazette of SFRY”, No. 7/71)
 Art. 11, para 1 of the Law on Ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
 Law on the Ratification of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (“Official Gazette of the SFRY”, No. 9/68)
 Law on the Ratification of the International Convention on the Abolition of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“Official Gazette of the SFRY”, No. 31/67)
 Art. 2, para 2 of the Law on Ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
The Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements and the Habitat Agenda, Resolution 1 – Report of the UN Conference on Human Settlements A/CONF.165/14 of 7 August 1996.
 “Official Gazette of RS”, no. 22/09 and 52/21
 “Official Gazette of the FRY”, No. 11/02, “Official Gazette of MNE”, No. 1/03 – Constitutional Charter and “Official Gazette of RS”, no. 72/09 – other laws, 97/13 – decision of the CC and 47/18
 “Official Gazette of RS”, no. 23/22
 “Official Gazette of the SFRY”, no. 7/71
 “Official Gazette of RS”, nos. 104/16 and 9/20 – other law
COMMISSIONER FOR THE PROTECTION OF EQUALITY