Seeking justice in Strasbourg – how much and why do we turn to the European Court of Human Rights?

In recent days, in the context of discussions on the “Law on Missing Babies”, the issue of the implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights by Serbia has become topical again.

In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights filed as many as 2,595 petitions regarding Serbia – of which 2,445 (or 94%) were rejected. Last year, the court issued 24 verdicts in a total of 150 cases related to Serbia, of which at least one violation of the European Convention on Human Rights was found in 22 verdicts.

Colloquially known as the “Court in Strasbourg”, the European Court of Human Rights has been the address to which citizens, as well as states, refer complaints regarding human rights violations in Council of Europe member states and signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights. As Serbia has been a formal member of the Council of Europe since 2003, while it ratified the Convention in 2004, a large number of Serbian citizens are seeking justice in Strasbourg.

Case of ‘missing’ babies and old foreign currency savings – Serbia has serious difficulties in solving systemic problems

The signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights are obliged to implement the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. When it comes to our country, according to lawyer  Mihailo Pavlović, Serbia respects and implements the decisions of the ECHR.  However, challenges arise when the state is obliged to solve a systemic problem in addition to financial compensation. 

Such is the case with the so-called “Pilot judgments” related to missing babies or old foreign currency savings. In the case of Jovanović v. Serbia, the ECHR obliged the state to take appropriate measures within one year of the judgment becoming final in order to establish a mechanism that would enable all parents in similar situations to receive appropriate answers to the question of what happened to babies stolen from the hospital during the 1980s in the former Yugoslavia.

Another case is the case of old foreign currency saving. In the case “Alisic and Others v. BiH, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and FYR Macedonia”, the ECHR, in addition to compensating the applicants, obliged the former SFRY member states to allow the applicants to take possession of old foreign currency savings within 6 months of the judgment becoming final under the same conditions as Serbian citizens who have savings in domestic branches of Serbian banks.

As he says, both of these verdicts were a big problem for Serbia.

The issue of old foreign currency savings was resolved by passing a law after the expiration of a period far longer than 6 months, while the issue of missing babies is still unresolved. The existing bill on this second issue does not offer an adequate solution to this problem because the state has avoided executing a verdict in the part in which it is obliged to conduct an effective and adequate investigation to reveal the truth about the mechanism of baby theft.

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