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Human Rights Watch’s Open Letter to Serbia

HRW dispatch photo
A room in the Veternik Institution for children and adults with disabilities where 540 persons, including children with disabilities live. Up to eight people live in one room. © 2015 Emina Ćerimović for Human Rights Watch
September 11, 2020

Earlier this summer, Human Rights Watch (HRW) collaborated with five disability advocacy organizations to release a joint open letter to Serbia’s Prime Minister expressing concern about the situation of men, women, and children with disabilities living in institutions across Serbia and calling for greater transparency in daily figures reporting.

HRW’s research and advocacy in Serbia started when SCSC Founder, Kim Samuel, visited Serbia and witnessed how children with disabilities were being placed in orphanages and institutions, with very little social contact and developmental opportunities. This led HRW to investigate the situation and release a report in 2016, which highlighted the neglect and overcrowding in Serbia’s institutions. Now, with the rise of COVID-19, these conditions have become doubly dangerous, putting the people living in these institutions at higher risk of infections, complications, and death. To date, the Serbian government had been publishing daily information on the number of infected individuals living in these institutions; however, the government had refused to release the total number of infections and deaths.

Following the publication of this letter, HRW’s advocacy efforts have resulted in the Institute of Public Health of Serbia’s commitment to releasing data on the total number of COVID-19 infections and deaths inside social care institutions. Understanding the scale and circumstances of infections and deaths are a key element of making informed policy decisions, and the release of this data is a significant step towards evaluating the impact of the outbreak on social care institutions. COVID-19 highlights the dangers of institutionalization, making it clearer than ever why the practice must come to an end. In line with Serbia’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, the government must work towards upholding the right of all persons with disabilities to live independently in their communities as equals.

Click here to read HRW’s full dispatch.