Ms. Aleksandra Marin. Head of Department for Protection of the Rights of the Child. Bosnia-and-Herzegovina

Ms. Aleksandra Marin. Head of Department for Protection of the Rights of the Child. Bosnia-and-Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Aleksandra Marin is the current Head of Department for Protection of the Rights of the Child in Ombudsman in Bosnia Herzegovina. In 2002 she graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Banjaluka, Bosnia Herzegovina. And in 2005 she obtained the Bar exam at the Ministry of Justice. Aleksandra Marin speaks Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian. And she is also fluent in English and Russian. Her professional experience is large. From 2002 to 2009 she became an expert associate at the Court of first instance in Banjaluka meanwhile she worked as a civil servant on child and social protection at the Ministry of Health and Social Protection during more than one year.

Can you please provide us a short description of your Institution activities and objectives and in particular related to children in conflict with the law issues?

In June 2009, in accordance with the Law on Ombudsman for Human Rights of Bosnia Herzegovina, the Department for the protection of the Rights of the Child began its work as an organizational unit. Its establishment reflects the Ombudsman’s institutional commitment to promote and protect children’s rights. This approach ensures taking measures for the promotion of children’s right that require long-term planning and mutually bind a number of different entities working in this field. The Department represents the national mechanism to ensure equal access to the realization and the protection of the children’s rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The importance and the role of this Department were recognized by the organization “Save the Children”, which has provided financial assistance for the implementation of certain activities of the Department. Currently, the Department has three employees, but specific activities are realized by the project staff.

Which are juvenile crime trends in Bosnia and Herzegovina ? Can you precise the main causes of juvenile crime and its link with communities tensions? Have juvenile crime prevention policies been implemented in the recent years and if it is the case, with which results?

With regard to juvenile delinquency, in BiH there are no special or separate courts. Nevertheless, there are lex specialis prescribing the protection and treatment procedures for the children and minors in criminal proceedings, which are a significant improvement of the judiciary system. In January 2011, a new law on the protection and treatment of the children and minors in criminal proceedings entered into force in Republic of Srpske (one part of the State). This law constitues a great breakthrough in ensuring children's rights in the area of juvenile justice. The Ombudsmen Institution shall request the competent organs to ensure full implementation of this Law as soon as possible. The Law stipulates that a special department for minors consisted of one or more judges and professional advisors should be established in first instance courts. Moreover, juvenile departments formed by one or more prosecutors and one or more advisors shloud be established in the prosecutors offices. A great news is that it is prescribed that court's and prosecutor's offices, as a rule, should have a professional advisor: social pedagogues – teachers of speech, social workers and psychologists. With regard to criminal sanctions, only older minors and only exceptionally they can be sentenced to juvenile prisons.

With regard to FBiH, at the time of preparation of the present report, there is an ongoing public discussion on the Draft Law on protection and treatment of children and minors in criminal proceedings. Furthermore, the Ombudsmen institution forwarded some suggestions and opinions to the competent ministry. Namely, the Ombudsmen recommended in a case initiated ex officio to the first instance court, conducting criminal proceedings against committers of criminal offence damaging several minors, to consider possibility to use already recorded hearings of children by prosecutors as evidence in favour of prosecution to avoid additional traumas of children/victim; all of this in the best interest of the child and in conformity with the Convention and, regardless of this, to fully apply domestic procedural and material previsions and to undertake lawful, proper and just decisions based on presented evidence, explaining valid and significant reasons for presentation of evidence through reading witness statements and avoiding re-hearings of children/victims or witnesses.

The first instance court did not accept the ombuds-recommendation and the Ombudsmen prepared a special report drawing the attention of the Parliament and the competent ministry of the justice to the fact that is necessary to adopt the Law on the protection and the treatment of the children and minors in criminal proceedings and to reconsider opinions and suggestions contained in the recommendation forwarded to the Court from the Ombudsmen. Despite the completed reform of the criminal legislation, as well as the reform of the criminal sanctions execution legislation, the Ombudsmen had to unfortunately state that this area is not significantly improved; a condition which was also underscored in the reports issued by the Council of Europe Committee for Prevention of Torture and inhuman and degrading Treatments (CPT). This problem is strongly highlighted by the Ombudsmen in its special report on the situation in the institutions for the execution of criminal sanctions in BiH published in September 2009. There is not an adequate system for monitoring the execution of the juvenile prison sentences, although it should be said that the State is obligated to establish NPM (national preventive mechanism) in conformity with the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) before the end of 2011. In BiH there are still established different bodies with different competencies for the evaluation of the situation in prisons without any mechanism of coordination in this process; not a single one of these bodies meet the criteria set forth by OPCAT. Moreover, in BiH there is obviously a lack of the work on the rehabilitation of minors serving a sentence as well as preventive programs and activities in this area.

The Department will also finish a special report with relevant statistics about juvenile delinquency with concrete recommendations to state government by the end of 2012.

The IJJO is providing an international campaign on legal aid for children in conflict with law. What are your perspectives and opinion about the situation juvenile justice and legal assistance for children in conflict with law in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Bosnia and Herzegovina has rules providing legal assistance during the whole procedures, but we should also work on establishment and form mechanism for investigations, studies and evaluations regarding preventive activities in this area, work on the elimination of defects in the alternative measures for detention and adequate forms of rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law. We should also improve material conditions for detention of persons deprived of liberty and younger than 18, and ensure the implementation of the Law on the Protection of the Minors and Children in Criminal Proceedings in RS and in FBiH (in forthcoming period this law should be adopted).

Under which law or rule the juvenile justice system of your country is ruled? What are the possible sanctions or measures for young offenders and the ratio of their implementation? How many minors are currently detained in prison?

The juvenile justice system in BiH must concern political and constitutional issues; therefore, we have different entities, such as Ministries of Justice, Ministries in cantons and one state level Ministry. Other data and statistics will be available by the end of the year in a special report about the juvenile delinquency.

What have been the main issues related to Juvenile Justice in your country in the last 10 years and how your Department has contributed to solve or denounce the different problems?

In my opinion, this question has been already answered.

With regards to juvenile system in Europe, what kind of collaboration is there between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the others European member states? What kind of bilateral agreements are established?

From our point of view, the Ombudsman of BiH is a member of all relevant networks. In November 2010 the Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina was accredited by the International coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights (ICC) and it also granted status (A) - which means that it has a high degree of independency and it is working according to the Paris Principles – and the rights to vote in the ICC related matters. Moreover, it brought the additional obligations and more active interaction with the international bodies dealing with the human rights protection.

Concerning the bilateral agreements established with regard to the juvenile system in Europe, the Department has not got data about those issues and for now, there is a lack of human resources to provide you all those information, but you can address this question to the BiH Ministry of Civil Affairs, the BiH Ministry for Refugees and Human Rights or the BiH Ministry of Justice.

First priority of Department for protection of the Rights of the Child is to protect children rights, handle individual cases and then, according to available resources, promoting children rights as a part of the prevention and educational activities. The Department is dealing with approximately 100 complaints, which are cases we are investigating, not including phone calls or legal advices in an informal conversations with clients (in most cases parents).

The complaints lodged to the Department reveal that, in most cases, the respondent parties complain of social welfare centers, courts and schools, but not so much of educational institutions/inspections and relevant ministries in charge of child care and social education.

In addition to the individual complaints processing, the Department for protection of the rights of the child took a series of activities and measures to promote the rights of the child; just to mention a few, research on the rights of children, education sessions in schools, preparation of special reports, participation in expert meetings dealing with children rights, providing opinions and suggestions during the preparation of the legislation, strategies and the like.

The general opinion of the Ombudsman is that in Bosnia and Herzegovina the children rights are mostly violated due to the poor economic and social situation within the State. Budget funds enabling the realization of most of the guaranteed rights pursuant to the law and applicable by-laws are allocated from the local communities (towns and municipalities) budgets. However, it should be emphasized that funds allocated to the children are far less than the funds allocated to the other categories of population, such as veterans, civil victims of war, disabled war veterans and the like.

The general poverty in BiH has a direct impact to the respect of the rights of children. The non-existence of statistical data, analyses, procedures, standards, and regulations based on professional principles pose a problem in BiH. For this reason, it is very difficult to create a picture of a real status of the children rights in BiH.

In the opinion of the Ombudsman, it could be stated that there is a gap between the legislation and its implementation and between the legislation and its implementation and lack of budgetary funds allocated to children and realization of their rights. International organizations such as Save the Children financially support activities that Ombudsmen implement. Other relevant stakeholders such as UNICEF, relevant NGOs, and Medias are partners that are helping Institution to achieve its goal. Of course a competent representative of authorities that understands the role of Ombudsmen and follow its recommendations would be in the best interest of Children.