Monday, 5 May 2014

Praxis – An Example of a Successful Project

Taken from Norway's official website in Serbia

30.04.2014 // With a three-year-long project aimed to improve the position of marginalised groups in Serbia, especially the Roma population, the NGO Praxis serves as an example of what the Embassy considers a successful project partner.

The Belgrade-based non-governmental and non-profit organization Praxis has finalised a three-year-long project entitled Contribution to Social Inclusion and Combat against Discrimination of Marginalized Population in Serbia in partnership with the Roma Educational Centre from Subotica and the Osvit organisation from Nis.

As part of the project, which was financially supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Praxis monitored implementation of relevant legislation and strategic documents aimed at improving the status of marginalized groups, analyzed the effects of their implementation, and recorded cases of discrimination and violation of rights.

The collected information and findings constituted the basis for the activities of advocacy for changing laws, policies and practices of relevant state authorities.

Simultaneously, the purpose of educational workshops for residents of informal settlements and roundtables for representatives of relevant authorities and service providers was to empower the members of marginalized groups to use the existing legal mechanisms to exercising and protect their rights, as well as to sensitize the representatives of authorities to the problems that these people face in accessing their guaranteed rights.

A final report was developed, based on a combination of legal framework analysis, case studies, surveys and focus groups with individuals of the Roma community, as well as interviews with representatives of relevant authorities and institutions.

The report presented the results achieved and progress made, in addition to remaining problems regarding the exercise of the right to be recognized as a person before the law, right to social welfare and health care, education, work and employment and adequate housing.

Praxis’ work dates back to 2004 when this non-governmental and non-profit organization was established following their project cooperation with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which was funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

NRC had a long-standing commitment to legal aid in the region, and eventually left it to their local offices to found their own organizations and continue with the work.

“This strategy obviously worked out, and we have not only remained a functional organization, but are regarded with respect,” says Ivanka Kostic, Praxis Executive Director.

During its ten years of existence, the organization provided free legal assistance for a total of 70,106 people; initiated and conducted a total of 14,123 administrative or judicial proceedings; organized over 900 site visits attended by over 18,000 people who got information and advice related to access to socioeconomic and status rights; and represented 170 female victims of domestic violence in a total of 305 court proceedings.

From NRC, Praxis also inherited the practice of working with migrant groups, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Given the fact that many IDPs were Roma, and that the local Roma population was facing a number of the abovementioned problems, Praxis’ work quickly became focused around the Roma population.

They spent much time in the field and in local communities, which helped them gather information and reaching out to people that normally had difficulties with accessing information and assistance services.

“The problems we were dealing with spread further onto socio-economic rights, health care, education, employment, social protection - and when we reached the issue of housing as one of the key problem areas, we found our niche,” says Kostic.

Engagement on the policy level

In order to bring forth the changes that only the state can make, they entered cooperation with state bodies and other relevant stakeholders.

“We relied on this cooperation even when we were being critical and were proposing certain unpopular changes, but the changes we have contributed to over the years have shown that this was successful after all,” Kostic says.

Regarding the issue of legally invisible persons, Praxis teamed up with the Center for Advanced Legal Studies, and their experts drafted a model law: the Law on Amendments to the Law on Non-Contentious Procedure – for establishing the time and place of birth, which can be reverted to if a person cannot be registered under the Law on General Administrative Procedure.

“This new law was needed because, as we have repeatedly been saying, a large number of people find themselves in a specific situation where they cannot register for citizenship,” Kostic says.

At first they encountered strong resistance from the then Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, Administration and Local Self-Government. Through an EU-supported project, however, they looked at experiences from Bulgaria and Romania as well as other EU-countries with a high flow of migrants, and organized the stakeholders.

“The ombudsman was on board with us and, finally, referred the draft law proposal to the parliament,” Kostic explained.

The Law was adopted with minor changes in 2012. But, it has yet to be fully implemented in practice.

“Following its implementation, analyzing its effects and advocating for practical solutions also require vast efforts,” Kostic added.

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