Tuesday, 18 October 2005

Easier Access to Personal Documents for Internally Displaced Persons from Kosovo




Internally displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija face major obstacles in obtaining excerpts from the birth, marriage, death and citizenship registry books dislocated from Kosovo to several towns in Southern and Central Serbia. In the period from June 1999 - June 2003, these registry books were administered by the registry offices dislocated from Kosovo to Serbia. Since June 2003 the registry offices in Serbia (Nis, Kragujevac, Kraljevo, Krusevac, Jagodina, Vranje and Leskovac) have been in charge of the administration of the registry books for the territory of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija.

In 2002, the Norwegian Refugee Council's Civil Rights Project (NRC/CRP) began providing assistance to IDPs with the obtaining of documents. At first, NRC/CRP addressed registry offices by mail, sending the requests for obtaining IDPs' registry book excerpts (with the receipts on paid administrative fees enclosed), because the places of IDPs' temporary residence/exile in Serbia were often located far from the registry offices. Since at that time the registry offices had not been answering the requests received by mail, this practice has been changed and the requests were submitted personally by NRC/CRP staff members authorized by IDPs through powers of attorney. The aim of such practice was to speed up the procedure of obtaining documents and to avoid IDPs' travel expenses; especially taking into consideration the fact that often IDPs did not succeed in obtaining documents and were not instructed on further steps in cases of not being registered into registry books or in cases of missing registry books or books left in Kosovo.

In September 2004, Praxis continued with the work initiated by NRC, taking into account the fact that the possession of personal documents is the basis for exercising the rights to social welfare, health care, education, employment and other fundamental rights.

Referring to the experience gained in the work on individual cases, in April 2005 Praxis addressed the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government pointing out the irregularities in the work of these registry offices i. e. in handling requests for obtaining excerpts and certificates, which was not according to the law.

In July 2005, the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government informed Praxis that the registry offices were instructed on how to handle the requests for issuing registry book excerpts and certificates, in order to eliminate the irregularities indicated by Praxis.

Upon receiving a notification letter from the mentioned Ministry, Praxis resumed sending IDPs' requests by mail, enclosing the receipts on paid administrative fees for issuing documents. It has been noticed that the registry offices began to act in accordance with the Ministry's instruction: to process requests received by mail and also to send documents by mail. However, certain registry offices addressed Praxis with the request to enclose blank forms of excerpts and certificates when requesting the issuance of documents.

Praxis will continue following up on the work of registry offices and at the same time it will continue lobbying for easier and less complicated access to personal documents. It should be mentioned that in addition to providing legal assistance, Praxis bears the cost of administrative fees for issuing documents, thus freeing the clients of any expenses in the process of obtaining their documents. Praxis also reimburses the travel expenses to IDPs who need to travel to the police offices dislocated from Kosovo to Serbia for the purpose of obtaining their ID cards.

UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Principle 20
1. Every human being has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
2. To give effect to this right for internally displaced persons, the authorities concerned shall issue to them all documents necessary for the enjoyment and exercise of their legal rights, such as passports, personal identification documents, birth certificates and marriage certificates. In particular, the authorities shall facilitate the issuance of new documents or the replacement of documents lost in the course of displacement, without imposing unreasonable conditions, such as requiring the return to one's area of habitual residence in order to obtain these or other required documents.




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