Social & Economic rights

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Judicial practice leaves citizens undocumented

Medina [1] was born in Pristina in 2003. Under the Republic of Serbia’s Constitution and laws, Pristina is in Serbia. However, the institutions of the Republic of Serbia do not function in Pristina. This means that Medina was born in a hospital outside of the Serbia’s health care system and is not registered in the birth registry books of the Republic of Serbia, but in the civil registry books in Kosovo. Serbia has not recognised Kosovo, and consequently the entries in the civil registry books in Kosovo, just like the documents issued by the Kosovo authorities, cannot produce legal effect in Serbia and cannot be used in legal transactions. These documents cannot be used for exercising any rights before the authorities in Serbia: they cannot be used for identification, to get a job, to obtain a health card, to open a bank account, to get married or to register a child in birth registry books. In a nutshell, these documents seem to be inexistent. 

However, this is not necessarily the case in court procedures in Serbia. The Basic Court in Bujanovac rejected Medina's request for issuing a decision on determining the date and place of her birth, based on which she could be registered in the birth registry books in Serbia. Then, the Higher Court in Vranje upheld the decision of the first instance court. Such decisions of both courts were guided by the Conclusion of the Supreme Court of Cassation, which took the position that “persons who are registered in the civil registry books of the so-called Republic of Kosovo cannot ask the non-contentious court to determine the fact of their date and place of birth” and that the court “cannot determine a known fact”.

Therefore, the highest court in the country, whose views are followed by lower courts, considers that registration in the civil registry books in Kosovo is a legally relevant fact, despite the fact that the Republic of Serbia has not recognised Kosovo, and consequently the civil records and the documents issued on the basis of such records are not valid in Serbia. From the perspective of the legal system of Serbia, these documents and registry books do not exist. Even more absurd is the fact that in one and the same sentence the Supreme Court of Cassation refers to Kosovo as the “so-called republic”, and also considers that the facts recorded in the civil registry books of that “so-called republic” are “indisputable” and “known”.

This certainly is not just a legal or political problem, i.e. the issue of whether the courts treat legally the status of Kosovo and the validity of documents issued by the institutions of Kosovo. On the contrary, the consequences of this judicial practice for the lives of many families in Serbia are even more significant. Such attitudes of the courts will create situations where persons born in Kosovo and registered in the civil registry books in Kosovo, but living in Serbia (outside Kosovo), often for years, will be left without the opportunity to register in the civil registry books of Serbia and exercise any rights, despite the fact that they were born in the territory of the Republic of Serbia and that they meet the conditions for Serbian citizenship. 

Medina also found herself in that situation. In 2020, she entered cohabitation and moved from Pristina to Bujanovac. Since then, she has unsuccessfully attempted to regulate her status and has lived deprived of any rights; she does not have a health card, cannot get a job, cannot move freely or exercise social security rights. She does not have access to any of these rights, because the authorities of the Republic of Serbia do not recognise the documents issued in Kosovo, and she has not managed to register in the civil registry books of Serbia. In fact, the documents issued in Kosovo are valid only in the situation where registration in the birth registry books in Kosovo appears as a reason for refusing registration in the birth registry books of the Republic of Serbia, but when it is necessary to exercise some rights based on these documents - they are inexistent. 

It may not be very important for the unacceptable situation in which Medina found herself, but it should be mentioned that her parents did not choose where Medina would be born bearing in mind any political context or awareness of the territory in which some documents were recognised. Medina and her family are members of the Roma national minority, whose position is equally difficult both in Kosovo and in Serbia. Simply, Medina's mother gave birth in the place where she lives and in the maternity hospital that was only available to her. When she initiated a procedure for registration in the civil registry books in Serbia, Medina even submitted her documents from Kosovo as evidence, thinking that it could help in that procedure, and not suspecting that the exact opposite would happen and that because of those documents she would actually remain without registration in the birth registry books in Serbia.

Recently, Medina also had a child that she could not register at birth because she did not have an ID card, which means that this family now has two undocumented members.

Before initiating the procedure before the court, Medina tried to register in civil registry books in the administrative procedure, before the registry office. However, that request was also rejected, with the explanation that she did not have a proof of the fact of her birth and that the hospital where he was born was not in the network of health care institutions in Serbia. 

Non-contentious court procedure for determining the date and place of birth was introduced in the legal system in 2012 as a solution for many persons who could not be registered in birth registry books in administrative procedure. However, the positions taken by the Supreme Court of Cassation, according to which persons registered in the birth registry books in Kosovo should solve the issue of registration in the birth registry books of Serbia in administrative procedures, make the procedure for determining the date and place of birth completely meaningless and actually prevent reaching its intended goal - to reduce the number of undocumented persons and enable everyone to register in birth registry books.

The only option Medina now has is to address the Constitutional Court of Serbia. However, having in mind the length of procedures conducted before that court, it is certain that Medina will wait for several years for a decision and live for a long time without any rights.

 

[1] Her real name has been changed to protect her privacy

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