Nationality & Statelessness

Monday, 7 March 2016

Roma in Serbia Still Denied Birth Certificates – Human Rights Organisations Take Legal Action to Challenge Register Offices’ Unlimited Power

Almost 5% of Roma children born in Serbia are unable to secure a birth certificate, leaving them at risk of statelessness.  If they are never registered, they will be excluded from accessing education, social insurance and healthcare. They might never be able to marry officially and they increase the risk that their own children will be stateless.

Human rights organisations started legal proceedings today in Serbia’s Constitutional Court to take away register offices’ unlimited power to deny birth certificates to children born in the country. The organisations behind the legal challenge hope this will finally stop register offices from denying Roma birth certificates for their children, which leaves them legally invisible and at risk of statelessness.

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) and Praxis, supported by the European Network on Statelessness, lodged a constitutional initiative to the Constitutional Court arguing that Serbia’s law on registers allows officials to deprive children of their right to a name and a legal identity by giving them legal cover for refusing to issue birth certificates. The law in question is a vaguely-worded provision that says registrars can delay registering the birth of a child in order to verify the information on the register. The law is contrary to the internationally recognised human right of every child to be registered immediately after birth. Under the constitutional initiative procedure, non-governmental organisations can challenge a provision of legislation as being unconstitutional.

“Serbian law gives registrars too much power, and they are using it to deprive Roma children of their internationally recognised right to get a birth certificate immediately. Today, we’re calling for the Constitutional Court to put an end to it”, said Dorde Jovanovic, the ERRC’s President.

Praxis, a Serbia-based NGO, has been providing legal aid to families who are victims of this rule for many years, helping them secure documents. Praxis has also been working with government and UNHCR to find solutions to the problem. Their first success was introducing a new kind of court proceeding that allows people whose birth was unregistered to get registered if they meet certain requirements.But that still leaves many children – mostly Roma – without birth certificates for significant periods after birth.

“Our work with international agencies and the government has led to some progress, but Serbian law still allows the authorities to leave newborn children legally invisible. We hope the court agrees with us that this is in breach of Serbia’s constitution”, said Ivanka Kostic, Praxis’s Executive Director.

Praxis and the ERRC are both members of the European Network on Statelessness (ENS), and the two organisations designed this litigation as part of ENS’s three year pan European litigation strategy to end childhood statelessness.

The organisations believe that the way the rule is applied is discriminatory against Roma. These legal proceedings are about whether the rule is compatible with the rights of the child. Every child is entitled to a name and a legal identity from birth. This litigation promises to make this a reality in Serbia for all children.

Download the Initiative here.

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