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News 09 Nov 17

Serbian NGO Wants Life Without Parole for Child Killers

A petition seeking much harsher prison terms for convicted child killers has gained popularity in Serbia, but some experts warn that if Serbia adopted the proposal, it risked violating its international obligations.

Filip Rudic
Activists gathered 150,000 signatures in favor of changing the law. Photo: Facebook/Tijana Juric Foundation Fan Page

The Tijana Juric Foundation, an organisation named after a murdered teen and which campaigns for the safety of children in Serbia, is due to submit a petition on Thursday in support of giving life prison terms without parole for convicted killers of minors and pregnant women.

Over 150,000 citizens have signed it. "I expect full support [in parliament]. Considering ... the great support from citizens, I am certain the proposition will soon be on the agenda and will eventually be adopted," the organisation's founder, Igor Juric, told BIRN.

The foundation, named after Juric's teenage daughter, who was murdered in 2014, said its campaign to change the law will not end once the petition is turned in.

"By signing [the petition], citizens have united behind the opinion that the current maximum sentence of 30 to 40 years in prison for the gravest cases of child killings is not enough, and that the time has come to make changes," the foundation said in a press release.

It said it had campaigned in more than 40 Serbian towns and cities between October 23 and October 29, and had gathered far more than the 30,000 signatures required to put the proposition before parliament.

Tijana Juric was kidnapped in 2014 by Dragan Djuric, a 34-year-old butcher from the Belgrade neighbourhood of Surcin. Twelve days later, her dead body was found buried in the area of Sombor, in the north of Serbia.

On her father, Igor's, initiative, Serbia's parliament amended the Police Act in 2015 to ensure that a police search for a missing child begins right after parents notify them of the disappearance, rather than waiting 48 hours, as was the law until then.

After the so-called "Tijana’s law" was adopted, Igor Juric continued to campaign for measures that he claims would increase the safety of children.

However, a legal councillor at the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, Milena Vasic, said that if the foundation's proposal was adopted, it might not make things any better.

"This is a quite populist [proposal], which will not decrease the crime rate," Vasic told BIRN.

According to her, prevention of crime is greatly neglected in Serbia, as it requires financial means and years of work before its results show, while measures like stiffer prison terms appear to promise immediate results.

Vasic said that Serbia would also risk violating the European Convention on Human Rights if it accepted the proposal, as it might contravene "the ban on torture, inhumane or humiliating treatment," Vasic said.

Juric, however, says they are well aware of international law. "When writing this proposal, we were guided by examples of legislation in some European countries," he said.

Vasic added that another problem was that the measure would go against the Serbian constitution, which says that the already "achieved level of human rights must not be decreased – and instituting this penalty would decrease it".

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