Presentations by:
Serbia Autonomous Women's Center
Slavoljupka Pavlovic
Jelena Keserovic
International Conference on Domestic Violence






I believe that in the beginning of my speech it is important to mention that Serbia is one of Balkan countries where patriarchal thought and family relationships are still very strong and dominant. That is one of essential reasons for which domestic violence is not considered as serious social problem, but rather as “normal” and natural behaviour and private matter of each individual.


There are two main reasons for which this problem is being observed in different manner:


  1. For a very long period women’s non-governmental organizations and groups have publicly agitated and lobbied for the law on protection from domestic violence.
  2. Serbia is in the process of European integration, which directly indicates harmonization with European legal standards.


Due to aforementioned issues specific right has been established - right to be free from domestic violence.


In 2002. the Law on Amendments to Criminal Law of Republic of Serbia has been passed and it was enforced in March 2002. That is when domestic violence has been defined as specific criminal act for the first time.

Today there is criminal and family legal system for protection form domestic violence.




In February 2005. the Parliament of Republic of Serbia has passed a new Family Law which is being enforced since July 1st 2005. This Law introduces family law orders for protection from domestic violation.


The Family Law and the aforementioned Law on amendments to the Criminal Law of Republic of Serbia from 2002 are based on regulations consisted in the “Legal protection from domestic violence Model” which was compiled by the Victimology Society of Serbia and which was supported by women’s non-governmental organizations and groups in Serbia.


The Family Law strictly prohibits domestic violence and it states the right of each individual to protection from domestic violence.


Within this law domestic violence is defined as behaviour of a family member that harms physical integrity, mental health or tranquillity of another family member. The law also names different forms of domestic violence:


1. Infliction or attempt of infliction of physical harm;

2. Causing feelings of fear with a treat of killing or inflicting physical harm to family member or person close to;

3. Forcing to sexual relation;

4. Invitation to sexual relation or sexual relation with a person who is not 14 years old or with incapable person;

5. Limitation of freedom of movement or communications with third parties;

6. Verbal assaults, as any other impertinent, reckless or malice behaviour.



The legislator deliberately refused to name the forms of domestic violence through classification based on the enumeration principle due to fact that violence has many manifestations and to try to make a clear list of the forms of violence would make the task of complete protection of victims impossible.


Range of persons who can demand protection from domestic violence is also widely determined and it includes:


1.      Spouses and ex-spouses


2. Children, parents, and other related cousins (in blood, in law and adoption) and persons related by guardianship;


3. Persons who live or lived in the same family household;


4. Extra marital partners or ex extra marital partners;


5. Couples who were or still are in emotional or sexual relationship, or who have or are expecting a child, even though they have never lived together in a shared household


In such manner cases of violence in emotional relationships, both in heterosexual and homosexual relationships are included.


The court may issue one or more orders against the person who perpetuates domestic violence that temporarily prohibits or limits personal relations with other family member.

Protection orders form domestic violence are:


1. Issuance of a injunction for removing from the family house or apartment, regardless the right of owning or renting the property;


2. Issuance of a injunction for moving in the family house or apartment, regardless the right of owning or renting the property;


3. Prohibition of approaching family member at a certain distance;


4. Prohibition of access to the place of residence or workplace of a family member at a certain distance;


5. Prohibition of further disturbance of family member.


(3) Protection order from domestic violence may last maximum up to one year, though it may be extended until the reasons for which it was issued no longer exist.



Furthermore, Family Law of Serbia provides that a parent shall entirely be deprived of parental right in case he or she abuses the rights or neglects duties consisted within the parental right. That is the most serious family law sanction that is practically imposed only in cases of extreme violence of a parent against a child. When progress in this area is concerned, it is of importance to mention that the government of Republic of Serbia has passed the “General Protocol on Protection of Children from Abuse and Negligence” in August 2005. The Protocol defines different forms of abuse and negligence of children in conformity with the criteria of the World Health Organization.


Proceedings regarding protection from domestic violence are specific form of civil proceedings and they are regulated by the Family Law. In all the cases that are not regulated by the Family Law, rules stated within the Law on Civil Proceedings are enforced.


Legal issues consisted within marital and parental proceedings are rather complex and for that reason new Family Law provides that such proceedings shall be entrusted to specialised panels of judges. Specialisation is enacted since July 1st 2006. Proceedings of first instance regarding the family relationships are being conducted by the panel consisted of one judge and two judge jurors, while proceedings upon complaint are conducted by the panel consisted of three judges. Judges must be chosen among professionals who have gained special knowledge in the field of children’s rights, while jurors are selected among professionals experienced in working with children and juveniles. Unfortunately this is not practically enforced in proper manner yet. Training that judges go through in order to work in specialised panels lasts only for five days. Such trainings do not put enough emphasis on expanding knowledge including other fields as well, such as psychology, social service and pedagogy, which are essential in marital and family relationships. Objectively speaking that is impossible to achieve in such a short period of time.


The Family Law provides that proceedings in the field of protection from domestic violence shall be considered urgent. First hearing is appointed within the term of eight days from the day the charge has been received. As a general rule, the court should conduct entire proceedings in no more than two hearings and pass the sentence. The court of second instance is obligated to reach the decision within the period of 15 days from the day of charge delivery. Unfortunately, that is not the case in practice. Victims may sometimes wait for months, and in some cases even a year before the court order is issued. In such a long period of time imposition of protective measures aiming at saving the victim from violence quickly and efficiently, loses its meaning. Such things happen because there are no proper sanctions for negligent judges who do not perform their duties efficiently. The victim may only make  a complaint against the inefficient judge to the president of the court and the president of the court may admonish the judge or assign another panel of judges to conduct the case.


In such proceedings, the principle of disposition – where parties are given freedom of disposition is quite limited. The court may impose the protective measures that have not been demanded by the charge of the party. It is also of great importance that the Family Law provides that the court may determine protective measures in case he or she, after the consideration of the evidence, comes to conclusion that the complainant, defendant or their child is the victim of domestic violence.


In the nature of things, these proceedings are not open for public and the principle of discretion is in effect.


Apart from the family member who has been a victim of domestic violence and his or her legal representative, charge aiming at imposition of protective measures from domestic violence, as well as extension of these measures may also be brought by the public prosecutor and the guardianship authority (Social service centre). The public prosecutor or the guardianship authority who brings a charge has the same status as the party, which means that they are given rights and duties during the proceedings as those of the natural persons. However, such authorities are also not trained properly to work with victims of violence. Besides, prosecutor’s office and the social service centres are financed by the state budget. They are required to pay all the expenses during the proceedings such as legal costs, engagement of experts. Since the budget does not provides financial means for that purpose, public prosecutors and guardianship authorities hesitate to bring charges against domestic violence.


Moreover, victims of psychological violence are in a very difficult position during the proceedings aiming at imposition of protective measures. More accurately it is almost impossible to impose protective measures in such cases for many reasons. Firstly, judges are not sensitised to this issue. I am obligated to mention once again that we are referring to Balkan country where patriarchal traditional thought still dominates. As a consequence, many among the judges do not include shouting, disrespectful language, and similar behaviours into domestic violence but consider such behaviour as ordinary. Apart from that, psychological violence has multiple manifestations and very frequently it occurs only between the perpetrator and the victim and not in presence of third parties. In such cases it is rather difficult, and sometimes entirely impossible to present evidence of violence before the court. The victim cannot record audibly or visually the perpetrator of violence since such tapes cannot be presented as evidence before the court. In accordance with our law system the only evidence considered is limited to witnesses, written records, expert’s opinions, hearing of the parties and investigation. In cases of psychological violence there are usually no witnesses and written evidence is quite rare. In the nature of things the investigation is impossible. And as far as expert’s opinion is considered there are no adequate experts in the field of medicine or psychology who are specialized to give opinion regarding the consequences that domestic violence has imposed upon the psychological integrity and to what degree the victim has been traumatised. Obviously, in most of the cases the only evidence can be taken directly from hearing the victim and the perpetrator of violence. “Word against word”. In cases when the judges are not sensitised to the issue of victims of domestic violence and as a result they do not have a clear picture of the behaviour of victim and perpetrator, it is obvious that the perpetrator will win the case. Very often, perpetrators of violence are well prepared prior to appearing before the court and they behave kindly and courteously. On the other hand, victims may react differently; sometimes they may lose their temper and start to shout; sometimes due to their traumas, their statements may be disjointed, they cannot express their thoughts and very often they give impression of rather confused and humble persons. This issue must be emphasised. According to the latest research, every second woman in Serbia is the victim of psychological violence. As far as I am informed, since new Family Law has been passed there has only been one sentence where the protective measures against psychological violence have been passed and that was in Municipal Court of Smederevo, but it has been rescinded during the proceedings of second instance by the District Court.






On January 1st 2006, new Criminal Law of Republic of Serbia has been passed and it has resulted in certain changes in legal regulative of domestic violence.


In conformity with new law, marital rape is defined as criminal act against sexual freedom. The law that was previously in effect did not consider marital rape as criminal act which should be punished.


As far as the domestic violence is concerned all sanctions referring to criminal act of domestic violence have been lifted. However, new criminal law has included new form of criminal act of domestic violence and it refers to cases where the measures for protection from domestic violence imposed by the court in conformity with the law are not obeyed. In such manner, if the court passes a judgement prohibiting the perpetrator of violence to approach the victim at distance less than 300 metres and the perpetrator approach the victim at distance of 10 metres, violating the court order in such manner, the public prosecutor is obligated to initiate criminal proceeding against the perpetrator.


The criminal act of domestic violence is formulated as domestic violence.




(1) Whoever by use of violence, threat of attacks against life or body, insolent or ruthless behaviour endangers the tranquillity, physical integrity or mental condition of a member of his family, shall be punished with a fine or imprisonment up to one year.

(2) If in committing the offence specified in paragraph 1 of this Article weapons, dangerous implements or other means suitable to inflict serious injury to body or seriously impair health are used, the offender shall be punished with imprisonment from three months to three years.

(3) If the offence specified in paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article results in grievous bodily harm or serious health impairment or if committed against a minor, the offender shall be punished with imprisonment from one to eight years.

(4) If the offence specified in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of this Article results in death of a family member, the offender shall be punished with imprisonment from three to twelve years,

            (5) Whoever violates a measure against domestic violence that was imposed on them by the court in accordance with the law  shall be punished with a fine or imprisonment up to six months.


In such manner completed system of protection from domestic violence is consisted in the Criminal Law and Family Law.


As far as enactment of the Criminal Law is concerned, there are no major problems in cases of physical violence, and especially when there is medical evidence and expert’s report. The evidence is clear and the proceedings end in a short period of time. The only problem refers to psychological violence. All the objections stated before when discussing psychological violence and the proceedings regarding order issuing are also present here.


Finally, in cases of protection of children from domestic violence, new Criminal Law provides more rigorous sanctions for the criminal act of abuse and negligence of juveniles.


Neglecting and Abusing a Minor


Article 193


(1) A parent, adoptive parent, guardian or other person who by gross dereliction of their duty to provide for and bring up a minor neglects a minor they are obliged to take care of, shall be punished with imprisonment up to three years.

            (2) A parent, adoptive parent, guardian or other person who abuses a minor or forces him to excessive labour or labour not commensurate with his age, or to mendacity, or for gain induces him to engage in other activities detrimental to his development, shall be punished with imprisonment from three months to five years.






New Family Law has been enforced for a year and a half so far, which is not long enough to establish court practice. That matter is still under consideration. However, it is significant that this issue is finally put within the legal frame and regulated by the law. That is, however, only the beginning. There is more to be done in order to sensitise persons working in institutions, such as courts, prosecutor’s offices and social service centres to the issue of domestic violence.





Legislation on Domestic Violence -  Serbia:

Lobbying, Implementation, Successes and Obstacles


Situation in country on domestic violence legislation and work of AWC-Autonomous Women's Center-Serbia

  • Political context in Serbia in the year 2006 is complexed and it’s not good for stabilization, it slows down initiated institutional and legal reforms. Legislative regarding domestic violence has moved forward by introduction of protective measures in the Family law (July 2005) and changed Criminal Code (January 2006). Since 2002, AWC continuously develop cooperation with relevant institutions to build a model of integral intervention (coordinated community action) in prevention and protection of domestic violence. One of the most important aspects of this work is knowledge improvement of judges, prosecutors, police, social workers, doctors and nurses on specifics of the phenomena of domestic violence, international recommendations and working models, equalization of legal practice and mutual connection of representatives of all relevant institutions.




  • In year 2001 AWC in agreement with women NGO’s started first national campaign in 30 cities. Using the research data from the Voice of Difference’s campaign in year 2000  when they realize unique door to door campaign, 36 500 women were asked “What the Republic of Serbia has to do to protect women from violence from men? - 64% of women responded – legislative changes. We addressed representatives of the state, with statement that new government refuses to include domestic violence as a criminal act in the proposal of amendments to the Criminal Law.

During the campaign 250 copies of the leaflet with the request for changes of the Criminal Law was given to the MP Ms Leila Ruždić Trifunović, who put each leaflet to place of seat of all others MP’s in the Serbian parliament.

AWC participated in the negotiations within Ministry of Justice, lobbying for the proposal of the new Article into the Criminal Law that had been created back in 1998 by the lawyers from NGO’s and women attorneys.

  • On Mach 9th, 2002 amendments to the Criminal Law came into force, and with them a new criminal act <<domestic violence>>  Article 118a.
  • After this change AWC had organized even bigger campaign that for the first time included TV spot and radio jingle. The broader public has been informed about the existence of the new criminal act and they have been invited to report it. Victims of domestic violence have been informed of what are the police’s and other state institutions ex officio procedures.
  • In the year 2003 “16 days of activism” campaign was dedicated to the women, killed by their partners. Most of these women had asked help from the institutions that didn’t protect them.

During this campaign AWC asked from the state to pass a new Family law and protection orders. Lawyers from the women NGO’s had again created a legislative proposal.

  • 2004 Campaign was used to address a letter to the Chairwoman of the newly formed Committee for Gender Equality of the National Parliament, Ms Leila Ruždić – Trifunović, with the request to include protection orders into the proposal of the Family Law.
  • In year 2005 in Februar new Family Law had been adopted that entered into the force on July 1st, 2005.

For the first time a new institute of law was provided in our legislature – protection orders, with a wide range of those who can ask for its issuance (emotional and sexual relationships).

The aim of the campaign was promotion of protection orders, with the intention to inform the public, and to make state institutions to apply them.

  • This year campaign is asking state and political parties (they in the middle of campaigning for the parliamentary elections scheduled for January) to take responsibility and to engage themselves in the Council of Europe Pan-European Campaign: STOP domestic violence against women.




I will tell you only in brief what are the existing Laws, and my colleague from the court will give you more detailed insight on the existing laws in Serbia.


  • The Family Law, that was passed on February 17th, 2005, introduced a great number of new institutes into legislative of Serbia, and for us the most important - protection orders.


  • From March 2002 amendments to the Criminal Law came into force, and with them a new criminal act <<domestic violence>>  Article 118a.

On September 29th, 2005 new Criminal Code was passed, and it came into force on January 1st, 2006. The article that incriminates domestic violence was added another paragraph that incriminates contempt of a protection order passed in accordance with Family law and by that the system of victims’ protection became coherent.


  • All this changes, that weren’t followed by explanations of the intentions of the legislator and by the obligatory opinions of the Republic prosecution office and/or Supreme Court of Serbia, led to ununiformed practice of all the state actors that should be protecting victims of domestic violence.



The research performed by AWC associates and professors from the Faculty of Law in Nis, focused on domestic violence cases in court proceedings and police departments (from  March 2002 to  December 2003) in five cities in Serbia, showed that the problem of inadequate legal practice/low implementation lies in uneven interpretation of the law, problems regarding bringing and rejection of criminal charges, punitive policy (type and length of punishment), procedures and mechanisms of protection. To be concrete, there is:

-          different  interpretation of a criminal law (articles, that influence on inadequate legal protection of domestic violence victims;

-          inadequate qualification of the criminal act (not as domestic violence criminal case, but as LAKSE of serious physical injuries);

-          withdrawal of criminal charges even  if there is no legal ground;

-          during the court proceedings, some of the circumstances, relevant to the case, are not considered or even are neglected;

-          public prosecutors often withdraw the criminal charges, if e.g. the  victim changes the given statement or if refuse to testify against the perpetrator;

-          public prosecutors often relies only on the victim’s statement as the only evidence and   fails to investigator other relevant evidences;

-          judges often do not consider all aggravating circumstances, such as duration and intensity of the previously committed acts of violence and other circumstances relevant for the case;

-          there is a tendency to probation sentences and fines;

-          the criminal proceedings often last for a unreasonable long time

-          time between the indictment and the court trial often lasts more than a year


Above mentioned legal practice analysis of attitudes of professionals toward work of institutions shows the following results:

-          majority (90% of those interviewed ) highlighted insufficient knowledge in the field of domestic violence;

-          there is a necessity for specialized services that provide adequate prevention  and repression measures;

-          majority of  interviewees have no feedback information regarding the further development of proceedings;

-          judges have very different opinions about punitive policy, even if they are of the same court

-          majority assess that the court work is not effective;

-          the existing regulations are not precise, so the changes in legislature are needed

-          70% of interviewees  quote that they have no knowledge of existing regulations in foreign legal systems;

-          40% of interviewees stated that the poor cooperation between relevant institutions.



How it works in connection with services for the women - victims of domestic violence and their children?

From October 2005, AWC started project Domestic Violence - A Barrier to development, Cooperation with judicial institution in prevention and protection from domestic violence. Project activities have been conducted in Belgrade and Nis – two biggest cities in Serbia for judges from criminal court and family councils.

  • In the October 2005 when the AWC started the Project the state of Serbia still haven’t done anything to educate judges on the matter of Family Law, which were now obliged to pass protection orders and other sentences in accordance with the new law.
  • Law was passed in July 2005 and official state education of judges started in May 2006. Therefore, for a year judges were presiding without any education about possibilities of the new Law. Moreover, they did not have any knowledge about mechanism of violence, or how to determine existence of domestic violence. Judges elected to the court’s Family councils were there not by their knowledge and senzibilation on domestic violence phenomena, but assigned by the court president or they applied for the position individually.
  • AWC was only organization providing education for judges not only about new Law but also about domestic violence.
  • As for the CSW, the authorities still haven’t realized the necessity of their education, especially lawyers on how to write protection orders, plaints and accusations. We organized special educations for lawyers in CSW, giving them skills for preparing and writing protection orders, plaints and accusations.
  • AWC also organized meeting of lawyers from CSW with prosecutors and judges from court’s family councils aiming to discuss legal practice and to try to balance different standings.


The project is divided in different segments and first was education of representatives from judicial institution. Parallel we have organized court representation of our clients and monitoring process of cases.




  • When the first representations had started, the AWC team had realized that because of the total ignorance of the protection orders by the judges, the court cases lasted longer than expected. Because of that we are now in situation to represent a lesser number of women. During the first year from October 2005 to October 2006, AWC lawyers had represented 12 women in 14 court cases in the total amount of 37 court appearances.
  • Women who had a right for free representation have been selected on criteria that defied different, cumulated elements of poverty, that disables them to hire (pay) attorney: 8,3 is without any income, 16,7% lives on social aid and 58% of employed women have wages below the average income in Serbia.


Here are some of the typical problems

  • One of our associate said to the judges: “Everything that can be used can be misused”. When a plaint for the issuance of protection order comes before the family law judge, the first idea of the judge is that there’s been some abuse. In order for a judge to believe the presence of violence, the victim should have a parallel criminal process on going.
  • One the greatest problem of Law on civil procedures is the way of delivering court invitation or plaints to the accused, which uses all types of malversations to avoid court appearing.
  • The other things that made this processes lasted longer that expected (the Law said that protection orders should be issued in no more than 2 court hearings, and the first hearing is to be conducted after 8 days of receiving the plaint) were, and still are:


·       depending on a court, 2 to 4 specialized judges, with more that 300 cases in progress, are unable to invite the parties within the 8 days;

·       judges are obliged to ask CSW for the opinion on the requested protection order(s);

·       in many courts there are no jurors that had previous knowledge in work with children (condition set up in Law), and therefore there are no process conditions (specialized court counsels) for the hearings to be held.


The family law judges feel obliged to “consider of the wellbeing of the perpetrator”, and they oppose to the issuance of protection order – eviction from the house. They even say that it is against the right of protection of property and that the state will face the consequences before the European Court for Human Rights!


  • Base on this experience we are in order to have a protection orders issued in short period of time,  decided to:

a)     make initiative within the prosecutions offices to write protection orders in all cases where prosecution had started criminal proceedings (the CD’s with the examples of plains and the book Guidance through the system of family law protection from domestic violence have been distributed to the prosecutions) – the family law gives that opportunity to the prosecutions and the judges are more likely to believe in its credibility;

b)     the same initiative had been made in the CSW, but here we have a problem of court asking for an opinion from another court expert;

c)      file the plaints for the issuance of protection orders separately from other family law proceedings

d)     because of the civil proceedings being as it is, AWC feels that a formation of specialized family law courts outside the regular municipal courts, like in Germany or USA, would make this processes, and especially for protection orders, quicker.




The aim of monitoring cases of domestic violence is to identify specific and typical obstacles that women encounters within institutions during the process of realization of their rights. These are starting from stereotype opinions and prejudice regarding different personal characteristics (gender/sex, nationality, educational, health and mental status and similar) up to <<institutional violence>> caused mostly by lack of knowledge and systematic bonding/cooperation between public services. Monitoring is organized as a process of observing, following and controlling, and when it’s necessary and acting in the best interest of woman.


We had chosen 6 various cases for the monitoring process, with the same outcome – discrimination and secondary victimization of a woman:

a)     with alcohol addiction

b)     with addiction on drugs and Hepatitis C infection

c)      falsely accused of a child abuse

d)     with diagnose of a mental illness

e)     who decided to be single, unmarried mother

f)      who is well educated, employed but decided to divorce


Typical prejudice and obstacles:

The AWC survey conducted on professionals within CSW (psychologists, pedagogies, social workers) showed that:


·       40% of professionals consider that woman suffering violence from partner can get help, always when she ask for it from police, CSW or prosecutor office

·       70% believes that mother should protect child from abuser, even if she risk her own life

·       37% believes that mother is capable to protect child from abuse, in most cases by separation or displacing of abuser from apartment (60%)

·       28% consider that mother who doesn’t succeed in protecting child from injures is responsible for those


Lessons learned during monitoring processes:

i)       women, victims of domestic violence, need to be prepared for the interviews before the institutions because they are seen by the professionals as a neurotic, angry and quarrelsome;

ii)     for the same reasons, these women need to be represented in the court cases;

iii)   AWC consultants need to work with women, victims of domestic violence, on their anger management and on building their parental capabilities;

iv)    AWC consultants should, as a support for a women, follow women during their appearances before the institutions;

v)      AWC must keep on public presentation on specific need of women who are victims of domestic violence pointing out the connection with existing prejudice of the professionals and/or no efficiency of the protection system.  



 In our future work in this particular project and in other AWC complementary projects we will proceed with lobbying equalization of legal practice, research of legal practice regarding criminal law and proceeding and include participants’ suggestions. Some of the suggestions were:

1.     Exchange of experience between different services and different levels of the same services:

                                                 i.      Expert meetings of the lawyers from different services – court, prosecution, Centre for social welfare, municipal free legal aid services for citizens – exchange of experience, identifying difficulties in cooperation, identifying the needs of other services, suggestions for legal practice improvement;

                                               ii.      Expert meetings of courts of different jurisdictions – meetings of judges/prosecutors from municipal and District courts, and meetings with judges of Supreme court and prosecutors of Republic prosecution office, in order to define legal practice and upper court opinions;

2.                              Assessing the uniformity of legal solutions for domestic violence issues – Law on misdemeanors, Family law (civil procedure) and Criminal Law:

                                                 i.      Expert meetings of judges of different courts  – policy compliance (harmonization )

3.                              Local connection of services in creation of model of integrated protection from domestic violence (coordinated action):

                                                 i.      Inclusion of court and prosecution in creation of policies and procedures of local community regarding domestic violence;

4.                              Analyses of the use of protection orders from the moment of entering into force.[1]

5.                              Expert meetings with attorneys in cooperation with Belgrade and Nis Bar Associations.

[1] This analyses still doesn’t exgist and AWC will try to find funds for this research to be conducted for the city of Belgrade, starting from the day of legal changes (from 1.7.2005 till the end of 2007.);

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