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Kosovo needs greater protection for vulnerable persons in society, says OSCE report

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PRISTINA, 20 February 2003 - The state of social welfare and the protection of vulnerable persons does not come easily and cheap to Kosovo, but standards are improving, states a new report from the OSCE Mission in Kosovo. The observations on the activities of the Centres for Social Work (CSW) lead to a number of recommendations, especially concerning the rights of children and women.

This is the first overview of the Centres for Social Work in Kosovo. It focuses on the CSWs response to cases involving children who have been victims of abuse or neglect, female victims of domestic violence, trafficked persons and mentally ill persons.

The report states that CSWs seemed unaware of their role to act as a guardian to protect the interests of children or how to respond to neglected children. It also points to problems with having women's rights respected without discrimination in areas of divorce, child custody and property. Other areas of concern in the report include the social service protection afforded to victims of domestic violence, marital rape and sexual violence. The CSWs were also found to be unaware of their obligations to assist women having been the victims of trafficking. Finally the report also mentions that the Centres were not fully aware of their obligations to act on behalf of the mentally ill.

Recommendations are made in three key areas -- the development of an institutional and organisational framework, legislative reform, and training and awareness on issues affecting vulnerable groups. These are made to enhance the CSWs capacity to more effectively respond to their legal obligations to high-risk victims.

The report has been given to the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, the ministry responsible for social services in Kosovo, and the Head of UNMiK's Pillar II, the Deputy UN Special Representative for Civil Administration.

The full report can be found on the OSCE Mission in Kosovo website at http://www.osce.org/kosovo (see below)

The OSCE has the mandate to promote the development of institutions that ensure that human rights and rule of law are respected, and that persons suffering from violations of human right have an effective remedy.

For further information, please contact:

Poul Smidt
Spokesperson
Press and Public Information Section
OSCE Mission in Kosovo
Belgrade street 32
38000, Pristina
Serbia and Montenegro
GMT +1
Tel.: +381 38 500 162 x 260 ; +377 44 500 150 (mobile)
Fax: +381 38 500 188
E-mail: press@omik.org

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Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
Mission in Kosovo
Department of Human Rights and Rule of Law

KOSOVO
Report on the Centres for Social Work: Social Services
March 2003

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The human rights mandate of the OSCE is implemented through the work of the Department of Human Rights and Rule of Law.1 Through its specialised areas, the Department identifies, assesses, notifies the appropriate authorities, discusses and disseminates information on any human rights situation that raises concern or is deemed to mandate particular emphasis. The Department also promotes the development of institutions that ensure compliance with human rights and rule of law standards in their regular activities, and which, in particular, are aware and seek the implementation of effective remedies for the victims of potential human rights abuses or violations.

This report is the first overview of the Centres for Social Welfare (CSWs) in Kosovo conducted by the OSCE Department of Human Rights and Rule of Law, through its Victim Advocacy and Support Section (VASS).2 Following the conflict in Kosovo in 1999 and the establishment of UNMIK, social services among other parts of the administration resumed functioning. Broadly, the previous legislation together with the institutions established under it continued to exist. UNMIK Regulations introduced structural changes leading to the creation of new Ministries for Labour and Social Welfare (the Ministry) and for Health. Though previous legislation on social welfare applies, some of the institutions established thereunder no longer exist in Kosovo.

The Ministry is responsible for social service in Kosovo and its powers are devolved to its Department of Social Welfare (DSW), which co-ordinates at an operational level with the Municipalities and the different forms of previously established associations for social protection including the CSWs. The CSWs are the main social welfare organ operating at a municipal level to provide assistance to vulnerable persons in society. The performance of the CSWs as observed through monitoring of cases, has raised serious concerns about the exercise of their mandate, awareness of legal obligations and practices which impact human rights. Under international standards, states have a number of obligations towards their citizens for which they can be held accountable. One of these duties is to provide for an effective legislative framework embodying rights and which does not inadvertently (through omission) give rise to violations of human rights. Though states have not been held directly responsible for failure to provide an effective social service, their inaction through not protecting rights, for example, to a family life and not to suffer torture or inhuman or degrading treatment has been criticised by the European Court of Human Rights.

With regard to children, the OSCE observed that CSWs did not perform the full spectrum of responsibilities within their mandate and that knowledge of these obligations was incomplete, the main role of CSWs being to prepare children for reintegration into society. A particular problem was the attention paid to cultural norms more than to legal obligations. This was generally observed in cases of custody or other family disputes, where the CSWs were required to consider the best interests of the child, but, instead, tended to concentrate on the financial aspect of such cases rather than its broader rehabilitative or psychological aspects. Further, the CSWs seemed unaware of their role to act as guardian to protect the interests of children or how to respond to neglected children.

In relation to women, the CSWs were found to be falling short of their obligations to ensure that females were afforded the rights they were entitled to. A particular concern is to ensure that applicable legislation or practice does not discriminate against females such that they would be unable to realise their rights. Practices were observed in areas of divorce, child custody and property where criteria such as financial situation were found to be applied in a discriminatory manner. Other areas of concern include the social service protection afforded to victims of domestic violence, marital rape and sexual violence. Cases of trafficked victims were another area where CSWs were found to be ill-equipped to deal with their obligations. The increase in cases of trafficking presented another category of clients for the CSWs. It was found that CSWs were unfamiliar of their assistance-related obligations in dealing with such victims, and lacked knowledge of the relevant law and procedures.

Under their mandate CSWs also have obligations to act on behalf of the best interests of the mentally ill; it was, however, observed that CSWs were unaware of their full obligations. The current legislation also does not provide substantive protections incorporating international human rights standards.

In order to address these gaps in knowledge and the confusion existing among CSW staff as to the applicable law, the OSCE observed the need for a review of current legislation and for clearer instructions and social policy guidance from the Ministry and the DSW on practical matters including the improvement of co-operation between different state actors through Memoranda of Understanding. The OSCE has been recently informed of initiatives undertaken by the Ministry and the DSW to review legislation and instruct social workers on new polices and practices. Although such initiatives are laudable, the effects of these recent developments are not yet apparent in the ground work of the CSWs, and the OSCE recommends further efforts to ensure a complete review of the applicable legislation and a proper transposition of any legislative reform into the immediate practices of the CSWs. Greater supervision and involvement by the DSW in the work of the CSWs would be recommended with regular reporting to improve accountability and general performance including case-management. The CSW staff should receive ongoing assistance in problematic cases, with a method of referral as well as training in current and new legislation and procedure. Further action also needs to be taken to protect confidentiality and to ensure that CSW staff is appropriately gender-balanced.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Following the observations and analysis of the performance of the Ministry and its components in the area of social protection, the present report sets out concluding remarks and recommendations, with a view to enhancing the capacity of social protection authorities to respond more effectively to the challenges facing them. These concluding remarks and recommendations address four main areas where the authorities need to focus their efforts: development of institutional and organisational framework, legislative reform, training and awareness, and resource allocation.

The assessment made by this report and the corresponding recommendations, especially with regard to the development of the institutional and legislative framework, derive from the practical issues and shortcomings documented by the OSCE in the process of monitoring the activity of the CSWs. Following consultations with the Social Services Division of the DSW, the OSCE has been informed of the initiatives and institutional developments undertaken by the DSW and the CSWs at the central level. Many of these initiatives are relatively recent and, therefore, their impact on the quality and adequacy of the social services in practice is not yet apparent. Nevertheless, the coherence of these new developments and their practical implementation in the work of the CSWs will be relevant indicators for a follow-up assessment on the progress of social protection policies and practices, or the lack thereof.

Consequently, the following recommendations acknowledge the recent initiatives taken by the Ministry and its components at the central level, but aim at ensuring that such initiatives and developments are properly implemented and have the foreseen effects at the de-centralised levels. The recommendations further address the need for co-ordination not only within the social authorities themselves, but also between them and other relevant agencies or organisations whose contributions to or roles into social assistance mechanisms are fundamental.

Notes.

1 The mandate of the OSCE in Kosovo in the area of human rights and rule of law derives from UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (UN SCR) which states that one of the primary tasks of the international civil presence is to 'promote and protect human rights' (paragraph 11(j)). In the Secretary General's report of 12 July 1999, the lead role in human rights within the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) was assigned to the OSCE, the Institution-Building Pillar of UNMIK. Accordingly, the tasks and mandate of the OSCE in Kosovo include the monitoring, protection and promotion of human rights (the OSCE Permanent Council Decision No. 305). Paragraph 87 of the Secretary General's report states that, "UNMIK will have a core of human rights monitors and advisers who will have unhindered access to all parts of Kosovo to investigate abuses and to ensure that human rights protection and promotion concerns are addressed through the overall structures of the Mission."

2 It is to be noted that the scope of this report does not cover social assistance, and only focuses on social services provided by the CSWs.

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