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On April 20 Committee of the Parties to the Istanbul Convention issued a declaration expressing the will and determination of the States parties to stand by the standards of the Istanbul Convention as a source of guidance for governmental action during the outbreak of the current pandemic of COVID-19. Following the alarming increase in the number of recorded cases of violence against women and/or domestic violence provoked by the pandemic worldwide and in numerous Council of Europe member states, the declaration states the relevance of the principles and requirements of the Istanbul Convention in the areas of prevention, protection, prosecution and integrated policies under the current exceptional circumstances.

The Committee of the Parties adopted the declaration, in its role as the intergovernmental body mandated to uphold the standards of the Istanbul Convention, and to ensure their implementation by States parties at all times.

Text of the declaration

Source: https://www.coe.int/en/web/istanbul-convention/newsroom/-/asset_publisher/anlInZ5mw6yX/content/the-standards-of-the-istanbul-convention-apply-at-all-times?inheritRedirect=false&redirect=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.coe.int%2Fen%2Fweb%2Fistanbul-convention%2Fnewsroom%3Fp_p_id%3D101_INSTANCE_anlInZ5mw6yX%26p_p_lifecycle%3D0%26p_p_state%3Dnormal%26p_p_mode%3Dview%26p_p_col_id%3Dcolumn-1%26p_p_col_count%3D2

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‘For many women and children, the home is not a safe place.’

Statement by the President of GREVIO, Marceline Naudi, on the need to uphold the standards of the Istanbul Convention in times of a pandemic

24 March 2020

As more and more countries around the world are moving towards mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID 19, our thoughts go out to the women and children for whom the home is a place of fear, not a place of safety. Keeping safe from the virus, slowing down its spread and making sure our health systems can cope are of crucial importance, but we need to be aware that the restrictions on movement offer abusers additional power and control. We hear that some women victims of violence are deciding against seeking medical attention for fear of contagion. Domestic violence shelters in some areas have already stopped all admissions because they are unsure how to manage the risk of infection. Others are privileging online or telephone support, but this still carries many risks for women who are in close quarters with their abusers. Nor must we forget that the economic consequences of the pandemic, such as loss of job or income, will hit women hard in that they create or exacerbate financial dependency, reducing their ability to leave abusers. The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, continues to apply to all Parties, be it in times of conflict or in times of a pandemic. GREVIO calls on all Parties to do their utmost to ensure continuity in service provision and to keep offering support and protection to women and girls at risk of violence, with the involvement of all relevant actors: law enforcement agencies, social services, the justice sector, specialist support services and all relevant ministries. It gives us hope to see that many national administrations are rising to the challenges this pandemic presents to women victims of violence and are already working towards innovative solutions. For example, some are launching specific information campaigns on available services, while others are introducing online application forms for protection orders, and yet others have included domestic violence support services amongst the “essential services” to be. Many support services are offering online services, including psychological counselling and psychosocial support. Never before has the need been greater to ensure that such innovative solutions form part of a concerted effort by all relevant ministries and women’s organisations in a joint effort to keep women and children safe from violence. I call on all Parties to the Convention to follow in these footsteps. I hope that the renewed spirit of solidarity this pandemic is creating in our societies will extend to women and girls who are victims of violence, and who may now feel even more trapped with their abusers.

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We participated in a  meeting with Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, held in December 2019, where we raised important issues regarding shortcomings in victim protection, institutional discrimination and passivity of institutions in protecting the rights of women and children, with particular reference to some of the recent cases we were following. We also mentioned the issue of the lack of protection of children witnesses to domestic violence and asked for a concrete answer on how the Government of Montenegro would solve these problems. In his response to our question, the Prime Minister said that these topics would be discussed at the Rule of Law Council and the EU Negotiating Collegium and that the recommendations would be  published  so that they could be followed by us and interested public.

We are sharing a video of our question and the Prime Minister's answer.

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PRESS RELEASE

Kosovo Women’s Fund and Women’s Rights Center Allocate Nearly 200 Thousand to 14 Organizations in the Region

                                                                                                                              

The Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN), Women’s Rights Centre (WRC) from Montenegro and their partners in the Coalition of Women’s Rights Organisations against Discrimination in the Western Balkans have awarded 14 grants to civil society organizations (CSOs) through the Kosovo Women’s Fund, amounting to €198,275. The grants are part of a joint initiative, “Furthering Women's Labour Rights”, funded by the European Union and co-funded by Swedish International Development Cooperation.

Of the 14 CSOs receiving grants, two from Montenegro signed contracts on 17 January: The Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (Sindikat Medija Crne Gore) in Podgorica with the initiative “Equality through Justice: Work-related Discrimination Cases” (€20,000); and the Association of Youth with Disabilities (Udruženje Mladih sa Hendikepom) in Podgorica with the initiative “Empowered, Employed, Involved” (€9,997).

Other CSOs in the region that will receive grants include:

Albania

Albanian Women Empowerment Network in Tirana with the initiative “Improving Women's Rights at Work through Improving Access to Justice” (€20,000); Community Development Center ”Today for the Future” (Qendra për Zhvillim Komunitar “Sot për të ardhmen”) in Tirana with the initiative “Advocating for Improving Institutional Response to Gender-based Discrimination at Work by Sharing Practices in the Municipality of Lezha and Creating Interactions with the Committee for Protection from Discrimination at Work” (€10,000); and the Counseling Line for Girls and Women (Linja e Këshillimit për Gra dhe Vajza) in Tirana with the initiative “Empowering Women and Girls to Report Gender-based Discrimination” (€9,990).

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

United Women Network Foundation (Fondacija Udružene žene) in Banja Luka with the initiative “Improving Women’s Position in Employment and Preventing Gender-based Discrimination in Bosnia and Herzegovina” (€19,814); and the Foundation Academy for Women (Fondacija Academy for Women) in Sarajevo with the initiative “This Is Discrimination Too” (€10,000).

 

Kosovo

The Kosovo Law Institute (Instituti i Kosovës për Drejtësi) from Pristina with the initiative “Improving Women’s Rights at Work” (€19,950); and the Kosovo Center for Gender Studies (Qendra Kosovare për Studime Gjinore) from Pristina with the initiative “Prevention of all forms of discrimination in the workplace” (€10,000).

 

North Macedonia

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Skopje with the initiative “Women Workers Join” (€19,998); and the Association Loud Textile Worker in Stip with the initiative “Promoting the Rights of Textile Workers from the Eastern Region” (€9,998).

 

Serbia

The Victimology Society of Serbia (Viktimološko društvo Srbije) in Belgrade with the initiative “Know Gender Discrimination, Identify Violations of Labour and Employment Law! React!” (€19,942); the A 11 – Initiative for Economic and Social Rights (A 11 – Inicijativa za ekonomska i socijalna prava) in Belgrade with the initiative “Improving Institutional Practices in Preventing Discrimination against Women in the Labour Market in Serbia” (€8,930); and ROZA Association for Women’s Labour Rights (ROZA Udruženje za radna prava žena) in Zrenjanin with the initiative “What Is Awaiting Me in the Labour Market” (€9,754).

 

Research conducted by Coalition members in 2018 found that gender-based discrimination in the workplace is a key issue hampering women’s employment and undermining their rights at work.

Concerned by women’s low employment rates and evidence of widespread discrimination against women in relation to work, the Coalition will work closely with other CSOs in the region, including the above-mentioned grant recipients, to address the recommendations resulting from this research.

This joint Action aims to empower diverse CSOs to effectively hold relevant institutions accountable for implementing anti-discrimination legislation related to women’s labour rights.

The grant recipients were selected from a total of 70 applicants, based on criteria established by the Grant Review Committee. The Committee was comprised of members of the Coalition, including: the Kosovo Women’s Network, Reactor – Research in Action from North Macedonia, Gender Alliance for Development Centre from Albania, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Banja Luka from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Women’s Rights Centre from Montenegro and the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation from Sweden through its office in Serbia.

This marks the first time that KWN has awarded grants to CSOs in the region through its Kosovo Women’s Fund. Since 2012, the Fund has awarded 174 grants, supporting 99 different CSOs, totalling €952,022. To date, the Fund has had more than 20,855 beneficiaries. For more information, see: https://womensnetwork.org/kosovo-womens-fund/.

 

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REACTION OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS CENTER IN RESPECT OF FAILURE TO EXCEPT BASIC STATE PROSECUTOR IN BERANE FROM A CASE OF VIOLENCE FOR WHICH MUHAMED RAMUSOVIC IS ACCUSED

 

SUPREME STATE PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE

Mr. Ivica Stankovic, acting Supreme State Prosecutor

 

Dear Mr. Stankovic,

Today at the Basic Court in Berane, we attended a hearing in a case in which Muhamed Ramusovic was charged with violent behavior and serious bodily harm.

It is incomprehensible that, after serious complaints about Basic State Prosecutor’s Office’s in Berane treatment of the injured party, Basic State Prosecutor Gorica Golubovic was not excepted from this case, but still appeared today as a representative of the prosecution, which is why at the hearing today the attorney for the injured party, who was hired by the Women’s Rights Center, requested the exclusion of the Basic State Prosecutor Gorica Golubovic, as well as all prosecutors of Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Berane. You informed us on December 11th 2019 that The Commission for Review of Complaints against the Work of State Prosecutors and Heads of State Prosecutor's Offices has not yet taken a decision in this case, so we believe that the case should have been assigned to another Basic State Prosecutor from this Prosecutor's Office until all the facts stated by the injured party in the complaint have been established. We delivered to you the complaint on December 15th 2019. All the facts from the complaint were also cited at today's main hearing.

In addition, the head of the High State Prosecutor's Office in Bijelo Polje, Mirko Bulatovic, in his statement to the media stated that „by examining the files formed on the occasion of criminal responsibility of Muhamed Ramusovic, and based on a detailed statement given in the interview and written by the Prosecutor General Gorica Golubovic, there is no evidence to suggest the truth of the injured party's statement that Jelena Krstic claims that her prosecutor asked her to forgive her attacker and to deny the statements made earlier“. He also states that he „informed the acting Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stankovic about his decision“. We believe that a layman may conclude that there was no expectation that evidence of inappropriate Basic State Prosecutor treatment would be found in the case files and it should be noted that prior to issuing such an opinion, the head of the High State Prosecutor's Office in Bijelo Polje did not interview the injured party, which was crucial for the consideration of all aspects of this case and understanding of the feelings of vulnerability damaged during the interrogation by Basic State Prosecutor, Gorica Golubovic and the defendant's lawyer. We therefore consider that the conduct of the High State Prosecutor's Office in Bijelo Polje did not properly serve to establish the true facts of this case, but solely to the satisfaction of the form after your urgency, and therefore we expect your urgent reaction to prevent current practices that allow prosecutors to avoid liability in such cases.

Yours sincerely,

Maja Raicevic

Executive director

NGO Women’s Rights Center

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The Executive Director of the Women's Rights Center, Maja Raicevic, participated in a press conference on Trends and Challenges in Combating Trafficking in Human Beings in the Western Balkans, organized by the NGO ASTRA, in Belgrade on December 2, to mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Ms Raicevic said on this occasion that, according to statistics, Montenegro was bypassed with the problem of trafficking in human beings that is the official figures do not nearly reflect the real situation in the country. More detailed press conference report can be found here: https://www.astra.rs/trendovi-i-izazovi-u-borbi-protiv-trgovine-ljudima-na-zapadnom-balkanu/

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How the new Labor Bill protects against gender discrimination

 

At today's session, the Government adopted the long-awaited Bill on Labor. We were interested in how the law protects against gender discrimination at work and here are the first conclusions:

 

  • A key innovation compared to the previous law is the duration of a fixed-term employment contract, which has been extended to 36 months instead of the previous 24 months.

 

  • In addition to the provisions prohibiting all forms of discrimination, including gender discrimination, the new law introduces a novelty in respect of the protection of pregnant women and women in childbirth, in accordance with the EU Directive on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers birthing or breastfeeding (92/85 / EEC of 19 October 1992) and the EU Directive implementing a revised framework agreement on parental leave (2010/18 / EU of 8 March 2010). Thus, Article 123, paragraph 5 introduced the novelty that “an employee whose term of employment is terminated during pregnancy, the use of temporary restraint on the grounds of pregnancy maintenance, maternity or parental leave, the period for which the employment contract based on it extends the fixed term until the expiration of the entitlement to that leave. ”However, the period of 36 months for the duration of the fixed-term contract does not include the length of time for which the employee has been extended the employment contract for maintenance of pregnancy, which still leaves room for discrimination against the basis of motherhood.

 

  • Article 121 provides that an employer may not refuse to enter into a contract of employment with a woman for pregnancy, nor may she offer her to modify a contract of employment under adverse conditions because of pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. The employer cannot condition the establishment of an employment relationship, that is, the conclusion of a contract of employment with proof of pregnancy, unless it is a job where there is a significant risk to the health of the woman and the child determined by the competent health authority. Also, the employer cannot ask for any information about the pregnancy, nor can it instruct another person to request it, unless the employee personally requests a specific right provided by law or other regulation.
  • The law allows women to be absent for 1 month during the month for prenatal examinations (Article 122)

 

  • An employer cannot terminate a contract of employment for a pregnant employee and an employee while exercising the right to maternity and parental leave.

 

  • The employer cannot terminate the employment contract with the parent, adoptive parent and foster parent because of the exercise of the right to parental, adoptive and foster parental leave; the right to work part-time for the care of a child with severe disabilities; a single parent who has a child up to seven years of age or a child with developmental disabilities, if he or she fulfills obligations in accordance with the law, collective agreement and employment contract.

 

  • During absence from work due to child care, temporary disability to work on the basis of pregnancy maintenance, use of maternity, parental, adoption, foster care leave, the employer cannot declare the employee the person whose work has ceased to be needed.

 

  • The new law also provides for the possibility of a contract of employment outside the premises of the employer: teleworking, work from home and domestic work, as a special type of employment contract, and the novelty is that annual leave cannot be replaced by financial compensation.

 

  • We believe that the Bill should be further aligned with the new EU Directive on work-life balance, which aims to provide more flexible working hours as well as paid parental leave for fathers and other carers (4 months 'reserved' for fathers, at least of which one must be non-transferable to the mother) in order to establish a more equal division of family responsibilities, fathers get more childcare opportunities, and women get more opportunities for paid work.

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Decisive measures to eradicate violence against women in all spheres of society needed

 

Available research and statistics indicate a worrying extent of violence against women and girls in Montenegro in all spheres of society. Family and intimate partner violence against women, sex selection due to the son preference, discrimination in the field of labor  and employment, poverty and social exclusion of women, especially self supporting mothers, elderly women, women with disabilities, Roma and LBT women – are burning social problems that require the Government of Montenegro to take concrete and comprehensive measures to address them.
According to the latest survey (OSCE, 2018), almost one in five women (19%) in Montenegro has experienced physical and / or sexual partner or non-partner violence after the age of 15.

A survey conducted by the NGO Women's Rights Centre on Gender Discrimination in the Field of Labour and Employment found that one in three respondents had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and as many as 5% said they had been forced to have sex with their colleague or superior.
At the same time, research and practice of non-governmental organizations supporting victims of violence shows a  low level of trust in the work of institutions, further weakened by recent cases of gender-based violence that have come to the public, which showcased the institutional discrimination of women  of violence survivors.
Despite the adoption of the new Protocol on the Treatment, Prevention and Protection of Domestic Violence and Violence Against Women, the practice shows that the competent institutions do not inform victims about their rights, including the possibility of using a  free legal aid. Courtrooms do not provide special waiting rooms and entrances for victims, who are often intimidated by encountering a perpetrator in front of the courtroom and even in the courtroom itself. Contrary to international standards, courts continue to apply the practice of confronting victims and perpetrators, even in particularly sensitive cases of sexual violence. Victims are rarely allowed to testify from a separate room, through appropriate communication technologies.
The media do not respect the privacy of victims, who are often uninformed about legal possibilities for protection of private life.
The state has not yet earmarked funds for direct financial assistance and support for the reintegration of victims, nor has it solved the longstanding problem of alimony payments, which makes victims of violence and their children economically dependent and exposed to theconstant risk of poverty.
According to the latest survey of criminal policies in domestic violence cases ( Women's Rights Center and the Council of Europe, 2018), most of the domestic violence cases are prosecuted as misdemeanors, including cases of physical violence against women that caused bodily  injuries, resulting in ineffective penalties and poor victim protection. A mild criminal policy does not have a deterrent effect on perpetrators of violence, as evidenced by the high rate of – as many as one in two reoffenders in criminal cases, or one in three in misdemeanor cases.

A study conducted by the Women's Rights Center with the support of UNICEF (2018) shows that institutions most often do not recognize the severe position of child victims and witnesses of domestic violence, and accordingly qualify violence as an act of less responsibility. Often, the right of abusive parent  to maintain a contact with children – is favored over the mother-child safety , and therefore we urge institutions to make the existence of  domestic violence a compulsory element of assessing the “best interests of the child” and to provide support and protection accordingly.

A data on sanctioning policy of domestic violence for 2018
 (prepared by NGO Women's Rights Centre):

In terms of domestic violence, data for 2018 show a 20% increase in prison sentences in criminal cases compared to 2017, but still a relatively high number of suspended sentences and fines – as much as 45% and a low percentage of the imposed security measures Restraining Order – only 3.6% of total convictions.
In misdemeanor cases, almost two-thirds of the total number of convictions (58%) consisted of fines and suspended sentences, correctional measures andwarnings, and imprisonment in only 10% of convictions. Misdemeanor courts continue to under-enforce safeguards that provide physical protection of  victims, so the measure of restraining order against the victim was imposed in only 7.6 %, and the measure of removal from the apartment in only 4% of the total number of cases settled by misdemeanor courts in 2018.

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REACTION OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS CENTER IN RESPECT OF THE ACTION OF BASIC STATE PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE IN BERANE IN CASE OF VIOLENCE FOR WHICH MUHAMED RAMUSOVIC IS ACCUSED

 

Supreme State Prosecutor's Office

Ivica Stankovic, Supreme State Prosecutor

 

Dear Mr Stankovic,

 

We are addressing you regarding the treatment of Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Berane against the injured Jelena Krstic, interviewed in the presence of her attorney Srdjan Ljeskovic and representatives of the NGO SOS Telephone Berane, in Berane, on November 15 2019. On this occasion we are also recorded her statement, which is why we are sending you this letter.

On November 4 2019 on the record we had access to, in Case Kt. 257/19, the injured Jelena Krstic informed Basic State Prosecutor Gorica Golubovic that she had hired her attorney Srdjan Ljeskovic through NGO Women's Rights Center from Podgorica, which provides support and legal representation to women and children victims of violence.

On November 5 2019 without notifying the injured party's attorney or NGO Women's Rights Center from Podgorica that hired her legal representative, explaining that required to provide documentation of the pelvic X-ray, the Basic State Prosecutor called the injured party by telephone to access the premises of Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Berane.

As she has not yet recovered from her injuries, she has been traumatized by therapy with the violence she survived, the injured party did not want to make a statement in the absence of her attorney, but she did so as a result of pressure from the Basic State Prosecutor, Gorica Golubovic.

 

According to the injured party's statement, the Basic State Prosecutor used one form of pressure upon the pretense of “good intentions”, saying that the injured party should “forgive” the defendant and denies the allegations she made to the media. In addition, by not informing the attorney of injured party that she would be heard and by insisting that injured party should continue to make the statement despite her poor state of health, the Basic State Prosecutor did not comply with the Criminal Procedure Code as well international standards for the protection of the interests and rights of victims. Further, the injured party states that the prosecutor, instead of focusing on the situation, emphasized her national declaration that she was a Serb, asking is why she needed to write a petition for the Serbian Orthodox Church.

According to these allegations, the Basic State Prosecutor grossly violated the rights of the injured party – a victim of violence, whom should be treated with respect, in a sensitive and professional manner without discrimination of any kind. In all contact with the victim, the competent authority had to take into account the sex of the victim, the trauma she has endured, the state of health, the sense of personal vulnerability and fear and its immediate needs during the hearing. It's also not

a respectful obligation to protect the victim from secondary and repeated victimization and intimidation, thus preventing her from having proper access to justice, since heard without an attorney, although she informed the Basic State Prosecutor that as an ignorant party does not want to make a statement on her own.

We must also address the fact that Basic State Prosecutor did not act immediately after the case in question although she was notified by City of Berane Police Department, she has been handling the case 8 days after the event and after the NGOs for the protection of women and

of Human Rights addresed to the head of the Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Berane and Supreme State Prosecutor Ivica Stankovic, during which time the defendant was released.

We believe that such treatment of the Basic State Prosecutor is not in the interest of justice and fairness, that it is not leads to establishing the true facts about a critical event. Therefore, we ask that it be investigated the conduct of Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Berane in this case and that Prosecutor Gorica Golubovic be excluded as well from this subject.

In support of the above, we provide you with a statement from the injured party describing the conduct of competent Basic State Prosecutor.

As this is not the first time we have noticed serious omissions in the conduct of the prosecution in defense women victims of violence (recalling a recent case in Kolasin in June 2019 in which we also asked for your intervention) we ask that you take action measures that are within your competence to prevent future failures and to establish practices which will provide access to justice and the best protection for victims.

NGO Women’s Rights Center, Podgorica, November 15th 2019

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REACTION OF NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS SOS TELEPHONE BERANE, WOMEN'S RIGHTS CENTER, WOMEN’S SAFE HOUSE, SOS TELEPHONE PODGORICA, SOS TELEPHONE NIKSIC, SPECTRA AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTION

 

ON THE CASE OF VIOLENCE IN BERANE

 

                                    Basic State Prosecutor's Office Berane

                                    Sujkovic Amra, Deputy Chief

 

            Podgorica, November 1 2019

 

            Dear Ms Sujkovic,

 

            We are addressing you about the case of the beating of a single mother, Jelena Krstic, who lives and works in Berane, who was attacked and seriously injured in the workplace by Muhamed Ramusovic. Yesterday, SOS Telephone activists in Berane visited Jelena Krstic at Berane General Hospital and on behalf of NGOs dealing with the protection of the rights of women and children victims of violence, supported her and offered assistance. Based on the conversation of the SOS Telephone activist with the injured party and media photos, it is evident that Jelena is in bad condition because of the violence committed against her by Muhamed Ramusovic, for which she was kept in hospital and unable to care for her minor children and to do the work on which their livelihood depends. We have learned from several media outlets that they consider the defendant a person of interest. It is also alleged that the police filed a criminal complaint against Muhamed Ramusovic for the violent behavior, but that he was released after being heard at the Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Berane. We think that it is in the public interest to obtain information as to why the duty prosecutor defined to release the defendant Ramusovic, who, through wanton violence, without any reason, injured the aggrieved party in to the extent that she needs hospital treatment. We also ask you to explain how you ensured Jelena Krstic's security and her continued protection against threats and intimidation.

Action of Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Berane is critical to the success of the entire proceeding, and in particular it is important to ensure timely and effective protection and respect for the rights of victims of violence, and therefore we require Basic State Prosecutor’s Office in Berane to take all measures within its jurisdiction to this case is brought to justice and the victim protected.

 

                                                                                  

NGO SOS Telephone Berane

NGO Women’s Rights Center, Podgorica

NGO Women’s Safe House, Podgorica

NGO SOS Telephone Podgorica

NGO SOS Telephone Niksic

NGO Spectra, Podgorica

NGO Human Rights Action, Podgorica