Promotion of tolerance and equality

Combating intolerance and promotion of equality were the topics of the Conference held on 17 September 2019 in Belgrade by the Council of Europe with participants from the Government of Serbia, Parliaments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, France and Serbia, representatives of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) as well as the representatives of equality bodies, civil society organisations, international organisations and a number of embassies in Serbia.

For the Government of Serbia, the process of EU integration remains a priority with an emphasis on the respect for human rights, rule of law and democracy. The Deputy Prime Minister Ms Zorana Mihajlović highlighted that increase of intolerance among young people and violence in schools needs to be addressed by the joint efforts of the Government, independent bodies and civil society organisations. The Head of Government Office for Human and Minority Rights, Ms Suzana Paunović, emphasised the importance of identifying and sharing good practices in addressing intolerance and promoting equality. In that context, the joint European Union and Council of Europe “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey 2019 – 2022” was recognised as one of the instruments which should boost and facilitate the exchange of good practices among its Beneficiaries.

The Head of Council of Europe Office in Belgrade, Mr Tobias Flessenkemper, highlighted that bringing democratic and pluralist society and respecting equal dignity of all human beings remain the prime objectives for the European societies. Furthermore, he added that today’s gathering allowed to mark the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe as well as 25 years of ECRI as well as the multiple efforts by the Serbian civil society. He concluded by underlining that Europe’s future demands from individuals and groups will address not only tolerance but also the will to act together, combining their diverse contributions.

The Head of Delegation of the European Union to Serbia, H.E. Ambassador Sem Fabrizi highlighted that intolerance and discrimination are a common challenge. They are widespread not only in Serbia, but in many countries of the world. The situation can be improved and changed only with a strong political will of the authorities to react to any form of intolerance promptly and adequately. In that way, a powerful message would be sent to those denying rights of all people, that such behaviour is not acceptable and would not go unpunished. H.E. Ambassador Jean-Louis Falconi, Embassy of France in Serbia, highlighted that strengthening the rights of Europeans also means emphasising social rights and further linking them to the European Union law.

At her keynote speech, Vice-Chair of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) Ms Maria Daniella Marouda concluded that in order to effectively combat intolerance and promote equality more must be done to project a positive image of a diverse society and to explain better the advantages stemming therefrom. Openness and tolerance in a society can only be genuine if they are not limited to certain predefined groups but embrace everyone. All persons must be protected against discrimination including those not belonging to national minorities or other vulnerable groups. A fairer society, where respect for difference is acknowledged as normal, is of benefit to all individuals.

The conference Combating Intolerance and Promoting Equality is jointly organised by the Council of Europe Anti-discrimination Department, the Council of Europe’s anti-racism body (the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance – ECRI) and in co-operation with the Serbian Government and the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality under the auspices of the French Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. It is held under the Action Promotion of diversity and equality in Serbia funded through the joint European Union and Council of Europe programme “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey 2019 – 2022”.

At the Conference, DPNSEE Executive Director met and discussed with potential partners, especially Head of Council of Europe Office in Belgrade, representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy, Deputy Republic Public Prosecutor and colleagues from the civil society sector.

The French Ambassador to Serbia Jean-Louis Falconi invited all participants of the Conference for a reception in the Embassy. That was the opportunity for DPNSEE Vice-President Nebojša Đurasović and Executive Director Milutin Milošević to get introduced to the Ambassador and briefly present him the situation with drug policy and HIV in Serbia. Mr Falconi expressed interest in the issue and promised to keep contacts on the issue.

A conference on addiction prevention

Challenges and perspectives in the field of addiction prevention – the first expert conference about contemporary approaches and models of work with children and youth in Bosnia Herzegovina was held on 26 and 27 of June 2019 in Sarajevo. Association for addiction prevention NARKO-NE within the RIPPO network organised the conference with the support of the Ministry of civil affairs, Ministry of human rights and refugees and Ministry of security.

The conference aimed to focus on the importance of an inter-sectorial approach, to sensitize the general public to problems of addictive and risky behaviours and to contribute to the professionalization and multidisciplinary development of the respective field in Bosnia Herzegovina.

The main conclusion of the Conference is that a joint work, as the society, is needed to create a safe environment, but that there are too much organisations and institutions that work on the issues of prevention and that they are not equally distributed.

Besides plenary inputs and discussions, 18 workshops were offered to participants. Among them, the DPNSEE Executive Director Milutin Milošević run one on Models of addiction prevention on environmental (structural) level. During the workshop, DPNSEE and its member organisations activities on strategies and action plans development and improving legislation on drug policy in countries of South East Europe were presented.

More information about the Conference are available on the website konferencija.prevencija.ba – including all the presentations which will be posted by the end of July.

Milutin with Aleksandra and Milena from “Čovekoljublje”

Improving partnership with Čovekoljublje

DPNSEE Vice-President Nebojša Đurasović and Executive Director Milutin Milošević visited “Čovekoljublje” (Philanthropy), the charitable foundation of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Foundation performs emergency (humanitarian) and development programmes. Philanthropy’s basic principle is respect of human rights, reflected in providing assistance to all those in need, regardless of their race, gender, nationality or religious affiliation. It cooperates and is supported by number of institutions: ministries, province and municipal authorities, health care and social welfare institutions, institutes for protection of children and youth deprived of parental care, and series of civil society organisations.

In scope of it’s the Health care and social welfare programmes, Philanthropy initiated a programme providing expertise and voluntary psycho-social support for people living with HIV/AIDS – PLHIV in 2003 with the blessing of Patriarch Pavle. This programme’s main purpose is suppression of social isolation and discrimination of PLHIV, as well as development of voluntary work and public awareness on presence of HIV/AIDS within various social groups.

For some time already, DPNSEE and its member organisations from Serbia actively cooperate with Philanthropy. The visit was an opportunity to exchange about activities and plans with project coordinator Aleksandra Božinović Knežević and generate ides for future cooperation.

Reducing the problems of the dependency

The annual Press Conference “Activities on the field of reducing the problems of the dependency” was held on 20 December 2018 in the EU info Centre in Belgrade. Speakers at the Conference were Nebojša Đurasović, President of the Association Prevent, Milan Pekić, Director of the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of the Republic of Serbia and Milutin Milošević, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Network South East Europe. Representatives of the institutions and organisations with whom Prevent and DPNSEE cooperate participated in the Conference.

Nebojša Đurasović presented activities which Association Prevent conducted in scope of the project “At Risk Youth Social Empowerment” and other projects realised in 2018. For a good work, Prevent deserved the award “Responsible attitude and work with vulnerable young people” offered by the city of Novi Sad. Đurasović also spoke about extending the programme of needle exchange to Belgrade and draw attention to the issues of drugs in Serbia including raising number of overdose deaths in young population.

Milan Pekić presented the co-operation between the Office for Combating Drugs and civil society organisations in Serbia as an example of good practice, especially in the process of designing the new Action Plan for implementation of the Strategy for drug prevention.

Milutin Milošević presented a situation in the region of South East Europe, activities in 2018 and plans of the Drug Policy Network South East Europe for the future. His comments on new psychoactive substances and change of culture of drug use raised a special attention.

Representatives of institutions and organisations that co-operate with Prevent and Drug Policy Network SEE were attended the Conference and took discussion on several topics, especially about discrimination.

The open discussion that followed was mainly focused on the issue of discrimination of drug users.

Two news publications were presented at the Conference: Prevent published the one on “Empowering against the discrimination of youth at risk“, while DPNSEE prepared the Serbian version of their Glossary of terms used in drug policy with the support of the Office for combating drugs.

Videos from the Conference are available in following this link >>>

Drug Policy Network South East Europe General Assembly 2018

With the support from the Central European Initiative (CEI) and funded through the European Union project, The Drug Policy Network South East Europe organised regular annual General Assembly on 10 December 2018 in The Palace of Serbia, in Belgrade, Serbia.

The participants at the Assembly were welcomed by Milan Pekić, Director of the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. In their short opening speeches, Mr Pekić and the President of the Board of the Network Vlatko Dekov emphasized the importance of partnership in achieving the aim of effective drug policies.

The participants held voting rights from 16 out of 22 ordinary member organisations. That provided the Assembly with the right to make qualified decisions, even those related to the amendments to the Statute.

The Assembly was chaired by Anna Lyubenova, representative of the member organisation Initiative for Health Foundation from Bulgaria.

During the agenda point on membership issues, candidatures for membership from two organisations were discussed. The Assembly unanimously recognised as ordinary members Timok Youth Center from Zaječar, Serbia and Center for Human Policy from Sofia, Bulgaria. The Network now has 24 ordinary and 2 associate member organisations.

The General Assembly discussed the Operational and financial report for 2018 and elements for the Action plan and the Financial plan for 2019. The General Assembly welcomed the reports. They will be completed with the activities in December and then be adopted. The Assembly analysed the donor and funding trends and issues and concluded that, based on donor research, negotiation and exchange, no funding from EU for the Network can be expected for 2019 and some amounts can be obtained for year 2020, more project based. Funding plans and activities and possible issues that might be funded in 2019 include budget advocacy, the Network being the leader on the issue of quality of services in the region, redefining harm reduction and human rights element of the approach in work. The need for greater participation in relevant international events and DPNSEE taking role in organizing regional events were emphasized.

Nine candidates applied for elections to the DPNSEE Board. The new Board includes Anna Lyubenova from Initiative for Health Foundation, Denis Dedajić from Margina, Marios Atzemis from Positive Voice, Nebojša Đurasović from Prevent, Safet Blakaj from Labyrinth, Sanja Šišović from Cazas and Vlatko Dekov from HOPS.

The Assembly decided to keep at the current positions Vlatko Dekov as the President, and Nebojša Đurasović as Vice-President.

More information about the elections are available following this link >>>

An external consultant Jarmila Bujak Stanko facilitated the strategic workshop through which participants analysed achievement of aims and objectives of the strategic plan adopted in 2016 and indicated in which way and by which activities the priorities will be followed in the next two years.

The General Assembly ended in a positive and friendly atmosphere with an improved sense of belonging to the Network.

Situation in Romania full of challenges

Delegation of the Drug Policy Network South East Europe with Nebojša Đurasović, Vice-President, Denis Dedajić, Secretary of the Board, and Milutin Milošević, Executive Director, visited Romania on 19 November 2018. It was one of the two remaining in the serial of visits aimed to present DPNSEE to the society, build strong relationships with the authorities, institutions and services and explore opportunities for partnerships.

The situation in the country is far from good with no harm reduction services available outside Bucharest, no support for MSM services and no HIV strategy and strategic plan (a proposed document is in the Ministry of Health for one year but not approved). Opioid Substitution Therapy funding is a nightmare (procedurally), therefore hospitals do not want to engage in that, and Harm Reduction is in a survival mode. State institutions and civil society organisations have different data on key populations, with number of drug users ranging from 9.000 to 19.000.

At the meeting with Sorin Oprea, Director of the Agency for Combating Drugs, in a friendly atmosphere created through recent contacts, we discussed about the potential to raise drug policy higher on political agenda during the Romanian presidency over EU starting in January. We were informed about forthcoming purchase of 900.000 syringes for harm reduction services, the data collecting system that operates well in Romania and will be offered to Turkey, a 3 Million Euro programme that is planned for civil society organisations and plans to develop a system of alternative sanctions. Our interest in protection of personal data of drug users was replied with assurance that the problem was solved and that anonymity is guaranteed. The optimistic situation presented by the Agency was questioned by our civil society colleagues during the next meetings.

Discussion with our colleague Dragoş Roşca, director of the Romanian Harm Reduction Network, presented a bit different and challenging situation in the country. Among others, Dragoş gave us a good insight in functioning of country coordinating mechanism after departure of Global Fund. RHRN mainly functions as a watchdog for state institutions. He informed us that out of 15.500 people living with HIV, 14.000 are on treatment.

Dan Popescu from our member organisation ARAS took us to two methadone centres where they serve almost 500 people. The most vulnerable 100 of them get the service for free, while other can choose to pay 3 Euro for a daily service or 120 Euro for monthly package. We instantly commented that the country should provide the services for free – otherwise people’s basic right for health is not respected! In the centre situated in a large hospital, 11 committed activists work from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM, supported by a doctor, nurse and social worker. This service operates for 12 years already.

We also had an opportunity to see one of two their outreach team and their van which cruises the streets of Bucharest and provides service on the spot.

The visit was really good opportunity to learn about a variety of issues related to drug policy in this complex and segmented country.

Support. Don’t Punish Kick-off event

On the occasion of 26 June, the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the Global Day of Action of the Support Don’t Punish Campaign is organised in more than 150 cities in the world. The Drug Policy Network South East Europe for the second year coordinates activities of the campaign in South East Europe, where 10 of our member organizations are pushing actions in 9 countries and 11 cities. Activities that vary from the film screenings and street actions to public debates and dialogues with the different government bodies.

DPNSEE organised the “Kick-off event” to mark the start of the campaign in South East Europe. The event was held in the European Union Info Centre in Belgrade on 21 June. Executive director of the Network Milutin Milošević opened the event presenting the aims of the #SupportDontPunish campaign. He also briefly presented the current situation in the countries of South East Europe in the context of human rights and public health approach to drug policy.

Danilo Ćurčić, lawyer from the A11 – Economic and Social Rights Initiative addressed the need for actual space for civil society organizations and the lack of dialogue between the state and organizations addressing the issue. He specially emphasized adoption of laws through urgent procedures and without public hearings and poor implementation of laws that have been passed.

Dr Hajrija Mujović, vice president of the Association of Lawyers for Medical and Health Law of Serbia SUPRAM, presented the international and domestic laws and documents which are basis for fighting discrimination and safeguarding human right, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Joint United Nations statement on ending discrimination in health care settings issued in 2017.

Milutin Milošević presented the baseline research on “Documenting Drug Related Cases of Discrimination”, an activity within the project “Strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations in South-East Europe and promote drug policy based on respect for human rights and public health”. The most frequent cases of discrimination in SEE are related to stigmatization in various respects, the relationship between the police and the judicial system (including the right to information in criminal proceedings), the protection of personal data, basic and specific health care, social protection, the right to education, employment and many other areas of life which should be available to every person.

Irena Molnar, in front of Youth Action Organization for Drug Action – YODA, presented the document, result of the 7 day workshop in Belgrade “Protecting the rights of young people in areas related to drug policy”. She also stressed that it is recognizable that there is a lot of policy action taken in “our name” (in the name of ‘protecting the youth’) but without input of young people or regard for our safety. Most policies which are related to young people and drugs are regressive and damaging and causing more harm, however, they continue to be enforced.

A short discussion followed highlighting the need to decriminalise drug use and possession.

SEE HIV Ministerial Meeting

The Prime Minister and Minister of Health of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia hosted a South-Eastern European Ministerial Meeting on Sustainable Responses to HIV and TB in Skopje on 7 May 2018. The aim of the Ministerial Meeting was to discuss the progress, challenges and opportunities towards reaching sustainable responses to HIV and TB in South-Eastern Europe. Civil society representatives had an opportunity to join the high level representatives from all SEE countries, donors and global development partners and exchange about progress made and what remains to be done to meet the goal of ending the AIDS and tuberculosis epidemics in the region as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The ministers recognized increasing ownership of the national responses to the diseases, as external financial support including from the Global Fund is transitioning to support countries with the highest global burdens of disease and least economic capacity. The ministers expressed commitment to allocating domestic funding for and ensuring access to HIV and tuberculosis treatment for all, guided by governance structures that involve civil society and affected communities along with health professionals and technical partners. Still, a few comments from the civil organisations warned that the situation is far from satisfying and that “behind numbers are people about whom we need to care” – as underlined by the DPNSEE Board member Denis Dedajić.

DPNSEE representatives Vlatko Dekov, Chairman of the Board, Denis Dedajić, Secretary of the Board and Milutin Milošević, Executive Director, met with several Global Fund Board members, country representatives, donors and civil society colleagues. An important meeting was the one with Ekaterina Lukicheva from the Open Society Foundations International Harm Reduction Development Program and Raminta Štuikyte, consultant about the budget advocacy and implementation project and other ideas for future cooperation.

Photo with Peter Sands, the Executive Director of the Global Fund

The Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, at its 39th Board meeting, highlighted the importance of strengthening sustainability and supporting successful transition to domestic financing to build long-term solutions and achieve greater health security.

The Global Fund is committed to being a good partner in working toward sustainability, acting as a catalyst to additional investment, filling short-term gaps, and addressing bottlenecks to successful transition to more domestic funding. While shifting financing often includes challenges, including how to effectively fund civil society, transition increases country ownership and is necessary to end epidemics.

An important news for the region is that the Board approved an approach to ineligible upper-middle income countries in crisis where economic and epidemiological metrics are collapsing and where spill overs threaten regional progress against HIV, TB and malaria.

More about the Board meeting is available at the Global Fund website following this link >>>

Meetings with the Open Society Foundations representatives

On the margins of the dialogue between civil society and donors, representatives of the Open Society Foundations visited DPNSEE office on 18 January 2018: Daniel Wolfe, director of International Harm Reduction Development, Julia Greenberg, director of Governance and Financing, and Ekaterina Lukicheva, program officer for the International Harm Reduction Development Program (all three from the OSF Public Health Programme) along with Raminta Štuikyte, consultant. Vice-President Nebojša Đurasović, Secretary of the Board Denis Dedajić and Executive Director Milutin Milošević welcomed the distinguished guests.

DPNSEE hosts presented work and potentials of the Network and answered many questions. Guests were especially interested by the fact that DPNSEE gathers member organisations from all SEE countries and that it has a wide approach to the issue, including various elements of drug policy. They underlined that their full withdrawal from the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia is not good so they decided to assign funds to it. In 2017, they already supported two CSO projects in Montenegro with and they still have funds for support to Bosnia Herzegovina, Romania and Serbia which were not distributed, while for 2018 they have planned additional support to the region. Agreement was reached, in principle, that DPNSEE will implement a project on budget advocacy and implementation in Serbia, on local and national level. DPNSEE also proposed such an initiative on the regional level. Discussions about potential cooperation extended throughout the next two days of meetings.

Before the meetings in Belgrade, OSF and GF representatives visited Montenegro to discuss implementation of the two project they finance since 2017 and preparations for the national project application to the Global Fund. Our member organisations Cazas and Juventas were involved in the meetings.

Representatives of Margina and Viktorija had working meetings with both OSF and GF representatives. Result of the meetings is that the same support as the one for Montenegro is proposed for Bosnia Herzegovina, for a similar project adjusted to the structure of the country. Two projects are foreseen: one on accreditation of the harm reduction services in the Republic of Srpska and other on social contracting in the Federation of BH. The trigger for this decision was presentation which Denis had as panellist.

The OSF visit ended with visit to the Drop-in for drug users and Shelter for sex workers in Novi Sad managed by Prevent. The visit was very effective, with excellent presentation of Prevent’s work and very emotional discussion with three sex workers in the Shelter. At the end the guests (including representatives of SWAN and Mama Cash foundation) haven’t made any concrete promise for support but they expressed their willingness to help finding donors. The visit should be used as a model for welcoming donors and convincing them to finance services.

At the Drop-in for drug users