Award Winner's Serial
News / Serbia 2013
The European Court of Human Rights has awarded a Serbian woman 10,000 euros in compensation for losing her newborn baby to thieves in an incident in a Yugoslav maternity hospital in 1983. The development has called attention to the fact that over the past two decades alone child traffickers have stolen hundreds of Serbian babies. Voice of Russia correspondent talked to Vladimir Cigarevic, a campaigner for the parents of stolen Serbian newborns.
Why are you so sure that your baby was stolen?
“The hospital’s paperwork concerning my baby contained numerous corrections, but no names or signatures of the doctors in charge. Not even a rubberstamp mark. Lawyers agreed that the papers were fishy. The doctor who was supposed to have carried out an autopsy on my baby left Serbia several years ago. And it was not the first case that a maternity doctor had emigrated. I advise all parents suspecting their baby was stolen to ask cemetery officials to produce burial papers. In my case and in many other similar cases, the burial papers are conspicuous by their absence.
The worker who was in charge of disposing of the remains of deceased newborns at the time of my son’s disappearance says ne was strictly prohibited from opening the black body bags that he received. Only midwives had the right to open body bags. We believe midwives are responsible for 90% of baby theft cases.“ Read more: http://sputniknews.com/voiceofrussia/2013_09_17/Serbia-baby-theft-commonplace-0494/
Does this mean that the midwife separates the newborn from the mother immediately upon delivery?
“In one instance, the midwife removed the newborn baby from the mother’s bosom, took it out of the room and handed it over to a person unknown. The mother witnessed the handover, because the door was not closed properly. The midwives are the main element of the mafia, because they can move everywhere with babies in their hands without raising suspicion. Put on a white medical garb, and you, too, can easily steal a baby.”
But what’s the point of stealing newborns?
“Babies are stolen for adoption. They change hands for 15,000 to 45,000 euros a piece. You can order a baby girl if you like and receive her within one month with all the necessary papers on her. Newborns are like any other marketable item – like potatoes, for instance. The buyers also include cults, medical labs and human organ dealers. Unfortunately, incriminating evidence of these offences is hard to come by.”
Has there been any reaction from the state to your organization’s initiatives?
“None whatsoever. We have asked the Health Ministry to instruct maternity hospitals not to dispose of deceased newborns before they are identified visually by their parents and also by their DNA. There is no response, I have reasons to suspect that the authorities are fearful of unpalatable disclosures.”
My name is Ljiljana Milovanovic, one of thousands of Serbian mothers who are searching for the truth in regards to what happened to the babies we gave birth to in Serbian hospitals.
On March 3rd 1975, in Krusevac Serbia, I gave birth to a baby girl, who Doctors told me, had passed away due to complications, after the first two hours of life. Both me, and my spouse were left to deal with the devastating news that our firstborn daughter would never come home with us.
We have lived with the pain and heartache of losing a child for over the past 38 years. And then unexpectedly on June 3rd 2011, once more, we were shocked and traumatized to learn that what we had known for 38 years was a deliberate fabricated lie. Our daughter had never died after she was born, rather she was born healthy and then taken from the Hospital and most likely trafficked and sold to someone else.
On that fateful day in June 2011 as I had unknowingly gone to Krusevac City Hall to request some family papers, I happened to ask for the archived documents for my deceased daughter. Instead of receiving a death certificate for my baby, I was horrified to see a copy of a live birth registration from the Hospital for her. I subsequently was further horrified to obtain a copy of a subsequent birth registration for her on a separate date and time, with my forged signature.
Initial shock and confusion led to horror as further paperwork revealed a parents worst nightmare ~ our child was indeed born alive and then subsequently released from hospital to unknown people. At that point my search for answers and the truth of what happened to my baby girl had commenced. The road to seeking the truth has been extremely difficult, and filled with many obstacles, barriers, and huge road blocks.
I came to first hand experience the problems of present day corruption in Serbia, within the healthcare system, the local government of my town, as well as many other federal government ministries, including the legal system itself.
Not one single level of government nor government official was willing to respond to both my written and personal requests for information leading to the whereabouts of my missing daughter. Not once single person has been willing to meet with me nor has allowed me to see documentation, both medical and civil, that would explain what happened to my daughter in 1975.
Under the Serbian Constitution articles 51/52, a citizen of Serbia has the right to freedom of access to public information, specifically when that information is of a private and personal nature, i.e. hospital medical records.
Until this day, I still am unable to obtain access to both my own medical history, and that of my baby daughter, most importantly the information surrounding the events of her delivery and subsequent discharge from Krusevac hospital.
Repeated requests to receive copies of personal historical medical information for both myself and my daughter, have been answered with multiple excuses for not being able to produce these documents. Those excuses range from, the inability to provide archived documentation due to its destruction from various elements, i.e.from boiler explosions and flooding, to mice “eating the archives”….. all unacceptable responses to a woman who has learned that the daughter she gave birth to has been taken from her.
The office of the OMBUDSMAN of Serbia, Mr Sasa Jankovic, has said that there are competent and willing people in government who are prepared to once and for all settle the thousands of claims of missing babies from Hospitals. As one of these parents, I am prepared to go all the way to the end and do whatever needs to be done in order to bring pressure upon the Serbian government to stop hiding and ignoring these credible claims of baby trafficking.
On June 12, 2013, the current Minister of Health, Ms Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic had announced the ministries initiative to set up a direct SMS number to the ministry where citizens of Serbia would be able to notify her office in any case of potential corruption within the healthcare sector. My direct message to the ministries new initiative, where I personally wanted to share my first hand experience of dealing with corruption within the healthcare system, the response I received from her office was, “unfortunately, we can not do anything for you”?
My question to the government of Serbia is “to whom do the laws of the Serbian government apply to?” Are these but symbolic departments and organizations. What irony is there when the Serbian government continues to speak about the need for awareness to corruption and the plight of human trafficking when actual examples and specific situations of corruption/trafficking continue to go ignored?
It is an absolute disgrace that the so-called “democratic republic” of Serbia continues to turn a blind eye to basic human rights that are being withheld from its very own citizens.
In the document , the place for the name of the mother was empty, on discharge letters there was no facsimile of the doctor who filled in and seals of the clinic were skillfully blurried. The most common excuses of the doctors in the documents were that the infant 's death occurred because of the umbilical cord that was wrapped around the baby’s neck , infections or irregular heartbeat .
In 80 percent of cases mothers went on caesarean section or if babies were born naturally were immediately placed in an incubator , under various pretexts and mothers were not allowed to see their babies , and after a few days they were saying that the baby is dead with the same story - you are young you will have more children, J.Rafajlovic said for Kurir.
In Serbia , boomes the trade with babies . According to unofficial data , on the territory of Serbia in the last 40 years were stolen over 10,000 babies (over 20 babies per month ) and in the unimpeded progress of this kind of crime contribute that in Serbia there is no law for stolen babies .
Only a few parents gathered at the Association of Parents of missing baby of Serbia and decided to take matters into their own hands and finally to publicly speak about .
They will ask for an act to act to dead newborns.
- We will ask for a document to ban funeral services without special permits , identification of thedead baby and placenta and DNA of both parents in order to confirm motherhood or fatherhood . All this by the example of the Spanish baby - mafia that in maternity was freezing dead babies showing the same baby to the parents for weeks- President of the Association , Chicharevic said .
If this proposal is accepted and the Law for stolen babies be adopted, Serbia will be the first state with such a law.
With this law will be protected and all future parents.
Serbia is shocked by a sordid affair of trafficking babies while the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has demanded Belgrade to shed light on this scandal which began at the time of Communist Yugoslavia.
Countless testimonies since the scandal broke out in the early 2000s show a similar pattern: the hospital authorities announce to parents that their baby died without showing their body, and they will organize the burial.
But, in cemeteries, no trace of the supposedly dead and buried newborns.
"In Belgrade alone, 2,000 parents asked whether their babies had been buried and received a negative response," says Mirjana Novokmet, 54.
Mirjana, whose baby "born in excellent health" was proclaimed inexplicably died a few days later in 1978, and ms Radjenovic, 42 - who lost her baby in 2001 - part of a group of parents from twelve years put pressure on the Belgrade authorities to establish the truth. They have no doubt about the existence of an organized criminal activity.
"We are facing an organized crime and the state does nothing to help" said the Serbian woman with dark face marked by deep wrinkles. "In our view, the existence of this network is confirmed by the fact that there is a same modus operandi in different hospitals, different cities and at different times," Goran claims. "Implicitly and sometimes directly, nurses and midwives have told us on condition of anonymity" the existence of trafficking of babies, said Ms Novokmet.
Parents enjoy the full support of the Commissioner of public importance Rodoljub Sabic information considers the verdict of Strasbourg as a logical consequence of the failure of Serbian authorities to provide credible information to parents. The possibility of the existence of a baby trafficking "absolutely can not be excluded," he said.
Goran Filipovic says his daughter is turning 15 this year. He still hopes to meet her one day.
Doctors at the Belgrade hospital where she was born told Filipovic and his wife that she had died shortly after birth.
The couple, however, believes their daughter is still alive and was in fact stolen for adoption as part of a vast criminal scheme that included doctors and nurses at state-run Serbian clinics.
The family's tragic tale is not uncommon in Serbia, where hundreds of parents have made similar claims over the years.
The European Court of Human Rights last week awarded 10,000 euros ($13,000) in moral damages to the mother of a boy who disappeared at a Serbian maternity ward 30 years ago -- a landmark ruling that Filipovic hopes will help bring closure to all the families still searching for their children.
"My phone is constantly ringing. I now receive numerous phone calls from parents who felt discouraged by the state's inaction before the ruling was passed. They all want us to unite and force the authorities to deal with our cases and finally solve them," Filipovic says.
"I believe we will now wage one common fight for the truth, which will be revealed sooner or later."
Belgrade Ordered To Investigate
The successful plaintiff, Zorica Jovanovic, gave birth to a healthy baby boy in October 1983. But as she and her son were about to be released from the hospital three days later, she was informed that he had died of unspecified causes.
The infant's body was never handed over. Jovanovic was not given any autopsy report or even told where he had been buried.
Both in 2002 and 2007, local officials confirmed that her son's death had not been registered in municipal records, strengthening her suspicions that he was smuggled out of the hospital alive.
The European Court ruled that the Serbian authorities had violated Jovanovic's right to respect for her family life by consistently failing to provide her with "credible information as to what happened to her son." She was awarded an additional 1,800 euros ($2,300) in lawyers' fees and expenses.
Judges in Strasbourg noted the "significant number of other potential applicants" and voiced hope that their decision would "help hundreds of parents to find out what happened to their newborn babies."
They also ordered Serbian authorities to investigate each individual case and provide wronged families with adequate compensation within a year. About 100 similar complaints from Serbian parents are currently pending before the court.
Trail Of Falsified Documents
The disappearances seemed to follow the same pattern. Filipovic says he, too, was barred from seeing his allegedly deceased daughter. "When I went to the hospital, I was told our baby had died 15 minutes ago. When I asked to see her, they refused; I was not even able to lay her to rest," he says. "I went back home deeply shaken and I buried the whole thing deep inside me."
Despite the absence of a death certificate, Filipovic says he was too blinded by grief and by his faith in doctors to immediately suspect foul play. With time, however, doubts began to creep in.
"When I somewhat recovered from the shock I wanted to visit my daughter's grave. But when I went to the cemetery I was told that the hospital had not sent the remains of a child under that name, that they had never received any document and that they did not have any record of her burial," Filipovic says.
"Then I went to the hospital to find out what happened and I found duplicate records, duplicate certificates with blank spaces where details on the mother should have been indicated. I realized that birth records were being faked."
Filipovic says his visit to the registry office revealed further inconsistencies, suggesting that documents had been forged.
Forcing The Government To Act
Instances of newborns disappearing in Serbian hospitals have been reported since the 1970s, but little has been done to bring the perpetrators to justice and end a horrifying practice that appears to have persisted until the late 1990s.
The purported discovery of several "missing" children, alive and growing up in adoptive families, deepened the conviction felt by many parents that their babies were snatched away after being declared dead.
Although such cases drew media attention at the time, and despite strong pressure from parents, the Serbian authorities have largely turned a blind eye to the allegations. More than 700 people have filed complaints over their babies' suspicious deaths in delivery clinics, but investigators have not solved a single case.
In the early 2000s, dozens of families joined forces to lobby for a thorough probe. Their efforts resulted in the creation of a parliamentary committee tasked with looking into the possible trafficking of newborn babies.
The committee, which was disbanded in 2006, concluded that the parents' suspicions were well-founded and urged the Interior Ministry to set up a special investigative unit including experts on human trafficking.
"We believed that we had enough cases to make such a recommendation. We believed that the investigations were justifiable and that they should be handled by the police, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and the judiciary, as well as all other competent state institutions," says Zivodarka Dacin, the committee's chairwoman.
The unit, however, never materialized.
For Jovanovic, Filipovic, and scores of other parents still searching for answers about their children's fate, the European Court's ruling is a major victory.
Filipovic is painfully aware that no judgment can guarantee that he will find his child, let alone make up for the lost years together. But after decades of inaction from the authorities at home, he says the Strasbourg court is his only chance of ever being reunited with his daughter.
NIŠ - ‘We only want to learn the truth. We are not interested in financial compensation! We want that it is determined where our children are’, Grana Stefan of Nis says. She is mother of a boy who was proclaimed dead on May 12, 1987 a day after he was born. She claims he was stolen from a maternity ward.
Zorica Jovanovic of Cuprija does not believe that the cases of missing babies shall ever be solved.
‘I do not believe to a state that allowed stealing of babies from maternity wards. We were told that the case has become obsolete, but how can the right to motherhood become obsolete?’, Jovanovic asks.
After delivery Grana Stefan insisted to be released from hospital immediately in fear that her daughter would have the same destiny as her twin brother.
‘It is not possible that the boy had died. When I was leaving the hospital they gave me a document in which it was written that the baby was male. When they noticed it, they quickly changed it to female. It was even stranger that it was written that I was released from the hospital on June 19, 1987 and the child on June 19, 1988. Also in the document related to the baby the birth date specified was May 11, 1988, instead of 1987. They made confusion with release lists and they wanted to show that the boy was born a year later’, Grana says.
‘In 2005, 13 of us parents asked if there were funerals of babies that allegedly died in the hospital. We got an official reply that that there had been no such funerals. Had my son be buried at the graveyard, there must have been a trace of that. The hospital has never issued to us a death certificate’, Grana adds.
Verica Pesic of Vranje who delivered twin girls in November of 1978, left hospital without one baby but also without any documentation.
‘Immediately after delivery I was told to have given birth to two girls. After that they said that one girl had died’, Verica said.
A human rights judgement today may help hundreds of parents to find out what happened to their newborn babies who went missing from hospital wards in Serbia.
The disappearances occurred from the 1970s to the 1990s and are revealed today in the European Court of Human Rights judgement in the case of Zorica Jovanovic v. Serbia (application no. 21794/08).
Judges held,unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. As Just satisfaction (Article 41), the court held that Serbia was to pay Ms Jovanovic 10,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage. It also awarded EUR 1,800 for her lawyers’ costs and expenses.
The case concerned the alleged death of Ms Jovanovic’s healthy newborn son in 1983 in a State-run hospital. She was never allowed to see his body and suspects that her son may even still be alive, having unlawfully been given up for adoption.
The court found that, although the procedure in hospitals when newborns die had been improved and reports had been drawn up by Parliament to investigate the missing babies cases, ultimately nothing had been done to remedy the ordeal suffered by the parents, including the applicant, in the past.
Therefore the Court concluded that Ms Jovanovic had suffered a continuing violation of the right to respect for her family life due to Serbia’s continuing failure to provide her with credible information as to what has happened to her son.
Given the significant number of other potential applicants, the Court also held under Article 46 (binding force and implementation) that Serbia had to take measures to give credible answers about what has happened to each missing child and to provide parents with adequate compensation.