Easier to access justice with the help of volunteers

12 Jun 2013

Eight volunteers from 7 Croatian cities: Osijek, Rijeka, Sisak, Split, Vukovar, Zadar and Zagreb, have received special acknowledgements for their contribution providing help to witnesses and victims of crime summoned to testify in court. Awards for the best volunteers at the offices for Witness/Victim Support at seven county courts were handed out to: Mario Slišković from Osijek, Hermina Baraković from Rijeka, Lada Rađenović from Sisak, Maja Milovac from Split, Dobrica Pakter from Vukovar, Petra Surać from Zadar and Marija Đivanović from Zagreb. An award was also handed out to Zrinka Tustonjić from Zagreb, who contributed to opening of free hot-line for the victims of crime, which is going to be activated in July 2013.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has worked in partnership with the Croatian Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court to create a national network of offices that provide crime victims with the information and reassurance they need to appear in court and testify with confidence. The success of these efforts has depended on a small number of professional staff and the energy and dedication of a far larger network of young volunteers, many of whom are drawing on this experience as a practical introduction to a career in law or social work.

“So when we saw that the needs of victims in Croatia were still greater than the existing system could manage, we embraced the opportunity to rely on our volunteer network to expand the system of witness-victim support. This experience taught us a lot about the value of the volunteer experience, both for the beneficiaries of their work and, less obviously, for the volunteers themselves“ - said UNDP Resident Representative in Croatia Louisa Vinton. “We are grateful to you, our volunteers, for the enthusiasm and commitment that was necessary to make a service like this one work. Your volunteering is of direct and immediate benefit to the crime victims who so urgently need information and advice. “

“You entered the courts as volunteers, a great majority of you being students of social work, psychology and law. And your work is important to us. We could not pay so many people we need for working with victims, injured persons and with people who are in a vulnerable stage of their lives“pointed out President of Supreme Court of Croatia Branko Hrvatin. “It is not about juridical professional help. It is about psychological help for victims, to get prepared for facing the accused and to reduce their stress of testifying in court. Victims who are blocked, shocked, often do not know how to express themselves or they do not remember important details. That is how the whole judicial proceeding becomes more valuable.“

“Contemporary civilization never dealt with the victim, victims were always only witnesses. The situation is slowly changing. There is no justice without human help and solidarity you offer“said Minister of Justice of the Republic of Croatia Orsat Miljenić. “It does not matter what your future jobs will be, I thank you not only on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, but also on behalf of all the citizens you have helped."

Around two hundred volunteers contribute to the Victims and Witnesses Support Offices on a daily basis. During the last 6 years the seven existing support offices provided support and counseling to more than 14,000 witnesses summoned to testify in criminal cases.. More than 12,000 people sought support by telephone. So the decision was made to expand the program to provide telephone advice free-of-charge, at any time, and in any location, in Croatia.

By introducing the toll-free hotline number 116-006, standardized across Europe, the assistance will be accessible to people living far from the seven support offices, unable to seek advice in person. The introduction of the national hotline is designed to provide crime victims with instant access to a wide range of information: from what to do when a crime occurs to where to seek professional help. Information for callers will also be available in English, as well as Croatian, so most foreign visitors will also be able to use the service.

Since a large share of those who seek help from witness-victim support offices are women who have fallen victim to domestic violence, rape or other gender-based crimes, we are also drawing on some of Croatia’s top experts to provide you with an update on new regulations and judicial trends in these areas. Head of Criminal Law Regulations Department at the Ministry of Justice, Ana Vlahović Stanić listed the amendments in the criminal law which are important for working with victims on daily basis. Psychologist and Women's Room Coordinator, Maja Mamula presented what has already been done in order to improve the position of sexual violence victims, and High Misdemeanor Court Judge Branka Žigante Živković talked about the family violence issues from the perspective of adjudication process of minor offences.