Ombudsman determined the absence of Ministrys` reaction

Protector of human rights and freedoms of Montenegro, in the proceedings on its initiative and at the request sent by the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) , brought an opinion assessing that activities in Elementary school „Boško Buha“, which refer to the distribution of gifts with religious content, were not in accordance with the law. The Protector notes that the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports did not submit a statement on the conducted procedure, as well as the absence of reaction and, hence, recommends that this Ministry in the future, in such and similar cases, takes appropriate actions and measures on time.

The CCE earlier addressed the request for an opinion to the Protector, expressing doubt that in January, the activity of a religious association, through the mentioned institution of primary education, caused a violation of regulations of the General Law on Education. This Law prescribes that religious activities are not allowed in public educational institutions and institutions that have been granted a concession for conducting a publicly valid educational programme and education of a secular character, except those institutions registered as secondary religious schools.

On that occasion, CCE also expressed concern that the interests of children were jeopardized in that manner. Namely, by distributing propaganda material, children were exposed to manipulation and abuse, given the allegations from the media that the packages were given based on religious affiliation. The CCE emphasized that it can represent the act of deepening segregation and discrimination in a multi-ethnic environment such as Pljevlja.

In the procedure of material collecting, in response of ES „Boško Buha“ to the request for a statement addressed by the Protector was stated that there was no religious acting and separation of pupils based on religion, but that they were divided according to who celebrate or do not celebrate the noted holiday, and that there were orthodox pupils who took the present without religious symbols. It is also stated that this is not the first humanitarian action and that there were donations from the Red Cross and ADRA (Adventist Church) earlier.

The Protector concluded that the fact that gifts were given to the children on New Year’s Eve does not represent children’s rights violations, but propaganda messages that are not related to upbringing and education are not in line with the goals of education. The Protector assessed that this organization could have given the presents in other ways, outside of the educational institution in which any kind of religious, political or other activity is prohibited, except for the educational one. Additionally, the Protector reminded that it is the obligation of the school management and professionals who work there to know the regulations and timely check the content of materials and gifts.

The Protector stated that in this specific case there was no reaction of the competent Ministry which supervises the implementation of the Law, with the note that this was not an isolated case.

According to the findings, the Protector brought numerous recommendations for the Ministry and ES „Boško Buha“ to prevent such situations in the future.

The CCE, after finding out about those events, concurrently with the request addressed to the Protector, sent the initiative to the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, requesting to undertake the appropriate measures to determine the responsibility of the director, and to initiate the procedure of dismissal of the director, pursuant to Article 82a paragraph 1 item 3 and Article 83 paragraph 1 item 14 of the General Law on education. Since no response has been submitted to the CCE yet, an urgency request has been sent.

Snežana Kaluđerović, Senior Legal Advisor