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Main European rights body hails Serbia’s missing babies law

March 6, 2020 GMT
In this photo taken Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, a protester holds up a banner that reads: "Where are our Children", during a protest in front of the parliament building in Belgrade, Serbia. After years of waiting, Serbian lawmakers are set to soon pass a bill that authorities say attempts to shed light on a chilling, decades-old scandal involving hundreds of families who suspect their babies were stolen at birth. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
In this photo taken Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, a protester holds up a banner that reads: "Where are our Children", during a protest in front of the parliament building in Belgrade, Serbia. After years of waiting, Serbian lawmakers are set to soon pass a bill that authorities say attempts to shed light on a chilling, decades-old scandal involving hundreds of families who suspect their babies were stolen at birth. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Europe’s leading human rights organization has welcomed Serbia’s adoption of a law aiming to shed light on the fate of hundreds of children feared stolen from birth clinics.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, which oversees the implementation of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights, expressed in a statement published Friday “great satisfaction” over the passing of the law in Serbia’s parliament last weekend. It urged the law’s swift implementation.

The chilling scandal first erupted years ago when parents went public with suspicions their babies hadn’t been stillborn or died at birth, as they were told, but had been kidnapped as part of an organized crime scheme.

The new law resulted from a 2013 ruling against Serbia by the Strasbourg-based court which obliged the country to create a mechanism for providing answers to parents seeking information about their children.

The new law envisages that the children’s fate be investigated and offers compensation where facts cannot be established with certainty. Last-minute additions also included forming a special commission with the parents’ representatives and a guarantee that cases could be reopened if new evidence surfaces.

The committee urged Serbia to quickly set up an envisaged DNA database and start training investigative judges and police.

Officials have warned finding out the truth could be hard as the so-called “missing babies” cases date back decades ago, to the era before the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslav federation in the 1990s. One of the former Yugoslav republics, Serbia is seeking European Union membership.

The Council of Europe, Europe’s leading human rights body based in Strasbourg, France, is open to all European countries, regardless of whether they are in the EU or not.