BELGRADE -- Serbian lawmakers have voted to introduce life imprisonment without parole for some serious crimes, despite concerns voiced by the Council of Europe's top human rights official.
Parliament on May 21 approved amendments to the Balkan country's Criminal Code, which resulted from a petition launched by the father of a teenage girl who was raped and killed in 2014.
The new legislation introduces life imprisonment for the killing of a senior official, acts of terrorism, war crimes, and other serious crimes.
Those sentenced to life in prison may apply for parole after having spent 27 years behind bars, except those found guilty of acts such as the rape and killing of a minor or a pregnant or disabled person.
Until now, the maximum sentence in Serbia was 40 years in prison.
The amendments were backed by the ruling coalition led by President Aleksandar Vucic's Progressive Party and part of the opposition.
The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic earlier this month called on the Serbian authorities not to submit the draft law to a vote.
Serbia is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, which does not prohibit life sentences but requires "a prospect of the prisoner's release and the possibility of a review of the sentence," Mijatovic wrote in a letter to Justice Minister Nela Kuburic.
The draft law was introduced after years of campaigning by Igor Juric, whose 15-year-old daughter Tijana was abducted and killed in 2014. Her killer is currently serving a 40-year sentence.
Juric's call for a life sentence without possibility of parole has been backed by a petition signed by about 160,000 people.
Serbia seeks to join the European Union and must align its legislation, including its Criminal Code, with those of the bloc.
Many European countries have life sentences but with the possibility of parole, including France and Germany.