Serbian lawmakers amended Tuesday the penal code to introduce a life sentence without parole, despite concerns voiced by the Council of Europe.
Until now, the maximum sentence in Serbia, which seeks to join the European Union, was 40 years in prison.
According to the new law, those sentenced to life imprisonment will be able to ask a tribunal to review their sentence once they have spent 27 years behind bars.
But those convicted of rape followed by murder, or serious crimes against children or pregnant women, will not have that option.
Such a provision runs counter to the European Convention on Human Rights, according to which it must be possible to review all life sentences after a certain period of time.
"Where domestic law does not provide for the possibility of such a review, a whole life sentence will not measure up to the standards ... of the Convention," the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
In a letter to Serbian Justice Minister Nela Kuburic earlier this month, the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic had encouraged local authorities to think again about submitting the draft law to a vote.
As a member of the Council, 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.
"A sentence of 30 to 40 years in jail can be also considered inhuman," the Serb minister reportedly answered, according to the daily Politika.
That is because "once they have served their sentence, convicts are set free when they are older, most of the time without money ... without links to family or friends," Kubaric was quoted as saying.
The introduction of life sentence was triggered by the 2014 rape and murder of a 15-year-old Serbian girl, Tijana Juric.
A foundation named for her and established by her father has campaigned for a life sentence without possibility of parole ever since.
Juric's murderer was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
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