In light of the recent publication of the EU enlargement reports for enlargement countries, ERA hosted on 9 November a regional webinar on "Advancing anti-discrimination policies and LGBTIQ+ rights in the Western Balkans and Türkiye in the framework of the EU integration process." The event was attended by representatives of civil society, international organisations and institutions, academia, and state institutions.
Community leaders and activists, Altin Hazizaj from PINK Embassy in Albania, Dina Bajraktarević from Tuzla Open Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Arben Fejza from the Centre for Social Group Development (CSGD) in Kosovo, Jovan Ulicević from Spektra in Montenegro, Irena Cvetkovikj from Coalition Margins in North Macedonia, Miloš Kovačević from Da Se Zna! in Serbia and Damla Umut Uzun from KAOS GL in Türkiye provided their comments and recommendations on the EU reports as well as the current human rights situation of LGBTIQ+ people in the respective countries.
All accession countries of the Western Balkans region share prevalent problems and challenges, including:
- Lack of significant progress with legal and policy reforms, including those about family rights or gender recognition;
- An increase in hate speech, especially during elections, pride events (particularly EuroPride in Belgrade), or public debates on legal and policy changes relevant to the LGBTIQ+ community;
- A lack of political will from left-wing parties to advance LGBTIQ+ laws and policies or to play a proactive role during public debates. This situation makes political participation and representation of LGBTIQ+ people very difficult in the region;
- LGBTIQ+ action plans have been launched in a few countries (e.g., Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina), but others need to follow suit. When LGBTIQ+ action plans get approved, their implementation, budgeting, monitoring, and evaluation remain challenging;
- In the case of Montenegro, activists noted that the report contained two items that the movement considers wrong information. One concerns information on funding. The report stipulates that the Ministry for Minority and Human Rights allocated more than 30% more funds for LGBTIQ+ organisations than in 2020. The truth according to local organisations is that these funds are allocated to LGBTIQ+ activities but not to LGBTIQ+ organisations. Yes, there are more funds from the Ministry coming on one specific call for NGO, but the amount of funds that one NGO can apply for has not changed. The second issue was with the statement on the LGBTIQ+ National Action Plan, whose status is described as “unclear” in the report. Activists argue that the implementation of the action plan has effectively stopped at the moment, due to the difficult political situation in the country;
- Country progress reports often include LGBTIQ+ relevant language to state the situation but need to call for action by the states or to give clear recommendations.
EU integration and annual progress reports remain an important advocacy tool:
LGBTIQ+ activists agreed that despite the slow progress with integration and the diminished support from enlargement in the region's countries, EU integration and the annual progress reports remain essential advocacy tools and should be utilised. Even in the context when public narratives, especially those of the anti-gender movement, depict the advancement of LGBTIQ+ rights as a foreign influence or EU condition.
The main conclusions from their analysis of the progress reports include:
- The EU should follow key reforms on LGBTIQ+ rights. Meetings with LGBTIQ+ recommendations on the overall context, as well as specific reforms, could be held;
- They should contain clear, practical, and action-oriented recommendations;
- A language that calls states to action and clear recommendations should be used to push institutions to resolve cases of discrimination, hate speech, and hate crimes against LGBTIQ+ people with due diligence;
- Adopt a common language and definition to report on all forms of gender-based violence with an intersectional approach according to the Istanbul Convention and not limited to domestic violence or violence against women and girls.
Recommendations were also made for LGBTIQ+ organisations:
- EU integration, and the annual reports, are one of the many advocacy tools the movement should use. Many approaches can be undertaken and they can be tailored to specific audiences;
- To have regular meetings with EU Delegations (and other EU institutions) and to provide information and context and make specific requests/asks;
- It is recommended to choose a few clear topics for advocacy with the EU to use and concentrate resources more effectively.
This event was organized by ERA in cooperation with the above-mentioned organisations and with the support of Olof Palme International Center.