On 13 September 2022, ERA – LGBTI Equal Rights Association for the Western Balkans and Turkey, in partnership with Da Se Zna! hosted at the Human Rights House in Belgrade, the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue Meeting on Access to Justice for LGBTIQ+ People. The event was organised with the support of the Council of Europe / European Union Horizontal Facility Program II for the Western Balkans and Turkey.
The main purpose of the multi-stakeholder dialogue meeting was to contribute to a higher reporting and increasing of trust in the justice system by promoting the You are Heard platform and strengthening dialogue between state authorities, human rights institutions, the LGBTIQ+ community and other stakeholders.
Key-note speakers at the event were Gordana Čomić, Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, Tobias Flessenkemper, Head of Office of the Council of Europe Office in Belgrade, Miloš Kovačević, from Da Se Zna! and Amarildo Fecanji from ERA. Following their remarks, Biljana Ginova from ERA made a thorough presentation of the You are Heard Platform and Nikola Planojević from Da Se Zna! presented his organisation’s latest Report on hate-motivated incidents against LGBT+ persons in Serbia in 2021, “Grasp the truth based on facts 5”. Finally a panel on the way forward with regards to LGBTIQ+ people’s access to justice in Serbia ensued, moderated by Biljana Ginova and attended by Gordana Čomić, Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue, Brankica Janković, Commissioner for Protection of Equality, Dominik Kohler from the World Bank, Matija Stefanović and Nikola Planojević from Da Se Zna!.
Summary of discussions:
Miloš Kovačević from Da Se Zna! provided a thorough synopsis with regards to the situation: The Law on Protection from Discrimination was introduced in 2009 but the community reports problems with its implementation. Discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people is strong and prevalent be that from institutions as well as society at large. Gay and bisexual men are still prohibited to donate blood. 2022 brought about also big challenges with regards to freedom of assembly, with state authorities deciding to ban the EuroPride march. Despite the fact that EuroPride took place, it was marred by controversies, challenges in planning and attacks against participants. Representatives of the clergy have made horrendous statements against LGBTIQ+ people, and local NGOs have pressed charges.
According to local NGOs, the police is not taking stock of hate crimes, even though it is their obligation. There is no systematization of work by law enforcement. For the police to take place at any meeting or training they need consent from the Ministry of Interior, and the latter does not even respond to requests of local NGOs. The LGBTIQ+ organisations do not cooperate with the Ministry of Interior or their liaison for the community. They are completely absent when it comes to conversations about hate crimes against LGBTIQ+ people. Even though local NGOs have spent years providing trainings to local police, the results are yet to be seen.
One of the main important changes that needs to happen is to amend the law on criminal procedures so that victims can be assisted during provision of testimony. At the moment the Criminal Code is disabling local NGOs to monitor these processes and provide support to victims of hate crimes.
Minister Gordana Čomić spoke about the importance of dialogue in enabling passing of important legislation as well as improving the work of authorities. The draft law on same-sex unions, for example, was well drafted by the Ministry but dialogue needs to take place for it to get majority voting in the Parliament. Hate crime, meanwhile, was introduced through Article 54a of the Criminal Code, and it took several debates in parliament and three conferences to adopt. In 2018 a first judgment was made, concerning a case of domestic violence, in which article 54a was invoked. Until now, Article 54a has been applied in 39 cases, sentence was passed in 11, legal burden was passed in 4 and 5 judgments were made invoking this article.
Minister Čomić spoke about the government’s aim to adopt same-sex partnership law and legal gender recognition as well as to introduce an action-plan for protection from discrimination for all groups. Serbia will continue to enhance its cooperation with the Equal Rights Coalition.
Tobias Flessenkemper, Council of Europe’s Head of Belgrade Office spoke about the framework within which states should address LGBTIQ+ rights. The continent is working on human rights standards that include LGBTIQ+ people. The European Court for Human Rights has taken several landmark decisions on rights to a private life and a lot of case law has been developed. CoE SOGI Unit has been established. Council of Europe Recommendations 2010(5) set out a very good framework for the progress required to make on LGBTIQ+ rights. Mr. Flessenkemper emphasized that the situation of LGBTIQ+ people in a country gives us an indication of the situation of human rights. There are three main values within which LGBTIQ+ rights are important and relevant: human rights, democracy and rule of law. He spoke also about the very long duration of trials, which pose a big challenge, along with a need not to negatively influence rule of law or impede the independence of state institutions. He recommended to put timelines in goals and to start thinking about mechanisms which truly address hate speech and hate crimes.
The expert panel brought about additional challenges that the community faces. When it comes to victims of hate incidents and crimes they face the challenge of secondary victimisation from authorities and lack of action from institutions. Da Se Zna! and other organisations are providing legal and psychological support. Many challenges exist from trans people who need specific support.
- The adoption of the National Strategy on the Rights of Victims and Witnesses of Crime for the period 2020-2025 as well as the adoption of the Action Plan for its implementation, represents a positive step forward. It is imperative that this strategy is implemented successfully and that the needs of LGBTIQ+ survivors are addressed adequately;
- The Government of Serbia finally approved a new Strategy for prevention and protection from discrimination for the period 2022-2030. It is now important that the Government introduces an action plan for the implementation of this strategy.
- The Government of Serbia, as well as relevant justice institutions need to significantly improve their response to hate crimes and hate speech. More expedient and efficient investigations are required;
- The Government of Serbia needs to develop a centralised database on cases of hate motivated incidents, the lack of which makes the following and analysis of incidents motivated by homophobia and transphobia quite difficult.
- Law enforcement and other sectors of the justice system need to become more open and accessible to local NGOs. They need to work also on their attitudes towards LGBTIQ+ community and victims of hate crimes;
- Serbia must pass legislation pertaining to same-sex unions and legal gender recognition, both of which would be strong benchmarks in strengthening and increasing access to justice for LGBTIQ+ people;
- Serbia needs to amend the law on criminal procedures so that victims can be assisted during provision of testimony;