Multi-stakeholder dialogue meeting on access to justice for LGBTIQ+ people takes place in Podgorica
On 12 July 2022 ERA – LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey (ERA), in partnership with member organisation Queer Montenegro hosted in Pordogica, Montenegro a Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue Meeting on Access to Justice for LGBTIQ+ people. The Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue Meeting aimed to contribute to higher reporting and increasing trust in the justice system by promoting the You Are Heard platform.
Keynote speakers at the event were Karen Maddox, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Montenegro, Evgenia Giakomopoulou, Head of Operations of the Council of Europe Programme Office in Montenegro and Danijel Kalezic, Executive Co-Director of ERA.
The Ambassador of Great Britain to Montenegro, Karen Maddox, stated that the British Embassy is working with the police and the judiciary in Montenegro on strengthening the justice system, including ensuring access to justice for the LGBTIQ+ community.
"Providing the right response in the context of public policies to the obstacles that LGBTIQ+ people face in the judicial process requires an understanding of their experience. However, there is currently no disaggregation of data that would provide solid statistics on LGBTIQ+ persons' access to justice or the crimes they suffer in Montenegro. Today's event and the establishment of the You are Heard platform are welcome steps," said Maddox.
Head of Operations of the Council of Europe Programme Office in Montenegro, Evgenia Giakoumopoulou, said that it is important to bridge the gap between institutions and persons who have survived violence and that it is necessary to better connect institutions with partners and the non-governmental sector. "If we are not able to efficiently recognize and collect data, we will not be able to provide real support to the LGBTIQ+ community. Building trust, recognizing hate and stigma are essential in how you deliver justice," Giakoumopoulou pointed out.
The first panel of the meeting focused on the importance of institutional engagement in ensuring access to justice for LGBTIQ+ people in the Western Balkans.
The panel was attended by Mirjana Vlahovic Andrijasevic, Director General at Directorate of Human Rights from the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights of Montenegro, Dina Knezevic, Chief Advisor of Ombudsman of Montenegro and Danijel Kalezić, Executive Co-Director at ERA.
The executive co-director of ERA - LGBTI Equal Rights Association for the Western Balkans and Turkey, Danijel Kalezic, stated that there is a lot of individual political will which can be seen in the last ten years through the legal framework and legislation. "There is no standardized practice in the prosecution of crimes. In the prosecution office, the process depends on the identity of the judge or prosecutor. We need better coordination in the system and a better plan for the future," Kalezić pointed out.
Director General at Directorate of Human Rights, Ministry of Human and Minority Rights of Montenegro, Mirjana Vlahovic Andrijasevic, said that there is a lot of unfinished work in the Ministry, and as an example cites the Law on life partnership for same-sex couples which, after two years, is still not harmonized with other laws. "We did a lot of good things, but we didn't finish many things. This is a continuous process that is constantly progressing and we need to be ready for different challenges. There is still a shortage because in practice we have little progress, even with raising awareness through various seminars." said Andrijasevic.
Chief advisor of Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms of Montenegro, Dina Knezevic, said that the LGBTIQ+ community is most encouraged to report to the Institution of the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms, which indicates the necessity of collecting data to solve further problems. "Hate crime is not defined as an independent crime, but as an aggravating circumstance. The collected data are unsystematic, unrelated and disordered, which shows ignorance of the basis of discrimination," Knežević stated.
In the continuation of the discussion, Biljana Ginova from ERA - LGBTI Equal Rights Association for the Western Balkans and Turkey, presented the platform You are heard, a place where the LGBTIQ+ community in the Western Balkans and in Turkey, as well as allies, can report hate incidents and find support. "It was important to better understand the survivors of violence. This platform, through a detailed questionnaire, helps to collect relevant data that will help us analyze the situation in the entire region and better provide support and help to people who need it," Ginova said. The platform, in addition to basic data, makes a detailed report on where and when the incident or crime occurred, to which institution it was reported, belonging to a minority group or not, and a number of other questions.
The second and last panel discussed the concrete challenges in accessing justice for LGBTIQ+ people in Montenegro and the way forward and was attended by Milos Knezević, Executive Director of NGO Queer Montenegro, Jelena Colaković, Program Director at NGO Juventas and Jovan Ulicević, Executive Director of NGO Spectra.
The executive director of the Montenegrin LGBTIQ Association Queer Montenegro, Miloš Knežević, stated that according to research, the LGBTIQ+ community in Montenegro believes that the support of institutions is only declarative and states that the community does not have great trust in the institutions of the system when it comes to this problem. "Adequate help is missing. The community does not feel safe in their city, not only in terms of sexual orientation, but also based on gender, sex and nationality. In order to solve this problem, we must improve the process of education - formal and informal. On the other hand, we need a stricter punishment policy and, most importantly, more concrete involvement of institutions in solving this problem," Knežević stated.
The executive director of NGO Spektra, Jovan Dzoli Ulićević, said that the rights of LGBTIQ people are considered far from the priorities on political agendas. "We don't have integral data, and it's great that the You are heard platform recognizes multiple layers of identity, because that way we get a full and broader picture of the problem itself. In recent years, the civil sector has mostly worked in this field. Therefore, now it has become an established practice that non-governmental organizations carry the burden of activities," added Ulićević.
The program director of the NGO Juventas, Jelena Čolaković, stated that the process of trust in the NGO sector when reporting hate crimes is high, for the reason that there is greater trust in that relationship and there is no room for stigmatization. Where there is a big problem is the motivation of institutions to become points of trust for everything that happens to our community. "It's not important who reports the crime, but what a particular person is going through and the support they need. I am tired of the same people listening to the message, but I hope that the message will reach those who have not heard it before," said Čolaković.
Discussion aimed aims to contribute for a higher reporting and increasing of trust in the system by promoting the You Are Heard platform. You Are Heard is a place where the LGBTIQ+ community and allies can safely report hate incidents and find support. The collected data will contribute to evidence-based advocacy in order to improve the accountability of actors across the region in combating hate crimes and in the administration of justice.
The main conclusions and recommendations from the event included:
- The Montenegrin justice system does not yet have disaggregated data for LGBTIQ+ victims of hate crimes and incidents. The data collection processes going on so far are incoherent and not giving a good picture of the situation.
- Coordination between different institutions is important for data collection to be accurate and useful
- While Montenegro can rejoice the existence of good legislation (including that pertaining to hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity), and there is also good political will to improve laws and policies, Montenegro lags behind when it comes to the everyday life of LGBTIQ+ people.
- So far most positive results have been achieved with law enforcement who have received considerable trainings on LGBTIQ+ rights (including recent ones from the United Kingdom). Finally, things are also moving forward with judges and prosecutors, who have received numerous trainings on the issue.
- Bridging the gap between the community and state institutions remains a big challenge and a priority.
- The response to existing cases reported need to be improved
- More trainings and awareness raising activities need to be conducted with the justice sector. The trainings conducted so far have produced little progress on the ground.
- The Law for Prohibition of Discrimination sees hate speech as a missdemeanor. The law is generally being used more and it is now more clear.
- Much more efforts should be made to address hate speech. Public persons should be particularly responsible on how they communicate.
- Penalties, when it comes to cases of hate speech should be stronger
- The Ombudsperson is collecting and receiving more and more complaints of hate speech
- We need to have change in a very systemic way on how we collect evidence. Police needs to record every little incident.
The event was financially supported by the Horizontal Facility programme of the European Union and Council of Europe.