On 16 June 2022, ERA – LGBTI Equal Rights Association for the Western Balkans and Turkey, in partnership with Centre for Social Group Development (CSGD), hosted at the Europe House in Prishtina the Multi-stakeholder Dialogue Meeting: Access to Justice for LGBTIQ+ People. The event was organized 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 was Edward Lister, Head of External Politics at the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Kosovo. ERA’s Advocacy Manager, Biljana Ginova made a thorough presentation of the You are Heard platform. Two very interesting panels ensued. The first one was on the importance of institutional engagement in ensuring access to justice for LGBTIQ+ people in the Western Balkans and was attended by Anita Çavdarbasha, Legal Counselor at the Constitutional Court and Mr. Salih Dragidella, Police Officer at the Kosovo Police and liason for the LGBTIQ+ community. The second panel was a discussion of experts on the concrete challenges to accessing justice for LGBTIQ+ people in Kosovo and the way forward and was attended by Arbër Nuhiu, Executive Director at CSGD, Kushtrim Kaloshi, Executive Director at Advocacy Training and Resource Centre (ATRC) and Rina Kika, Lawyer.
Main Conclusions of the meeting were the following:
- LGBTIQ+ people encounter big problems in accessing justice. Authorities do not have knowledge and capacities to implement the law, because they do not have budgets to apply the law. There are problems in capacities as well as understanding human rights.
- The community is afraid to report crimes due to fear of exposure and further discrimination and victimization. There are concerns about confidentiality based on cases reported so far.
- The municipality of Prishtina has promised the construction of an LGBTIQ+ shelter, but the work has not commenced yet. The local LGBTIQ+ community has been demanding that this is handled with priority. LGBTIQ+ people who need protection and shelter need to go to Albania. Streha in Albania has housed many people from Kosovo but this is not an ideal solution. More follow up is needed for the Municipality of Prishtina to deal with this.
- In Kosovo, trans women are particularly vulnerable to violence. Trans people coming from intersectional backgrounds (e.g. Roma) face even greater problems and challenges. Institutional approach is not adequate. Local NGOs CSGD and Centre for Equality and Liberty (CEL) have provided trainings to the police and prosecutors on how to address the specific needs of trans, non-binary, intersex and gender variant people. It is very important for people to be treated in accordance with their self-identification.
- LGBTIQ+ advocates and community leaders face also big challenges, in particular hate speech, death threats and other forms of online harassment.
- Local LGBTIQ+ organizations report that there are many delays in court proceedings including cases of discrimination and domestic violence. The law foresees that such cases are handled with expediency.
- The decision of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo to recognize the name change of a trans citizen, seems to have had a positive impact, perhaps in better understanding the needs to trans people. The draft law on civil status will define procedures on changing legal name and gender. This is a positive development, however it would have been even better if the Constitutional Court had taken a decision on the matter.
- A media monitoring project by ATRC, looked up a total of 2500 articles in Kosovo, and found out that 450 of them were problematic and contained inappropriate language. 315 of them contained specific hate speech. So far, in Kosovo, institutions react and respond to hate speech but they do not have mechanisms in place to combat or prevent the phenomenon. Media needs to be sanctioned for the continuous mistakes that it does on the matter. Penal sanctions need to be introduced as well.
- It is important that when important laws are introduced in society, e.g. the 2015 law on Gender Equality, public debates follow suit, so that the law is better understood by the citizens.
- The recent debate that took place in the Parliament of Kosovo, with regards to extending the right to marriage to same-sex couples, showed how prevalent prejudice, discrimination and hate speech is among politicians as well as the general public.
- State authorities need to increase their efforts in properly investigating hate crimes and incidents, and build effective strategies to ensure implementation of existing laws, policies and mechanisms;
- Law enforcement, prosecutors and judges need to coordinate among each other and apply hate crime law with expediency and efficiency;
- More needs to be done to strengthen trust of the community towards state authorities. Law enforcement and other state institutions need to collaborate and coordinate with LGBTIQ+ civil society organisations and strengthen trust with the community;
- More need to be done to address hate speech, by increasing education as well as penalties and sanctioning on infringements. More needs to be done to educate public personalities when practicing hate speech, including fines and other penalties;
- Kosovo needs to speed up the process of Legal Gender Recognition so as to eradicate the legal and institutional obstacles with which trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals are faced;
- The Municipality of Prishtina needs to speed up efforts in constructing the promised LGBTIQ+ shelter.