National Conference in Skopje to advance LGBTI rights and strengthen regional cooperation

On 27-28 June ERA and its member organisations in North Macedonia in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Politics of the Republic of North Macedonia and the Council of Europe SOGI Unit hosted a two-day national conference “Advancement of the rights of LGBTI community in North Macedonia” in the country’s capital city Skopje.

The conference, was attended by more than 100 participants of Macedonian government institutions, representatives from the governments of Kosovo, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Portugal and Norway, human rights institutions, equality bodies, civil society organisations and partners and supporters of the LGBTI community. LGBTI activists from North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Turkey attended the conference as well.

The opening of the conference was greeted by the Macedonian Ministers of Labour and Social Policy Mila Carovska, Health Velko Filipce and interior Oliver Spasovski, by the head of the Council of Europe SOGI Unit Eleni Tsetsekou as well as ERA’s Steering Board Co-Chair Biljana Ginova. 

In her speech, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy Mila Carovska stressed that recently, historical steps were made in North Ma with the adoption of the new Law on Prevention of Discrimination, the ratification of the Istanbul Convention for prevention of all forms of violence as well as the opening of a new shelter for protection of victims of violence. “We are aware that significant efforts are still needed to counter intolerance towards the LGBTI community. We can bring positive changes only together, because each of us have a role and a social responsibility. As a result of this conference we will have an action plan for the promotion of LGBTI rights at the national as well as regional level, and we will be able to use these conclusions for the preparation and adoption of the National Strategy for Overcoming Homophobia and Transphobia. We remain committed to strengthening the rule of law and promoting quality of life for all” she said. 

The participants of the conference managed to attend several panels and workshops. During the first day of the conference a presentation was made by Gjulten Mustafova, Head of the Equal Opportunity Department at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy on the Macedonian legal framework and the status of LGBTI rights in North Macedonia.  Eleni Tsetsekou from the Council of Europe SOGI Unit in the meantime made a presentation on the international legal framework regarding LGBTI rights with particular focus on CoE Rec 2010(5). 

The ensuing panel focused on the experiences from other governments of the region including here discussion on challenges and good practices. Representatives from governments and civil society of Montenegro, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Portugal, Greece, Norway, Albania and Serbia shared their feedback. Some of the main conclusions of this important panel were that: 

  • Intersectional approach is important. We should aim to push for policies which deal with multiple forms of discrimination and by keeping in mind how communities are affected by the policies we are promoting/creating;
  • Hate crimes and security remain an overarching issue. More should be done to implement the current legislation, increase access to justice, improve legal aid, train prosecutors and judges etc;
  • The anti-gender movement is gaining prominence across the entire region. Similar trends and approaches are everywhere. Cooperation is needed to discuss and address the phenomenon; 
  • The current approach of the European Union "stabilocracy vs. real democracy" is having an impact also on LGBTI rights. This top-down approach is stalling progress and more should be done to increase citizen participation and ensure that these countries remain democratic. 
  • Capacity building and awareness raising trainings should continue to take place and they should target public officials and service providers;  


The last discussion for the first day of the conference focused on discussions about preparing a regional action plan for the advancement of LGBTI rights. Some of the main conclusions of this session were the following:

  • Each country of the region will prepare a list of concrete priorities which should be achieved within the next year; Feedback will be collected throughout July-August by ERA and in September this list of regional priorities will be distributed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of North Macedonia to all countries of the region; 
  • ERA will also prepare an index where all these priorities will be enlisted as a tool to measure progress;
  • The declaration (which will be reviewed on day 2 will then be send by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia to the countries of the region; The governments of the region will be asked to endorse the declaration; 
  • A meeting will be discussed to take place (maybe in one year from the signing of the declaration, which will be designed in the form of peer to peer learning, measuring success and further consolidating regional dialogue and cooperation.

On the second day of the conference four parallel workshops were held focusing on 1) health, employment, social care and inclusion 2) media and hate speech, 3) justice and hate crime and 4) housing, sports and education. The recommendations of the four working groups will help the government of North Macedonia identify the priorities it has to work on for the rest of this year as well as 2020. The four workshops provided the government with very concrete conclusions. 

The last workshop of the conference focused on reviewing and finalizing the Regional Declaration for the Promotion of the Rights of the LGBTI community. 

This conference was supported by the Ministry of Labour and Social Politics of North Macedonia, the Council of Europe and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway.