The system of protection against discrimination in Serbia has been put to danger, as the institution of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, an independent national human rights body established under the Law on Protection from Discrimination 10 years ago, is completely blocked. The mandate of the current Commissioner for the Protection of Equality Brankica Janković officially ended on 27 May 2020 and the new Commissioner was not elected. This is a consequence of a failure to elect the new Commissioner in a timely manner and before the Serbian parliament prior to the upcoming parlialmentary elections. It is absolutely unacceptable for the actors responsible to have allowed such developments to happen, putting at question the rule of law in Serbia!
It can be expected that the citizens of Serbia will be left without adequate protection from discriminaton for months, as the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality is elected by the National Assembly of Serbia by majority votes of all MPs. Elections in Serbia will be held on 21 June and it will take weeks, even months, to constitute the newly elected National Assembly and the parliamentary boards in charge of submitting the proposal for the election to the MPs.
Numerous civil society organizations that filed complaints for protection against discrimination were informed during last week that the complaints procedure will continue only "after the election of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality”. This situation further victimizes all those who have suffered discrimination and increases the risk of being discriminated against with no protection provided. Also, it is of great concern who will take procedural actions in anti-discrimination lawsuits and criminal proceedings initiatied by the Commissioner that are already in progress, which further contributes to the uncertainty of legal protection against discrimination.
The non-functioning of this human rights mechanism of protection against discrimination will strongly affect LGBTI citizens of Serbia and especially those who belong to multiple vulnerable and marginalized groups, including those who used this mechanism as a free and accessible tool for protection from discrimination.
In its latest annual report for 2019, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, repeated what was already stated in every annual report published by this body – that LGBTI persons, along with Roma, are among the most discriminated in Serbia. The level of social distancing towards LGBTI persons by general population is among the highest, placing LGBTI persons in the second place. However, when it comes to filing complaints to this insitution, the number of complaints based on discrimination on sexual orientation has significantly reduced, from 42 in 2018 to 18 in 2019. The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality pressed two criminal charges during 2019 in relation to discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Finally, we call on all relevant actors to initiate the procedure for electing the new Commissioner for the Protection of Equality as soon as the National Assembly of Serbia is operational.