“Freedom is not given, it’s taken” – Annual Report on the status of human rights of LGBT people in Serbia for 2011

::: Annual Report 2011 ::: (pdf download)

Gay Straight Alliance (GSA; Alliance) organized for the second year in a row presentation of its Annual Report on the state of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Serbia, within the celebration of May 17th – The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) which has been marked in the world since 1990, when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of diseases.

Gay Straight Alliance prepares and compiles annual reports from 2007, with topics such as the degree of homophobia, violence and discrimination; the attitude of state institutions and political parties towards the LGBT population; the freedom of public assembly, and other issues related to the rights of LGBT people in Serbia. The report focuses on documented cases of violence and discrimination that have been reported to GSA during the year, as well as cases that have been tried before Serbian courts by the Legal Service of GSA. In the preparation of this year’s Report, besides consultations with the offices of the Ombudsman and the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, for the first time the Police Directorate of the Ministry of Interior was also involved by providing data on cases reported to the police, i.e. an overview of their status in the process of resolution.

At the presentation of the Annual Report „Freedom is not given, it’s taken”on the state of human rights of LGBT people in Serbia in 2011, which took place yesterday (on May 18th, 2012) at the ceremonial hall of the Belgrade City Hall, speeches were held by prominent guests: Mr Dragan Đilas, Mayor of Belgrade, Mr Milan Marković, Minister for Human and Minority rights, Public Administration and Local Self-Government, H.E. Ms Mary Warlick, US Ambassador in Belgrade, H.E. Mr Vincent Degert, Head of the EU Delegation to the Republic of Serbia, H.E. Mr Dimitrios Kypreos, Head of the OSCE Mission to the Republic of Serbia, Mr David McFarlane, Deputy Head of Mission of the British Embassy in Belgrade, Mr Lazar Pavlović, President of GSA, Mr Aleksandar Olenik, GSA lawyer, and Ms Mirjana Bogdanović, Executive Director of GSA.

GSA annual report always attracts a lot of attention both from the media and the guests, hence this time as well the ceremonial hall was full, and among others there were representatives of the Ministry of the interior, Directorate for Human and Minority rights, Ministry of youth and sport, Office for cooperation with Civil Society of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, judicial institutions, Agency for European Integrations and Cooperation with Civil Society, the Ombusman office, the Commissioner for protection of Equality office, representatives of political parties, representatives of the diplomatic corps from the US, British, Swedish, German, Dutch, French, Austrian Swiss and other Embassies, representatives of international organizations, members of the GSA Advisory board, representatives of the NGO sector and members of the Gay Straight Alliance.

At the beginning of the presentation Ms Mirjana Bogdanović, GSA Executive Director, thanked the Mayor of Belgrade for fulfilling promise from last year’s presentation and ensured conditions for the opening of the Safe space (Shelters) for victims of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and homeless LGBT youth.

Mayor of Belgrade, Mr Dragan Đilas, said in his speech ”I think it is all of our duty, including myself as a Mayor, Milan Marković as a minister, and of course of the minister for education, and everybody else to begin spreading tolerance foremost among the young; city of Belgrade will, together with the professor Žarko Trebješanin, initiate one such project in schools, and I expect everyone’s support and participation”, and he added that it was his proposal to present this annual report exactly during the election silence, so that it could get a better media placement, thus avoiding to limit everything to politics. Among other things, Dragan Đilas also stated: “It is horrible that we live in the country where in the newspapers you can read that someone renounced of their children only because of their different sexual orientation, but I never read that someone renounced of their child because he/she killed two or three people” and added: “It is necessary to make a particular pressure on those politicians who declaratively sustain rights of the LGBT population, but when the cameras are switched off, when on the other side of the telephone line is not the American Ambassador or Ambassador of one of the EU countries, their attitudes are worse than those of certain politicians who openly express them.” Mayor of Belgrade expressed his hope that the next annual report, in 12 months, will show that much more has been done for the rights of LGBT population and that the LGBT persons will be able to lead normal lives like all the other citizens of Belgrade and Serbia.

YouTube: Presentation of the Annual Report for 2011: Dragan Đilas

Minister Mr Milan Marković emphasized that there is awareness about the level of intolerance toward LGBT population and that intolerance comes from ignorance related to the problem. He said that the attacks on members of that population are unacceptable and pointed to the role that all carriers of the political functions and the media must have. Marković also indicated the positive example of the City of Belgrade which eliminated all the offensive graffiti against LGBT individuals, as well as on the positive role in protection of all vulnerable groups and Roma population. Minister Marković emphasized “We shall examine the contents of this report carefully and will rely on what is written in it when planning our future activities” and also added: “In cooperation with the NGOs dealing with protection and improvement of LGBT rights and international organizations we are working on formulation of the appropriate approach which implementation will lead us to enabling members of the LGBT community to exercise their constitutional and legal rights without any obstacles.”

YouTube: Presentation of the Annual Report for 2011: Milan Marković

YouTube: Presentation of the Annual Report for 2011: Mary Warlick

YouTube: Presentation of the Annual Report for 2011: Vincent Degert


An increase of the total number of cases of violence and discrimination that were reported to GSA were noted in 2011. This increase is not drastic, but the documented cases in 2011 were characterised by the fact that there were more cases of physical assaults or attempted physical assaults, i.e. attacks on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation (around 30% more than in 2010). So, for example, from 20 cases in this year’s report, 15 fall in this category, while the rest represent cases of discrimination at the work place or in the domain of social welfare. In addition, a higher number of reported attacks occured in the period surrounding the Pride Parade, i.e. from the moment this issue was opened in the public to the period after it was banned.

The most public case of attack in 2011 was certainly the attack on A.Ž. (24) in the centre of Belgrade in the night between 14th and 15th October because she was wearing a T-shirt with the symbols of the LGBT population, when she was attacked with a knife and given serious physical injuries. The attacker was released from custody on the decision of the investigative judge, because he was underage. After the attack on A.Ž., on the 19th October GSA organised a protest against violence over the LGBT population in front of the Government Building of the Republic of Serbia, entitled „It’s Enough!“ where, among other things, the protesters demanded that the concept of hate crime be introduced into the Criminal Law and that a strategy for combatting violence, discrimination and homophobia be created and implemented. After the protest, talks on these two demands began with the representatives from the Government. The police charged A.Ž.’s attacker with inflicting severe physical injuries, and at the end of March 2012 the investigative judge held the first hearings in this case.

The legal service of GSA, which since 2009 provides free legal aid, represents victims of violence and discrimination and starts processes before judicial bodies, began 12 new procedures in 2011 (so far there have been a total of almost 30 processed cases), of which there are 2 cases of general discrimination of the LGBT population (against Dragan Marković Palma and against Nebojša Bakarec), while the rest are individual instances of violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In contrast with 2009 when there was no court activity whatsoever on these cases, while in 2010 courts only slowly began to work on them, in the year 2011 the dynamic of setting court appointments and other judicial actions was improved somewhat. Two important verdicts were won by the Legal Service of GSA, the first verdict in Serbia under the Anti-Discrimination Law for hate speech against the LGBT population in the case against daily newspaper Press and the first-degree verdict for severe discrimination of LGBT people in the case against Dragan Marković Palma, mayor of Jagodina. Even though the judiciary showed a somewhat higher level of engagement than in 2010, a lot of cases are still being processed slowly, so for example, in the case „Sava Centre“ from 2009, when the management of this institution banned GSA’s conference, there were still no judicial actions taken in the year 2011.

The judicial system was somewhat more efficient in 2011 than before in processing cases against the leaders and members of right-wing extremist organisations „Obraz“ and „SNP 1389“ for discrimination of the LGBT population and obstruction of Pride Parade 2009 and 2010, and in these proceedings representatives of LGBT organisations GSA and Labris were involved as witnesses. However, the verdicts were mainly mild, on the lower or below the legal limit. The Constitutional Court of Serbia did not reach a decision even in the year 2011 in the proceedings to abolish right-wing extremist organisations and houligan groups which were started by the Republic Prosecutor in October 2009.

According to various research, and in the experience of working with LGBT people, in general they do not have confidence in security institutions and are unwilling to report cases of violence and discrimination to the relevant institutions. However, GSA noticed a somewhat different trend during 2011 regarding cases that were reported to this organisation. A higher number of victims of violence and discrimination than was the tendency in previous years reported their cases to the police, often at their own initiative, i.e. after the incident they would first address the police, and they showed a greater readiness to fight for their rights through institutions. It is too soon to tell whether this trend will turn out to be the rule, but it is certainly a strong basis for further work on increasing the confidence of the LGBT population in the work of security and judicial institutions, i.e. on increasing their efficiency.

As has been said before, Serbia for the greater part has an adequate legal framework for combatting violence and discrimination, but there is still the problem of its implementation. In 2011 2 new laws were adopted that are significant for the LGBT population. The first is the Law on Youth which contains anti-discrimination clauses regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and the second is Amendments and Addendums to the Law on Health Insurance, which allow state-financed sex-change. In the year 2011 the subject of introducing the concept of hate crime into the Criminal Code was initiated, to be an aggravating circumstance at sentencing. This proposal was supported by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights, Public Administration and Local Self-Government, but it did not find its way into the Law on Amendments and Addendums of the Criminal Law at the beginning of 2012. Considering that a great number of political parties gave their support to introducing hate crime into the CC during their pre-election campaigns in 2012, providing they keep their promise, this proposal is expected to enter parliamentary procedure in the course of this year.

A big problem for working on the improvement of the position of LGBT people is also the non-existance of state statistics on cases of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, since in databases of relevant institutions all cases are filed according to the type of crime and not motive, and so NGO shadow reports such as this one are often the only source of information that contains an overview of cases with the motives for attacks.

Advances achieved in 2010, related to organising the first successful Pride Parade and improving the attitude of political elite and institutions, were brought into question in 2011. Banning the Pride Parade which was planned for October 2, 2011, prohibited LGBT people from exercising their right to a free assembly. In addition, in contrast with 2010, politicians gave affirmative statements on this event to a noticeably lesser degree, which resulted in the dwindling of political support and the unwillingness of state institutions to provide the conditions for holding a Pride Parade. At the end of 2011, the Constitutional Court upheld the constitutional appeal of the organisers of Pride Parade 2009, thereby confirming the violation of the right to free assembly, and on this basis a similar decision can be expected regarding the ban of the 2011 Parade.

A still high level of homophobia in the society puts LGBT people in one of the highly endangered minority groups in Serbia, subject to violence and discrimination at various levels and in various areas. Hate speech against the LGBT population on social networks and in the public space is still noticeable and it shadowed the process of organising the Pride Parade and other activities of LGBT organisations in 2011. Regarding this the Commissioner for Protection of Equality took steps during 2011 from appealing to and warning politicians not to use hate speech, through creating recommendations for removing homophobic content from educational materials, to acting on the appeals from organisations, and similar. The Commissioner also wrote a decision and recommendations instructing a mitropolit of Serbian Orthodox Church, Amfilohije Radović, to publicly apologise to the participants of Pride Parade 2010 for his hate speech, and to abstain in the future from statements that encourage discrimination, hatred and violence towards the LGBT population.

The City of Belgrade and city institutions included in 2011 LGBT rights and the safety of LGBT people among the areas that require attention. Working Group for determining the priorities for safety of people and property in Belgrade, formed after Pride Parade 2010 by the Assembly of the City of Belgrade, created recommendations for the measures that are necessary for improving the quality of security in Belgrade. Furthermore, the Mayor and the city government provided conditions for opening the Safe Space for victims of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The safety of LGBT people, i.e. the reduction of violence and discrimination remained a priority in 2011 in the process of improving the status of this population. In different areas of LGBT rights there were both advances and setbacks, which can be explained through the non-existence of a systemic approach and un-defined strategic priorities by the state and its institutions. Even though the state made some advances in the field of creating recommendations concerning LGBT rights, the problem of implementing those recommendations and the existing laws is still evident. There are no concrete measures for improving the status of the LGBT population, reducing violence and discrimination and increasing tolerance. The banning of the Pride Parade and the dwindling of political support, even though the Parade is certainly not the only event of importance for the LGBT population and it would be a mistake to view it in such a way, as well as the increase of violence against LGBT people, are reflected on the status of human rights and the status of the LGBT population, so that in year 2011 we may speak of stagnation in comparison with the previous year.

The need to reduce violence and discrimination against LGBT people and to respect their human rights is present also in the reports and opinions of the European Commission, while a decision of the European institutions from October 2011 states that negotiations with potential members of EU will be opened by sections 23 and 24, which, among other things, deal with the rule of law and the respect of human rights.

::: Annual Report 2011 ::: (pdf download)

As in the last year, the participants and guests at the presentation of the report have received a map created by ILGA Europe, an umbrella LGBT organisation in Europe. The map contains the evaluation of the legal framework that concern LGBT people for European countries for year 2011, with the note that the evaluation range is extended when compared to 2010 because of an increased number of critera.
Serbia received the final mark 6 and is in the same group with France, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania.

Rainbow Europe Map 2012, side A

Rainbow Europe Map 2012, side B

Izvor: Agencies, B92, GSA Info Center
Video: Tanjug
Foto: GSA