Nevena Petrušić, Commissioner for Protection of Equality, guest of the GSA at the meeting with GSA members

Belgrade, 6.12.2013.

Marking 10 December – Human Rights Day, at a weekly meeting of members of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA; Alliance) on Wednesday, 4th December 2013, GSA’s guest was Prof. Dr Nevena Petrušić, Commissioner for Protection of Equality. The GSA membership exhibited great interest in this meeting, and in the two-hour interactive discussion we talked about various topics, the responsibilities of the Commissioner, the beginnings of the office, the results through practical examples, future activities, the specific problems of LGBT people and the cooperation of the Commissioner and GSA.

Nevena-Petrusic-gosca-GSA-02During her opening statement, dr Petrušić, recalling the beginning of the institution of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality, noted with satisfaction that the idea for the first recommendation that her office sent to a state institution came into being in the Gay Straight Alliance’s offices at a meeting initiated by GSA and Gayten in 2010. After this initial meeting, a working group was formed that, after an analysis of the content of highschool textbooks sent a recommendation to the Ministry of Education and other relevant authorities to amend discriminatory terms in the existing textbooks, which relate to different minority groups in society. The Commissioner has noted with regret that even after nearly three years the institutions did not act on the recommendations, and that it is uncertain whether and when this would happen.

Speaking about the responsibilities of the Office of the Commissioner for Protection of Equality, Dr Petrušić pointed out that her team consists of 18 people, of whom ten are engaged in receiving and implementing the procedure after receiving complaints of discrimination from citizens. The Commissioner noted that among the large number of complaints that have been processed there are also a number of wrongfully filed, but that in most cases discrimination can be determined. She also pointed out that of all the complaints received so far on the basis of sexual orientation there was only one where discrimination could not be determined.

Dr Nevena Petrušić said that in the description of her responsibilities is also giving the so-called general recommendations, as well as commenting on legislation and legislative proposals, filing complaints and initiating court proceedings under the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination. The Commissioner noted that the concept of discrimination is not always easy to explain, it’s a complex issue, especially if it is indirect discrimination. The Commissioner also repeatedly stressed that it is extremely important to recognize discrimination, and it has been shown that discrimination is not always what you think it is, and that unfortunately there is often discrimination in what you don’t perceive as such.

“I believe that a society of equal people is possible, it motivates me to continue to fight for equality and equal rights for all citizens,” said Dr Nevena Petrušić to the members of the GSA, stating that in Serbia so far much has been done to promote human rights but there is still room for improvement and areas that need work, and that the struggle never ends.

In response to numerous questions from the audience, Dr Petrušić said the situational discrimination testing, which is covered by the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination, proved to be very useful and noted that, just based on this method for determining the existence of discrimination, her office has received dozens of complaints. She said that of the total number of procedures for complaints of discrimination conducted by her office, more than a third relates to the public sector, and the remainder relate to the private sector.

Commissioner and the present GSA members did not just talk about discrimination against LGBT people, but also many cases of discrimination on grounds of nationality, ethnicity, disability, gender, age, state of health… Dr Petrušić presented numerous cases from her practice, as well as her experience with the courts and court cases of discrimination that her office is leading.

Special attention of those present at the meeting was sparked by a question from a GSA member about the case led by GSA Litigation Service against Dragan Marković Palma. The question referred to that part of the reasoning of the judgment in which the judge stated that Palma was sufficiently sanctioned by the Commissioner’s response and warning about Markovic’s statement that homosexuality was a disease, and that the court should not act in this case. The Commissioner said that it was a complete misunderstanding and misinterpretation of Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination by the trial judge in this proceeding, that the case against Markovic led by GSA Litigation Service is not in conflict with her warning, and she supported the appeal against the above first instance judgment.

Responding to a question about other personal characteristics which are used as the basis of discrimination, those not clearly specified in the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination and whether there have been any such cases so far, the Commissioner talked about an instance of discrimination in the case of non-payment of compensation to disabled veterans who reside in a certain area, where the place of residence was the personal characteristics of citizens for which they were discriminated against.

The Commissioner announced that her office plans to initiate a so-called specialization of judges, which means that some judges would be trained to conduct court proceedings related to cases of discrimination. She also added that an even better and stronger cooperation between the institutions of the Commissioner and the non-governmental sector is necessary, and that there is also a need to increase the number of reported cases and to file more lawsuits under the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination, as it is one of the best ways to reduce discrimination and educate the wider public.

Pointing out that the special activity of the Commissioner is also the “production of knowledge”, that is to say- publishing literature for the purpose of educating judicial-prosecutorial authorities and the wider community about discrimination and mechanisms for protection, Dr Petrušić donated GSA the publication “Judicial civil procedure for protection against discrimination” on whose parts she spoke during the meeting.

As it was obvious that despite a two-hour meeting the participants still had a lot of questions for the Commissioner, she promised that this conversation will certainly be continued and that she will visit GSA again.

Info center GSA

For GSA inclusion is not only the goal, but also the way of work. Alliance is membership based organization, it gathers LGBT and straight individuals, and its members are persons of different ages, various professions and occupations, different political views and attitudes…who together fight for the decrease of the violence and discrimination. For more than two years, every Wednesday GSA organize in its office meetings called “In the middle of Wednesday”, at which all interested members can participate, and that have as a goal to strengthen internal democracy, debate and organizational dynamics. At these meetings GSA members are discussed organizational activities and plans, analyzed and proposed the ideas, as well as analyzed GSA achievements, stances and further strategies. Considering that GSA acts a lot in the public and political sphere, GSA leadership and members on these meetings also discussed current sociopolitical situation as well as many important events. Occasionally, on those Wednesday meetings GSA invites prominent guests from the institutions, different political parties, other non-governmental organizations, academic community, diplomatic corps, international organizations, media… who discussed with GSA members not only LGBT and human rights, but many other topics from a much broader sociopolitical context. Also, members are encouraged to propose guests that they would like to see and talk to.