Thursday, 14 September 2017

23rd Sitting of the European Integration Committee

Pursuant to Article 44, paragraph 4 of the National Assembly Rules of Procedure, the European Integration Committee held a joint sitting with the Committee on Human and Minority Rights and Gender Equality on 14 September 2017, where the report on “Being LGBTI in Serbia”, prepared by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Serbia, was presented.

Suzana Paunovic, Head of the Office for Human and Minority Rights, Biljana Popovic Ivkovic, State Secretary at the Ministry of the Interior, Steliana Nedera, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Gordana Stevanovic, Deputy Ombudsman for Children’s Rights and Gender Equality, and Goran Miletic, Civil Rights Defenders Director for Europe, spoke about the UNDP report and the activities the Serbian state institutions and civil society organizations employ to combat discrimination against the LGBTI population.

The Head of the Office for Human and Minority Rights Suzana Paunovic emphasized the importance of discussing the status and problems of the LGBTI, saying that the UNDP’s regional research gives us the opportunity to cross-examine what has and what has not been done. She added that, according to the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Serbia has taken huge strides from 2011 to date to improve the rights and status of LGBTI persons. She concluded that the Government and civil society’s increasingly better cooperation had resulted in the Strategy of Prevention and Protection against Discrimination and urged the civil society organizations to contribute to the drafting of a new strategy and action plans.

Biljana Popovic Ivkovic, State Secretary at the Ministry of the Interior, said that the Ministry has been working to promote communication and cooperation with minority groups and strengthen the lawfulness of police officers’ actions, it has completed trainings to raise their awareness of differences and suppress prejudice to prevent it from influencing their professionalism. She added that the Ministry had in 2014 adopted an action plan for cooperation with associations of persons with different sexual orientations with a special focus on introducing a liaison officer for cooperation with the LGBTI community whose priorities are measures and activities for the protection of the LGBTI persons. Popovic Ivkovic said that the Ministry would continue to foster this cooperation, accompanied by specific suggestions for the protection gained through cooperation with foreign police forces, realization of projects with LGBTI organizations, cooperation with the prosecution and implementation of preventive measures in the community. She took the opportunity to invite LGBTI persons to report all and any violation of their security and safety to the police because that is the only way they can be protected and the perpetrators processed.

UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Steliana Nedera said that the organization remains committed to the fight against discrimination. The regional research has shown that, thou there has been some progress, sexual minorities still run into difficulties when trying to exercise their rights in the Western Balkans. She opined that the EU accession process is an opportunity to promote LGBTI rights through legislative harmonization and the establishment of mechanisms for the protection of human rights. Though the legislative framework is satisfactory the implementation of anti-discrimination laws lacks consistency, and what should be the focus of future work is a systemic support of LGBTI persons in education, employment and health care, as well as recognition of same-sex partnerships. Nedera concluded that the research has analysed these topic in detail in order to identify future activities and their realization, and the UNDP and UN remain committed to future cooperation on the protection of LGBTI rights.

Gordana Stevanovic, Deputy Ombudsman for Children’s Rights and Gender Equality, said the Ombudsman’s office had an active role in the drafting of the report so as to provide real insight into the problems of LGBTI persons. She stressed that LGBTI persons rarely address the Ombudsman which gives the false impression that they have no problem to exercise their rights, when the main reason for it is their lack of trust in the institutions.

Goran Miletic, Civil Rights Defenders Director for Europe, said that 26% of the LGBTI community says they had been the victims of physical violence and more than 70% of them had suffered verbal abuse. The perpetrators are rarely strangers, in 36% of the cases the abuse came from school friends, meaning that being LGBTI in Serbia means being a victim of violence and discrimination, said Miletic. He stated that this population has clear expectations from the National Assembly, viz. the adoption of the declaration against homophobia which is being drafted and for which he believes there is political will to be passed. The population also asks that a law be passed to address peer violence and to regulate the legal status of transgender persons or a law on gender identity, as well as a law on registered partnerships. Miletic commended the work of the police on the protection of LGBTI persons, but said that the prosecution’s work on processing cases is less than satisfactory and that the access to justice remains the key problem.

Nenad Petkovic of UNDP then presented the report on “Being LGBTI in Serbia”, which is part of the regional project “Being LGBTI in Eastern Europe”, which in addition to Serbia also covers Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. The chief results of the research are an on-line database on LGBTI rights, assessment of the capacity of LGBTI civil society organizations in the Western Balkans, encouragement of partnership between the civil and governmental sector at the national level and its expansion to the regional level. The report contains an analysis of the legal and political frame work, labour rights and status in the workplace, status within the armed forces, health-related issues, access to documents for trans persons and asylum, overview of the perceived flaws and recommendations for state bodies.

As chief findings Petkovic listed the fact that LGBTI persons are the most discriminated group, along with HIV patients, the legal anti-discrimination framework is satisfactory and broad, but the main problem is its unsatisfactory implementation. As flaws he listed regulating same-sex marriages, legal recognition of sex change, records and rulings in hate crimes and lack of systemic support for LGBTI persons. Based on the analysis, the National Assembly and the civil society had been given a number of recommendations, mainly to pass a declaration against homophobia, a law on gender identity and regulations concerning civil partnership, to conduct investigations into attacks on LGBTI persons, draft national health care documents, boost political dedication to the rights of LGBTI persons, improve court proceedings in cases of discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, adaptation of educational programmes to exclusion of content discriminatory against LGBTI persons, to raise awareness on intersex persons, improve access to health care and promote partnership between the state, civil sector and local communities.

The sitting was chaired by Committee Chairman Nenad Canak, and attended by the following Committee members and deputy members: Ivan Karic, Zvonimir Djokic, Milorad Haji Stosic, Dr Muamer Bacevac, Tanja Tomasevic Damnjanovic, Milimir Vujadinovic, Olivera Pesic, Dragan Veljkovic, Petar Jojic, Aleksandar Stevanovic, Maja Videnovic, Balint Pasztor, MA Aleksandra Jerkov and Zarko Micin.

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