In March of 2009, the Serbian National Assembly narrowly passed the Anti-Discrimination Law despite immense opposition from religious leaders and right-wing political parties. The law bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, and other characteristics, and was part of broader reforms in Serbia to meet standards for admission to the European Union. In addition to the Anti-Discrimination Law, Article 21 of the Serbian Constitution states that “everyone shall have the right to equal legal protection, without discrimination,” and Article 387 of the Serbian Criminal Code provides a framework for prosecuting those who threaten organizations and individuals due to their commitment to the “equality of people.” With regard to international law, Serbia is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), both of which prohibit discrimination under the law.
While the Anti-Discrimination Law demonstrates a positive step forward for LGBT rights in Serbia, the government has been slow to implement and apply the law. For example, following the cancellation of the 2009 Pride Parade due to threats of violence, leaders of right-wing organizations “1389” and Obraz were charged under Article 387 of the Criminal Code but were not charged under the Anti-Discrimination Law. In addition, Article 62 of the 2006 Serbian Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a women, whereas the 2000 Constitution does not mention gender in Article 29, its marriage provision. This shift demonstrates backsliding with regard to marriage equality. Furthermore, national law does not address transsexual and transgender individuals, demonstrating an unwillingness on the part of the government to acknowledge their existence and rights.
Beyond law and policies, pervasive homophobia in Serbian society leads to disproportionate violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals. Right-wing groups, religious organizations, and the media perpetuate hostility against the LGBT community through discriminatory and hateful public speech.
Serbia is bound by its commitments to the ICCPR and the ECHR, and must honor these commitments by taking affirmative steps to protect the rights of LGBT individuals in law and in practice. In particular, the government should use the Anti-Discrimination Law to prosecute discrimination, should take steps to acknowledge and protect transsexual individuals, and should develop and promote education programs to combat pervasive discriminatory attitudes from the bottom up.
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