Joint-letter from IGLHRC and ILGA-Europe to the Government of Serbia
This joint-letter was sent after ILGA-Europe and IGLHRC learned that a comprehensive draft law to combat discrimination was withdrawn from parliamentary consideration on March 4, 2009 due to pressure from the Serbian Orthodox Church and other conservative religious groups, despite support from human rights and other civil society groups.
Read the letter in English and Serbian in PDF below
After consulting with civil society groups in Serbia, we are writing to you as honorable representatives of the executive and legislative branches of the Government of Serbia to ask that you maintain non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion in the comprehensive anti-discrimination draft law up for consideration in Serbia.
We have learned and are deeply concerned that a comprehensive draft law to combat discrimination was withdrawn from parliamentary consideration on March 4, 2009 due to pressure from the Serbian Orthodox Church and other conservative religious groups, despite support from human rights and other civil society groups. We understand that the opposition to the draft law relates to the clauses prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. We urge you to adopt the law without eliminating these clauses.
The Constitution of Serbia speaks about the separation of Church and State (art. 44), and international law recognizes freedom of religion (i.e. Universal Declaration of Human Rights art. 18, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 18). The law prohibiting discrimination based on religion would implement such commitments.
Sexual orientation and gender identity have also been recognized as grounds for non-discrimination at the regional, national, and international levels. The Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity provide details on the specific States’ obligations, among which adopting laws to combat discrimination on these grounds.
At the national level, Serbia is not alone in its efforts to adopt legal protections against discrimination for all its citizens, which must include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. A number of countries chose to revise their constitutions to include protection for LGBT in their equality clauses. Ecuador, Fiji, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, and Switzerland included sexual orientation as a protected category in their constitutions. Bolivia has gone a step farther and added gender identity in order to explicitly protect transgender people against discrimination.
Over fifty countries, including non-European countries such as Mexico, Mozambique, South Africa, and South Korea, prohibit by law discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment; over forty countries, including those previously mentioned, protect the rights of LGBT in areas other than employment as well.
At the regional level, all 27 Member States of the European Union and accession states such as Croatia adopted employment non-discrimination legislation, explicitly covering sexual orientation, in accordance with the Council Directive 2000/78/EC, November 27, 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. Most countries adopted comprehensive anti-discrimination laws to combat discrimination in areas, such as services, and health care in addition to employment. The European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe has also established a consistent jurisprudence in support of the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe specifically called upon member states “to include sexual orientation among the prohibited grounds for discrimination in their national legislation” (Recommendation 1474, 26 September 2000)
At the United Nations level, the Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v. Australia (1994) that existing protections against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) include sexual orientation as a protected status.
Like in any other country, there are unfortunate cases of discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in Serbia. Without explicit and strong anti-discrimination protection in the law, LGBT people will continue to be forced to live as second-class citizens, under the constant pressure of secrecy, job discrimination, violence from authorities or non-state agents, as well as family rejection because of societal condemnation. With the legal protection, public authorities will treat them equally, no longer question their rights to free expression or assembly, and recognize their dignity. Society at large will eventually follow the state’s leadership and Serbia will be among the growing number of countries that respect the human rights of LGBT people.
Cary Alan Johnson
Executive Director, IGLHRC
Dirk De Meirleir,
Executive Director, ILGA Europe