Ensure Justice, Protection for Activists
(Budapest) – Authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina should publicly condemn an attack on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists during an LGBT cultural event in Sarajevo on February 1, 2014. The authorities should bring the attackers to justice and make certain that LGBT activists get the protection they need.
About a dozen masked people stormed into the Merlinka Festival, a cultural event at the Sarajevo art cinema Kriterion at about 3:20 p.m. on February 1, a staff member from the Sarajevo Open Center, which organized the event, told Human Rights Watch. The attackers shouted homophobic insults such as, “There will be no [Pride] parade in Sarajevo” and, “There will be no faggots in Sarajevo,” then attacked three of the participants. Two were hospitalized with minor injuries and psychological trauma. A police investigation is underway, but no arrests have been made.
“Bosnian LGBT activists and their supporters should be able to gather without being the targets of homophobic attacks,” said Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Bosnian authorities need to make clear that the attackers will be found and prosecuted.”
Sarajevo Open Center staff and Sarajevo police spokesperson Irfan Nefic told Human Rights Watch that the group had made a security arrangement with the police about three weeks in advance, including a plan to have police there by 2:30 p.m., a half hour before a planned panel discussion. However, Nefic confirmed that no officers were at the scene at the time of the attack. The police arrived just after the attackers left and did not explain the delay.
On February 2, the United States embassy condemned the attack, saying, “There is no place for hatred and intolerance in modern society” and, “LGBT rights are human rights.” The European Union Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina also condemned the attack and called on the authorities “to identify those responsible and bring them to justice swiftly.” But neither officials from the Sarajevo Cantonal or the central government have condemned the attack.
Sarajevo Open Center staff told Human Rights Watch that a group on Facebook called “Let’s Stop the Parade of Faggots on May 1, 2014” had posted numerous threats and incited violence against LGBT activists. In the period before the Merlinka Festival, the group “outed” five Sarajevan women as lesbians, referring to them as the “five most wanted lesbians in Sarajevo.”
Sarajevo Open Center staff said that the Facebook group had issued explicit threats against the cultural event early on February 1. As a result, the staff members had called the police, who confirmed the security plan for the event. Despite this phone call stressing the need for security and police confirmation of the security arrangement, police arrived 55 minutes behind schedule.
“The police in Bosnia and Herzegovina have a duty to protect all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Gall said. “The fact that police turned up late at this event despite their agreement to be there put people at risk.”
This is not the first time police in Bosnia and Herzegovina have failed to safeguard LGBT activists. In 2008, Sarajevo police failed to protect organizers and participants of the Queer Sarajevo Festival. Nobody has been charged with attacks on eight people during that event.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Both treaties guarantee freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is obliged to protect these rights. The authorities have a duty to take appropriate measures to safeguard peaceful gatherings and protect them from attempts to violently disrupt them. Failing to do so is in breach of the government’s international and regional human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said.
On March 31, 2010, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe unanimously adopted a set of recommendations to member states, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, on measures to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The recommendations promote tolerance and respect for LGBT people. Member states are encouraged to take measures to prevent restrictions on the effective enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
“The troubling threats and attack on February 1 underscore the need for the Bosnian authorities to take stronger action to protect the human rights of LGBT people,” Gall said.