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Serbia: Pass Anti-Discrimination Law

Restoring Bill to Legislative Agenda Will Guarantee Rights

(Brussels) - Serbia's government should ensure that an anti-discrimination law is passed, rebuffing efforts to delay its progress, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the vice-prime minister for European integration, Bozidar Delic. The government withdrew the draft law from consideration on March 4, 2009.

Media reports in Serbia have said the law was withdrawn  because of a last-minute objection by the Serbian Orthodox Church and other religious denominations to two of its provisions - one prohibiting discrimination based on religion (article 18), and the other barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (article 21).

"Serbia has committed itself internationally to ending all forms of discrimination," said Boris O. Dittrich, advocacy director in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. "Serbia's parliament needs to act on this and quickly resume consideration of the draft bill."

The government suspended consideration of the draft bill, even though the parliament's committee on European integration had already approved it. After much pressure from civil society, the parliament drafted the first anti-discrimination law in 2001. In 2006, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) achieved the approval for a law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. This was the first effort in parliament to introduce a comprehensive anti-discrimination law.

Nongovernmental organizations have documented the existence of both discrimination and violence in Serbia based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In January, the Gay Straight Alliance in Belgrade, a human rights organization focusing on the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons, published a report on such abuses with a preface by Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for Human Rights.

Serbia is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and was among the first countries in Europe to ratify Protocol 12 of this convention, which prohibits discrimination on grounds including religion and sexual orientation for all rights "set forth by law."

Similarly, Serbia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR affirm the right to equal treatment and the right to equal protection before the law, without discrimination. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, charged with authoritatively interpreting the ICCPR and monitoring states' compliance with its provisions, affirmed in its decision in Toonen v. Australia (1994) that sexual orientation is included in the protections against discrimination under  articles 2 and 26.

Serbia is among the countries involved in a "stabilization and association" process that could lead to membership of the European Union. The prohibition of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is part of the body of European Union law, which all acceding countries are required to integrate into their own legal systems. Adopting the draft law would be a necessary step to meet those requirements.

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