LGBT

Antje Rothemund: Belgrade Pride march is “litmus test” of Serbia’s democracy

Next Saturday’s Belgrade Pride March is a litmus test of Serbia’s democracy.

That is the view of Antje Rothemund, the Head of the Council of Europe’s Belgrade office, who has urged the country’s authorities to support the event to show they are “serious” in their commitment to human rights standards.

The last two Pride marches for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, inter-sex and queer people (LGBTIQ) have been cancelled. This year’s event is scheduled for Saturday 28 September.

Speaking at the 21-22 September International Conference on Freedom of Assembly, Rothemund declared that “the Belgrade Pride meant in the past and this week poses the Serbian government with the challenge of ensuring citizens’ enjoyment of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

“This year, it again offers the possibility to demonstrate that Serbia is serious about complying with human rights standards and other commitments it has taken, such as the Recommendation Rec/CM(2010)5 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to actively combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The happening of a Pride march can be seen as a “litmus test” of democracy, as in a living and mature democracy there is space for diversity: diversity of language, ethnicity, religion, political or other opinion, gender and sexuality. This is not a threat to society, but it makes it richer, more dynamic and stronger. And it helps to bring more prosperity and happiness; as the development of a true democratic culture not least also helps in creating a favourable climate for attracting foreign investments.”

Rothemund added: “The Council of Europe carefully follows the developments in its member states when it comes to the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer persons. The Council and its European Court of Human Rights are clear and unequivocal: the right to peaceful assembly is indivisible.”

“The Commissioner for Human Rights has added his support to the growing number of embassies and international organisations which have joined forces in backing up the Pride in Belgrade.

“In his support letter to the Pride Organisers, the commissioner said ‘that states have a positive duty to protect the participants of a demonstration, even if this demonstration may annoy persons opposed to the ideas or claims that this demonstration seeks to promote.’

“We know that discrimination and violent expressions of homophobia and transphobia exist in all spheres of life: in the family, at school, at the work place and in the streets. Hate crimes and hate speech are a daily reality faced by the LGBTIQ community in Serbia and elsewhere.

“The Pride is not about asking special rights for LGBT people, it is about claiming the universality of human rights. The Pride March next Saturday will hopefully help create awareness of the extent and severity of discrimination faced by persons with another sexual orientation or identity from the majority.

“The Council of Europe will continue to support the LGBTIQ community in its struggle for full enjoyment of their human rights.”

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International Conference on Freedom of Assembly
for the LGBTIQ community,
Belgrade, 21 – 22 September 2013
Welcome remarks by Antje ROTHEMUND,
Head of Council of Europe Office in Belgrade

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends,

It is my great pleasure and honour to speak to you today and to open this Conference on Freedom of Assembly for the LGBTIQ Community, which is an important and timely event for many reasons:

The Right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The conference will remind us again that Human Rights are universal, indivisible, inalienable and interdependent – they are not simply a “list of offers” from which to choose one or the other right which is more likable than the other; one also cannot choose to grant such rights to some people and not to others. Human Rights are universal.

Of course it is not a coincidence that this conference takes place one week before the Belgrade Pride 2013, and thus it is also an occasion to look pragmatically on the reasons on why a Pride Parade is organised in Belgrade next Saturday. An overview will confirm that indeed some positive changes could be observed in the promotion of human rights for LGBT people in Serbia during the last few years. This is not least proven by a prominent representation of Serbian authorities in today’s conference and the commitment of leading state representatives and politicians to join the Pride Parade next week.

In 2013, we have an anniversary to celebrate: it was 10 years ago when Serbia became a member state of the Council of Europe, and thus the state subscribed to the values and principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.

During a decade of membership in the Council of Europe, Serbia has successfully tackled many hurdles on its path to a state and country respecting the rule of law, human rights and pluralist democracy. Many challenges are still ahead and certainly this process is never-ending, as democracy, fundamental values and freedoms need to be taken care of permanently and every day, by citizens, civil society and the state alike.

The Belgrade Pride meant in the past and this week poses the Serbian government with the challenge of ensuring citizens’ enjoyment of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. This year, it again offers the possibility to demonstrate that Serbia is serious about complying with human rights standards and other commitments it has taken, such as the Recommendation Rec/CM(2010)5 of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to actively combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

As you will be aware of, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has added his support to the growing number of embassies and international organisations which have joined forces in backing up the Pride in Belgrade. In his support letter to the Pride Organisers, the Commissioner said “that states have a positive duty to protect the participants of a demonstration, even if this demonstration may annoy persons opposed to the ideas or claims that this demonstration seeks to promote.”

Thus, the happening of a Pride march can be seen as a “litmus test” of democracy, as in a living and mature democracy there is space for diversity: diversity of language, ethnicity, religion, political or other opinion, gender and sexuality. This is not a threat to society, but it makes it richer, more dynamic and stronger. And it helps to bring more prosperity and happiness; as the development of a true democratic culture not least also helps in creating a favourable climate for attracting foreign investments.

This is why the Council of Europe carefully follows the developments in its member states when it comes to the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer persons. The Council and its European Court of Human Rights are clear and unequivocal: the right to peaceful assembly is indivisible.

Together with other colleagues of the international community in Belgrade, I was very pleased to learn that the latest security assessment of the Serbian police forces for next Saturday is positive and thus the Pride is likely to go ahead. Hence we should also recall why this peaceful demonstration is organised, namely to raise awareness on the discrimination LGBTIQ people face in Serbia.

We know that discrimination and violent expressions of homophobia and transphobia exist in all spheres of life: in the family, at school, at the work place and in the streets. Hate crimes and hate speech are a daily reality faced by the LGBTIQ community in Serbia and elsewhere, and this violence does not stop before the supporters of the community’s claims.

The Council of Europe works on the human rights of LGBT persons, in Serbia as one of the six partner states in our LGBT Project. Together with the Serbian government and civil society we work on awareness-raising, capacity building, social inclusion and the review of relevant laws to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Office of Human and Minority Rights implements the project on behalf of the authorities and, to my best knowledge, it is the first governmental project explicitly working for human rights of LGBT persons. Of course, we are aware that in some member states there is still loud opposition when the LGBT community tries to exercise the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. In some of our member states Pride marches can take place today because of decades of public debate on equality – and the same could be said in the past about the struggle for women’s rights, worker’s rights or human rights for children.

The Pride is not about asking special rights for LGBT people, it is about claiming the universality of human rights. Of course, every discriminated group has special needs which cannot be ignored. Only LGBTIQ have to “come-out”; coming-out is an extremely distressful and difficult process as such – in a homophobic and transphobic environment this demands not only courage and conviction, but it changes a person’s life dramatically to make his or her sexual orientation public.

It is shocking, unacceptable and shameful to our societies that the second largest cause of death among adolescents is suicide because they are not comfortable with their sexual orientation or gender identity; young people who simply despair because they cannot find a safe environment in which they can be who they are and be accepted as a unique and lovable human being.

The Pride March next Saturday will hopefully help create awareness of the extent and severity of discrimination faced by persons with another sexual orientation or identity from the majority. The Council of Europe will continue to support the LGBTIQ community in its struggle for full enjoyment of their human rights.

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