Serbia Adopts Law Against Discrimination

An all inclusive law against discrimination was finally adopted by the Serbian Parliament on Thursday March 26. It is a great result for the Swedish Helsinki Committee and for all the local NGOs that have been pushing for the adoption of this law for years.

“The whole process of adopting the law is a symbolic victory for the Serbian civil society. This is the first time that a crucial issue was debated for almost a month in the media and among the general public. Moreover, this is the most important law in the field of human rights in Serbia. Securing equal rights of all, and especially the rights of marginalized groups, has always been a problem in the society. Groups such as Roma people and persons belonging to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community will get better protection,” states Goran Miletic, Human Rights Lawyer for the Swedish Helsinki Committee.

The adoption came after several weeks of intensive debate in Serbia, about the law itself but also about the way in which the Government handled the legislative process. A draft of the Anti-Discrimination law was produced in 2008 by the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights in co-operation with the Coalition against Discrimination, which the Swedish Helsinki Committee is a member of. The Government adopted the law in February 2009 and submitted it to the Parliament for adoption. However, on March 4, just 15 hours before the debate in the Parliament, the Government decided to withdraw the law, giving in to pressure from among others the Serbian Orthodox Church.

This led to mass reactions and very intensive debates in media and in the society at large. Numerous NGOs, intellectuals, international organisations as well as some official representatives, protested about the fact that the Orthodox Church could influence the democratic process in this way, and urged the Government to promptly put the law back into Parliamentary procedure without changing the law.

Nationalistic parties along with some churches strongly objected to parts of the law connected to articles related to religious communities and sexual orientation and gender identity. These groups tried to present the law as a “gay marriage law”, hoping to influence the big part of the population with negative attitudes towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people.

The Government changed some parts of the text in the articles mentioned, and submitted it to the Parliament which adopted the law. Although the adopted law does not meet as high international standards as the old version, the adoption is a great step forward for the fight against discrimination in Serbia. Also in relation to the EU integration process the adoption is a step forward, since an Anti-Discrimination law is a condition in the visa facilitation process that will make travelling to the EU easier and without visa for citizens of Serbia.