Report from the conference of the Coalition for Equality – Step held on 15.09.2014.

Mr. Milan Antonijević, Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, opened the conference in front of the group of organizations which coordinate the regional Coalition for Equality STEP. At the beginning he emphasized that the basic goal of the coalition is raising awareness about discrimination in certain areas and that the countries in which the coalition is active are Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo and that problems which the discriminated face in all of these countries are severe.

As a previous note he commented on recent events and emphasized that government bodies should inform the public as to the motives of the attack on the German citizen and that this and similar incidents must see a timely and adequate reaction and must not be used as a reason for delaying or banning the Pride Parade.  In some other cases, the public was introduced to the entire course of the investigation and with the statements that were given to the police, but in this case we do not even have information on the length of the pretrial detention the assailants were ordered. He said that the attack on the German national might be based on homophobia, alongside the apparent xenophobia, and that it is very important that these questions are openly addressed.  All of these incidents are cause for concern, but if the subsequent reaction is adequate, the state may receive certain praise.

After Mr. Antonijević, the attendees were addressed by Ms. Yolanda San Jose, who said that the European Union strictly condemns the attack on the German national and calls for an urgent reaction from government bodies, but also that a positive climate for organizing the Pride Parade should be assured. She emphasized that the European Union Delegation supports and encourages the Serbian authorities in its efforts to make the Pride Parade happen without incident, which is important not only for representatives of the LGBT population, but also for human rights in general. San Jose said that the protection of human rights on paper in not enough, and although inclusion is important in this process, implementation of the laws and regulations is even more important.  She also reminded that the question of human rights is an important part of chapter 23 in the negotiation process of Serbia anf the European Union, and she emphasized the important role of the legal system, in which citizens should have confidence.

According to her words, it is good that Serbia has passed an anti-discrimination strategy, but at the same time should encourage writing an action plan and implementing it as soon as possible.

After remarking upon recent events, Mr. Antonijevic greeted the representatives of the organizations who implemented a great number of projects in Serbia and in the region and said that it is a great honor to be working with everyone, especially taking into account the invaluable exchange of experiences.  The approved topics are gender equality and support to the LGBT community, and he expressed his belief that it is extremely important to raise awareness about the problems these two groups face.

Ms Yolanda San Jose expressed the satisfaction of the EU to witness the presentation of 13 projects which have received grants following the request for proposals for subgrants withing the framework of the Coalition for Equality STEP and it is her pleasure to support this initiative in the name of the EU. She emphasized that the European Union also promotes equality and non-discrimination because a large number of people, not only in Serbia, but also in the European Union, continue to be victims of violence. Since the lack of Government involvement in tackling the problems in this area is apparent, we have supported the founding of the Coalition for Equality STEP, as a regional network for civil society organizations aimed at monitoring the work of institutions, especially the judiciary, when it comes to discrimination – Yolanda stressed.

The protection of human rights and equality only on paper is not enough, it is much more important, according to her words, to change the perception of the people and create an environment in which all people, irrespective of their differences, be it on gender or sexual orientation, live freely. It is a challenging and hard task, and one that cannot be accomplished in a day, but must be taken step by step, and one which takes a longer period – of several years, and sometimes even an entire generation. This is why the promotion and protection of this values is a basic goal, according to her words, because the visibility and determination of political agents is needed to solve these issues. She also welcomed the amendments to the Criminal Code which include hate speech based on ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.   Including these provisions is important and their implementation in practice is even more so. Cases of discrimination are not efficiently dealt with due to the problem of those in charge to recognize the cases of hate speech.

The full report is attached:

Report from the conference of the Coalition for Equality – Step

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