CONTINUITY SUPPORT - PROTECTOR OF THE CITIZENS IN SERBIA
All independent institutions in Serbia are supportive of the human rights of LGBTI+ persons, but the Protector of Citizens (Ombudsman) is the most explicit of all independent institutions in the continuum of specific proposals for ways to improve the position of LGBTI+ persons. This practice began in 2009, through the 2012 Special Report "On the State of Human Rights of LGBT Persons in Serbia", until regular, annual reports every year, until 2022.
The rainbow flag was raised for the first time in the history of all Serbian institutions, at the office building of the Protector of Citizens of Serbia on the occasion of the International Pride Day on June 27, 2010. With this act, the Protector of citizens called for tolerance and respect for the rights of members of the LGBT minority group and pointed out that in Serbia the equality of all is respected and promoted, regardless of sexual orientation. It was also an opportunity for the Protector to remind on the necessity to protecting and improving the rights of members of this population against discrimination, hate speech, insults and violence, as well as the right to safe public assembly. The raised rainbow flag was of course not the end of Protector’s engagement for the rights of LGBT persons. This institution continues to strive to contribute to the goal of Serbia as becoming and remaining a place of peaceful, protected, non-discriminatory, equal existence for all its citizens, regardless of gender identity, gender, sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic.
The practice of symbolicall support the rights of the LGBTI persons by raising the rainbow flag continued to current year as well. In support to the LGBT+ people, a rainbow flag was again raised on the Protector of Citizens’ building on the occasion of May 17, 2022, the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. The Protector of Citizens stated that unfortnatelly, the LGBT+ people still cannot enjoy all the rights like other citizens and that why is necessary to amend several laws in order to ensure comprehensive systemic protection for them in Serbia. An amendment to the Criminal Code was requested in ordet to treat criminal acts motivated by sexual orientation as acts of racism and intolerance. Members of the LGBT+ population are invited to address to the Protector of Citizens without fear, using its doors which are always wide open for them.
At the beginning, the Protector of Citizens mostly reacts to concrete situations of the impossibility in enjoying the right to public assembly, but also to the inadequate response of institutions to cases of violence, hate speech against LGBT+ persons, as well as attacks on activists and their groups and associations for LGBT+ rights. In addition, since 2016, the Protector of Citizens has regularly and continuously pointed out the necessity of legal regulation of same-sex unions, through his public announcements, recommendations, educational activities, opinions, mediation activities, involvement in legislative initiatives, as well as in his regular annual reports. At the same time, he does not refrain from addressing this request to the highest bodies of the legislative and executive authorities, in spite of the fact that legally that institution is not authorized to control or to make binding recommendations to. Namely, although, he is not authorized to control the work of the National Assembly and the Government, the Protector of Citizens believes that it would be useful for the aforementioned authorities to consider his proposals and thereby ensure the full implementation the LGBTI rights persons, especially in the area legal regulation of same-sex unions.
It is also important to note the continuous advocacy of the Protector of Citizens in raising public awareness regarding the respect of the rights of LGBTI persons: "The government, the authorities of the autonomous province and the authorities of local self-government units should ensure the continuous implementation of measures and activities dedicated to raising public awareness of the necessity of respecting the rights of LGBTI persons including all legal changes in the direction of regulating same-sex unions. (Protector of Citizens, 2018: 37-39)“
In 2016, it was stated that it is crucial to implement the rights of LGBTI persons in the area of legal regulation of same-sex unions, as well as the protection of their physical and mental integrity (Protector of Citizens, 2015: 22). It was also pointed out in 2017 that the full realization of the rights of LGBTI persons in the field of legal regulation of living communities is still not ensured (Protector of Citizens, 2017: 18).
In the reports sent by the Protector of Citizens to the organs and treaty bodies of the United Nations, shortcomings in the realization and protection of the rights of LGBTI persons were pointed out, such as the lack of a law regulating same-sex unions and the absence of a national campaign to raise public awareness of the position and rights of LGBTI persons, etc. (Protector of Citizens, 2018: 37).
The Protector of Citizens warns that neither in 2019 reporting period are legally regulated same-sex unions nor the consequences of adjusting (changing) gender and gender identity. LGBTI persons are still often victims of discrimination, stereotypes and prejudices (Protector of Citizens, 2020: 42-50).
And in the Regular Annual Report on Activities from 2021 submitted in 2022, the Protector of Citizens warns that the Government should "... ensure the full use of the rights of LGBTI persons in the area of... legal regulation of same-sex unions" (Protector of Citizens, 2021: 52). The government, the authorities of the autonomous province and the authorities of local self-government units should ensure the continuous implementation of measures and activities dedicated to raising public awareness of the necessity of respecting the rights of LGBTI persons (Protector of Citizens, 2018: 39). Proposals for improving gender equality and improving the position of LGBTI persons in relation to administrative bodies are addressed to the Government, which should propose, and the National Assembly to adopt, a law regulating same-sex unions.
It has been repeated many years in the proposals for improving the position of LGBTI persons in relation to the administrative authorities that the Government, the authorities of the Autonomous Province and the authorities of the local self-government units should ensure the full use of the rights of LGBTI persons in the field of legal regulation of same-sex unions, as well as the continuous implementation of measures and activities dedicated to raising public awareness of the necessity of respecting the rights of LGBTI persons (Protector of Citizens, 2022: 52).
Evaluating the impact of these activities of the Citizens' Protector, it must unfortunately be stated that they remain "on paper", i.e. that there is no visible change in public practices and policies as impact of the expressed views of that institution. Admittedly, this is not the case only when it comes to the rights of LGBTI persons’ rights, a number of other issues in the field of human rights remain in that specific parallel reality, not reaching either the political mainstream or the everyday life of citizens. Although Protector of Citizens is not to be blamed for this situation, there are opinions that shortages may be seen on the side of this insittion as well, namely as inadequate visibility, transparency and availability of the services of the Protector of Citizens.