Ban on Belgrade Pride 2012 a threat to freedom of Assembly and Expression

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee condemns today’s decision by the Serbian Authorities to ban Belgrade Pride 2012. This is the third time that the parade has been banned. The parade, belonging to an international movement of peaceful celebrations of diversity, is an important way to attract attention to the rights of equality before the law for all persons defining themselves as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans and Intersex persons (LGBTI). Banning the parade indicates that Serbian Authorities are not prepared to secure the rights to freedom of assembly and expression for one of Europe’s most vulnerable minorities.

Prime Minister of Serbia, Ivica Dačić’, claim that the parade must be banned due to presenting a security risk, refers to threats from homophobic and violent groups who have warned that they will take to the street and prevent the parade from taking place. Dačić justifies his decision with reference to the inability of the Serbian police to ensure the safety of the parade’s participants and the citizens of Belgrade. As the goal of all protesters is exactly to ensure that there will be no parade this is a clear example of the state succumbing to pressure from anti-democratic forces.

When Belgrade Pride 2011 was banned, the international community and several NGOS demanded that Serbian Authorities should carry out a full and transparent investigation of the security risks that was the foundation for the ban, and that they would pursue all threats in an adequate manner and prevent a similar scenario in 2012. This has not been done, and now we see that these forces are still at liberty to present the same kind of security risk. The ban, as well as admitting that they are not able to protect the participants rewards such forces and those who are likely to commit hate crimes.

Serbian Authorities’ lack of commitment to prosecute and convict cases of threats and violent attacks against former parades, as well as hate speech- and crime in general, reinforces our concerns. A Serbia on a steady path towards full Euro-Atlantic integration cannot be a country where the right of minorities’ access to democratic participation is obstructed yet another time.

We call on Serbian Authorities to immediate revoke their decision to ban the parade, and that the necessary precautions will be taken to secure the safety of its participants.

NHC supports Pride Week and Belgrade Pride Parade 2012

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee expresses genuine support and solidarity for Belgrade Pride Parade and Pride Week 2012. This event is an important opportunity for Serbia to show that the future bears promises of the event’ slogan: “Love, Faith and Hope” for all persons belonging to sexual- and gender minorities (LGBTI).

This manifestation is not only a celebration – it should be considered as a serious reminder that the fight for equality before the law, and protection against hate crimes and human rights violations towards the LGBTI community in Serbia need to be fought persistently and in a systematic manner – all year round.

Pride Parade 2011 was banned only days before it should have taken place, allegedly due to being a threat to national security. This was the third time that pride parades have been prevented by Serbian authorities. A minority group being repeatedly deprived their right to freedom of assembly and speech, poses a severe threat to the development of a healthy Serbian democracy.

– We are concerned that anti-gay groups might interpret attempts to ban the parade, or evasiveness from Serbian Authorities when it comes to their ability to provide sufficient protection for the participants, as an excuse to attack the Parade or other events during Pride Week” says Secretary General Bjørn Engesland. – Banning or failing to protect the participants of the parade rewards the behavior of people that promote homophobic and transphobic attitudes and those who are responsible for any individual being subject to violence for belonging to- or supporting the LGBTI community.

In Serbia, the history of pride parades, and the situation for the LGBTI community in general, calls for concern. The first attempt of organizing a parade in 2001, left dozens of injured participants after attacks from violent protesters. The police offered no adequate police protection, and there were no consequences for the perpetrators. When making a new attempt in 2009, the parade was cancelled in the last minute. Even though a parade was implemented in 2010 with substantial police protection; the parade suffered severe attacks and there has been no adequate legal action taken towards those who were arrested. Threats of violence have preceded this year’s events as well.

A successful implementation of the pride events will be an important signal that Serbia takes its obligation to ensure the human rights for one of Europe most vulnerable communities seriously.