Monthly Archives: April 2014

Women’s human rights are not a priority for the new Serbian government

Labris – Lesbian Human Rights Organization strongly condemns the shameful decision of the Assembly of the Republic of Serbia to adopt the new Law on Ministries, which was made on Saturday, April 26, 2014, by which the Gender Equality Directorate is abolished. Decision was made without establishing a new mechanism with a mandate to create, implement and oversee the implementation of gender equality policies and measures

This act violated the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, which obliges the state to implement equal opportunities policies and which states that acquired levels of achievement of human rights cannot be reduced. In addition, the abolishment of the Gender Equality Directorate is also an act which is opposite to the international standards that Serbia has adopted and proclaimed on its path to the EU accession.

During the parliamentary debate various excuses in the attempt to justify this decision could be heard, and varied form austerity measures and complaints about lack of efficiency and transparency, to the fact that this body served the interests of a small circle of people and civil society organizations, including the alarming statement made by Marija Obradović (MP of the Serbian Progressive Party) that there are more urgent issues to be solved in Serbia than women’s rights. In addition, Aleksandra Tomić (Serbian Progressive Party) also stated that the new concept of the Government exceeds the need for having a Gender Equality Directorate, with no explanation of how the new Government intends to deal with this issue in its future work.

Serbia's new prime minister via Reuters

Serbia’s new prime minister via Reuters

While Labris believes that there was a need to discuss and criticize the work of the Gender Equality Directorate, which is something that Labris has been doing continuously due to complete ignorance of the problems that lesbians in Serbia are faced with, Labris believes that the abolition of this institution is not an adequate solution but rather a dangerous step backwards and collapsing of the multi-year effort of the women’s movement to establish an institutional framework for the creation and pursuance of gender equality.

Bearing in mind the terrifying data, that (according to the CSO resources) during 2013 in Serbia more than 40 women were killed in the context of partnership and domestic violence, that every second woman in Serbia has experienced some form of violence, while one in three was physically assaulted by a family member, and that women are facing various forms of discrimination on every-day basis in the areas of labor, employment, education and health care, where particularly vulnerable multiply marginalized women are targeted ( such as Roma women, lesbians, single mothers, women with disabilities, women in rural areas, etc) we believe that the decision to revoke the Gender Equality Directorate as a key institutional mechanism for achieving gender equality, is irresponsible and inappropriate, and leads us to the conclusion that the promotion of human rights will not be a priority of the new Government.

This concern is further confirmed by the fact that, although covering diverse topics, in yesterday’s three-hour speech, made by the new Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, in the Serbian Parliament, importance of promoting gender equality and women’s human rights, as well as other marginalized groups, such as the LGBT community were not once pointed out.

Ales Bialiatski – 2014 Civil Rights Defender of the Year

Ales Bialiatski, founder of the Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna, is the recipient of the 2014 Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award. For over 30 years, he has pursued a life of continuous struggle to campaign for democracy and human rights, first in the Soviet Union and then in Belarus

Ales is one of eleven political prisoners held in jail by the Belarusian authorities in a country often referred to as ”the last dictatorship in Europe”, sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for tax evasion in a trial with clear political overtones. He was arrested on 4 August 2011. Since then he has been imprisoned and prevented from communicating freely with the outside world. Being the head of the country’s leading human rights organisation Viasna Ales Bialiatski is a central figure in Belarusian civil society.

Photo: via creative commons

Photo: via creative commons

Valiantsin Stefanovitj is vice president of Viasna:

“It is important for Ales to receive this recognition. He is a strong and warm person who is extremely passionate about democracy and human rights. An external show of support like this award goes a long way to strengthening both him and all of us at Viasna and also provides the inspiration to continue to fight for a democratic Belarus. Only with pressure from the outside world can we bring about long lasting change. It was really exciting for me to write the letter to Ales and tell him about the prize. Unfortunately I do not know if the letter arrived as we have not yet received a response,” said Valiantsin.

Since the establishment of Viasna in 1996, Ales has been arrested over 20 times. Many of these arrests have been for minor infringements such as handing out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The trial of Ales Bialiatski was initiated despite international protests and demands for his release. The process of prosecuting Ales was directly linked to his human rights work and the verdict serves as a warning to the entire Belarusian civil society”, says Robert Hårdh, Director of Civil Rights Defenders.

Ales has previously been honoured with several other awards, including the Swedish Per Anger Prize, The Sakharov Prize and Homo Homini Prize. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice, in 2006 and 2007.

The Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award is handed out on 4 April, which is the date of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. The award is given during Civil Rights Defenders’ annual conference Defenders’ Days, when human rights defenders from around the world gather in Stockholm. Ales’ colleague Tatsiana Revjaka and his wife Natalia Pinchuk are in Stockholm to receive the award on his behalf.