Today, the Equal Rights Trust launches Equality in Practice: Implementing Serbia’s Equality Laws. The result of both desk-based research and extensive field research, including focus groups, community consultation meetings and 57 one-to-one interviews, the study evaluates the effectiveness of the current legal and policy framework on equality in Serbia.
In 2009, the Republic of Serbia adopted the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination. The Law, alongside numerous other laws and policies adopted in recent years, provides a near-comprehensive regime for the promotion and protection of rights to equality and non-discrimination. However, as the Study elaborates, significant patterns of discrimination and inequality persist in all areas of life; due in large part to weaknesses in the implementation of equality laws.
The Study identifies several barriers to the full implementation of Serbia’s equality laws including: (a) limited awareness of equality laws amongst both rights-holders and duty-bearers; (b) economic and physical barriers to access to justice; and (c) a lack of public confidence in the court system as an efficient and independent mechanism for redress. These problems combine to undermine enjoyment of the rights to equality and non-discrimination. Despite apparently protective laws, non-exhaustively: Roma continue to face deep-seated prejudice and systemic discrimination in all areas of life; people living with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses which carry stigma are discriminated against in accessing healthcare among other things; LGBT+ persons are marginalised from school age; children with disabilities continue to face segregated education; women are marginalised in the labour sphere and the scourge of gender-based violence continues.
Despite a clear willingness to engage in human rights legal reform, as evidenced both in the range of laws adopted by the state, and their scope of application; it is clear that Serbia must take the next step and adopt measures to ensure that its laws are properly implemented and that equality is achieved in practice. The Study contains a series of recommendations to Serbia, including:
- Taking concrete measures to increase public awareness of the rights to equality and non-discrimination, including through both primary and secondary education and funding broader public awareness campaigns;
- Increasing access to justice by removing financial and physical barriers. The Legal Aid Bill, which was passed in November 2018 does not provide adequate access to justice for discrimination survivors and should be amended before being brought into force; and
- Improving compliance with, and enforcement of, Serbia’s equality laws by duty-bearers, including the judiciary and other public officials.
The study forms part of a two-year project between the Trust, Sandzak Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, and the Association of Citizens Praxis. It was prepared by the Trust and two expert consultants: Professor Nevena Petrušić, the inaugural Commissioner for the Protection of Equality in Serbia (2010-2015) and Ms Kosana Beker, Assistant to the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality in Serbia (2010-2016).
To read the Equal Rights Trust’s submission, which expounds recommendations from the Study, to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, for its consideration of Serbia’s periodic report at its upcoming 72nd session please click here.