Serbia Enacts First Far Reaching Anti-discrimination Law amidst the Clamour of Conservative Opposition

On 26 March 2009 the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia voted to approve the Anti-Discrimination Bill (the Bill) submitted by the Government. The vote marked the end of an 8 year process which had begun with the first draft of the Bill in 2001. The new law prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or other grounds.

Although the drafting and approval of the Bill faced a number of challenges, in particular from conservative and religious groups, it received new impetus in spring 2008 following the establishment of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights. The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and the Coalition against Discrimination – an alliance of NGOs – were responsible for drafting the final version of the Bill which was due to be discussed in the National Assembly in early March 2009.

Pressure by religious and conservative groups regarding issues such as religious conversion and “free expression of sexual orientation” forced the Government to temporarily withdraw the Bill from the legislative agenda in early March 2009. This step drew international concern from various quarters including the Council of Europe. On 8 March 2009, speaking on the situation in Serbia, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg stated:

“[T]he adoption of a domestic anti-discrimination law against discrimination is not only natural, but also necessary next step in order to stop discrimination at a national level and harmonise national legislation with the European Convention on Human Rights.” 

A few days later, the National Assembly restored the Bill to the legislative agenda and voted to adopt the Bill by a narrow majority.

The passing of the law is an important step towards guaranteeing the human rights and equality standards which are a precondition for Serbia’s accession to the European Union. In the parliamentary debate, the Minister for Human and Minority Rights Svetozar Ciplic stated that the Bill’s adoption would establish a comprehensive system of protection against discrimination, placing Serbia on a par with other European Union countries in this area.