Bosnian politician who wanted LGBTIQ people ‘isolated’ loses landmark case
Anti-discrimination law was introduced in Bosnia 13 years ago – but it had never been used to protect LGBTIQ people
A Bosnian politician who said publicly that she wanted LGBTIQ people to “be isolated and put away from our children and society” has been found guilty of discrimination in a landmark legal victory.
Tuesday's judgment in Sarajevo is the first by a Bosnian court to protect LGBTIQ people from hate speech – and has sparked hope that more such rulings will follow.
The case was brought in 2019 by Sarajevo Open Centre, an NGO promoting human rights with a focus on LGBTIQ and women's rights. It was sparked by a Facebook post by Samra Cosovic Hajdarevic, a former member of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly, in response to the country’s first Pride march.
“Everyone has the right to live their lives as they like, but we also have the right to choose who we want to live with,” she wrote. “I want people like these to be isolated and put away from our children and society. Let them go somewhere else and make a city, a state, and a law for themselves, and their own rights that no one will dispute. But NOT here!”
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The former public official was found to have “hurt the right to equal treatment of members of the LGBTIQ community on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and sexual characteristics”. She is banned from repeating the statement she made, and must cover court costs.
One in three LGBTIQ people in Bosnia and Herzegovina claims to have experienced discrimination on the basis of the sexuality or gender identity.
“This verdict is important in many ways [because it is] creating court precedents and strengthening standards and legal understanding of discrimination… especially based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender characteristics,” said Darko Pandurevic, the centre’s advocacy and programme manager.
In Bosnia’s legal system, lawsuits for establishing discrimination are supposed to be urgent; this one lasted for almost three years. “If we take this into account, we get the full picture of the challenges facing anyone who seeks justice through Bosnia and Herzegovina’s judicial system,” he told openDemocracy.
Emina Bosnjak, from Sarajevo, welcomed the ruling.
“As a lesbian, I feel at least a little more confident and optimistic about my future here in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” she said.
Dina Bajrektarevic from Tuzla agrees, pointing out that LGBTIQ people are among the most exposed marginalised groups when it comes to hatred and discrimination. “The LGBTIQ community exists, lives and works in a heteronormative, patriarchal and uninformed society,” she said. “Such an environment puts LGBTIQ persons in a deprived position in all spheres of life.”
Mirjana Cuskic from the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said the verdict was even more important because Hajdarevic had been a member of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly.
“It speaks in favour of the fact that no one, especially individuals holding public authority, can call for discrimination or violence against certain social groups, without incurring sanctions for such behaviour,” she said.
The Ombudsman for Human Rights of Bosnia and Herzegovina called the verdict “an important step not only in the fight against discrimination but also in terms of sanctioning hate speech”.
“It also has an important message that freedom of expression is not unlimited and cannot serve as a justification for spreading hatred or putting any group in an unequal position based on personal characteristics,” they added.
It is not about only hate speech
As an out lesbian, Dina Bajrektarevic has experienced discrimination in both her personal and professional life.
“While trying to have a medical appointment I was discriminated against and did not receive the adequate treatment I needed,” she said. “During the examination, the doctor told me that I should be treated for homosexuality and wrote in my medical history that I feel more like a man, which I never said.”
In her work with children, she found some parents did not want to leave their kids with her – “it was clear that they treated me differently than any of my colleagues,” she said – and after coming out she was quickly dismissed without explanation.
The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights has been researching discrimination against LGBTIQ people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly in the field of work.
Its work in Bijeljina found LGBTIQ people experience discrimination related to the termination of employment contracts, inability to advance, receiving negative work evaluations, verbal and physical violence and unequal pay.
“Non-reporting of discrimination against LGBTIQ persons in employment and work results in the absence of official statistics, which creates the illusion of an ideal situation or situation without discrimination,” said Cuskic.
Sarajevo Open Centre is now pursuing a number of other discrimination cases on behalf of LGBTIQ people.
Its director, Emina Bosnjak, director of Sarajevo Open Centre, added that legal battles over the rights of LGBTIQ people in countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina often have to reach the European Court of Human Rights to be resolved.
“The lack of adequate social and institutional interventions, and the condemnation and punishment of violence against LGBTIQ people, make them invisible and vulnerable, and their struggle for rights sporadic,” said Cuskic.
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