17 May, 2014

LGBTI in Macedonia – the forgotten community

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Category: Discrimination, European Action Day, Guest writer, Homophobia, Transphobia
Gubaz Koberidze
8 pm

unnamed

By Pavle Bogoevski,

LGBTI Support Center,

Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia

In the Republic of Macedonia, LGBTI people live in a legal system which systematically discriminates against them, a society whose media never miss a chance to sensationalize this community as a whole, as well as individuals within it, and in an environment which on several occasions has manifested its intolerance toward them, often using methods of open violence, calls for violence and hate.

The legal framework in Macedonia, which is (or should be) in regard to LGBTI people is very confusing, full of incomplete aspects, and at times contradictory to itself. The Law on prevention and protection against discrimination, formally is restrictive enough not to contain sexual orientation and gender identity as separate grounds for discrimination, but also open enough to cover these two possible grounds under the category of “any other grounds”. Hence, in reality, state bodies for protection against discrimination can say that they do process submissions on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, but simultaneously, this can be limited to a formalistic post delictum processing of the few cases of discrimination per year, in which the victims had been brave enough to address the Commission for protection against discrimination. However, the confusing and deficient situation does not end with the general anti-discrimination Law of the Republic of Macedonia. If we look more closely at the laws in the Republic of Macedonia which regulate certain areas, we will notice that sexual orientation as a category is legally treated only in the field of employment, higher education and health care. However, without properly defined general protection against discrimination, discrimination in employment is too complicated to prove; higher education institutions are still using textbooks which treat homosexuality as a “deviation” or “pathology”, while a textbook on Criminalistic psychology at the Faculty of security in Skopje categorizes transvestites as people prone to committing brutal violent crimes; regarding the national health care system, the LGBTI Support Centre has no information on whether at least one person was reimbursed the costs of sex reassignment surgery in another country (which is a legally regulated obligation of the Health Insurance Fund, regarding medical treatment which is unavailable in the country), while several representatives of the system have publicly given very homophobic statements, for example, the former Minister of labor and social affairs (currently Minister of education). He explained the absence of sexual orientation and gender identity in the Law on prevention and protection against discrimination on his Facebook profile, trough his and his party’s efforts for a “healthy nation” and “births of healthy children in a healthy family environment”. Gender identity is not mentioned in any law, even though the Commission for protection against discrimination has stated that it processes complaints on this ground, classifying them under the “sex and gender” category. Regarding legal protection against criminal acts, in the Republic of Macedonia hate crimes are treated within the process of determining the punishment, after the perpetrator is found guilty of the base crime. This model is not a problem by itself, and it is being applied by many countries in Europe and throughout the world, but its success depends on the degree in which the police, prosecution and judicial procedures have been adjusted in order to respond to the needs for processing hate crimes. In the Republic of Macedonia, the police and prosecution have not even had special education, nor a particular legal obligation for special processing of this type of crimes. Furthermore, not one state institution keeps records on hate crimes, making the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of Republic of Macedonia the only organization that currently tracks hate crimes. The property and inheritance relations between same-sex partners are not being legally treated whatsoever. Neither is protection against domestic violence. This is how the state practically blocks itself from acting preventively against intolerance, discrimination and violence against LGBTI people, and it is also too restricted by the laws to conduct an effective formal procedure, during a period of increasing cases of discrimination and violence against the members of this marginalized group.

The entire situation with the lack of inclusion of LGBTI people in the legal framework in Macedonia, in reality was supplemented by the work of the largest national media, which were organized in joining the homophobic statements of government representatives and public servants, and repeatedly used homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, twisted the facts and published lies on LGBTI people and organizations which protect and promote their rights, only to increase the sensationalism in their articles and reports. Unfortunately, the combination of homophobic and transphobic public standpoints of the government and the sensationalist, biased and subjective reporting by the largest national media proved to be more than effective for paving the way for violence, hate and intolerance toward LGBTI people. In 2013, the incident rate of hate crimes with sexual orientation or gender identity as motives is second on the list of reported cases and the statistics managed by the Helsinki Committee for human rights of the Republic of Macedonia. These cases have been reported in different cities, such as Skopje, Bitola and Tetovo. The LGBTI Support Centre itself was a target of attacks and arson attempts on several occasions. However, what is most concerning is the passiveness of state institutions and lack of punishment for the perpetrators. The Minister of interior did not express clear public condemnation of anti-LGBTI violence. Neither did the Prime Minister, the President or any other high-level government representative. National bodies for protection of human rights, among which are the Ombudsman and the Commission for protection against discrimination, did not visit the premises of the LGBTI Support Centre. Neither did they condemn the anti-LGBTI violence and attacks against human rights defenders. Regarding the attacks against the Centre, activists and members of the community, there have been no results from the investigations conducted by the Ministry of interior. The only finished investigation is the one against the attackers of the Centre on the second of March, but primarily due to the ethnic dimension of this incident. Even though in this case one of the main evidence were the recordings from the security cameras of the Centre, in the other cases the recordings seemed to not be helpful. This passiveness of the institutions is worrying because it leaves an impression that they not only support anti-LGBTI violence, but they promote it as well.

This is why the European Commission in its 2009 Progress Report on Macedonia emphasized the state treatment of LGBTI people as a problem, for the first time in a document of this type. Since then, all Progress Reports explicitly state that the national anti-discrimination legislation is not aligned with the demands of the EU and that the social intolerance toward LGBTI people is worrying. The UN mechanisms also note this lack of alignment with the international human rights standards, which the country has ratified and accepted in the national legal system. Simultaneously, the latest Report of the Committee for civil liberties, justice and internal affairs of the European Parliament clearly points to the need for consolidation of the existing legal framework of the EU among member-states, in the field of protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. On the other hand, the analysis of the implementation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 points out that LGBTI people in Macedonia are discriminated on systemic level and lack appropriate mechanisms for protection against discrimination, because unequal treatment of LGBTI people in Macedonia is legally regulated.

However, reality shows that the oppression and the organized homophobic campaign in this system did not yield the expected results, because what it had achieved (apart from violence) is the strengthening of the LGBTI community itself (even though the goal was intimidation and prevention of the organization of the community, which would eventually stop the community from becoming a relevant political entity), as well as connecting different organizations working in this field. Hence, the LGBTI Support Centre in 2014 formed a partnership with the office of the National Democratic Institute in Skopje, with a goal to amend the Law on prevention and protection against discrimination, i.e. insertion of sexual orientation and gender identity as separately stipulated grounds for discrimination. In favor of promoting human rights as an universal value, which is of interest to all citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, considering the principle of openness of the Centre, for participation of as many interested and concerned parties as possible, we have decided to include all other NGOs in the country that work with LGBTI issues in our efforts, as well as a part of the representatives of the international community, and we are also making efforts to involve relevant state institutions and bodies in the process of amendment of the Law.

In the period from 13th to 15th of October, 2012, the daily newspaper Vecher published four consecutive editions in which it placed pornographic and homophobic content on its front pages. Translated from left to right, the titles of the front page articles are: “There won’t be gay marriages in Macedonia”, “Children adopted by homosexuals are victims of pedophilia”, “Chicks with condoms”, and “We want grandchildren, not faggots!”. In Macedonia, the showing of pornographic material and making it available to children is considered as a criminal act. There was no charges against the newspaper. In 2013, the President of Macedonia, H.E. Gjorgji Ivanov awarded the newspaper “Vecher” as most prominent national printed media.

 


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