HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM: Human Rights, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in Serbia

By Jelena Prosevski* 

“…capabilities to choose a life one has a reason to value”, Amartya Sen

Just two months ago the Pride Parade in Serbia was followed by a riot of protesters who attacked the police and demolished downtown Belgrade.  By the time the rioting started, according to the reports from Belgrade, the majority of the Parade participants had already been in the safety of their homes, at times even driven there by the police in order to ensure safety. Among those who were unfortunately injured were primarily police force members.

The rioting was expected and in line with close to a decade of overt anti-gay sentiment among some extreme right-winged groups in Serbia. This element led to a bloody conflict between the Pride Parade participants and the opponents in 2001, as well as the cancellation of the 2009 Pride Parade due to overwhelming threats against the would be participants leading up to the Parade.

This year, a new and encouraging turn of events was the Serbian government’s outright, strong and violence-condemning support of gay rights activist.

Serbia’s President Tadic underlined the importance of the state’s duty and obligation to protect human rights of all citizens of Serbia. This framework ensured that state actors took an active role in backing the Parade participants and, by doing so, demonstrating human rights protection.

While some state that the riots had more to do with the right-winged opposition to the democratic rule in Serbia, and that the Serbian government’s motivation may have been primarily driven by the desire to gain a positive mark from the international community in hopes to take a step closer to joining the European Union, the fact remains that on October 10, 2010 the Pride Parade was held in Serbia with the government’s support. Even though much remains to be desired with respect to human rights in Serbia, on this particular day, human rights were promoted and protected.

According to the United Nations, core human rights principles include equality, non-discrimination, equity, inclusion, participation, empowerment, accountability, transparency and the rule of law.

The role of international community, including the United Nations and organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in promoting human rights globally is difficult to dispute. However, too often the human rights framework and its implementation is deemed relevant only for developing countries and countries in transition, such as Serbia for example. In other words – the Western countries, including the United States, tend to assume the position of leaders in this effort, while lacking a full self-reflection on the same matter.

Gay rights are discussed in the American public forum daily. The debate on ensuring equality with regard to gender identity and sexual orientation is on-going and activists make strong attempts to achieve inclusion and equal rights. Weaving in the human rights framework more consistently in the debate by all participants may bring additional support in gaining a clear public understanding of universality of human rights, which include the opportunity to freely live one’s identity and love those one wishes to love. 

*After receiving her Master’s in International Affairs from Columbia University, Jelena Prosevski recently founded a management consulting business, drawing on her more than a decade of project management experience in private, non-profit, and public sectors both within the United States and internationally. Her personal experience of the 1990s’ conflict in the Balkans deeply impacted her outlook and prompted her desire to actively support the achievement of justice through social impact-driven endeavors. As a result, Jelena spearheaded projects that focus on human rights promotion and addressing gender-based violence.


The opinions and commentary posted in this public forum reflect the viewpoints of guest contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Council for Research on Women, its member organizations, or affiliates. Contributors are responsible for the accuracy of content posted under their name.


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It's so important that we remember human rights is part of the gay rights discussion. I'm proud of our senators for making a last minute commitment to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, and hope that it adds to our credibility in advocating human rights, especially for gays, around the world. I particularly appreciated a quote from Ron Wyden (D-OR) highlighted by the New York Times;

"I don't care who you love. If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn't have to hide who you are."

It is so important that allies step up and make their voices heard, alongside and within the ranks of gays both nationally and internationally.

Thanks for writing about Serbia!