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What does Kennedy have to do with transphobic violence in Serbia?

Gay Pride; Photo: Pixabay

BELGRADE – In the night of April 30 a hate crime occurred in the city center of Belgrade when a group of five men assaulted trans* person called Leona. They kicked her, beat her with a buckle belt, threw concrete blocks at her, as well as verbally assaulted her on the basis of gender identity. When she tried to reach the hospital by taxi, taxi drivers refused to serve her. One of the taxi drivers explicitly explained that they do not serve “transvestites, faggots, and those covered in blood”. Leona was eventually assisted by a passer-by. The same night she appeared to a police station from whence she was sent to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed her with a wrist break on her right hand, and cuts on the head and body. The police report was then filed; nonetheless a police inspector said that the police would not process it during the public holidays. The police inspector also added: “Kennedy got assassinated (decades ago) and we still do not know who did it” so why to rush with processing the physical attack.

Meanwhile, another transphobic incident happened in Belgrade on May 8. Lela, a trans* person, and her friend were assaulted while waiting their order at a fast food booth. A man in his 20s was offended by a trans* person buying food at the same place as him. He approached Lela from behind and began to punch her in the head, especially in the area of the temple in the presence of witnesses and before security cameras. When she fainted the attacker left the scene. Perpetrators of both incidents have not been caught yet, although the investigations are under the way.

Human rights and LGBT organizations condemned the assaults and stated that institutional impunity encourages perpetrators to commit homophobic and transphobic violence. They are concerned with the fact that a verdict concerning hate crimes has still not been passed. Furthermore, they added that there is a lack of dialogue and education regarding LGBT population and their rights.

Unfortunately both cases entirely reflect the main findings of the research conducted by the Public Policy Research Center in 2016. The findings demonstrate a continuous trend of perceived insecurity among LGBT people and their distrust toward the police. Although assaults as the ones described above occur at less degree than before, the feeling of insecurity is directly to the anticipated arbitrary work of institutions and the government’s high tolerance for violence. The research found that the arbitrary work of institutions is not intended solely toward the LGBT persons, but it rather reflects the attitude toward all the citizens. In such a situation, the LGBT identity represents additional source of insecurity.

As shown in the recent cases as well as in CENTRE’s research, LGBT identity can be the source of insecurity at least for two reasons. First was depicted in the behavior of taxi drivers in the case of Leona, where the second is concerned with forced coming out. Reporting violence or threats on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity means coming out to institutions and, very often, to the social environment. The fact that only a few cases of violence are effectively prosecuted leads to a situation where the initiation of legal procedure increases the fear of coming out, and is an additional burden to LGBT people. It is also evident that the respondents who are out in the circle of their family and friends and who experience no issues in that respect are more likely to report cases of violence, because they would certainly be exposed to a lower risk of being forced to reveal their sexual identity in such a case.

Police procedures have improved lately. It is partly because the work of the police is the subject of the Chapter 24 of the Acquis process, especially its cooperation with vulnerable groups. The Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia (RS MoI) introduced Liaison Officers for the LGBT Community. There are many differences in the stakeholders’ opinions about the responsibilities and tasks of these officers, and it is evident that they are largely unknown to the broader LGBT community. Additionally, 250 police officers completed trainings for the work with LGBT population. They shared newly acquired knowledge on LGBT rights to 2,000 of their colleagues who perform permanent duty tasks. Last but not least, RS MoI published a Handbook for Police Work with the LGBT population in 2017. Yet there is much more down the road to be done in order to increase the security of LGBT people and respect of their rights, according to Ms Noora Hayrinen, Head of the Political Section of the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia.

The respect for human rights of LGBT people is an important indicator of the rights and freedoms exercised in a society which consequently lead to its coverage within the Chapter 23. A related screening report stated that the legal and institutional framework for the protection of rights and freedoms was in place, but that administrative capacity should be strengthened. The main deficiencies relate to the practical implementation of the protection of rights and freedoms and the work of the judiciary. Additionally, hate crime provision has not been used as a basis for court decisions since its introduction, because criminal offences are classified by type, and not by the perpetrator’s motive. This fact makes it difficult to create a database at the national level that would allow obtaining reliable statistics on attacks against LGBT people.

Regardless the improvements, the police activity has been assessed as highly politicized and dependent on political instructions received from key political decision makers. The distrust of the LGBT community towards the police is enhanced by the failure to prosecute old cases of violence against its members, which further creates the impression of a general lack of interest and marginalization of security problems for LGBT people. Despite the distrust of the police, more than half of the respondents in the CENTER’s research would report violence in order to put pressure on the police and public prosecutors’ offices to punish the perpetrators.

25 years after Kennedy’s assassination, the US government has promised to release related classified information on the occasion of the anniversary in October this year, while the public hopes to get closure on the case. These announcements instill us also the hope that institutions in Serbia, particularly police and judiciary, will start to do their work professionally, and finally solve the murder of Merlinka committed in 2003.

Jelena ŠAPIĆ, Public Policy Research Center, Belgrade


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