Serbia now expects to pass anti-discrimination law by end of April

The Serbian government now expects to pass a long-discussed anti-discrimination law by the end of April, according to Interior Minister Ivica Dacic on Sunday (March 8th). Enacting the law is one of the conditions for placing Serbia on the so-called Schengen white list, which will allow Serbian citizens to travel to EU member countries without visas.

The daily Blic reported on March 10th that, barring any “substantial changes” to the text, the ruling For a European Serbia caucus was ready to support the bill. However, it also reported the government would not send it to parliament before the Serbian Orthodox Church debated the controversial parts of the bill at its March 10th Holy Synod.

The government adopted the draft law late last month, but representatives of the “traditional” Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Islamic, Evangelical and other faiths objected to Article 18, which guarantees freedom of religious conversion, and Article 21, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The government then pulled the bill from parliament’s docket.

NGOs called the religious intervention in legislation undemocratic.

“I wonder if I will have to ask different churches for their opinion every time a law is being adopted,” complained Labour and Social Policy Minister Rasim Ljajic. He also noted that nobody notified him of a government teleconference in which it was decided to pull the bill from parliamentary consideration.

According to the labour and social policy ministry, the group suffering the most discrimination in Serbia is the Roma, with inequality also affecting women and the disabled.

Discrimination against the Roma is the most frequent because a large portion of that population lacks identity documents. Roma often cannot exercise their right to education and have no access to health insurance or welfare payments.

The draft bill defines general and special cases of discrimination and envisions the creation of a representative for the protection of equality, whom members of the public will be able to contact if they experience discrimination. The representative could issue a warning or launch judicial proceedings against alleged offenders.

Because of the economic crunch, the representative will not start working until early 2010. Until then, should the law take effect, members of the public will be able to launch judicial proceedings on their own.

The law would enjoin discrimination on the basis of nationality, religion and age, as well as on the basis of sexual differences.

Fines for acts of discrimination, depending on whether the offender repeats them, will range from 53 euros to 1,056 euros. Serbia is the only country in Europe still without a gender equality law.

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