Council of Europe calls on Bosnia to condemn homophobic violence

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

An assembly of European parliamentarians has condemned the recent attacks on the organisers and participants of the Sarajevo Queer Festival by a homophobic mob.

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly also drew attention to the discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It has called on the the authorities to “ensure their protection and promptly and thoroughly investigate any attacks against them and bring those responsible to justice.”

The first gay festival in Bosnia came under attack last month.

At the opening event in a Sarajevo art gallery, attended by 250 people, a gang of 70 men threw stones and shouted homophobic slogans.

They were driven back by police, but returned as people were leaving and beat them. Some of the victims were dragged from their cars.

At least ten people were injured, some of them journalists covering the festival.

Five men will face charges. After the violence the festival closed down.

Amnesty International reported that the organisers of the festival are still receiving death threats.

Posters appeared on the streets of Sarajevo in the weeks leading up to the festival proclaiming “Death To Gays” and imams spoke out against the festival, claiming that homosexuality is immoral and contrary to the Koran.

40% of the population are Muslims, but Christian politicians also objected to the gay event and made homophobic statements.

The International Lesbian and Gay Association has asked the European Union and the Council of Europe to continue monitoring the situation.

“ILGA-Europe is deeply concerned with the news about the Queer Festival in Sarajevo: attacks on the participants of the events, attacks on the office of LGBT organisation, lack of police protection, death threats to the organisers of the festival,” the group said.

“Freedom of assembly and expression is one of the fundamental principles of a democratic society.

“The European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that freedom of assembly cannot be denied to events organised by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people or to those supporting equality for LGBT people.

“Similarly, the European Court of Human Rights repeatedly ruled that freedom of expression is not limited to the ideas which are received favourably by the majority of society.”

The 47-member Council of Europe predates the European Union. It promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights.

Bosnia- Herzegovina became a member in 2002.

The European Parliament’s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights condemned the violence at the Sarajevo Queer Festival as “cowardly behaviour.”

Michael Cashman Labour MEP for the West Midlands, said that Bosnia-Herzegovina must prove that it respects the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people if it is to stand a chance of becoming a member of the EU.

Extremist groups and politicians in the formerly wartorn country have openly called for violence against homosexual and transgender people.

There is an equal age of consent in the country but discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is “widespread” according to the EU.

Bosnia and Herzegovina signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in June.

The SAA represents, if properly implemented, a “gateway” to candidate status.

Agreements on visa facilitation and readmission between the EU and Bosnia and Herzegovina were signed in September 2007 and they entered into force on 1 January 2008.

In June 2008, the EU agreed on a country-specific “road map” for visa liberalisation for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The EU continues to deploy considerable resources in Bosnia and Herzegovina within the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

Following the improved security situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the EU Defence Ministers decided in December 2006 on a force reduction of EUFOR/Althea from some 6,000 to 2,500 troops.

The mandate of the EU Police Mission has been extended with two additional years until the end of 2009.