A leading gay rights group has praised the European Union for raising the human rights of LGBT people in this year’s progress reports on candidate countries.

The European Commission monitors and assesses the achievements of each of the candidate and potential candidates over the last year.

Earlier this month the Commission adopted its annual strategy document explaining its policy on EU enlargement.

The document includes also a summary of the progress made over the last twelve months by each candidate and potential candidate: Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo.

The International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA-Europe) said there is “a clearly positive development as the human rights issues of LGBT people are covered more extensively and in a larger number of reports than last year (eight out of nine reports had several explicit references to LGBT issues).”

The reports for this year cover a wider scope of discrimination against LGBT people and give more concrete recommendations to the states to introduce anti-discrimination laws and policies that are in line with EU acquis, the total body of EU law.

“It is especially positive to notice that some reports refer to the discrimination faced by LGBT people in various spheres of social and economic life,” said ILGA-Europe.

“Another positive development is that the Commission along with appreciation of the need and the importance of anti-discrimination legislation, refers to the gap between the laws and their practical implementation (e.g. Croatia, Kosovo).

“There are also more explicit references to the human rights of transgender people in most of the reports.”

ILGA-Europe said the Commission should acknowledge that “fear of discrimination and stigmatisation are the main hindering factors for the LGBT community to organise and take actions as well as to provide sufficient documented information in those countries.”

Here is what ILGA-Europe said about the reports on the candidate countries:

Croatia

In general, Croatia has received positive feedback from the Commission on the progress made, specifically in the field of anti-discrimination.

The main achievement that will have positive impact on LGBT people’s rights was the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination law in July 2008.

The law is in full compliance with the EU acquis. While the Commission gives credit for the progress made, it also acknowledges that the “anti-discrimination legislation has not been applied vigorously” and that “the level of protection against discrimination in practise and its judicial prosecution is not in line with EU standards.”

ILGA-Europe appreciates that the Commission makes reference to the gap between the adoption of the law and the practical implementation of it.

However, we regret to notice that there is no reference to homophobic hate crimes and to discriminatory attitude of police towards LGBT people, despite the information provided by ILGA-Europe member, partner organisation.

We, hope that the information provided by our partner organisation will be taken into account to refer to the discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in the next progress report on Croatia.

FYR Macedonia

We appreciate that the progress report on FYR Macedonia clearly refers to the fact that “the framework law on anti-discrimination has not yet been enacted” and that current legislation is not in line with EU acquis.

ILGA-Europe is also pleased to notice that in contrary to 2007 progress report on Macedonia, in 2008 report the Commission makes explicit reference to the discrimination faced by LGBT people as well as urges that the envisaged national anti-discrimination strategy addresses discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Turkey

ILGA-Europe appreciates the way in which the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are raised in the European Commission’s 2008 progress report on Turkey.

The report extensively covers the violations of the freedom of association of homosexual people referring to an Istanbul court decision to close Lambda Istanbul in May 2008, upon an appeal by Istanbul Governance.

Also there are several explicit references to the fact that existing national legislation does not provide for specific protection on the grounds of sexual orientation.

On the contrary the provisions of Criminal Code on “public exhibitionism” and “offences against public morality” are sometimes used to discriminate against LGBT people.

It is especially positive that the Commission explicitly raises the human rights violations encountered by homosexual people at medical institutions for the exemption from the military service.

The report also refers to the violence against transsexuals and transvestites in Turkey, including by the police.

Albania

It is very encouraging to see that in the report on Albania it is explicitly elaborated that the violence and hostility towards LGBT people is paramount in the country and that the government failed to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Furthermore, the Commission urges the government to increase legislative efforts and develop an action programme to counter discrimination, including on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Commission acknowledges that BiH has made limited progress in improving on observance and enforcement of human rights in the country.

It states that the lack of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, State’s formal and informal support of discriminatory attitudes contribute to widespread discrimination, violence against LGBT people. Commission also raises the issue of discrimination in employment on the bases of sexual orientation.

It has also been mentioned that the right to freedom of assembly and association has not always been observed in the country and that “harassment of certain collectives because of their sexual orientation has also occurred.”

However we, regret to see that there has been no mention of brutal attacks and violence during Sarajevo Queer Festival in September.

We understand that it was probably difficult to include the incident in the 2008 progress report due to the fact that it happened six weeks before the reports were out. We, however, urge the Commission to make explicit reference to the violence in 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, in 2009 country progress report.

ILGA-Europe is also calling on the European Commission to continue monitoring the situation with regards to the rights to assembly and expression for LGBT people in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Serbia

In the progress report on Serbia it is mentioned that violent attacks, hate speeches and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is prevalent in the country and that the government failed to provide adequate protection against discriminatory treatment. It further mentions that comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation has not been adopted yet and the protection against discrimination in the labour market is also very weak.

However, we would have liked to see the Commission making more explicit references to the violent attacks, homophobic speeches and threats in connection with LGBT events (e.g March 2008 Eurovision Song Contest in Belgrade, September 2008 Belgrade Queer Festival).

ILGA-Europe is also calling on the European Commission to continue monitoring the situation with regards to the rights to assembly and expression for LGBT people in Serbia.

Montenegro

When comparing with 2007 progress report, the report on Montenegro for this year had very clear reference to LGBT issues.

We appreciate that the Commission raises the issues of discrimination against LGBT people, exacerbated by widespread homophobic attitudes and the lack of legal protection by authorities. It further expresses the need for comprehensive anti-decimation measures covering sexual orientation and gender identity.

Regarding freedom of assembly and association, despite the fact that there is, indeed, little information available to report on the restrictions, we would encourage the Commission to acknowledge that the fear of discrimination and stigmatisation are the main hindering factors for the LGBT community to organise and take actions as well as to provide sufficient documented information on the situation of LGBT people.

Kosovo

While the law on anti-discrimination is there and protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, the report indicates that little progress has been made in implementation of the law.

Homophobia is still widespread in media and in general public and many LGBT people are not aware of the protection provided by the anti-discrimination legislation.

Similar to the situation in Montenegro, the degree of organisation of the LGBT community is low and many are not willing to openly associate out of the fear of stigma and discrimination.

We, thus, encourage the Commission to acknowledge that many cases remain undocumented due to that stigma as well as due to the violations committed by the authorities themselves.