The rainbow flag was flown in front of the EU Delegation building in Skopje on 17 May. On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), the EU repeated its strong commitment to promote and protect fully the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ+) persons, recalling that democracies are built upon the appreciation for diversity.
The situation with the LGBTI rights in North Macedonia is marked by some progress, but also by issues that require action by the authorities.
The first ever pride march in the country took place in June 2019. Last year, during the pandemic, an online pride evet was organised. However, there are many cases of stigmatisation, marginalisation and even hate speech, threats or actual violence. Reports by the Helsinki Committee and ILGA Europe point at increased hate speech, as well as at failure of the authorities to act on complaints or publicly condemn such incidents. These reports stress the need to improve data collection and to increase the capacities of law enforcement agencies to prosecute hate crimes and hate speech.
On the occasion of IDAHOT, an online event took place bringing together representatives of the EU, various institutional players and the civil society.
Minister of Labour and Social Policy Jagoda Shahpaska underlined that last year North Macedonia adopted a Law on the Prevention and Protection from Discrimination, which for the first time listed sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds of discrimination. An action plan on LGBTI rights is also being prepared, together with amendments that should enable legal gender recognition. There is support for the LGBTI shelter, as well as trainings on anti-discrimination for the public administration.
Natasha Boshkova, lawyer from Coalition Margins stated that following the judgment of the European Court for Human Rights in favour of a transgender person who sued the country for not having their gender recognised, the authorities, in close cooperation with the civil society organisations, made additional efforts to address the issue. They have prepared amendments to the Law on Civil Registry. Gender legal recognition will offer legal certainty to transgender people and will mean a solid step forward for North Macedonia, which is among the few remaining member states of the Council of Europe lacking such legal framework, said Boshkova.
MP Maja Morachanin spoke about the Inter-party Parliamentary Group that supports LGBTI rights, where she is a member. The Group, set up in February 2018, in addition to having worked on the adoption of the new anti-discrimination legislation, works on raising public awareness and on securing support from the other MPs for amendments to the Law on Civil Registry.
David Tasevski from the Subversive Front organisation presented a survey that showed persisting discriminatory attitudes notably among civil servants. He emphasised the need for the international community to help address mental health challenges that LGBTI people are facing and to be more vocal in defending their rights.
Igor Jadrovski, member of the Commission for Prevention and Protection from Discrimination, pointed at the expanded mandate of the Commission, but also at the necessity for it to cooperate with other institutions and civil society organisations in sensitising the public, collecting statistics on discrimination and in strengthening the capacities of the public administration.
This event was part of a joint regional project between the European Union and the Council of Europe. The EU, as Ambassador Geer stressed, will continue to support projects that promote and protect the LGBTI rights.
‘Rights are only meaningful if they are protected. This means government, Parliament, the judicial system and the police working together to take forward a positive agenda; ensuring that legal remedies are at hand when violations take place, putting in place administrative measures for reform, and raising one’s voice to oppose homophobia, transphobia and biphobia’, said Ambassador Geer.
The EU, as its declaration reads, will continue to lead efforts for full and equal enjoyment of human rights of LGBTI persons. Through its Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy (2020-2024) and the European Commission’s first ever LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025, the EU is advancing equality in all spheres of life - both inside and outside the EU. This comes at a time when consensual same-sex relationships are still criminalised in 69 countries around the world, with 11 of them retaining the death penalty for homosexuality.