ILGA-Europe, in collaboration with the LGBTI Rights Association for the Western Balkans and Turkey (ERA), recently released their annual LGBTI Enlargement Review. The report assesses the gaps in legislation and policy for the protection and advancement of LGBTI rights in enlargement countries while identifying the priorities that the EU must address to ensure the protection of human rights. The 2023 LGBTI Enlargement Review covered ten countries, including Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine.
The report noted that 2022 was an important year for the enlargement process, with the EU including Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia in its annual reporting process. ILGA-Europe has member organizations in all three countries, and as such, the review offers a perspective from all ten countries. Additionally, the report focused on the implementation of existing policies and legislation, with each country chapter divided into different sections, including priorities for the coming year, implementation of existing policies, feedback on the European Commission’s 2022 Enlargement Report, and recommendations to the EU.
Unfortunately, the review highlights a clear trend of rule of law being challenged, foreign influence being exerted to challenge advances on human rights, including the rights of LGBTI people, and an increase of hate speech translating into violence on the ground. The report also reveals that LGBTI topics are being used to polarize society, often distracting from broader issues such as democracy and the rule of law.
It is crucial that the EU places LGBTI rights at the forefront of its considerations, with demands for advancing the protection of human rights for LGBTI people given the same importance as fighting corruption and advancing the rule of law. The report underscores the importance of renewing a clear prospect for EU enlargement, particularly in the Western Balkans, and the commencement of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia is seen as an encouraging step.
Some of the main priorities listed for North Macedonia are: for the government to reintroduce to parliamentary procedure the proposed amendments to the Law on the Civil Registry, with the aim of allowing legal recognition of gender based on self-determination for transgender individuals; adoption of the National Action Plan for advancing the rights of the LGBTI community; the government should introduce a definition of hate speech in the Criminal Code that explicitly includes all forms of hate speech motivated by bias based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics; in order to properly implement the Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination, a large number of laws still need to be harmonized; it is of utmost importance to restore the budget for the National Program for the Protection of the Population from HIV/AIDS as originally planned.
In conclusion, the annual LGBTI Enlargement Review is a critical tool in assessing the state of LGBTI rights in enlargement countries, and the report offers valuable insight into the challenges faced by LGBTI individuals and civil society organizations. The report highlights the need for the EU to prioritize the protection of human rights for all citizens, including those of the LGBTI community. The EU must ensure that demands for advancing the protection of human rights are put on the same footing as important processes on fighting corruption and advancing the rule of law.