On November 7-11, 2016, the project staff of the cross-border EU-funded initiative Solidarity Network for LGBTI in Armenia and Georgia, including representatives of the Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Regional Office, and partner organizations from Armenia and Georgia, the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK), the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), and Society Without Violence (SWV), visited Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to participate in a capacity building study tour aimed to transfer the experience of a similar EU-funded action Coming out! - Advocating promotion and protection of LGBT rights, implemented by the Heinrich Boell Foundation Bosnia and Herzegovina, in cooperation with the Sarajevo Open Center and CURE Foundation.
The project, which was finalized in 2014, had many similar activities, including the first fundamental quantitative and qualitative study on LGBT rights and issues within specific societal groups, capacity building of CSOs working on LGBT rights, training programmes for state officials and civil servants, a regional multimedia campaign, and advocacy and lobbying efforts.
The similarity of the two EU-funded initiatives is what drove the decision to include the visit into the agenda and encourage project partners to build on the best practices and lessons learned by colleagues in Sarajevo.
The study visit was organized by the Sarajevo Open Center and featured a rewarding, practical and valuable programme, ranging from meetings with NGO and community representatives to police to local MPs.
Topics covered included Combating Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics – relevant changes in the Anti-Discrimination Law and Anti-Discrimination Action Plan of Bosnia and Herzegovina (including the development of a tailored LGBTI Action Plan and a draft law on same-sex partnerships), the Decentralization of LGBTI activism, Gender institutional mechanisms in the fight against LGBTI exclusion and discrimination, Evidence-based advocacy for the inclusion of hate crime (work with the community, building coalitions, the process of lobbying), Strengthening judicial protection for LGBTI victims of violence and discrimination, all of which will find practical application in the activities to be implemented within the EU-funded action in Armenia and Georgia.
Marija Lučić-Ćatić, Professor of Criminology and Security Studies, spoke about building the institutional capacities of police and prosecutors, while giving a very detailed breakdown of the governmental and judicial structure of the different administrative units and autonomous entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Josip Bilandžija, an inspector of the Sarajevo Canton Police, highlighted the role of community policing in strengthening the first line of protection for LGBTI hate crime victims. In addition to providing best practice examples on how to reach out to law enforcement locally, significant contact information and materials were shared to advance relevant activities on the ground.
The final day of the study tour took place in the premises of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina and was opened by the Executive Director of the Sarajevo Open Center, Emina Bošnjak, who imparted useful information on how to apply EU integration as leverage for the advocacy for LGBTI human rights.
After the opening meeting, the participants were joined by the President of the Parliamentary Committee on Gender Equality, BiH Parliamentary Assembly MPs, and a representative of the Association for Democratic Imitative CSO, who also shared best practice examples of productive work between civil society organizations, members of parliament, and representatives of political parties, also emphasizing the significance of inter-party cooperation on such issues as human rights. The participants also raised the presence of the conflict narrative and its role in shaping policy.
The final session was dedicated to raising positive visibility of and campaigning around LGBTI issues. Discussion was led by several freelance journalists, as well as Slobodanka (Boba) Dekić, one of the co-founders of the first queer organization in BiH, Association Q, which was responsible for the organization of the Queer Sarajevo Festival in 2008.
After the meetings, the participants shared their thoughts and feedback regarding the study tour and reflected on the specific activities that the knowledge and skills gained in Sarajevo will help them implement upon return. The Study Tour turned out to be an excellent platform for sharing key contact information, expertise and lessons learned, to be multiplied in the outputs and outcomes of the EU-funded action in Armenia and Georgia. The visit also fostered experience exchange and provided an opportunity for the Armenian and Georgian actors to also present information on the current situation in terms of LGBTI rights in the two South Caucasus countries, as well as share the studies on homo/bi/transphobic attitudes and the legal situation of LGBTI persons in Armenia and Georgia. Beyond that, it became a channel through which additional networks and long-standing cooperation were successfully established.