The European Union (EU) has strongly criticized Serbia’s decision to cancel a gay pride parade in Belgrade scheduled for October 6, 2012. The Serbian government’s decision was also criticized by the United Nations (UN) and Amnesty International. The Serbian government cancelled the parade because of complaints from the Serbian Orthodox Church and threats from far-right political groups. A day before the gay pride parade ban was announced, a Serbian Orthodox Church leader referred to the event as a “parade of shame.” Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic explained, “Based on all security estimates and recommendations, the interior ministry made the decision that it is necessary to ban all gatherings announced for October 6th, including the pride march, for the sake of citizens’ safety.” The cancellation of the parade marks the second straight year that the event has been cancelled; last year’s parade was cancelled because of similar threats of violence. Nonetheless, Serbian homosexual activists have vowed to continue fighting for homosexual rights.

In 2009, Serbia applied for EU membership. In March 2012, Serbia acquired EU candidacy and accession talks have been ongoing. However, Serbia’s decision to ban the gay pride parade has raised concerns among senior EU leaders and international human rights groups about whether Serbia is committed to “so-called European values.” Human Rights Watch notes that the European Commission has confirmed that homosexual rights are an important component of the criteria required for EU membership. As such, Human Rights Watch argues that that the EU should consider the treatment of homosexuals when evaluating Serbia’s admission to the EU. Furthermore, the gay parade ban likely reinforces growing concerns in recent months that Serbia will “abandon its European path and return to the nationalism of the past.” The current Serbian government consists of nationalists and Socialists that were formerly led by Slobodan Milosevic.

The Serbian government’s decision to ban the gay pride parade may violate several articles found in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. First, the ban may violate Article 11’s explicit protection of the right to freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression specifically includes the “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Second, the ban may violate Article 12’s explicit protection for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels. A Human Rights Watch official argued that the Serbian government’s security risks argument should be rejected. The official noted, “Pointing to security risks without any visible effort to come up with a reasonable plan to make the Belgrade Pride Parade happen is succumbing to threats of violence. Basic human rights are being thrown overboard.” Finally, the gay pride parade ban may violate Article 21, a provision that expressly prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Birgitta Ohlsson, Sweden’s European affairs minister, described the ban as “deeply troubling” and stressed that “[t]he rights of minorities, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly should be guaranteed in countries that are members of the European Union or applying to join.”

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