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Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, A/HRC/13/40/Add.3, 28 December 2009: Republic of Serbia, including Kosovo

I. Freedom of religion or belief in Central Serbia and Vojvodina

C. Domestic legal framework on freedom of religion or belief

13. The Parliament of the Republic of Serbia adopted a law on the prohibition of discrimination in March 2009. The law defines “discrimination” and “discriminatory treatment” as any unjustifiable differentiation or inequitable treatment, i.e. act of omission regarding persons or groups, as well as their family members or people close to them, performed in an overt or concealed manner, on grounds of, inter alia, religious convictions. According to article 18 of the 2009 law, “discrimination occurs when the principle of freedom of expressing one’s religious beliefs is breached, i.e. if a person or group is denied their right to adopt, maintain, express or change their religious beliefs, or to behave in accordance with their religious beliefs”. Shortly before the adoption of the 2009 law, a second paragraph was added to article 18 of the law, providing that “priests’ or other religious officials’ actions that are in accordance with the doctrine, beliefs or goals of the churches and religious communities” registered under the 2006 Law on Churches and Religious Communities should not be deemed to be discriminatory. Reportedly, pressure by religious and conservative groups regarding issues such as religious conversion and free expression of sexual orientation had led to a temporary withdrawal of the bill from the legislative agenda in early March 2009. An amended anti-discrimination law was finally adopted on 26 March 2009 by a narrow majority.

E. Issues of concern for the mandate

23. Furthermore, the recently adopted anti-discrimination law provides for specific exemptions of the prohibition of discrimination with regard to actions of priests or other religious officials which are in accordance with the doctrine, beliefs or goals of registered churches and religious communities. Members of civil society organizations emphasized that this exemption was introduced shortly before the adoption of the 2009 Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination in its article 18 due to lobbying efforts by “traditional” churches and religious communities, inter alia, in order to protect priests against charges of discriminating against others on grounds of sexual orientation.

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