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Activists take part in an LGBT Pride march in Sarajevo in August 2021.

For all of Dina Bajraktarevic's adult life, Bosnia-Herzegovina has had a law in place banning discrimination, including based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

But the 25-year-old native of Tuzla, in northeastern Bosnia, has never felt protected, particularly when she was at her most vulnerable.

On a visit to the gynecologist, for instance, after responding to a question about sexual activity or potential pregnancy, she made reference to being a lesbian. "My whole examination then came down to the question of my sexual orientation," she told RFE/RL's Balkan Service. In the end, the medical staff wrote in her file "that I 'felt like a man,' although I never said that."

"It was only later that I realized that this was unequal treatment of me as a member of the LGBT community," she said.

Wherever Bajraktarevic went, she said, discrimination followed, creeping into nearly every aspect of life.

In her work as a speech therapist, "almost none of the parents wanted to leave their children with me, and when they noticed I was in the room, would slam the door and leave."

Dina Bajraktarevic
Dina Bajraktarevic

After her first trip with her volleyball team, the club told her that, as a lesbian, she either had to quit or change in the men's locker rooms. "I left the club because I didn't want anyone to perceive me as a predator. It was a total moment of segregation," said Bajraktarevic, who has since become an activist for LGBT causes.

She and other members of Bosnia's LGBT community have spent more than a decade being disappointed by the lack of progress despite the enactment of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination in 2009.

But a landmark verdict by a court in the Bosnian capital could signal a shift toward greater protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals.

'People Like This'

The Sarajevo Municipal Court in April ruled in favor of activists who sued on behalf of the LGBT community against a former assemblywoman who publicly urged state officials to keep "people like this" away from the rest of society.

The verdict in the three-year-long case "prohibits any further action" by the defendant "or similar actions that violate or may violate the right to equal treatment of members of the LGBTIQ community."

It is the first acknowledgement by a Bosnian court of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, advances the fight against hate speech, and could augur well for aggrieved Bosnians' hopes of seeking protection from state and local institutions.

The verdict is still subject to appeal.

Darko Pandurevic of the Sarajevo Open Center, the NGO that filed the case and provides legal counsel to advance women's and LGBT people's rights, calls it a "historic" verdict. "It's been a long time -- almost 13 years since the [antidiscrimination] law was passed -- for such a verdict against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or sexual characteristics," he said.

Pandurevic says it's also a reminder that "freedom of speech is not absolute, and people must be aware of the messages they broadcast to the public, as well as the repercussions of those messages."

The Sarajevo Open Center said it was pursuing "multiple" other lawsuits in the Bosnian courts. "From a legal standpoint, it is critical to develop case law and strengthen legal standards concerning discrimination and hate speech," Pandurevic said in a statement.

Viral Facebook Post

Although same-sex relationships are not banned in Bosnia, they enjoy none of the legal guarantees afforded to their mixed counterparts.

When Sarajevo hosted its first Pride march, in 2019, a heavy police presence highlighted the ongoing threats of violence and other intimidation targeting openly LGBT people in the heavily divided Balkan country of nearly 4 million people, half of them Muslim and another one-third Orthodox.

The event took place without any major incidents.

Around the same time that organizers were gearing up for that pioneering Pride event three years ago, Samra Cosovic Hajdarevic, a member of the Sarajevo Canton Assembly, posted a diatribe on Facebook addressed to the "State!" that went viral.

Hajdarevic lashed out at "so-called Pride marches aimed at destroying the state and its people."

"Everyone has the right to live their lives as they like, but we also have the right to choose who we want to live with," said Hajdarevic, who is no longer an assembly member and could not be located by RFE/RL's Balkan Service following news of the verdict. "I want people like this to be isolated and kept away from our children and society. Let them go somewhere else and make a city, a state, and a law for themselves and their own rights that no one will dispute.

"But NOT here!" she added.

In addition to ruling that Hajdarevic's words were discriminatory, the court took a key step by characterizing her statements as hate speech.

Bosnia has few instances of final verdicts assigning responsibility for alleged hate speech, according to the head of the Bosnian Human Rights Ombudsman's department for eliminating all forms of discrimination, Predrag Raosavljevic.

It is especially important, he says, in raising the bar for acceptable speech from holders of public office and punishing hate speech that's spread through social media like Facebook, where instigators may be cloaked in anonymity. "This verdict against Cosovic Hajdarevic established responsibility for discrimination against the LGBTIQ community," he said, although he stressed either side's right to appeal.

He said April's verdict "can be an encouragement for others endangered and put in an unequal position, to use legally prescribed mechanisms, such as reporting to the police or prosecutor's office, but also sending a complaint to the Ombudsman, the central institution for protection against discrimination."

Bosnia's Ombudsman warned in a report last year that no clear progress had been made toward real equality for LGBT individuals since 2017.

Organizers have announced plans for a Pride parade in Sarajevo on June 25.

Written by Andy Heil based on reporting by RFE/RL Balkan Service fellow Mirnes Bakija
Workers exhume the corpse of a civilian killed in Bucha from a mass grave on April 13.

KYIV -- Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova has announced the name of the first Russian soldier suspected of killing civilians in the town of Bucha near Kyiv during weeks of occupation.

Venediktova said on May 2 that that the suspect was the commander of a unit of Russia's National Guard, Sergei Kolotsei.

"Prosecutors of Bucha have established that this very military serviceman killed four unarmed men in Bucha on March 18," Venediktova wrote on Facebook, including the suspect's photo in the post.

"He also tortured another civilian on March 29, forcing him to confess to saboteur activities against Russian troops."

According to Venediktova, Kolotsei forced a pro-Ukrainian civilian into a basement, where he beat him with his fists, an assault rifle, and a knife handle.

“The man was then taken to an execution site, where he went through mock execution as a gun was shot near his ear," she said. "Especially horrible type of humiliation and intimidation of the victim was forcing him to sniff a dead human body."

Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova (left) and International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan visit the site of a mass grave in the town of Bucha on April 13.
Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova (left) and International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan visit the site of a mass grave in the town of Bucha on April 13.

Kolotsei has been officially informed that he is a suspect, Venediktova said. However, her Facebook post did not say that formal charges had been filed.

Last week, Venediktova identified 10 soldiers of the 64th Mechanized Infantry Brigade of the Russian armed forces, saying that they were suspected of "cruelty toward civilians and other war crimes," adding that Ukrainian investigators continued to gather evidence and those named were just the first.

She also said at the time that investigations were under way to find out if the 10 Russians took part in the killing of civilians in Bucha.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Artem Dekhtyarenko, said on May 2 that, in all, the SBU had identified almost 900 Russian soldiers and 100 collaborators suspected of committing crimes against civilians in the Kyiv region during the weeks of occupation.

Dekhtyarenko said SBU investigators had questioned some 7,000 witnesses of "war crimes" committed by Russian troops in the region. The SBU has set up a hotline for people who witnessed such crimes and want to testify.

The retreat of Russian forces from Bucha and other towns near Kyiv revealed harrowing evidence of brutal killings, torture, mass graves, and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in the fighting, prompting calls from several countries, as well as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC), for investigations to determine whether war crimes were committed.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on April 28 backed the ICC investigation into war crimes in Bucha.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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