Demanding Justice for LGBTI+ activists attacked in Banja Luka

In a grim anniversary marked on March 18 last year, several LGBTI+ activists in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, fell victim to a violent assault. This assault occurred mere hours after local authorities had banned an LGBTI+ event, citing security concerns. Eyewitnesses recounted a harrowing scene outside the offices of Transparency International, where journalist and activist Vanja Stokic and others faced an attack by a group armed with sticks and bottles.

This reprehensible act highlights a distressing trend of violence targeting activists in the region. The situation was further compounded by alleged negligence on the part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republika Srpska (MUP RS), who reportedly compromised the safety of the activists by escorting them onto the streets just before the assault.

Adding fuel to the fire, hate speech from influential figures like Milorad Dodik, the President of the Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska, and Draško Stanivuković, the Mayor of Banja Luka, preceded the attack. Shockingly, neither Dodik nor Stanivuković have faced any criminal charges or investigations despite the potential role of their rhetoric in inciting violence.

In response to the violations, the legal team for the Bosnian Pride March initiated legal proceedings, submitting complaints to the Human Rights Ombudsman Institution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These complaints encompass a range of issues, including the alleged negligence of the MUP RS, hate speech from public figures, and the unlawful prohibition of public assembly.

While some progress has been made with one lawsuit against the MUP RS, responses to the remaining complaints remain pending. This lack of transparency and accountability undermines efforts to combat violence and discrimination effectively.

The aftermath of the attack has left a deep scar on the LGBTIQ community, exacerbating existing fears of violence and discrimination. Urgent institutional action is required to ensure the safety and rights of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is imperative for authorities to prioritize thorough investigations and uphold the rule of law, demonstrating unwavering commitment to justice and equality.

In a recent public statement, the Organizational Committee of the Bosnian Pride March in Banja Luka emphasized “We call on the ombudsman and prosecutors to fulfill their duties and adhere to laws strictly prohibiting discrimination. We seek institutional protection, demanding unwavering zero tolerance for hate speech and violence against the LGBTQI community, as well as against all forms of violence.