Sarajevo Open Centre (SOC) was established in 2007, registered as an association of citizens on the state level and has grown to become a respected nongovernmental organization in BiH.
Sarajevo Open Centre (SOC) advocates the full respect of human rights and social inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and intersex (LGBTI) people and women.
Sarajevo Open Centre is an independent feminist civil society organization that strives to empower lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and intersex (LGBTI) people and women through community empowerment and activist movement building. SOC also promotes the human rights of LGBTI people and women publically and advocates on national, European and international level for improved legislation and policies in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By working on European integration issues, SOC is improving human rights in general and encouraging further the development of civil society.
From 2007-2011 we worked on different projects related to political science research and political education, literature, film and art promotion, and interreligious education without having clear programmes, an office or employed staff. In 2011, we opened our first office and our first three-team members worked full-time in Sarajevo Open Centre. The team has grown from three (May 2011) to eleven (October 2016) full time employees and three vounteers.
SOC has its focus on two programes: LGBTI rights and Women's rights. In 2011, when our professionalization phase started, LGBT rights and LGBT people have been invisible and deemed irrelevant for BiH authorities and public. Although our work has been dominantly activity and outputoriented, in a span of five years we managed to give the voice for the LGBTI community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the last five years we did also manage to build up a visible and relevant women ́s rights programme. Although women constitute more than half of the BiH population, women’s rights are still treated as a minority group issue. Women face discrimination and violence in their family surroundings, they are exposed to discriminatory treatment in labour relations and have a limited access to political life and decision-making processes. SOC have been working on several activities related to women's rights issues in BiH. In the last five years we managed to put some of the nondiscused topics related to women's rights issues in public discourse.
Our biggest achievments resultet from implemented projects are:
Established the only civil society-led LGBTI human rights violation monitoring and documentation system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which resulted in Pink Reports – annual LGBTI rights reports for 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, concrete advocacy (i.a. written submissions/alternative reports, legislative and policy proposals) actions on national, European and international level;
- Representatives of the national institutions and international organizations recognized SOC as the main source of accurate information and quality legislative and policy proposals;
Established our internal women’s rights monitoring procedures, which resulted in Orange Report – annual women’s rights reports for 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 (the only annual women´s rights report in Bosnia and Herzegovina published by a civil society organisation), as well as different advocacy actions on national, European and international level;
Successfully launched changes or participated in amendments of the following laws: a) Anti-Discrimination Law (improvement of procedural aspects and clear definition of sexual orientation, gender identity and sexual characteristics as the basis on which the discrimination is forbidden), b) Law on BiH Ombudsmen Institution (proposing a model law whose parts that deal with the definition of competences, relations with civil society, and a clear recognition of sexual and gender minorities in the areas of work of the Institution of Ombudsman have been taken into the official law), c) Criminal Codes of RS and FBiH (clear definition of hate crimes, i.a. based on sexual orientation and gender identity);
- Successfully established cooperation with parliamentary commissions and state institutions for gender equality and worked with them on law amendments as well as on inclusion of LGBTI topics in entity’s Annual Operational Plans according to BiH’s Gender Action Plan. As of 2016, LGBTI rights are for the first time included in a public policy in BiH;
- Successfully led campaigns for creation of general human rights public policies, and BiH’s Council of Ministers decided that they will work on Human Rights Strategy (general strategy which is defining general aims) and on Strategy for Combating Discrimination during 2016, and we are involved in their creation;
- Launched talks on big future challenges such as legal regulation of same-sex partnerships, legal gender recognition, and creation of multi-annual Action plan for equality of LGBTI people in BiH, that need to be implemented through separate laws in the following period;
Decisively and focused contributed to a better status of safe houses in Federation BiH, inclusion of gender sensitive language into the institutions and descending the work on gender equality at the level of cantons and local communities;
- Led and/or participated on the European level advocacy (i.a. contributions to the BiH Progress Report on women’s and LGBTI rights; European Parliament Resolutions, EU-BiH Structural Dialogue on Justice consultations and written submissions; OSCE/ODIHR hate crime report submission; monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation on measures of combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity) and on international level (i.a. UPR written submissions, CEDAW Alternative Report and consultations) advocacy actions in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Introduced first ever human rights education of public officials in BiH about the infringements of human rights of LGBTI people (i.a. intensive training for police inspectors in 2013 and 2015 in FBiH; permanent education of 1300 police officers in 2014; intensive trainings for prosecutors and judges in 2014 and 2015);
Started a unique yearlong training and empowerment programme (Equality Academy) for MPs, representatives of executive power and political parties on cantonal, entity and state level in 2015;
- Based on our advocacy, four police stations in Sarajevo Canton, for the first time ever, appointed contact persons for LGBTI victims of human rights violations in 2014;
- Started the only intensive informal educational programme in BiH for students of law and journalism/media sciences on LGBTI rights, in order to educate and influence the next generation of leaders and stakeholders (2012-2016).
Highly increased visibility of LGBTI issues in BiH media by implementing different online, TV, radio and print media campaigns, giving a voice to the BiH LGBTI community and reaching out each year to more than 1,000.000 BiH citizens;
Raised awareness of the public on LGBTI and women’s rights issues by organizing dozens of public events (i.a. Merlinka LGBTI film festival in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016; theatrical reading of the revolutionary documentary drama “SEVEN” in 2013, 2015 and 2016; exhibition “All human beings are born equal and free in dignity and rights”; film screenings, discussions, exhibitions and film weekends) in Sarajevo, Mostar, Tuzla, Zenica and Banja Luka;
- Accurately informed the public about the human rights conditions of LGBTI people and women through production of knowledge as well as through promotion and countrywide distribution of publications (i.a. donations to libraries, promotions and presentations during festivals). Thus, only in 2015, we published over 30 publications that were printed in more than 15.000 copies in total;
Improved feminist debates in Sarajevo by running the feminist lecture programme “Somebody Said Feminism?” (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016).
Community empowerment and movement building:
- Provided accurate and relevant information on LGBTI rights and everyday life to the LGBTI community through the first and only BiH LGBTI info portal www.lgbt.ba;
Offered the only specialized legal counselling and legal representation to LGBTI persons in BiH;
Empowered LGBTI community and offered a safe place (i.a. through cultural events, monthly social events, community empowerment in Tuzla, Mostar, Sarajevo, Zenica and Banja Luka); http://soc.ba/en/programmes/lgbt/engaging-the-community/
Supported and led women’s rights movement development, by strengthening the BiH Women’s Network and continuing the only non-formal academic feminist programme – Žarana Papić’s School of Feminism;
- Supported the development of LGBTIQ activist groups and associations in Tuzla, Banja Luka and Mostar and their street actions. Supported foundation and work of Banja Luka Association of Queer Activists (BUKA), Liberta Mo association and Tuzla Open Centre.
Organizational capacity building and networking:
- Organized and/or attended different capacity building actions related to programme developments (i.a. free legal aid, documentation of human rights violations, advocacy and lobbying, trans* rights) as well as organisational and financial management.
What it means to us to be an ASTRA Network member?
Being a member of ASTRA Network means the opportunity to have all the relevant information regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights. Experiences from other ASTRA members and their countries are giving us the opportunity to figure out the problematic issues in our country as well as to figure out the solution for them. All these experiences and amazing people who are giving their best in order to end the violation of basic women's rights, such as the right to decide about her body, are giving us the strength to fight even harder in ending violations of women's rights in BiH.
Being a memeber of ASTRA Network means to learn more about solidarity and the importance of joint actions. In the end being a member od ASTRA Network means that we are not alone in our fight to live in society without discrimination, prejudices and human rights violations, we have our friends who will raise theit voice and who will fight with us.
More about Sarajevo Open Centre you can find in 2015: Annual Report of the Sarajevo Open Centre as well as on our website www.soc.ba, our Facebook account: Sarajevski Otvoreni Centar and our Twitter account: Sarajevo Open Centre.