We mark today the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, which provides an opportunity to reflect on the challenges faced by the LGBTIQ+ community in Kosovo in enjoying their human rights and to raise awareness about discrimination, violence and prejudice facing this community.
The Kosovo Police plays a key role in protecting the rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or any other characteristics. To find out about the work of this law enforcement institution and obtain a deeper insight into the role it plays in protecting the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community in Kosovo, we held a conversation with Lieutenant Colonel Zylfije Dema, Director of the Directorate for Community Policing and Crime Prevention at the Kosovo Police Headquarters in Pristina.
“The primary duty of the Kosovo Police is to respect and protect human rights. Any violations of these rights against any group of people are unjustifiable and intolerable,” Dema adamantly says. “We are the first responders who prevent and fight hate crimes, which include crimes targeting individuals because of their sexual orientation, race, religion, ethnicity, and gender, and therefore, crimes against the LGBTIQ+ community,” she explains, adding that: “We are also very committed to offering support to the victims of these crimes,” says Dema, highlighting that everyone’s safety is one of the core principles of a democratic society.
To strengthen and advance the professionalism of the Kosovo Police, a Standard Operating Procedure on “Police approach in dealing with cases that involve LGBTIQ+ persons” and Guidelines were drafted to assist police officers to identify hate crimes.
Over the years, the Kosovo Police has invested in its human resources to raise awareness and improve professionalism of the first responders, so that victims of hate crimes can receive the best available victim-centred support. In addition, police officers who respond to incidents involving LGBTIQ+ individuals are specifically trained to be culturally aware, respectful, and non-discriminatory in their approach. “While handling hate crimes - in this case against the LBTIQ+ community - the Kosovo Police is committed to ensure that the victim is the centre of all measures that need to be undertaken. We ensure this by focusing on the security and safety of the victim, their privacy, confidentiality, respect, and non-discrimination,” explains Dema.
Specific trainings organized by Kosovo Police over the years focused on how to fight hate speech and derogatory language, with the aim to protect the well-being and safety of hate crime victims. “These types of trainings have significantly helped reduce the further victimization of victims and have consequently created a safer environment and increased trust in the police,” explains Dema.
She also recalled the importance of victim-centered rooms – inclusive spaces within Kosovo Police premises established thanks to the support of EULEX and the international community – which play a key role in providing a safe and comfortable environment to conduct interviews. “Such victims are treated in a very sensitive and unique manner. We make sure that they receive all the necessary legal, security and moral support throughout the investigation process,” emphasizes Dema.
Over the years, the communication bridge between the Kosovo Police and the LGBTIQ+ community has strengthened, and the police is striving to create a safe and supportive environment. “We have regular contact and meetings with the LGBTIQ+ community, whereby we discuss different issues and challenges. We also we make sure that we are contacted when it is needed,” points out Dema.
During the last year, six cases of hate crimes specifically targeting the LGBTIQ+ community have been reported to the Kosovo Police, and the Kosovo Police is continuously making sure that the LGBITQ+ community trusts this institution and approaches it in times of need.
The Kosovo Police also maintains a strong relationship and cooperation with local NGOs and international organizations who help raise awareness among the general population about the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community.
The Kosovo Police has organized many outreach campaigns in elementary schools, high schools, and universities throughout Kosovo, which included lectures, informative flyers and also televised public service announcements promoting equal rights, non-discrimination and inclusiveness for all communities living in Kosovo.
General awareness of this topic has evolved over the years, with many positive developments. Nevertheless, challenges remain. “There is still more to be done. We must continue to advocate that all humans have equal rights and have the right to be treated without prejudice and discrimination,” points out Dema.
Apart from being active on the ground, the Kosovo Police also has officers who monitor and directly deal with cybercrimes. As Dema highlights: “The moment when we receive a report on cyber bullying and a potential crime, we immediately undertake the necessary security steps to make sure that we isolate the crime and instigate a potential investigation.”
Throughout her 24 years of experience in the Kosovo Police, Lieutenant Colonel Zylfie Dema has served in different managerial positions. She has held her current position for almost a year now, and recognizes the support of her family and colleagues as key to her success. At home, she is a wife and a mother of two children, and she tries to switch off and enjoy as much quality time as possible when she’s away from work.
“Everyone has the basic right to live their lives as they wish and no one is immune to violence,” points out Dema, while calling on everyone to be tolerant, understanding, and empathetic towards all people without distinction.