Authorities should protect Equality Festival

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) asks that Zaporozhie Regional and City- Authorities protect the Equality Festival scheduled for 24 September. The organizers have been met with homophobic and transphobic threats from right wing extremists as well as protests from the City authorities, and the Jewish Community Center "Max Grant" that should have been the festival venue cancelled their contract due to fear of repercussions.

On 20 September 2016, the NHC sent letters to the Konstantin Bryl, Head of Zaporozhie Regional State Administration, and Vladimir Buryak, Mayor of Zaporozhie, urging that they take all necessary measures to support and safeguard the event.

–We are concerned about the safety of the organizers and the participants and ask that Ukrainian authorities express their support and provide effective protection, says Mina Skouen, Advisor on LGBTI in NHC. – This previous year hate groups have repeatedly proven that they are prepared to use violence against these kind of events, and we are surprised to see that in several of these cases the city authorities do not speak up against ,– or they even condone attacks.

The Equality Festivals, organized by the LGBTIQ organization “Insight” in several Ukrainian cities every year, with financial support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Using exhibitions, concerts, films and debates, the organizers bring people together to show how fighting for equal rights should be a common struggle for a Ukraine where all people can have their own cultural expressions – regardless of their identity or group belonging. In addition to sexual and gender minorities, it engages women, ethnic minorities, people with special needs, migrants, internally displaced persons and homeless people. The festivals have continuously been targets for hate groups.

The most serious incidents happened when the festival was organized in Lviv in March 2016. Following several weeks of threats approximately two hundred right wing extremists gathered around the hotel where the festival took place. Upon a bomb threat to the hotel, all participants had to evacuate and the festival was cancelled. Several people were beaten, and the organizers had to flee from the city. Despite repeated inquiries, there were no proper response from the city administration and the police.

– We witnessed a situation where hate groups could freely disrupt a public event and put citizens at risk. Our colleagues were left to handle a clearly dangerous situation by themselves, says Skouen. – The authorities in Zaporozhie must make it clear that the organizers will not find themselves in such a position when they proceed with their events this weekend.

–This is an opportunity for Ukrainian authorities to demonstrate their commitment to human rights and democratic values, and for the police to show that they are able and willing to protect the safety of its citizens, says Skouen. -It is important that Ukrainian authorities show that they fully support initiatives that contribute to an open and inclusive society.

NHC urges Ukrainian authorities to:

– Express their full support for the Equality festival;

– Take necessary measures to safeguard the festival, its organizers and the participants;

– Ensure that there will be no impunity for homophobic and transphobic acts of violence.

Letter to Konstantin Bryl

Letter to Vladimir Buryak