The newly adopted law punish positive and neutral expressions regarding homosexuality with fines up to 1 million rubles. The legislation poses a threat to freedom of assembly and expression of LGBTI persons, which is among Russia’s most vulnerable minorities. High fines as well as deportation will also be imposed on foreign citizens, and jeopardize support from the international community. Similar laws have already been adopted in several regions; including Ruazan, Archangelsk, Novosibirsk, Magadansk, Samara, Bashkortostan, Krasnodar and St. Petersburg.
– With these laws, Russian authorities effectively institutionalize homophobic and transphobic discrimination, says Secretary General Bjørn Engesland. – We are deeply concerned as to how this will impact the possibility for LGBTI activists and organizations to continue their activities, as well as for their personal security.
Only the last month, two persons have been murdered in Russia due to their sexual orientation. Several public manifestations have been banned or dispersed in a brutal manner. Recent examples include the brutal interruption of a picket in Moscow, where the police detained several peaceful participants as well as the arrest of 25 activists protesting the adoption of the federal law outside the State Duma. The LGBTI organization Coming Out was convicted for failing to register as “foreign agents”, and will have to pay a fine of 500 000 Rubles. This is the second LGBTI organization that has been convicted under this law, out of four Russian convictions in total.
The legislation will have severe consequences for the everyday life of all LGBTI people which do not participate in public activities. This last week-end a lesbian couple was detained in St. Petersburg when refusing to let go of each other when embracing in the subway, and the second hearing of a suggestion to prohibit adoption of Russian children (both in Russia and by couples living abroad) passed yesterday. Recent statements by political figures indicates that there might be attempts to pass amendments to the family law that allow the state to remove children which live in a same-sex household.
The wider trend of a worsening human rights situation
The 2013 Index on LGBTI rights in Europe, recently issued by ILGA Europe, documents the rights and lives for LGBTI in European countries. Russia is at the very bottom of the Index, but unfortunately not the only country with alarming results. The Index shows that hate crimes, criminalization of so-called “homosexual propaganda”, non-existent or pro-forma protection against discrimination, and populous homophobic and transphobic attitudes prevail in several countries in Eastern and South Eastern Europe.
One of the countries where the situation is rapidly deteriorating is Ukraine. Proposed legislation criminalizing so called “homosexual propaganda” will effectively target the core activities of LGBTI organizations, which may be punishable by up to five years in prison and substantial fines. The LGBTI community was excluded from the draft anti-discrimination law; effectively leaving LGBTI with no specific protection against discrimination. This development calls for immediate action as the LGBTI are frequently subject to hate crimes and human rights violations. In October 2012, Armen Ovcharuk was murdered on his way home from a gay club in Kiev. There are frequent arrests of persons organizing public events and examples of policemen not interfering when LGBTI people are attacked by hooligans. Possible hate crimes are rarely investigated in a proper manner, nor are perpetrators prosecuted even when their identity is known to the police.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was present at the Kiev Pride Parade on 25 May 2013. The parade, initially foreseen to be held in the city center, was banned at the last moment, but a small event was allowed seven kilometers outside of the center. Approximately 100 persons attended. The participants were met by several hundred protesters, fortunately kept at a distance by the police. Although the parade turned out modest and took place in a remote area, it was still an important event, as it refuted the justification of the ban which was that the police could not ensure public safety.
Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Belarus also face criticism in the Index. Hate crimes and hate speech by people in high positions within state authorities and religious institutions are frequent. In 2012 a gay club in Armenia, DIY, was graphitized with neo-nazi slogans and attacked by a petrol bomb, and the only legal prosecution concerns damage on property. In Georgia a parade held to mark the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO) on 17 May 2013 was attacked by huge numbers of protesters who broke through the police barricades and injured several of the participants. In Belarus public events are banned or broken up, registration of organizations is not approved and there is no protection against discrimination for LGBTI persons.
In Central Asian countries people are openly encouraged to violence against LGBTI persons. Same sex sexual relations is illegal in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which was highlighted during the UPR hearing of these countries. The authorities of both countries refuted the criticism arguing that such practice is incompatible with mentality and culture in society.
Even though the Index shows that there have been positive developments in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, the bans on Belgrade Pride in 2009, 2011 and 2012, frequent incidents of hate speech and attacks on LGBTI persons and human rights organizations in Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo, as well as the threats and attempted attacks on Pride marches in Croatia indicate that the rights of LGBTI have not been sufficiently secured. Hate crimes are common, but they are not investigated properly.
Norway should promote rights both internationally and at home
Norwegian authorities should make it clear that they will accept no compromises when it comes to compliance with international law; including obligations to respect and protect the rights of LGBTI persons. Norway has been a frontrunner in promotion of LGBTI rights both in Norway and internationally. This makes Norwegian authorities an international actor which holds high integrity that can provide well founded recommendations to their international counterparts.
Still, the ILGA Index and reports from Norwegian LGBTI organizations show that there still are urgent issues that remain before LGBTI persons in Norway enjoy full protection and personal security. This concerns in particular the practice of compulsory sterilization if persons who want to change their legal gender status.
It is also necessary that additional measures be applied to combat discrimination and violence among particularly vulnerable LGBTI groups, such as people living in asylum centers or belonging to conservative communities.