Ukrainian authorities failed to protect fundamental human rights in Lviv

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee condemns this weekend’s attacks on the “Equality Festival Lviv-2016”. The event, celebrating diversity and human rights, was attacked by homophobic and transphobic groups and eventually cancelled after a bomb threat to the festival venue. Several people were beaten, and the organizers had to leave Lviv. Despite repeated inquiries, there were no proper response from the city administration and the police.

– This was an opportunity for the Lviv city administration to express their commitment to human rights and democratic values, and for the police to show that they are able to protect the safety of its citizens, says General Secretary Bjørn Engesland. – Instead we witnessed a situation where hate groups could freely disrupt a public event and put citizens at risk, and how our colleagues were left to handle a clearly dangerous situation by themselves.

Instead of declaring support for the festival and condemning homophobic and transphobic acts, the Mayor of Lviv, Andrii Sadovyi, criticized the organizers in a Facebook post.

The organizer of the festival, the LGBTIQ organization Insight, has been met with massive resistance while planning the event. This intensified this last week.

– 14 March the festival venue informed the organizers that they were no longer able to host the event, after there were no reassurances from the city administration that they would provide protection of the premises.

– 15 March deputies in the City Administration submitted a proposal to ban the event. claiming that the it would endanger the general public and be a provocation against Lviv’s religious population.

– 17 March, upon arrival in Lviv the organizers were not allowed to check into their hotel. The hotel administrator said the city authorities had told them that the organizers were perverts and said people like them should burn in hell.

– 18 March were all public events between 19 and 21 March banned by a local court

18 March two hundred right wing extremists gathered around the hotel where the festival took place. The police did not intervene, claiming that they were only there to meet friends. Upon a bomb threat to the hotel, all participants had to evacuate the hotel and the festival was cancelled. The extremist groups patrolled the streets looking for people that they perceived to be gay. Several people were beaten and the organizers had to leave Lviv.

– We are concerned about the safety of the activists in Lviv right now, says Engesland. – The homophobic and transphobic groups have made it very clear that they do not hesitate to fulfill their threats.

This was not an impulsive act made by disorganized mob. There have been systematic threats over time, directly aimed at venues and persons involved with the festival. While patrolling downtown Lviv, the assilants were asking for the head of Insight, Olena Shevchenko, by name. After the festival was cancelled and the organizers had to leave the city, this was proclaimed as a victory by homophobic and transphobic groups in social media.

This festival is one in a series of cultural events organized by the LGBTIQ organization Insight, with the aim to draw attention to the challenges and diversity for Ukraine’s most vulnerable groups. Using exhibitions, concerts, films and debates, it brings people together to promote the rights of sexual and gender minorities, women, ethnic minorities, people with special needs, migrants, internally displaced persons and homeless people. The festival is supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee ask that the City Administration:

– Express clearly that the attacks on the «Equality Festival Lviv-2016» will not be tolerated

– Show that there will be no impunity for homophobic and transphobic acts, and that they fully
support initiatives that contribute to an open and inclusive society.

– Take necessary measures to ensure that the people who participated in the festival will not
suffer repercussions