Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 15:07 GMT

Russia: Planned ban on "homosexual propaganda" discriminates, censors human rights work and undermines freedom of expression for all

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 19 December 2012
Cite as Article 19, Russia: Planned ban on "homosexual propaganda" discriminates, censors human rights work and undermines freedom of expression for all, 19 December 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50eea0d52.html [accessed 23 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

ARTICLE 19 calls on members of the Russian State Duma to reject proposals to ban so-called "homosexual propaganda" in a draft federal Law that has its first reading today (19 December 2012). Proposals in the Draft Federal Law No. 44554-6 create administrative offences that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. This law will also mean that everyone in Russia will be denied access to information about a range of issues relating to sexuality and gender identity.

ARTICLE 19 considers this law to be part of a wider trend in Russia to crackdown on criticism and exert greater social control. ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned that these proposals, together with other recent legal changes, will legitimise violence against those who speak out on human rights issues.

ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that this law could, and most likely will, be replicated by other countries in the region.

"It could not be any clearer, international human rights law protects the rights of LGBT people to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly" said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

"The proposed law blatantly discriminates against LGBT people and deprives them of their fundamental right to freedom of expression. What's more, if this law comes into force, everyone in Russia will be denied their right to information on issues related to sexuality and gender identity. This information is crucial for other fundamental rights also – people need information to be able to participate in their democracy, to access health services, and to receive an education."

The proposed law would amend Russia's Code of Administrative Offences to make any "propaganda for homosexuality among minors" an offence punishable by fines of 4,000 to 5,000 rubles (GBP £100) for individuals, 40,000 to 50,000 for officials (GBP £1000) and 400,000 to 500,000 rubles (GBP £10,000) for organisations.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said he does not support laws prohibiting homosexual propaganda and that "not all relations between people can be regulated by the law."

The Russian State Duma's attempt to entrench discrimination against LGBT people at the federal level shows blatant disregard to their international human rights obligations and the decisions of international courts. ARTICLE 19 notes that nine provinces and cities in Russia have already adopted prohibitions on "homosexual propaganda", including: St Petersburg, Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, Kostroma, Magadan, Novosibirsk, Krasnodar, Samara, and Bashkortostan. Other regions and cities in Russia are considering similar measures.

"We are witnessing an onslaught of attacks against freedom of expression in Russia. The space for people to openly criticise government and to assert their human rights is becoming increasingly limited. The proposed law will add to a growing legislative arsenal – giving them yet more power to restrict free speech, and legitimise violence and discrimination against people working to defend human rights defenders in the country. The potential for other countries in the region to follow suit is particularly disturbing and as we have seen before with other provisions, quite possible" Callamard added.

Any legislative act of the State Duma in this area is likely to have wider ramifications beyond Russia's borders. The trend for countries to follow Russia's example on human rights matters is deeply troubling. A number of Moldovan cities and regions have adopted similar prohibitions on "homosexual propaganda" already, and attempts to introduce measures have been made in the Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Hungary.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Russian State Duma to reject Draft Federal Law No. 44554-6 and for local and regional legislatures to take immediate steps to repeal prohibitions on so-called "homosexual propaganda". The freedom of expression rights of LGBT people must be respected and the rights of all human rights defenders in Russia fully protected.

LGBT rights in the Russian context:

The UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have both already found that Russia has violated its human rights obligations by restricting the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly rights of LGBT people.

In a decision on 19 November 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee held that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protected the right to publicly give expression to one's sexual identity and seek understanding for it. LGBT activist Irina Fedotova had been detained and fined 1,500 rubles under a local law in Ryazan Oblast for demonstrating with signs asserting "I am proud of my homosexuality" and "homosexuality is normal". The Russian government was ordered to refund Irina Fedotova's fines, to pay her legal costs and provide compensation for the violation of her rights.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that repeated prohibitions on pride parades in Moscow violated Nikolai Alekseyev's right to freedom of peaceful assembly and non-discrimination. The Court categorically dismissed Russia's claim that such restrictions were necessary to protect children from harm. The Court said that a "predisposed bias on the part of a heterosexual majority against a homosexual minority" was not a sufficient justification for interfering with the applicants' rights. However, in August of 2012, the local legislature in Moscow banned pride events in the city for the next 100 years.

Numerous international human rights mechanisms have recognised that access to information relating to sexual orientation and gender identity are crucial to the attainment of other human rights. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health has stated that "[c]riminal and other laws restricting access to comprehensive education and information on sexual and reproductive health are … incompatible with the full realization of the right to health and should be removed by States."

LGBT activists in Russia indicate that violence against the community is increasing since the adoption of these laws. Earlier this year a gay bar in Moscow had been ransacked and its patrons violently attacked as they celebrated National Coming Out Day.

Since the prohibition in St Petersburg, Nikolai Alekseyev has again been prosecuted for holding a sign in public stating that "homosexuality is not a perversion" and 17 individuals were arrested for participating in a civil rights march. Proceedings were initiated against the artist Madonna following her speaking out in favour of LGBT rights at a concert in St Petersburg in August. A judge dismissed the case on 22 November. A political ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin has similarly sought the prosecution of Lady Gaga under the same law for calls for respect for LGBT rights she made during a concert in the city on 9 December."

ARTICLE 19 is strongly opposed to concerted Russian efforts at the UN Human Rights Council to embed the concept of "traditional values" in the international human rights framework. This vague concept subverts the universality of human rights and seeks to legitimise discriminatory practices, including against LGBT people. UN Human Rights Council Member States must reject future attempts to limit fundamental human rights by reference to "traditional values".

Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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