Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2017, 17:20 GMT

Russia: Ban on "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" violates international law

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 11 June 2013
Cite as Article 19, Russia: Ban on "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" violates international law, 11 June 2013, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
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 is deeply concerned that the Russian State Duma today approved a ban on "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" under the guise of "child protection" measures. The adopted bill violates the rights of all people to free expression, and discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

ARTICLE 19 believes that this bill is part of a deeply concerning wider effort by the Russian authorities to crack down on dissent and exert greater social control. It also forms parts of efforts by Russia at the international level to promote "traditional values" at the expense of protecting universal human rights.

We call on President Putin to veto this bill and protect the right to freedom of expression for all people, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"This ban will deprive young people from accessing information that is of vital importance for their mental and physical integrity. It's unthinkable and retrogressive in the extreme, that people could be punished for sharing information about public health or education, including on crucial issues such as HIV" said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

"The ban will further perpetuate harmful stereotypes that will legitimise discrimination and violence against LGBT people. This is just the latest example of Russia tightening the screws on civil society and further evidence of sustained efforts by the authorities to exert greater social control" added Callamard.

Bill 44554-6 (the Bill) was adopted today by the State Duma with alarming majority support. The Bill was adopted without substantive discussion or comments, and will become law following the signature of President Putin, likely to take place in the coming weeks.

The Bill introduces a series of amendments to existing legislation, including to the Administrative Code of Offences and the Federal Law "on the Protection of Children from Harmful Information to their Health and Development". It was introduced to supposedly "protect children from information that promotes negation of traditional family values".

The Bill now bans the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among children", abandoning the language of "homosexual propaganda" seen in previous drafts. "Non-traditional sexual relations" is a term borrowed from Russian judicial decisions, and refers to any sexual relationship not between one man and one woman. The Bill is therefore clearly still aimed at silencing activists advocating for equal human rights for LGBT people.

The bill introduces a series of administrative penalties for so-called "propaganda":

For individual citizens, fines between 4,000 and 5,000 RUB (100 GBP);

For officials, fines between 40,000 and 50,000 RUB (1000 GBP);

For foreign nationals, fines between 4,000 and 5,000 RUB (100 GBP) and detention for up to 15 days followed by deportation;

For legal entities (e.g. non-governmental organisations), fines between 800,000 and 1,000,000 RUB (20,000 GBP), or the suspension of activities for up to 90 days.

Fines may be increased considerably where "propaganda" takes place with the use of mass media and/or the Internet. For individuals (citizens or non-citizens) fines increase to between 50,000 and 100,000 RUB (1,500 GBP); for officials to between 100,000 and 200,000 RUB (4000 GBP), and for legal entities to a minimum of 1,000,000 RUB (20,000 GBP) or suspension of activities for 90 days.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned at reports that today at least 25 demonstrators opposing the Bill have been arrested and detained in Moscow, although no counter-demonstrators were detained. Yesterday, a number of activists demonstrating against the law in St Petersburg were also attacked. We remind the Russian authorities that all individuals have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and only non-peaceful demonstrators should face any sanctions.

ARTICLE 19 believes that not only President Putin must refuse to sign the Bill but also the Government must take immediate steps to repeal regional bans on "homosexual propaganda" that have been adopted over the last several years.

ARTICLE 19 also calls on the international community, including the Council of Europe, OSCE, and the European Union, to make strong statements against the Bill and reject all attempts of Russia to introduce the concept of "traditional values" into international law.


ARTICLE 19 notes that at the regional level in Russia several provinces and cities have already adopted prohibitions on "homosexual propaganda". These include: Ryazan, St Petersburg, Arkhangelsk, Kostroma, Magadan, Novosibirsk, Krasnodar, Samara, Bashkortostan and Kaliningrad. Similar bans have been discussed in numerous other regions.

The impact of these bans have already been felt by LGBT activists in Russia, who have recorded instances of:

increased numbers of bias-motivated crimes, including two murders in the last two months;

denials of authorisation requests for public assemblies, as well as arrests and confiscations of materials during demonstrations;

failures by police to protect LGBT demonstrators from violent counter-demonstrators.

By adopting the Bill, Russia contradicts decisions by both the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee (HR Committee). In Fedotova v. Russia, for example, the HR Committee found that the application of a ban on "homosexual propaganda" in Ryazan region violated the rights to freedom of expression and non-discrimination. The decision is categorical that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to express one's sexual orientation and seek understanding for it. Russia's disregard for the decisions of international human rights bodies and contempt for international standards on freedom of expression and non-discrimination is incredibly concerning.

Moreover, 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."

ARTICLE 19 believes that these restrictions should also be considered in their broader context, in particular:

In Russia, numerous new laws also pose a serious a threat to the survival of all civil society groups, including LGBT organisations. These include the Law on Meetings, Rallies, Demonstrations, Processions and Pickets, and the Non-Commercial Organisations Law (Foreign Agents Law). The Federal "propaganda ban" merely provides an additional tool to Russian authorities to stigmatise human rights defenders and eliminate dissent.

Many countries in the region look to Russia as an example on human rights matters, meaning that this law will have ramifications beyond Russia's borders. Bans on homosexual propaganda have, for example, already been adopted or considered in Lithuania, Ukraine, Hungary and Moldova. Similar measures have also been tabled further afield in legislatures in Nigeria and Uganda.

Russia has been making concerted efforts at the UN Human Rights Council to embed the concept of "traditional values" in the international human rights framework. We are strongly opposed to this initiative. This vague concept subverts the universality of human rights and seeks to legitimise discriminatory practices, including against LGBT people. All UN Member States must oppose this initiative.

More information:

ARTICLE 19 has been monitoring violations of the right to freedom of expression in Russia for a number of years, including recent developments around "homosexual propaganda" bans:

ARTICLE 19 yesterday called upon the European Union to sustain pressure on States that have adopted or are considering bans on "homosexual propaganda". For more information, click here.

ARTICLE 19's report Traditional Values? Censoring Sexuality, available in English, Russian and French, comprehensively sets out why bans on "homosexual propaganda" violate international human rights law.

At the Universal Periodic Review of Russia at the UN Human Rights Council in April 2013, ARTICLE 19 called on Russia to repeal a number of oppressive laws restricting the right to freedom of expression and the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and assembly. For more information, click here.

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