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LGBT people's free expression rights must be strengthened

A boy plays on a rainbow flag during a pride march in Manila, Philippines, December 2012
A boy plays on a rainbow flag during a pride march in Manila, Philippines, December 2012

REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

UPDATE from Human Rights Watch: UN: Landmark ministers' meeting on LGBT rights (26 September 2013)

On 17 May, International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO-T) 2013, ARTICLE 19 calls on states to strengthen protections of the right to freedom of expression for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people, and to end impunity for violence against LGBT people and human rights defenders.

"States must undertake decisive measures to protect the right to freedom of expression of LGBT people, who are one of the most discriminated against minorities around the world. Concerted action is required by States to end impunity for human rights violations targeting LGBT people and to create a legal, political and social environment in which all people may express themselves freely," said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

ARTICLE 19 observes that in 2013 human rights violations against LGBT people remain a global concern. LGBT people are killed, tortured, attacked, intimidated, harassed and even executed, arbitrarily detained or fined for expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity and speaking out for their fundamental human rights. Impunity for these violations is rife, and compounded in many countries by regressive and discriminatory laws that deny LGBT people their human rights, including to freedom of expression and information.

On IDAHO-T 2013, ARTICLE 19 identifies the following concerning trends in the past year that require urgent action from the international community to protect and promote the human rights of LGBT people:

Bans on "homosexual propaganda"

In a report launched earlier this year, ARTICLE 19 set out in detail how proposed and adopted bans on so-called "homosexual propaganda" in several countries violate the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and equality.

In January 2013, the Russian State Duma voted with alarming enthusiasm in favour of the first reading to a bill to ban the "propaganda of homosexuality", with the apparent aim of "protecting children". The bill is now open for comments until 25 May, after which it will go to a second reading. More than nine provinces or cities have adopted prohibitions on "homosexual propaganda" in Russia, including: Ryazan, Arkhangelsk, St Petersburg, Kostroma, Magadan, Novosibirsk, Krasnodar, Samara, Bashkortostan. These developments are in spite of a November 2012 ruling of the Human Rights Committee in the case of Fedotova v. Russia that the Ryazan ban violated the right to freedom of expression and equality.

Additionally, "homosexual propaganda" bans have been adopted in numerous regions and cities throughout Moldova, and considered in Ukraine, Hungary, Lithuania, and Uganda.

ARTICLE 19 finds that these bans deny LGBT people the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly - with the effect of depriving all people of information essential to participating in public life and asserting other fundamental human rights, in particular the right to an education and the right to health. Political rhetoric supporting these laws has also been linked to violent attacks on LGBT people in several countries.

Freedom of peaceful assembly

In many countries the right of LGBT people to collectively express themselves, including through public demonstrations and protests, is seriously curtailed. Where pride parades and other LGBT cultural events do take place, states often fail in their obligation to protect participants from violence by counter-demonstrators.

In Russia, in addition to bans on "homosexual propaganda" limiting the right to freedom of peaceful assemblies, authorities routinely deny applications by LGBT groups for gatherings such as pride parades and human rights marches. In June 2012, a Moscow court upheld a March ordinance banning LGBT pride parades for 100 years in the city. Nevertheless, unauthorised protests organised by LGBT activists have gone ahead since March 2013, including against the so-called "homosexual propaganda" ban, and led to violent clashes with counter-demonstrators. In May 2013, authorities in Moscow refused permission for two separate LGBT events in the city; the city authorities issuing a categorical rejection while the parks authority claimed no space was available, neither authority offered an alternative venue. The organisers are appealing these decisions.

In Lithuania in May 2013, municipal authorities in Vilnius refused permission for Baltic Pride 2013 to be held in the city centre, proposing an alternative isolated venue. Despite being ordered to reconsider this decision, the authorities are appealing the decision to the Supreme Administrative Court. Baltic Pride organisers are uncertain whether a decision will be reached before the planned date of the event, and are calling for an expedited procedure to determine its legality.

In Ukraine, on 8 December 2012, an LGBT rights rally in Kyiv was disrupted by violence against participants, coordinated by Svoboda, a political party represented in the Ukrainian Parliament. Several participants in the rally were detained by police, as well as a small number of Svoboda antagonists, all of whom faced administrative fines. An earlier LGBT rights rally in Kyiv in May 2012 was cancelled at the last minute as the police indicated that they did not have the capacity to adequately protect participants from violence.

In Serbia, in October 2012, the Prime Minister banned the LGBT pride events for a second year in a row, allegedly due to security concerns and for protecting public order. The 2011 ban was, however, ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Serbia in a decision of 18 April 2013.

In Georgia, on the occasion of IDAHO-T 2012, 13 activists from the Tbilisi-based LGBT organisation Identoba were attacked and 2 activists suffered serious injuries when police failed to protect participants from counter-demonstrators. Only two counter-demonstrators were charged with offences, both under the administrative code and fined 100 GEL (approximately £40 GBP, US$61). The 13 activists have applied for their case to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights.

Impunity for attacks on LGBT human rights defenders

Violence against LGBT people and against those who stand to protect their rights around the world remains a serious concern, and contributes to a climate of fear where people cannot freely express their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In June 2012, Taras Karasiichuk, who works for the LGBT rights organisation Gay Alliance Ukraine, was physically attacked and his jaw broken in after being asked his sexual orientation by his attacker. Karasiichuk was also one of the organisers of the Kyiv Pride in May 2012, which had been cancelled at the last minute due to safety concerns. Two other organisers Svyatoslav Sheremet and Maksim Kasyanchuk, were severely beaten by a group of around 10 men after an impromptu press conference announcing the cancellation of the event. Their attackers have not been found.

On November 18 2012, in Brazil, Lucas Fortuna, a journalist, LGBT activist and communication rights activist, was murdered. The investigation concluded that the murder was a common crime and not motivated by bias. Many of Lucas' family and friends wore skirts during his funeral as a sign of respect and solidarity, believing that he was attacked because of his sexual orientation and activism.

Since October 2012, lawyers in Cameroon representing two defendants accused of homosexual conduct, which is illegal under Cameroon's Criminal Code, began receiving death threats for carrying out their work. The Cameroonian authorities have reportedly failed to investigate the threats, leading to one of the lawyers fleeing the country and seeking asylum in the United States.

Protection of LGBT rights at the United Nations

Significant progress has been made to promote LBGTI rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), with the adoption of landmark resolution 17/19 on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity in 2011, leading to a ground-breaking OHCHR report on this issue. A follow-up resolution to 17/19 on LGBT rights is likely to be tabled at the HRC in June 2013.

However, at the same time we have seen efforts to undermine the protection of the rights of LGBT people at the HRC - often led and supported by countries attempting to divert attention from their own domestic human rights situations while distracting the HRC from its mandate.

For example, Russia has successfully called on the HRC to recognise "traditional values" as a vehicle for promoting human rights three times since 2009. "Traditional values" is a vague concept alien to the human rights framework, often invoked to justify rights abuses against LGBT people in countries including Russia, as well as violations against other minority and vulnerable groups.

In March 2013, Egypt withdrew a resolution on the "protection of the family", following opposition from many States fearing this was an attempt to advance a narrow definition of what constitutes a "family". If adopted, a resolution of this sort would not only threaten the LGBT rights agenda but undermine efforts to mainstream human rights protections for women and girls.

ARTICLE 19 calls on all states to oppose both of these regressive initiatives, and to unequivocally support the promotion and protection of LGBT rights at the HRC.


ARTICLE 19 hopes that IDAHO-T 2013 will provide an opportunity for states to strengthen the resolve of LGBT people, activists and their supporters to speak out against violations of human rights of LGBT people around the globe. We stand with advocates of equality and non-discrimination everywhere to call on States to take immediate action to strengthen the freedom of expression rights of LGBT people and end violence and discrimination against LGBT people and human rights defenders.

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