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During a meeting at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has called on Russia to repeal its “gay propaganda” laws which heavily discriminate against LGBTI people. 

At the meeting in Warsaw today, IHEU director of advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, spoke about the continuing grave situation for LGBTI people and activists in Russia, as well as in Kyrgyzstan. She argued that both discriminatory laws (draft laws in Kyrgyzstan’s case) and the climate of impunity and hate they help foster have worked to severely undermine the freedoms of LGBTI people to assemble, associate and express themselves.

People in Russia march in opposition to its “gay propaganda law”

Russia criminalises public assembly and association of LGBTI groups and restricts the work of organizations defending LGBTI people and their rights. Kyrgyzstan is still in the process of trying to pass laws seeking to do the same thing.

In both countries severe persecution and violence against LGBTI people from vigilante groups has been evident for a number of years.

Following the passing of a law banning the distribution of information LGBT relationships to children in 2013 (the law bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships”) a report by Human Rights Watch detailed the many cases of violence, showing that whilst Russian law enforcement agencies have the tools to prosecute homophobic violence, they fail to do so. The report observed: “Aside from several isolated investigations, the authorities have done little to hold assailants accountable. Instead of publicly denouncing anti-LGBT violence and rhetoric, Russia’s leadership has remained silent. In some cases public officials have engaged in explicit anti-LGBT hate speech.”

Likewise since the drafting of a similar law in Kyrgyzstan began a few years ago, LGBTI rights organizations have reported an increase in vigilante violence against them. One group reported that “in the past two years we have seen a real escalation of violence against members of the LGBT community, and this trend started with the introduction of this homophobic bill. Many people who attack us justify their behaviour with the fact that this bill allows them to punish and harm the LGBT community.”

O’Casey called on Russia to repeal its harmful and discriminatory laws against LGBTI people, and urged Kyrgyzstan to cease action on passing theirs. She called on both states to protect LGBTI persons from attacks and reprisals, and ended her intervention by calling on Russia to urgently investigate the unlawful repression in Chechnya of its LGBTI population.

Her Statement follows in full below:


International Humanist and Ethical Union
Statement for Working Session II,
Human Dimension Implementation Meetings 2017

Elizabeth O’Casey

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association of LGBTI people

The OSCE Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly prohibit any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This inclusion is important, since as recognised by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, LBGTI people are some of the most vulnerable in terms of having their rights to free association and peaceful assembly denied.

Currently Russia – and potentially Kyrgyzstan through draft laws – violates these basic rights with laws that criminalise public assembly and association of LGBTI groups and restrict the work of organizations defending LGBTI people and their rights. Moreover, such laws have been accompanied by bans and proposed bans on non-governmental organizations receiving funding from abroad, allegedly in order to curb the influence of “foreign agents.”

The 2013 Russian law banning the distribution of material on LGBTI rights is officially for “the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values.” The underlying assumptions upon which this ‘purpose’ relies are morally obnoxious and benighted, and amount to state-sponsored hate speech against a minority group.

Indeed, anti-LGBTI initiatives, like the homosexual “propaganda” laws and bans on LGBTI peaceful assembly, suggest that homophobia is officially sanctioned, and inevitably inculcates a climate of impunity and hate, further inhibiting the freedom of assembly and association of LGBTI people.

Vigilante acts, including outing, hunting, torture and even murder of known or suspected LGBTI people and activists, have been reported in Russia, and in Chechnya state instruments have been implicated in violence. In Kyrgyzstan, whilst homophobia is not a new phenomenon, local activists have observed that the draft law has created a permissive climate in which vigilante groups feel justified to take the law into their own hands, often with the silent approval of state institutions.

Whilst some OSCE participating states may argue that there are no specific commitments on this issue, the Copenhagen document, Ministerial Decision No. 9/09 on Combating Hate Crimes, and international human rights standards make plain the grave violations against the realisation of freedom of peaceful assembly such laws encapsulate.

In sum, states have an unequivocal obligation to protect right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly without discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

To that end, we call on Russia to repeal its discriminatory provisions and urge Kazakhstan to halt the process of introducing its ‘gay propaganda’ and ‘foreign agent’ laws.

We call on both states to protect LGBTI persons seeking to associate and assemble from attacks and reprisals through preventive measures and by investigating attacks, prosecuting perpetrators and ensuring remedy for victims.

Finally, we call for full investigation of all the facts about unlawful repression in Chechnya of its LGBTI population, punish the guilty parties and put an end to the practice of extra-judicial violence and killings in the republic.

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