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Wednesday, 7 April 2010

World’s first intergovernmental agreement on LGBT rights; Commentary

Map of the Council of Europe.Image via Wikipedia
Source: ILGA-Europe

Today 31 March the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, representing the national governments of its 47 Member States, unanimously adopted historic Recommendations on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is the world’s first intergovernmental agreement codifying the application of human rights standards to LGBT people.

The Recommendations establish how international human rights standards should be applied to LGBT people and contain specific measures for Member States on how they should improve their legislation, policies and practices to address discrimination against LGBT people in such areas as
  • hate crime and hate speech;
  • freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly;
  • right to respect for private and family life;
  • employment;
  • education;
  • health;
  • housing;
  • sports;
  • right to seek asylum.
Additionally, the Recommendations prescribe that Member States should ensure that national human rights structures are clearly mandated to address discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. They also encourage Member States to address multiple discrimination experienced by LGBT people.

ILGA-Europe’s only regret is that the Member States did not go as far as we hoped for in some areas, particularly family rights.

Martin K.I. Christensen, Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, said:
“This is a truly historical development! For the first time in history the European continent came together to codify human rights’ applications to LGBT people. As we celebrate this landmark in European human rights history, we also hope that these Recommendations will help to advance the human rights for LGBT people beyond Europe.”
Linda Freimane, Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, added:
“These Recommendations go well beyond the current situation in many European countries for LGBT people and will surely serve as a blueprint for our members in working with their national governments. We will also follow closely the three year review mechanism agreed by the Committee of Ministers to ensure the full implementation. Finally, we encourage the Council of Europe to organise a campaign among its Member States to promote these Recommendations.”

Commentary by Nikolai Baev
Co-organiser of Moscow Pride


Russia is part of the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe which ratified the new recommendation. Yet Russia’s Executive and Judicial authorities keep professing a well developed homophobic ideology

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe unanimously adopted a new recommendation on combating homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  This recommendation is truly historic.  However, a key question remains: will the Russian government implement these recommendations while openly professing an homophobic ideology?

The Russian delegation in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe agreed with the text of the recommendation which calls on member states to guarantee the civil rights of homosexuals, as well as to protect them against homophobia and discrimination.

However, all is not as easy as it seems, especially in a country like Russia, where political power has always suffered from schizophrenia, and where one authority or one ministry are often going in opposite directions on similar issues.

I am afraid that, in this case, the Russian delegation in the Council of Europe, as usual, tried to throw dust into the eyes of the most tolerant European Countries, agreeing with the recommendation supporting LGBT rights while knowing that Russia has no intention to implement it nether today nor in the future.

Let us turn to the first paragraph of the Recommendation:

“1. Examine existing legislative and other measures, keep them under review, and collect and analyse relevant data, in order to monitor and redress any direct or indirect discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

What a recommendation for Russia!  Last week, as the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe were in session, the Russian Constitutional Court legalised the ban of “propaganda of homosexuality to minors”, in force since 2006 in the region of Ryazan.  This political decision which goes against the European Convention on Human Rights opens the door to similar ban in other regions or at the federal level.

Instead of identifying “direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity”, as the recommendation says, the Russian authorities on the contrary legalised them!

But that’s not all. What about Russian officials who openly expressed their homophobic views?

The Governor of the Tambov region, Oleg Betin, said, about gays, that he wants to “tear them into pieces”, while the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, who bans any LGBT public rallies in his city, consider gays as “Satanic”.  And what about the State Duma Deputy, Viktor Ilyukhin, who advocates for the re-criminalisation of homosexual relations?

Are these officials going to change their views and start to promote tolerance and to guarantee to LGBT people the realisation of their civil rights?

And what about the newly appointed Deputy Minister of Justice, Vasily Likhachev, who declared when he was still a Senator that “the steps taken by the representatives of non-traditional orientation are contrary to the general state of morals of the Russian society.  This is not our culture and our form of relations”.

This is how he justified the refusal of the Ministry of Justice to register the LGBT organisation Marriage Equality, which is fighting for equal rights for same-sex couples in Russia.  In its recommendation, the Council of Europe included the guarantee of freedom of association for sexual minorities, as well as the promotion of family equality for same-sex couples.

Moreover, the reference by Likhachev on “culture” and “our form of relationship” in principle is contrary to the recommendation, as the text clearly states: “Bearing in mind the principle that neither cultural, traditional nor religious values, nor the rules of a ‘dominant culture’ can be invoked to justify hate speech or any other form of discrimination, including on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity”

Ironically, Mr Likhachev has just been appointed to a new position with the mandate to bring the Russian legislation in line with the international obligations of Russia.  In other words, the Recommendation of the Council of Europe on the fight against homophobia and discrimination against sexual minorities falls directly into the hands of a notorious homophobe!

How his Ministry will handle the Council of Europe’s recommendation?  I think it is easy to guess…

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