Claude Cahn (Pic: ILGA-Europe)
The United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has said that Russia’s gay propaganda law is “inherently discriminatory”.
The statement was made at a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, between civil society experts and activists to discuss new laws adopted or proposed in several Eastern European countries that seek to restrict public discussion and dissemination of information concerning homosexuality and gender identity.
In recent years, ten regions of the Russian Federation have adopted such restrictions. The Parliament of Ukraine is considering similar measures.
Several municipalities in the Republic of Moldova have also adopted such rules, and in May 2013 the Moldovan Parliament passed amendments to the Contraventional Code punishing “propagation of any other relations than those related to marriage and the family in accordance with the Constitution and Family Code”, a coded reference to LGBT relationships.
On 30 June, the Russian president signed a bill into law that prohibits the promotion of “non-traditional” sexual relationships. The law effectively bars any expression or discussion of homosexuality in public, on television, in print or on the internet.
“The restrictions introduced in parts of Eastern Europe are inherently discriminatory in both intent and effect. The limitations they place on the exercise of rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and their impact on the work of human rights defenders,” said OHCHR Human Rights Adviser Claude Cahn.
According to Cahn, such measures form the basis for regular harassment, and even arbitrary detention, and help create a climate of fear for anyone working on advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
The restrictions imposed by these laws also limit access to age-appropriate information on sexuality – an important component of the right to education and essential if adolescents are to be able to lead fulfilled and healthy lives, he said.
He added that comprehensive, non-discriminatory sexuality education is an essential factor in the fight against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, a longstanding challenge in the region.
“Such laws chill public debate about sexual orientation and gender identity, in a region of the world which has never benefited from fact-based information about LGBT persons and groups,” said Cahn.
“Rather than banning so-called homosexual propaganda or non-traditional sexual relationships, legislators and political leaders across the region have a duty publicly to condemn violence and discrimination against LGBT people, and publicly affirm the importance of taking a stand against homophobia,” he asserted.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has previously said that “Homophobia and transphobia are no different to sexism, misogyny, racism or xenophobia, but whereas these last forms of prejudice are universally condemned by governments, homophobia and transphobia are too often overlooked.”