Thomas Hammarberg: Pride events are still hindered – this violates freedom of assembly
Statement from Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg:
Gay pride events planned this spring have met with obstacles yet again. Meetings and marches to promote equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons have been banned or subject to threats and violence in Moscow, Bratislava, Vilnius and Chisinau.
In Moscow gay pride events scheduled for 29 May were banned as the authorities claimed they were unable to guarantee the security of the participants, and they wanted to avoid traffic jams. The organisers appealed against the decision, but the court upheld the ban. However, some gay rights activists managed to hold a brief protest in central Moscow.
Gay pride events in Moscow have now been banned for the last five years. This has prompted the organisers to file a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
On 22 May in Slovakia the Bratislava Rainbow Pride was marked with violence and attacks by neo-Nazi protesters, who threw eggs and stones and used tear-gas. The route had to be changed and the parade could not go through the centre of Bratislava. The police were criticised for not having allocated more officers to this event.
More policemen than demonstrators
On 8 May the Baltic Pride took place in Lithuania. However, a decision by the Supreme Administrative Court was needed to uphold the permission to go ahead. The march took place under heavy police protection and with a significant number of hostile protesters surrounding it. The hostility towards the event meant that the police outnumbered the participants.
In Moldova the LGBT Festival “Rainbow over the Dniester” which was planned for 2 May was cancelled due to the dismissal by the Chisinau Court of Appeal of a request to hold the festival in the main square in the Moldovan capital. The court ruled that the demonstration should take place in a park, but this was rejected by the organisers.
States must protect peaceful demonstrations
More than 20 gay pride events were organised in European cities during the month of May. In most cases there were no major problems reported. However, almost without exception, there were some incidents of disturbance or violence targeting these events – a fact which underlines the need for competent police protection.
The European Court of Human Rights has made clear that the State has a duty to protect the participants in peaceful demonstrations, specifying that “this obligation is of particular importance for persons holding unpopular views or belonging to minorities, because they are more vulnerable to victimisation”.
The Court has also stressed that peaceful demonstrations cannot be banned simply because of hostile attitudes to the demonstrators or to the causes they advocate. This was confirmed in Baczkowski and others v. Poland which dealt with the banning of an LGBT pride parade in Warsaw in 2005.
The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental rights in a democratic society and belong to all people, not just the majority.