Regional event on homosexuality ‘anti-propaganda’ laws: new approaches to the problem are needed
At the end of May ILGA-Europe organised a regional event on ‘anti-propaganda’ laws. The event had the aim to provide place for the LGBTI organisations and human rights organisations to exchange experiences in responding to legislative initiatives banning so-called ‘propaganda’ homosexuality in order to elaborate a joint strategy on dealing with the these homophobic laws and coordinate messages and actions to effectively respond the related challenges. The event was held in Kiev, Ukraine to attract international attention the current situation around Ukrainian ‘anti-propaganda’ laws and to get a public statement of Ukrainian authorities on the issue of ‘anti-propaganda’ laws.
The representatives of NGOs from the countries affected by these legislative initiatives participated in the event: the LGBT Network and Coming Out from Russia, the LGBT Rada from Ukraine), GENDERDOC-M from Moldova and Lithuanian Gay League Lithuania. International human rights organisations: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Article 19, Stonewall, COC Netherlands Open Society Foundation, American Bar Association, as well as representatives of international institutions (Council of Europe and EU delegation office in Ukraine, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)) and embassies in Ukraine (Dutch, French, British, USA, and Canadian) were also invited to the event. With the scope to involve in the dialog the Ukrainian authorities the Ukrainian Ombudsman Office and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have been invited.
The first day of the event was dedicated to internal strategising process of NGOs working in countries where these laws are promoted and adopted. The second day of the event was dedicated to an open dialog between the civil society and the representatives of different institutions.
The discussion started with the short review of the situations in each country followed by the discussion on how each particular case can be addressed. Further, the representatives of the international human rights organisations invited to the event shared their experience and expertise in this area with the participants and contributed to the discussion on developing the approaches to deal with this issue.
The video message from Member of the European Parliament and member of the LGBT Intergroup Siiri Oviir has been shown where she expressed concern about Ukrainian Parliament debate on ‘anti-propaganda’ laws that clearly contradict commitments of Ukraine within its dialog with EU. She noted that EU will “closely monitor further developments in Ukraine with regard to laws and respect of the rights and freedoms of all people.” The representative of OHCHR Claude Cahn stressed that “homosexuality ‘anti-propaganda’ laws and policies do not contribute to protection of children but on the contrary reinforce stigma and prejudice, leading to more discrimination, more abuse and more violence, contrary to the interests and rights of children and young people.”
The participants came to the conclusion that the problem is in general highly homophobic attitudes in the post-Soviet community, which fosters legislative initiatives that provoke active debate unveiling a dramatic polarization of opinions around sexual diversity in the society. Despite the visible negativity these debates might have a potential to change the conditions towards positive in the future. Taking this into account it is necessary to concentrate not only on the laws themseves but more on direct and indirect consequences of the laws application, to position them in a broader struggle with xenophobia and to establish connection between violence and ‘propaganda’ laws using already existing recent examples of violence (in Russia and Ukraine). Besides, the importance to rethink terminology and concepts used in the LGBTI field was stressed due to their often misunderstanding and misinterpretation by state authorities. The danger of the traditional values concept promoted in the UN context for the human rights work was also brought to the attention. This dictates a need of educational activities to develop arguments based on traditional values that can be used to protect the LGBTI rights and freedoms, not to limit them.
The outcomes of the meeting demonstrated that for successful work against the ‘anti-propaganda’ laws strategic litigation and case law has added value to prevent adoption of homosexuality ‘anti-propaganda’ laws. In order to successfully oppose the laws adoption and implementation, a regular coordination of international stakeholders’ actions is required with the scope to exchange opinions on what actions are needed to avert worsening of the situation: it was stressed that having one general strategy is obviously not possible, nevertheless the need to have a jointly coordinated advocacy actions is apparent: on the national, regional and international level. It is important to identify specific instruments for this type of work and create a well-thought methodology to deal with these legislative initiatives and develop precise list of areas where these laws are dangerous for the society. Upcoming Lithuanian presidency of the Council of EU is a good opportunity to actively discuss this issue on the EU level and use existing leverages to prevent adoption of the laws. The issue of security and safety of the LGBTI activists is of special importance for the effectiveness of the work to fight the ‘anti-propaganda’ laws and their consequences. ILGA-Europe should reorient and focus more on security on rights protecting agencies, which is urgent at the moment.
All the participants supported the importance of the meeting and the moment it was organised due to the similarity of the situation in the countries represented at the event. Moreover, despite the differences between laws in each country, the developments around them greatly influence the situation in neighbour countries, which is an additional factor to have a joint strategy in the field. As a follow-up activity a workshop dedicated to children’s rights and links to the danger of ‘anti-propaganda’ laws was suggested.