European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

Russia: human rights groups hail historic decision on homosexual propaganda ban

Joint media release by the International Commission of Jurists and ILGA-Europe.

The International Commission of Jurists and ILGA-Europe welcome the historic decision by the UN Human Rights Committee in Irina Fedotova v. Russian Federation, which was released by the Committee on 19 November.

“We are very pleased with the Committee’s Views in this case and in particular with the recognition that expressing opinions and information about same-sex sexual orientation cannot be limited in the name of public morality,” said Alli Jernow, ICJ Senior Legal Advisor.

In March 2009, Fedotova had displayed posters declaring “Homosexuality is normal” and “I am proud of my homosexuality” near a secondary school building in Ryazan.

The Ryazan Law on Administrative Offences prohibited “public actions aimed at propaganda of homosexuality among minors.” She was arrested, convicted, and ordered to pay a fine of 1,500 roubles.

Fedotova lost her appeal to the district court and the Constitutional Court ruled that the prohibition of information that was “capable of harming health, morals and spiritual development, as well as forming perverted conceptions about equal social value of traditional and non-traditional family relations” could not be considered a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

But the Human Rights Committee held that Russia had violated Fedotova’s rights to freedom of expression and to be free from discrimination. These rights are guaranteed by articles 19 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“The decision is especially important because it effectively reverses the position taken by the Committee in the 1982 case of Hertzberg v. Finland, which upheld a ban similar to the one in the Fedotova case,” Jernow added.

The Human Rights Committee ordered the Russian Federation to reimburse the fine paid by Fedotova as well as her legal costs and to ensure that the relevant provisions of domestic law are made compatible with articles 19 and 26 of the Covenant.

Since the Ryazan law was adopted, a number of other regions in Russia have adopted legislation banning “homosexual propaganda.” Activists across the country, including in St. Petersburg, have been arrested and convicted under such laws.

In its decision, the Human Rights Committee emphasized that limitations for the purpose of public morals, which are derived “from many social, philosophical and religious traditions,” could not be based exclusively on a single tradition.

Furthermore, any such limitations “must be understood in light of universality of human rights and the principle of non-discrimination.” The Committee recalled that the “prohibition against discrimination under article 26 comprises also discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

The Committee stated that Russia “has not shown that a restriction on the right to freedom of expression in relation to ‘propaganda of homosexuality’ – as opposed to propaganda of heterosexuality or sexuality generally – among minors is based on reasonable and objective criteria.” Fedotova’s actions were not aimed at involving minors in any particular sexual activity. Rather, “she was giving expression to her sexual identity and seeking understanding for it.”

“We hope this landmark decision will send a strong signal to Russia to reconsider such discriminatory steps and to abandon any legislative proposals criminalising ‘homosexual propaganda’”, said Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe.

The ICJ had submitted a legal opinion, which the Committee excerpted in detail, arguing that the law was discriminatory and that limitations on rights could not discriminate. Earlier this year, the ICJ and ILGA-Europe published a briefing paper titled “Homosexual Propaganda Bans: Analysis and Recommendations.”

Composed of 60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world, the International Commission of Jurists promotes and protects human rights through the Rule of Law, by using its unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems. Established in 1952 and active on the five continents, the ICJ aims to ensure the progressive development and effective implementation of international human rights and international humanitarian law; secure the realization of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights; safeguard the separation of powers; and guarantee the independence of the judiciary and legal profession: www.icj.org

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Irina Fedotova v. Russian Federation

“Homosexual Propaganda Bans: Analysis and Recommendations”

ICJ Legal Opinion on Ryazan Law

Read the case summary from Equal Rights Trust here