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Human rights commissioner fears silencing of anti-homophobia campaigners

Human rights commissioner Nils Muižnieks has warned against an upsurge in efforts in some Council of Europe member states to silence anti-homophobia and transphobia campaigners.

In today’s ‘Comment’ article, the commissioner writes that laws banning information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) issues mark a “worrying step back towards a bygone era when homosexuals were treated like criminals.

“Laws banning “propaganda”, “spreading” or “promotion of homosexuality” have been adopted at national or local level in several member states and have been under consideration in many others. These laws are often so vaguely worded that they may outlaw any public discussion or public activity surrounding LGBTI issues.”

According to the commissioner, in 2009, political groups in Lithuania seeking to prohibit information on homosexuality in schools, pushed through the adoption of a Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effects of Public Information. While the initial version of the law prohibited “propagation of homosexual, bisexual and polygamous relationships”, it was amended in 2010 and the situation remains legally ambiguous. In Moldova several cities and local districts recently adopted laws prohibiting the “aggressive propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientations”. In one case, a local bill was declared unconstitutional.

In Russia criminal and administrative laws against “propaganda of homosexuality” were enacted in Ryazan region in 2006, in Arkhangelsk in 2011 and Kostroma and Saint Petersburg in 2012. Several other regions are discussing such laws, as is the State Duma at the national level. These laws provide for very harsh fines – up to EUR 12 700 for associations.

In Ukraine two draft laws were put forward in parliament in 2011 and 2012 making it an offence to “spread homosexuality”, including by “holding meetings, parades, actions, demonstrations and mass events aiming at intentional distribution of any positive information about homosexuality”. Similar initiatives have been proposed at local or national level in Hungary, Latvia, and earlier, in Poland as well.

The commissioner adds: “These efforts to curtail freedom of expression and assembly run starkly against international and European human rights standards.”

Muižnieks confirms that the targets of these measures have not only been LGBTI activists, but also “those expressing solidarity with their struggle for equality and others who have sought to disseminate factual information about sexual orientation and gender identity.”

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