Chairwoman Hautala presented question to the Commission at the meeting of the Subcommittee on Human Rights on 24th of June concerning the EU support to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Russia.[:]
On 26 June Equality & St Petersburg Pride Organizing Committee will organise the first ever “St Petersburg Gay Pride”. Their aim is to hold a peaceful human rights march for tolerance towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in Russia.
The organization will apply for this public event two weeks ahead in accordance with the law on public demonstrations, however, it is not certain that the Governor will grant them this permission. In Moscow, the Mayor banned a similar event for five consecutive years. In Ryazan, a Regional law prevents to hold such action on the public place. In Tambov, similar actions were banned.
Freedom of Assembly is guaranteed in Russia by article 31 of the Constitution but Russian Courts persist with the bans of LGBT public actions by Russian officials. These matters have been communicated to the European Court of Human Rights and decisions are expected in near future.
The overall situation is well described by the experts of the UN Human Rights Committee that outright condemned in last October the “systematic discrimination” of LGBT people in Russian Federation.
It is high time to acknowledge that LGBT issues need more concrete and visible support from EU. I am aware that these issues were raised in the EU-Russia human rights consultations, but this is not enough. In fact, instead of standing firmly behind these brave people I have been informed that the Equality & St Petersburg Pride Organizing Committee finds it extremely difficult to get any support from the EU Embassies and that last month in Moscow, the EU representation as well as all the European Embassies denied any political support. Ms Hautala asked if the Commission could explain why the EU representation has refused this support and adopted a line of inaction with regards these violations in the Russian Federation.
Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Speech, are three essential components of a democratic society. The campaign for LGBT rights in Russia is very symptomatic of the fights for human rights values in Russia. In this regard Ms Hautala asked what action the EU will take to support this all important effort. In addition, she asked, what role, in the view of Commission, should the delegations of EU Member States play in this regard?
In their response the Commission firstly underlined that they have taken much action on the LGBT issues in Russia. Indeed, the issue has been on the agenda of the human rights consultations since they began in 2005. Most importantly, these discussions have emphasised the importance of the freedom of assembly and association, which are very much at the core of the question by Ms Hautala. Commission underlined that the role of civil society is integral part of the consultations with Russia and in this vein meetings were held with the Russian civil society organisations, including the LGBT community, on 23rd of March in Moscow. In the talks with Russia, EU has also raised the commitments made by Council of Europe Member States in March 2010 which concern anti-discrimination. Russia has been a member of Council of Europe since 1996. The representative assured the audience that the LGBT rights will continue to be raised also in the future.
Moreover, the Commission has granted funding to LGBT projects in Russia via its funding instrument called “European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights”, most notably by granting support to the project “Enhancing pluralism and combating discrimination against LGBT people in Russia” of the International Lesbian and Gay Association.
Despite these encouraging remarks, the response was more measured with regards the concrete support to the demonstrators. Commission informed Ms Hautala and the rest of the audience that while the EU Delegation supported the arguments of the organisers of the Gay Pride March, it was important that the EU Delegation should not become identified with any specific organisation in Russia.
This does not mean that there would be no political support for these activities by the EU. In fact, clear support from the EU has been lent to these marches by the EU High Representative of Foreign Affairs, Ms Ashton, in her Declaration on International Day against Homophobia on 17th of May, by the statement of the President of the European Council on 6th of May and similarly by the President of the European Parliament on 16th of May.
As a part of wider attempt by the EU, the Political and Security Council of the EU adopted a Toolkit to Promote and Protect the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People on 18th of June. This Toolkit identifies as a priority of EU external policy decriminalisation, equality and non-discrimination and support and protection for human rights defenders, including LGBT human rights defenders. Moreover, the Toolkit includes several new concrete tools for EU in addressing the human rights of LGBT people. For instance, the Toolkit explores ways to track and report of the human rights situation of LGBT people outside EU as well as other measures to address violations. In addition, the Toolkit elaborates ways to raise the LGBT-rights issue in the multilateral arena, such as the UN, Council of Europe and the OSCE. The Toolkit has been distributed to all of the EU Delegations.
Ms Hautala noted that she was very thankful for the information brought forward by the Commission but remains dissatisfied of the lack of concrete support as the 26th of June approaches. She underlined the importance of the EU Delegation and Member States trying to encourage the police to prevent any acts of violence in these very tense days. In response the Commission assured Ms Hautala that they would call the Member States to follow the situation closely – and take use of the new Toolkit if necessary.