Chairwoman Hautala sent an address to St Petersburg Pride on 26th June, calling for better protection of LGBT rights. The peaceful march was disrupted by the police and several participants were detained. [:]
Dear Friends, Dear Colleagues,
As you gather today to the Equality & St Petersburg Pride you face many challenges. You have called to be treated equally in schools, at work, in front of the law and in the eyes of the society. This has not been easy and despite some advancements there is still definitely a long way to go.
This human rights march for tolerance towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in Russia is not without precedent. Many before you have attempted to gather to call for better respect for basic human rights in Russia. Many times these attempts have been faced with obstructions from the authorities, sometimes with outright violence. Several of these actions by the Russian officials have been referred to the European Court of Human Rights.
I recall here that the Freedom of Assembly is guaranteed in Russia by article 31 of the Constitution. In more detail it says “Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets.” I have taken part in the so called “Strategy 31” demonstrations, calling for respect for this particular right. This is at the core of your requests today. As all human rights, these two are inextricably linked.
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.
On 24th of June, at the meeting of the Subcommittee on Human Rights I presented a question to the European Commission concerning the EU support to your peaceful march.
I said that it is high time to acknowledge that LGBT issues need more concrete and visible support in Russia from EU. Instead of standing firmly behind these brave people I said that 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. I also 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.
Despite informing the Subcommittee of the many things they have done to support the LGBT issues in Russia, I was left with a feeling that the EU can do much more to support courageous people like you.
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 my question. Commission underlined that the role of civil society is an 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. The representative assured the audience that the LGBT rights will continue to be raised also in the future.
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.
Good news is that EU has 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. We, my friends, must now pay close attention to the way these new tools will be used.
I noted in the meeting of our Subcommittee on Human Rights that I remained dissatisfied with the lack of concrete support as the 26th of June approached. I 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 and during the march itself. In response the Commission assured me that they would call the Member States to follow the situation closely. I hope you will let me know if this indeed was the case.
The time for the EU to step up its human rights policies has come. As the Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights, I will aim to make rights for courageous people like you, finally reality. We should be satisfied with nothing less. Please enjoy your day of peaceful march and go with the knowledge that you have my full support.