LGBT Rights: Ukraine inches forward, Russia stays in the dark

Nov 17 2015

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) has passed a law banning discrimination in the workplace related to sexual orientation. It was the last and most controversial law to pass the Verkhovna Rada for the European Union to formally consider allowing visa-free travel from the EU to Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) has passed a law banning discrimination in the workplace related to sexual orientation. It was the last and most controversial law to pass the Verkhovna Rada for the European Union to formally consider allowing visa-free travel from the EU to Ukraine.

It wasn’t easy. The bill failed to pass during the first two attempts, but the sufficient support needed was eked out on the third attempt. The bill will now go to President Poroshenko’s desk for a signature.

This is an important step forward for Ukraine in its ambitions to be a part of the European Union. Most of the European Union protects at least some of the rights of their LGBT citizens.

Unfortunately, what is perceived as an important step towards equality in the countries of Western Europe is considered a sign of immorality and degeneracy in Eastern Europe. Prejudice against sexual minorities is widespread in Eastern Europe, and the Kremlin is an accomplice to this prejudice by passing laws that restrict the freedom of expression to LGBT Russians. Some small political parties have shown their opposition to these laws such as the Yabloko party, which has organized “Russia without pogroms” rallies, comparing the anti-gay laws of today to the violent pogroms against Jews under Tsar Aleksandr III.

Ukraine is not at all immune to these prejudices. Despite his support of this anti-discrimination law, the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada thundered that same-sex marriage would not ever happen in Ukraine and President Poroshenko, who also supported the bill, also reaffirmed his commitment to “family values”. Indeed, a recent pride parade in Kiev was attacked by Right Sector nationalists and while the police stood firm against the attackers, many participants were still injured in the brawl.

Interior Ministry members stand guard as activists take part in the so-called Equality March, organized by a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, in Kiev, Ukraine, June 6, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

In Russia, simply being gay is not “illegal”, but the law does very little to protect LGBT Russians. Numerous violent attacks have happened in Russia since the Kremlin implemented a new law against “gay propaganda” under the guise of “protecting families.” This law has led to an uptick in homophobic rhetoric in the Duma, hate crimes that have gone neglected, and other types of discrimination.

The resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church since the end of communism, once seen as a positive resurrection of ancient traditions stamped out by the Soviets, has also played a role. The Kremlin has used and cooperated with the Orthodox Church  to justify its intolerant attitudes and while Russia is not a terribly religious or religiously homogenous country (many Russians are atheist, non-practicing, or even Muslim), it is still a socially conservative country where distrust of “non-traditional lifestyles” is common. Indeed, the anti-gay laws passed had widespread popular support.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, one of Russia’s most famous and influential composers, is widely speculated to have been a gay man, but his sexuality was denied by the Soviets and continues to be denied by the Kremlin today. It’s a move that has infuriated many in the musical community.

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding regarding homosexuality in Russia that is evident even with Russia’s president. Right before the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, President Putin claimed that gays “were welcome” in Sochi, but asked them to stay away from children, which set off all kinds of outrage.  Immediately, pro-gay press outlets were furious. Some claimed that Putin was implying that being gay was equivalent to pedophilia, and some took it as an implication that gay people were out to poison the minds of children. Both accusations were widely dismissed as absurd and prejudiced. Unfortunately, this attitude is not isolated. The Russian curse word “pidaras”, which is roughly equivalent to the homophobic slur “faggot” in American English, carries an implication of pedophilia as well as it is a near equivalent to the word “pederast”.

LGBT people are not out to destroy the institution of the family, they want to be included in that institution from a legal perspective. Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law implies LGBT people are trying to recruit impressionable children into some kind of vague sinister organization, another similarly preposterous claim. Sexuality is not a choice as some seem to believe, it is a normal and natural, although fairly uncommon, phenomenon that occurs in animals as well as humans.

At the end of the day, it should not matter what people do in their personal lives. The rights of all Russians must be protected and upheld.

by Kyle Menyhert

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) has passed a law banning discrimination in the workplace related to sexual orientation. It was the last and most controversial law to pass the Verkhovna Rada for the European Union to formally consider allowing visa-free travel from the EU to Ukraine.

It wasn’t easy. The bill failed to pass during the first two attempts, but the sufficient support needed was eked out on the third attempt. The bill will now go to President Poroshenko’s desk for a signature.

This is an important step forward for Ukraine in its ambitions to be a part of the European Union. Most of the European Union protects at least some of the rights of their LGBT citizens.

Unfortunately, what is perceived as an important step towards equality in the countries of Western Europe is considered a sign of immorality and degeneracy in Eastern Europe. Prejudice against sexual minorities is widespread in Eastern Europe, and the Kremlin is an accomplice to this prejudice by passing laws that restrict the freedom of expression to LGBT Russians. Some small political parties have shown their opposition to these laws such as the Yabloko party, which has organized “Russia without pogroms” rallies, comparing the anti-gay laws of today to the violent pogroms against Jews under Tsar Aleksandr III.

Ukraine is not at all immune to these prejudices. Despite his support of this anti-discrimination law, the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada thundered that same-sex marriage would not ever happen in Ukraine and President Poroshenko, who also supported the bill, also reaffirmed his commitment to “family values”. Indeed, a recent pride parade in Kiev was attacked by Right Sector nationalists and while the police stood firm against the attackers, many participants were still injured in the brawl.

Interior Ministry members stand guard as activists take part in the so-called Equality March, organized by a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, in Kiev, Ukraine, June 6, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

In Russia, simply being gay is not “illegal”, but the law does very little to protect LGBT Russians. Numerous violent attacks have happened in Russia since the Kremlin implemented a new law against “gay propaganda” under the guise of “protecting families.” This law has led to an uptick in homophobic rhetoric in the Duma, hate crimes that have gone neglected, and other types of discrimination.

The resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church since the end of communism, once seen as a positive resurrection of ancient traditions stamped out by the Soviets, has also played a role. The Kremlin has used and cooperated with the Orthodox Church  to justify its intolerant attitudes and while Russia is not a terribly religious or religiously homogenous country (many Russians are atheist, non-practicing, or even Muslim), it is still a socially conservative country where distrust of “non-traditional lifestyles” is common. Indeed, the anti-gay laws passed had widespread popular support.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, one of Russia’s most famous and influential composers, is widely speculated to have been a gay man, but his sexuality was denied by the Soviets and continues to be denied by the Kremlin today. It’s a move that has infuriated many in the musical community.

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding regarding homosexuality in Russia that is evident even with Russia’s president. Right before the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, President Putin claimed that gays “were welcome” in Sochi, but asked them to stay away from children, which set off all kinds of outrage.  Immediately, pro-gay press outlets were furious. Some claimed that Putin was implying that being gay was equivalent to pedophilia, and some took it as an implication that gay people were out to poison the minds of children. Both accusations were widely dismissed as absurd and prejudiced. Unfortunately, this attitude is not isolated. The Russian curse word “pidaras”, which is roughly equivalent to the homophobic slur “faggot” in American English, carries an implication of pedophilia as well as it is a near equivalent to the word “pederast”.

LGBT people are not out to destroy the institution of the family, they want to be included in that institution from a legal perspective. Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law implies LGBT people are trying to recruit impressionable children into some kind of vague sinister organization, another similarly preposterous claim. Sexuality is not a choice as some seem to believe, it is a normal and natural, although fairly uncommon, phenomenon that occurs in animals as well as humans.

At the end of the day, it should not matter what people do in their personal lives. The rights of all Russians must be protected and upheld.

by Kyle Menyhert

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlins Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.