NHC concerned with violent intolerance towards sexual and gender minorities (LGBTI) in partner count

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee participated in a picket in front of the Ukrainian Embassy in Oslo, passing on a statement to Counsellor Vitalii Pantus. The statement comes as a reaction to the recent violent attacks on a peaceful demonstration organized by Ukrainian LGBTI organizations, where several activists were victims of violence.

“We are concerned with the development in many European countries. It seems to be a trend of violent intolerance that is unacceptable in countries that are aspiring at rapprochement to Europe, hosting European Championships in Football, Olympic Games or applying for EU membership”, says NHC Secretary General Bjørn Engesland.

Calling Ukrainian authorities to denounce violence

The signatories of today’s statement express solidarity and full support for the LGBTI community in Ukraine and call upon the Ukrainian government and the Kiev city authorities to take measures to publicly condemn these violent attacks, make a full investigation into the events, effectively protect and ensure the safety of the Kiev Pride and guarantee their basic human right to assembly. The statement also urges the Ukrainian Parliament to reject the adoption of proposition #8711 made by the Committee on Freedom of Expression and Information which is regarded by many NGOs as having significantly damaging implications on freedom of expression. The proposition is banning “homosexual propaganda” and is similar to the laws that recently came into force in several parts of the Russian Federation, including St. Petersburg. The laws make it a crime to talk about homosexuality as well as to arrange events publicly. 

The current situation in the countries of the Former Yugoslavia also calls for a dire need of improvements. Despite adaptation of new EU legislation the authorities do not take necessary steps to prevent frequent and severe attacks against sexual and gender minorities. Hate speech and crimes have support among persons with high positions within politics and religious institutions. Important manifestations such as Pride Parades suffer from political pressure despite being the targets of violent behaviour from ultranationalist groups stated Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

 Violent attacks against LBGTI in Post-communist countries

NHC is worried that the upcoming Prides in Split this Saturday may follow a disturbing pattern of events in the region. A highly violent outcome of the Pride Parade in Belgrade in 2011, attacks resulting in the shutdown of a queer cultural festival in Sarajevo in 2008 and the ban on Belgrade Parade in 2009 has been followed by the Pride Parade being banned in Serbia last fall and the Pride Parade in Split and Zagreb suffering attacks in 2011. Although a small number of Albanian activists were able to bicycle through Tirana in May 2012 they did not dare to carry out their planned parade after a high-profile politician encouraged violence towards the participants. No Pride Parade has ever been held in Macedonia, Kosovo or Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Similar response to a peaceful march took place in Armenia when a march celebrating the World Day for Cultural Diversity was organised in the capital Yerevan on 21 May. The participants had prepared posters about ethnic, racial and fauna diversity in Armenia, plurality, and cultural diversity. The small number of attendants were soon met by a larger group of counter demonstrators, angry young men shouting obscene words and appearing threatening towards the participants. The police was present, but did not intervene in a professional way, leaving many of the participants of the march feeling insecure. The focus was turned from diversity to homosexuality, complicating further work on tolerance and diversity in the conservative country.

Gay bar bombed in Yereven

On 8 May, two men were taped as they fire-bombed the DIY bar in Yerevan, known as the gay bar in Yerevan. Luckily no one was harmed. At a later stage, when the place was cleared up, someone snuck back and painted swastikas on the façade of the bar. The two men were identified and arrested, but one of them was later bailed out by a member of the parliament. In the discussion that followed, even the deputy speaker of parliament supported the youth who carried out the ill-deeds, saying that they show their Armenian roots by reacting against homosexuals “who have created a den of perversion in our country and have a goal of alienating the society from its moral values”.

In none of these cases, neither in the Western Balkans nor Armenia, do the authorities commit to registering, prosecuting or sentencing the perpetrators in a proper way, despite them being known by name. This sends a signal that there will be no repercussions, effectively rewarding human rights violations against a minority which faces an increasingly difficult situation in many European countries.

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