United Nations experts call on Russia to drop anti-gay bill

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A group of experts from the United Nations have urged Russia to drop its draft law forbidding “homosexual propaganda”, and have said that it would undermine the human rights of LGBT people in the country.

On Friday, the Russian State Duma adopted the first reading of a homophobic censorship bill which would impose federal sanctions for the promotion of “gay propaganda”.

The group of Special Rappoteurs, independent experts, stressed the emergence of increased levels of sanctions and violence against the LGBT community, and said that this bill would single out, and restrict the activities of LGBT rights advocates.

“Any restriction on freedom of opinion and expression should be based on reasonable and objective criteria, which is not fulfilled by the draft bill approved during the first reading by the Duma,” said the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue.

“The law could potentially be interpreted very broadly and thereby violate not only the right to freedom of expression but also the prohibition of discrimination,” he continued.

Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said: “The draft legislation could further contribute to the already difficult environment in which these defenders operate, stigmatizing their work and making them the target of acts of intimidation and violence, as has recently happened in Moscow.”

The group expressed that the Government had time to reverse its decision over the next two readings of the bill at the state Duma, and urged Russian politicians to “exercise leadership by scrapping the bill to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia.”

In addition, the bill’s ambiguous wording of “homosexual propaganda” may not only penalize those who promote sexual and reproductive health among LGBT people, but also undermine the right of children to access health-related information, and reinforce stigmas and contribute to a discriminatory environment, said Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the right to health.

The draft bill could also hamper the organization of cultural events or dissemination of artistic creation addressing LGBT issues, said the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

On Wednesday, the High Representative for the European Union condemned the a Russian draft law and urged the country to “protect” the rights of gay people, by rejecting it. 

The draft law, submitted in March 2012, details that the “promotion of homosexuality” among children could warrant fines of 4,000-5,000 rubles (£85-105) for individuals, 40,000-50,000 rubles (£850-1050) for officials, and 400-500,000 (£8,500-10,500) rubles for businesses.

Similar laws have already been passed regionally in ten different areas of Russia, but this bill would impose the law nationwide.

388 members of the state Duma voted for the bill, one voted against, and one member chose to abstain. 60 others did not vote.