European Court of Human Rights rules against Russia over LGBT group ban

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The European Court of Human Rights has fined Russia for violating freedom of association by blocking the registration of LGBT+ groups.

The action was brought by the groups (Rainbow House, Movement for Marriage Equality and Sochi Pride House, all of whom allege their registration as legal entities was blocked because their aim is to promote LGBT+ rights.

In a ruling on Tuesday (July 16), the court unanimously found Russia had discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation and violated people’s right to freedom of association.

By a vote of 4-3, the court also ordered Russia to pay €42,500 (£38,350) to the complainants.

European Court of Human Rights: Banning LGBT+ groups violates freedom of association

In its submissions to the court, the Russian government had cited its laws prohibiting “propaganda of non‑traditional sexual relations aimed at minors,” and claimed that the aims of the groups is “contrary to national traditions, to the State family policy and to Russian law, which provided that marriage was the union of a man and a woman with the aim of giving birth and raising children.”

The court held that “citizens should be able to form a legal entity in order to act collectively in a field of mutual interest” describing it as “one of the most important aspects of the right to freedom of association, without which that right would be deprived of any meaning.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin argued the groups contravene Russia's laws

Russian President Vladimir Putin argued the groups contravene Russia’s laws (Peter Muhly/Getty)

The judgment continues: “The refusals to register the applicant organisations on the ground that they promoted LGBT rights cannot be said to be reasonably or objectively justified.”

It adds: “It is clear from the domestic authorities’ decisions and the Government’s observations that to obtain registration the applicant organisations would have had to change their aims, that is, to renounce promoting LGBT rights.

“[The decisions] touched upon the very core of the applicant organisations and affected the essence of the right to freedom of association.”

Russia has lost three human rights cases over anti-LGBT policies

It is the third time that the court has found Russia to have violated LGBT+ people’s rights in as many years.

The country lost a 2018 case over a ban on Pride events, while a 2017 decision found that the country’s gay ‘propaganda’ law violates human rights standards.

The human rights court has little power to take enforcement action over continued breaches.

However, the victory was celebrated by human rights groups for the precedent it sets.

Joanne Sawyer of the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre said: “This judgment reaffirms the vital importance for individuals to be able to group together and organise themselves around shared causes.

“States must act positively to ensure that this right is meaningful, particularly when people belong to vulnerable or marginalised minority groups or hold unpopular views.”

Arpi Avetisyan of ILGA-Europe said: “We are very pleased with European Court’s pioneering judgment confirming the vital right to freedom of association for those promoting rights of LGBTI people.

“This judgment sends a key message to LGBTI activists in Russia and other countries across Europe who are facing similar discriminatory restrictions – refusal to register associations cannot be justified on the ground of protection of morals.”

Livio Zilli of the International Commission of Jurists said: “The ICJ welcomes the Court’s conclusion that Russia’s refusal to register associations established to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT people cannot be justified on the grounds of protecting moral values or the institutions of the family and marriage.”