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Europe slams Russia and Ukraine laws and says gay rights must be a ‘priority’

The European Parliament has told Russia and Ukraine to drop gay gag laws and said LGBT issues must be a foreign policy priority for the EU
Dimitry Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister, has said gay gag laws aren't needed even though his own party is pushing for them.

The European Parliament has told Russia and Ukraine to ditch plans to fine and jail people who talk positively about gay issues.

The LGBT ‘gay laws’ already exist in nine regions of Russia but now the Duma parliament is planning countrywide legislation. Similar proposals are also being debated in Ukraine.

The laws are used to ban gay prides, silence gay organizations stop young people being given positive messages about being LGBT, and to crack down on dissidents.

The European Parliament’s fresh condemnation of the proposed laws came as the parliament published their annual reports on human rights and on the EU’s human rights strategy today (13 December). They say that sexual orientation and gender identity should remain a priority in European foreign policy.

Anti-gay censorship laws hit the headlines this year after they were adopted in St Petersburg, Russia. The crackdown attracted widespread criticism, including from Europe and from celebrities like Madonna and Lady Gaga who flouted the legislation to vocally support LGBT people while performing in the city.

Now members of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in the lower house of parliament, the Duma, are pushing for the legislation to go national.

However Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, also of United Russia, indicated he wasn’t aware of his own party’s plans when he said legislation like that wasn’t needed.

Meanwhile Ukraine’s parliament is also about to adopt Bill 8711. The draft law would punish positive ‘propaganda’ about LGBT people with up to five years in prison.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Russia and one on Ukraine, both calling on the respective countries to shelve these laws.

The resolutions emphasize that the UN Human Rights Committee has said that kind of legislation breaches freedom of speech and is discriminatory.

Concerning Ukraine, both the European Commission and the Netherlands have said Bill 8711 would be an obstacle to concluding the EU-Ukraine visa-free travel agreement.

Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP, vice-president of the LGBT Intergroup in the European Parliament, concluded: ‘I was in Russia and know that Russian people are open-minded, diverse and accepting.

‘Gay and transgender people aren’t a “Western import”, just like classical music, literature and opera aren’t a ‘Russian import’: it’s part of both our cultures, we all do it differently but we all do it. Russian and Ukrainian politicians must stop creating dangers out of thin air, and respect everyone’s right to free speech.’

And Michael Cashman MEP, co-president of the Intergroup, reacted: ‘Both Russia and Ukraine signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenent on Civil and Political Rights. No-one forced them to, and they must now respect their international obligations.

‘The European Union will remain strong in its demands, and will continue supporting the activists who bravely defy these unfair laws.’

Similar legislation is also planned in Lithuania and Moldova.

In a separate development the European Parliament has published their annual reports on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2011 and the EU’s policy on the matter.

They say sexual orientation and gender identity must remain high on the list of EU foreign priorities.

In particular the parliament tells the 78 countries that still criminalize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people to stop prosecuting people and change the laws urgently.

The parliament also calls on the European Council to upgrade an ‘LGBT Toolkit’, which EU diplomats use, and make into binding guidelines. The council will start to work on this in January 2013.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) praised the High Representative of the EU Catherine Ashton, and Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis for their outspoken support for LGBT rights.

Ulrike Lunacek MEP, co-president of the LGBT Intergroup, said: ‘This resolution is a deep, comprehensive overview into what the EU needs to keep doing abroad to safeguard LGBT people’s human rights. Yesterday we met the Special Representative for Human Rights, and I’m confident the EU will keep raising its voice at the UN, and together with its partners around the world, to uphold everyone’s human rights—especially where LGBT people’s rights are under threat.’

In another report adopted today on the EU’s human rights strategy, the Parliament underlines that non-discrimination on all grounds should constitute a priority for the EU abroad.

Ana Gomes MEP, member of the LGBT Intergroup and a foreign affairs expert, added: ‘The EU has a decisive role to play in the world. This is particularly true when it comes to protecting human rights defenders, working hand in hand with third countries to help them raise human rights standards – especially LGBT people’s rights. I’m convinced the High Representative for Human Rights will follow parliament’s suggestions.’

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