Foreign ministers could punish Ukraine for voting for a new law to ban ‘homosexual propaganda’ by not allowing it visa-free access to Europe.
If it is passed, the new law would give up to five years jail to people importing, producing or spreading positive messages about lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
The laws authors even claim gays are a risk to Ukrainian national security.
They said: ‘The spread of homosexuality constitutes a threat to national security as it leads to an HIV AIDS epidemic and also destroys the institute of family and can trigger a demographic crisis.’
International bodies including Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have condemned the law.
But perhaps the most significant threat comes from Netherlands Foreign Affairs minister Uri Rosenthal.
Speaking in the Dutch parliament, he has already said that if the law passes the European Union (EU) should suspend plans to allow Ukrainians visa-free access to Europe.
His threat is significant because all European foreign ministers have to agree to visa changes. So just his one vote could push the visa liberalization off the agenda.
Ukraine’s relations with the European Union are already under strain after the EU shelved a landmark association agreement with Kyiv due to a seven-year prison sentence handed down to opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
The EU has rarely pushed LGBT rights so vigorously in the past but its diplomacy with Ukraine, which wants to join the EU, has the potential to be significant.
The European Parliament has already said the proposals breach free speech obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Meanwhile Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been quick to condemn yesterday’s anti-gay vote in the Ukrainian Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.
Ulrike Lunacek MEP, co-president of the LGBT Intergroup in the European Parliament, said: ‘Ukraine has set itself on a collision course with the rest of Europe. This law is not only backward-looking; it is purely anti-democratic, informed by nothing else than prejudice, and fully disrespects Ukraine’s legal obligations.
‘I expected more from my Ukrainian colleagues, but in pre-election times, it is easy to score cheap points by witch-hunting the LGBT community. This is the 21st century, and diversity exists in all our societies.’
Sophie in ’t Veld MEP, vice-president of the LGBT Intergroup, added: ‘Rather than moving closer to Europe, Ukraine is taking a giant step away from Europe and its values. No country that restricts free speech and violates the rights of its LGBT citizens can expect to remain quietly in the family of European nations.
‘I am furious that Ukraine decides to blithely attack a vulnerable minority by denying them the right to free speech, and I expect the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and Committee of Ministers to be strict and impartial in condemning this move.’
The International Lesbian and Gay Association in Europe (ILGA-Europe) has said the law is so poorly defined it would be open to challenge.
Others have even suggested that Ukraine’s proposals would criminalize children who deliver newspapers if they contained positive articles about gay people.
‘If voted into law, it would lead to the further marginalization of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community in the country and would limit the work of human rights defenders,” Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe said.
And the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has also condemned the proposed law.
‘Restrictions on rights may not be discriminatory, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is clearly prohibited under international law,’ said Alli Jernow, senior legal adviser at the ICJ.
ILGA-Europe has also called for European institutions to take action.
They say if the bill goes further the EU should halt negotiations with Ukraine. And they want the Council of Europe to unequivocally denounce it to the Ukrainian government.
The bill is now due to go before a second vote, which is scheduled for 16 October but may be delayed.
After that the Chair of the Parliament and President Viktor Yanukovich would need to sign the bill before it would become law.
However, the country goes to the polls on 28 October to elect the new Verkhovna Rada parliament and with 78% of Ukrainians viewing homosexuality negatively, according to a 2011 poll, some say the bill could play well domestically.