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German and EU foreign ministers slam Russia on gay rights

German and EU foreign ministers slam Russia on gay rights

Germany’s openly gay foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, has told the Russian ambassador that his country’s draft bill banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ contravenes human rights and could harm the country’s ties with Europe.

Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs also voiced concerns and critique, today (30 January).

In a meeting on Monday (28 January) evening between Westerwelle and Russia’s ambassador in Berlin, Vladimir Grinin, it was made clear that in Germany’s view the law violated the European human rights convention.

An unidentified German foreign ministry official told Der Spiegel: ‘Such a law will hamper European-Russian relations and will harm Russia’s image in Europe’.

In addition, Westerwelle said that as a friend of Russia and defender of good relations, he was personally disappointed by the development: ‘Part of democracy, is the protection of minorities’, he was reported as saying.

Westerwelle, however, has been previously strongly criticized for going on state visits to countries that punish homosexuality with death while not even raising concerns over this practice.

During his visits to United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Westerwelle prefers that his civil partner, Michael Mronz, stays at home and has been on record saying their ‘cultural values’ must be respected.

A spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs also condemned the Russian bill today, saying:

‘The implementation of this law could reinforce discrimination against LGBT people as well as all those who support them and their choices, in particular by limiting their freedom of expression and their freedom of association and assembly.

‘The High Representative calls on the Russian Federation to uphold its national and international commitments – in particular in the framework of the Council of Europe as a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights – to protect the enjoyment of these rights by all individuals’.

The bill has to pass two more readings in the Russia Duma, and if adopted it would not only make gay pride parades a prosecutable offence, but even something as simple as waving the rainbow flag could be punishable.

The bill would make promotion of public events and dissemination of information on LGBT issues to minors illegal.

Human rights groups are also concerned that the law may ban information, education and counselling regarding HIV/AIDS for gay men.

Fines are steep in comparison with average Russian incomes, with those violating the law being forced to pay penalties of between €100 and €12,500 (US$ 130 and US$ 16,966), the latter representing the average annual salary in the country.

Both the EU and the UN have previously expressed criticism against Russian regions that have passed similar anti-gay ‘propaganda’ laws.