9-24-2013By Innokenty Grekov
Fighting Discrimination Program
Last week, the Russian Duma’s Family, Women, and Children Affairs Committee discussed the latest proposal to make the lives of LGBT Russians miserable. A piece of legislation, registered in parliament on September 5, would amend the family code to allow the government to remove children from the custody of parents suspected of “nontraditional sexual relations.”
After consideration of the bill, the Committee Chair, Duma Deputy Yelena Mizulina called it “unenforceable,” saying, “We would essentially be conducting a kind of a filtering of the entire adult population.”
The “unenforceable” bill calls on the mysteriously powerful Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation to figure out which families deserve to keep raising their kids, yet the issue at stake is not “filtration” but discrimination. While the new bill’s future appears bleak, it was the very same Family, Women, and Children Affairs Committee that brought us the infamous federal ban on the “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations among minors. The clubbing of dissent in Russia created an enabling environment for a discriminatory federal law, and just two months after the signing of the “propaganda” law by President Putin, new calls for action against “nontraditional sexual relations” are shaking up the State Duma.
Our report Convenient Targets—released in advance of President Obama’s travel to the G20 Summit in Saint Petersburg—puts the anti-“propaganda” law in the context of a broader backslide in Russia’s human rights and looks at the federal bill’s precursors, both on regional and federal levels. We also note how the bill fits into Russia’s global struggle for “traditional values.”
Last week, the Russian Federation faced peer scrutiny at the United Nations Human Rights Council—incidentally, the main venue for the country’s push for “traditional values.” The Russian Federation has undergone a second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Having looked through a stack of official U.N. documents, some thirty “shadow” reports from nongovernmental organizations (see Human Rights First’s submission here), and 231 recommendations from other countries on how to improve human rights, the Russian delegation said “no, thanks” to calls to repeal of the anti-“propaganda” law and adopt an anti-discrimination measure.
We’ve heard all this before. Before the G20, President Putin gave an extensive interview denying that LGBT persons face discrimination while affirming their “full and equal rights of a Russian citizen.” There’s plenty wrong with the logic that Russia is immune to discrimination simply because the country’s constitution forbids it. The constitutional prohibition of discrimination was but the first brick of a road never completed, as the legal definition of discrimination is still lacking and there is no history of enforcement of anti-discrimination policies.
The federal and regional anti-“propaganda” laws are a reminder that Vladimir Putin’s words are out of step with the reality on the ground. He really ought to meet with gay rights activists so that he could learn what President Obama learned during the G-20.
The Russian LGBT Network’s representatives addressed not only President Obama but also the U.N. Human Rights Council, raising Russia’s poor record on hate crime and denouncing the impunity for groups like “Occupy Pedophilia,” which films LGBT Russians as they torture and harass them, then distribute the videos via social media.
At the UPR session, the Russian government agreed to intensify efforts to protect its citizens from violence, including on the grounds of sexual orientation. That’s not nothing and would be quite something if it actually follows through: a strong effort to investigate and prosecute hate crimes is needed to stem violence against LGBT Russians.