(Moscow) – The Ukrainian parliament should reject two draft laws that would discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and infringe on their free expression rights. On April 3, 2013, one of the bills passed a parliamentary committee vote, sending it to the full parliament for first reading.
Bill No. 1155 defines propaganda as any public activity that spreads positive information about homosexuality, such as rallies, parades, demonstrations about LGBT rights, discussions, or special courses. Bill No. 0945 provides for similar prohibitions on publication and distribution of written or video products that “promote” homosexuality. Violators of the laws may face up to six and five years in prison respectively.
“These blatantly discriminatory anti-LGBT bills should never have gotten this far in the legislative process,” said Anna Kirey, LGBT research fellow at Human Rights Watch. “Ukrainian lawmakers should reject these bills and send a clear signal that ‘propaganda’ laws are off the table for good.”
Ukraine’s record on combating discrimination will be in the international spotlight this week, with the European Parliament slated to vote on April 18 on an agreement easing visa restrictions for Ukrainians wishing to travel to European Union countries – a key step toward closer relations between the EU and Ukraine. Visa liberalization with Ukraine is conditioned on a number of benchmarks the EU has set, including adoption of comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation and ensuring protection against discrimination. Ukraine has not taken those steps.
“At the same time as Ukraine is seeking to deepen its relations with the EU, it is pushing through laws that are wholly inconsistent with fundamental human rights and core European values,” Kirey said. “The European Parliament should stand by the EU’s reform demands and insist that Ukraine meets its commitments to human rights protection, including for LGBT people, before agreeing to any moves toward closer relations.”
The bills, which were first introduced in 2011, would violate fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and are deeply discriminatory toward LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said. They would create an environment of state-promoted discrimination against LGBT people, including those under 18, that would deprive them of equal protection of the law. The bills would also endanger the ability of human rights defenders to protect the rights of LGBT people.
The Ukrainian parliament should refocus its attention on laws that would ensure equal rights for LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said. Parliament is also considering revisions to the labor code that would prohibit discrimination against people in employment and hiring based on sexual orientation.
“Prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in employment and hiring would be a significant step forward,” Kirey said. “But changes to the labor code would in no way counteract passage of two discriminatory laws that would have a devastating impact on the free speech rights of LGBT people.”
Attacks by neo-Nazi and nationalist groups in Ukraine targeting LGBT-related events and rights activists are on the rise, underscoring the need for parliament to take action against discrimination, not encourage it, Human Rights Watch said.
In a February letter to the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission in advance of the EU’s summit with Ukraine, Human Rights Watch, together with 22 Ukrainian nongovernmental organizations, expressed alarm about the draft laws and called on the EU to voice its concerns about them with senior Ukrainian officials.
Bill No. 1155 was introduced in parliament in December 2012 and is an expanded version of a similar bill, No. 10290, introduced in June but never voted on. The draft law “On the prohibition of propaganda of homosexual relations aimed at children,” defines “propaganda of homosexuality” as “intentional activity, which aims to and is expressed in dissemination of any positive information about same-sex sexual relations that could negatively affect … development of the child.” Bill No. 1155 would also ban the media from disseminating positive information about homosexuality. The bill envisions violations as an administrative offense involving a fine of up to €2,400 (US$3,200) or a criminal offense punishable by a prison term of up to six years for “offenses repeated within a year.”
Bill No. 0945 (formerly No. 8711), the draft law “On amendments to legislative acts concerning the protection of children’s right to a safe information space,” was first introduced in June 2011, and passed on parliament’s first reading in October 2012. The bill proposes to ban any production or publication of content “promoting” homosexuality; the use of media, TV, or radio broadcasting for homosexual “propaganda”; the printing or distribution of publications “propagating” homosexuality; and the import, production, or distribution of creative writings, cinematography, or video materials “propagating” homosexuality. If adopted, the bill will introduce fines or prison sentences of up to five years for the aforementioned acts.