Since its publication Wednesday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s New York Times op-ed has been annotated, analyzed, and fact-checked. While the leader made a few compelling arguments in his plea to President Obama and the American people to not strike Syria, it was difficult for many to overlook Putin’s hypocrisy about following international law when it comes to the use of force and, most recently, gay rights.
In the past, Russia didn’t always hold the law of the world in the high regard its president gave it in his op-ed. In October 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a ban on gay-pride marches in Moscow unlawfully discriminated against activists’ on the basis of sexual orientation and violated their right to freedom of assembly. Last November, the U.N. Human Rights Committee ruled in favor of a Russian woman who had been arrested and fined in 2009 for displaying posters reading “Homosexuality is normal” and “I am proud of my homosexuality” near a high school.
Despite these rulings, Russia hasn’t cracked down on discrimination against the LGBT community. A ban on spreading “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors, signed into law by Putin in June, is, according to several human-rights organizations, the latest in Russia’s violation of international law. Although Putin was addressing countries rather than individuals in the final line of his op-ed, his words don’t jibe with Russia’s antigay law: “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”
Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch said of the law after it passed:
This legislation will do significant damage to Russia’s image internationally and, to pass it with full knowledge that it violates Russia’s international legal obligations, will call into question the essence of its commitment to international treaties it ratifies.
Russia is party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protect the right to assemble in events such as the 100-person gay-rights march that Russian police broke up in June. Lokshina wrote that both treaties have issued rulings “that make it abundantly clear to any state party that the type of legislation banning ‘homosexual propaganda,’ which already exists in five regions of Russia and is proposed on federal level, would violate those rights and be a breach of international human-rights law.”
Putin has denied that his country has antigay policies. “I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields,” Putin told the Associated Press. “We have absolutely normal relations, and I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here.”
Still, some in the international community expressed concern over the treatment of athletes at next year’s Winter Olympics in Russia. On Monday, the Sochi Games president told the International Olympic Committee that “the law will have no impact on the ability of athletes, fans, or a member of the Olympic family to participate at the Games.” He added that the Russian constitution guarantees “equality of rights and freedom, and it explicitly prohibits any prejudice against religion, race, and sex,” but didn’t mention sexual orientation.