Putin Says “˜We Must Not Forget God Created Us Equal,’ Forgets

Russia’s track record of protecting gay rights in accordance with accepted international norms isn’t good.

Gay rights supporters protest Moscow's policies on homosexuality outside the Russian embassy in Paris.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
Sept. 13, 2013, 11:03 a.m.

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.

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