It was known recently that in Belarus 52 thousand signatures were collected for the appeal to the Presidential Administration demanding "initiating the adoption of a law on prohibition of propaganda and public demonstration of homosexuality and other sexual perversions to minors and criminalizaiton of these actions in the Criminal Code." Furthermore, mass media published the Health Ministry‘s response to the collective appeal stating that «The Ministry stands for the promotion of traditional family values and supports the following proposals regarding the draft Law “On Amending Codes on Administrative and Criminal Liability”:
establishing administrative and criminal liability for disseminating information discrediting the institution of a family and marriage and family relations;
raising from 16 to 18 the minimum age prior to which sexual intrecourse and other acts of sexual nature with minors of the same sex are punishable under the Criminal law (article 168 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus)».
These initiatives by the citizens and the Ministry of Health are in conflict with basic human rights, namely the right not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference in personal and family life (Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, hereinafter referred to as the Covenant), the right to freedom of expression (article 19 of the Covenant), as well as to protection against discrimination (article 26 of the Covenant).
Under the Covenant, everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds. The exercise of this right imposes special duties and special responsibilities. It may, therefore, be subject to certain restrictions, which, however, must be established by law and be necessary:
to respect the rights and reputation of others;
to protect national security, public order, public health or morals.
None of these goals require prohibiting or restricting information about the life of any social group, including LGBT people. Homosexual and bisexual orientation are only varieties of a person’s inherent sexual orientation, along with heterosexuality, not a crime or a sign of perversity or immorality. Transgenderism is a person’s constant feature that often requires changing the gender marker in documents and / or medical gender correction, and not the result of bad influence or depravity.
In itself, raising the age limit for legal same-sex relationships is clearly discriminatory because the same change is not foreseen for heterosexual relationships. Moreover, this initiative has neither any legitimate purpose (protection of state security, public health, etc.), nor any other justification. Such innovation would cause an increased number of cases under Art. 168 of the Criminal Code that would not be justified in any way by real and not made-up damage to minor‘s sexual integrity.
Initiatives restricting in various ways information about LGBT people have already been introduced in different countries, and it was precisely the interests of minors that were affected by such laws. In particular, homo-, bisexual and transgender adolescents lacked access to psychological support and accurate information about their state.
In 2013, Russia introduced administrative responsibility for “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors”. In the same year the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe concluded that such restrictions were inconsistent with human rights principles, rejecting Russia's argument that children benefited from this innovation. As the commission concluded, “preventing minors‘ access to relevant and accurate information about sexuality, including homosexuality, cannot be considered to be in their interests.”
Legislative restrictions on information about LGBT people in Russia were repeatedly recognized as violating human rights, and the UN Committee on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Committee against Torture, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Human Rights Court, and OSCE recommended abolishing them.
Over the years since these restrictions have been applied, the level of stigma, violence and discrimination against LGBT people in Russia has increased significantly, including against LGBT adolescents. Psychological assistance services for adolescents, such as the Deti-404 project, have also been persecuted.
If Belarus decides to take the same path, the stigma over LGBT people as a social group will inevitably increase in society, which will lead to increasing cases of human rights violations. Thus, we believe that such actions (including the initiation of petitions) would lead to of a biased negative attitude towards LGBT people, which becomes permissible if such initiatives gain the state’s support.
It should be noted that at the moment the initiators of signature collection for the aforementioned petition to abandon LGBT “propaganda” note that what they oppose is not LGBT people, but only “propaganda” and “sexualization”. However, based on the appeal’s text and other comments, as well as the experience of Russia, we clearly find that “propaganda” refers to any information about LGBT people, as well as the concept of gender equality and all kinds of sexual education. With those considerations, we urge the Belarusian authorities to avoid initiating any legislative changes that may cause discrimination against the LGBT and would be highly likely to provoke increasing intolerance and violence in the society.
«Identity and Law» Initiative Group
DOTYK Queer Culture Festival
«Human Constanta» Human Rights Advisory Centre
Belarus Documentation Centre
Viasna Human Rights Centre
Belarusian PEN Centre
LGBT+ Community Centre
New Regions Initiative
Human Rights Initiative «Journalists for Tolerance»
Delo Pi_ Campaign Against Homophobia
Center for Promotion of Women’s Rights – Her Rights
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House