In December 2013, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the Human Rights Center “Viasna” signed an on-line petition to enhance tolerance towards the LGBT community in Belarus and support the organisation of the 9th Annual Human rights forum “Minsk Gay Pride 2013″ .
Belarusian section of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty talked with FIDH President Karim Lahidji about various dimensions of the defence of LGBTI rights.
– Many argue that events like gay pride marches are counterproductive and instead of making them more accepting, they only make already homophobic societies (such as the one in Belarus and in the region overall) even more so. How would you respond to that argument?
This argument was used a hundred years ago, when women begun fighting massively for their rights. This fight for women rights led all sorts of groups within the society to express their opinions. Some of them were violent and misogynous, and profoundly regrettable. The situation of LGBTI people and the fight for their rights nowadays is quite similar. Gay rights should be publicly discussed and debated in Belarus. Such a debate will certainly brings up opposite and strong opinions, but this is part of the game when it comes to respect of freedom of expression. Everyone should have the right to express their views in a respectful and peaceful way. However, violent speeches and homophobic acts should be legally condemned and punished. FIDH strongly condemns the physical assaults on LGBTI activists such as Ihar Tsikhanyuk or other members of GayBelarus or the Gay Alliance Belarus organisations in early 2013.
— As far as you know, can it be shown that the level of tolerance toward minority groups in any society is indicative also of the level of democracy that society has reached?
Yes, indeed. Democracy is an appropriate mix between political representation, rule of the majority and respect of minorities. The countries which reach an ultimate level of democracy still face difficulties regarding the respect of minority groups. These difficulties do not come from the authorities, but rather from intolerant interactions between individuals within the communities. Fight against intolerant behaviours and for the recognition of LGBTI rights in every single community is one of the last obstacle of modern democracies.
— Are gay rights human rights? Why?
Of course they are. Everyone shall be protected from discrimination and stereotypes, including people’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity.
International institutions integrated this positive evolution. Seven years ago, human rights experts adopted the Yogyakarta Principles, which tend to provide a consistent understanding about application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. Another example is the one of the European Court of Human Rights, which recently ruled that Greek civil unions should be opened to gay couples.
– In Belarus, some prominent members of democratic opposition are against any association with gay rights movements, some are openly hostile to it because of “Christian values”. At the same time these people are courageous in their struggle against Lukashenka’s regime, ready to pay for their ideals with personal freedom. They are supported by International human rights organizations. Is it a specific Belarusian situation? How would you comment on it ?
Every cause deserves its own fight and it would not be fair to say that one is more important or more justified than another. They are all necessary : it is as important to denounce intolerance toward minority groups as to denounce the regime of President Lukashenko. France, for instance, has a long history of human rights struggles. It started in 1789 with the Declaration of Human and Civic Rights, but French citizens waited until 1848 to see slavery abolished, 1944 to see women authorized to vote and express their opinion, 2013 to see gay couples authorized to get married. Mentalities change over time, but every fight promoting respect for human rights, tolerance and freedom of expression is important.
- What support does an organization like yours offer to the LGBT community in countries like Belarus? Words? Deeds? Money? Presence? How will your organization respond if permission for Belarus event is once again denied? Do you, or does anybody, have any leverage other than an official expression of outrage or dismay?
FIDH supports its partner organisations in Belarus, as well as their actions in the framework of the Minsk Pride 2013. We regularly calls on international organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights to put forward the rights of minority groups. However, as these requests are not always met or heard by the authorities, we try to influence them via third parties.
For more information about the defence of LGBTI rights, see FIDH report ” Eastern Europe and Central Asia: The defence of LGBTI rights in jeopardy“