Today, U.S. Representatives Eric Swalwell (CA-15), Joe Crowley (NY-14) and David Cicilline (RI-1) led a bipartisan letter to the Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament expressing their concerns about draft Ukrainian laws that violate the fundamental human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and their allies -- specifically the freedoms of assembly and expression.
Currently two discriminatory bills are pending in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine's Parliament. The bills prohibit "propaganda of same-sex sexual relations." If passed, the bills would ban sending out positive messages about being gay, whether through materials, the media or public gatherings like parades. For example, the bills could restrict access to accurate information about HIV and AIDS. Violators would face fines and up to six years in prison.
"Ukraine in recent decades has made significant strides and commitments to human rights, but these bills threaten to create an environment that condones state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people," said Rep. Eric Swalwell. "This is a clear violation of the fundamental freedoms that both of our countries respect and I urge the parliament to reject both of these bills."
"These proposals are a chilling threat to not only the LGBT community, but all Ukrainian citizens who deserve to live in a society where the fundamental rights of speech, expression, peaceful assembly and equality are protected," said Rep. Joe Crowley.
"As a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, I am deeply disappointed to see some elements of the Ukrainian government supporting discrimination against members of the LGBT community," said Rep. David Cicilline. "We should never excuse these sorts of regressive proposals, and I look forward to working further to ensure that human rights are fully embraced across the world."
"The LGBT community in Ukraine has seen a significant increase in targeted violence since the introductions of these bills. With homophobia on the rise in Ukraine, it's crucial that the legislature protects the rights and freedoms of all its citizens," said Julie Dorf, Senior Advisor at the Council for Global Equality.
The text of the letter is below:
March 12, 2013
His Excellency V.B. Rybak
Chairman, Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine
01008, Kyiv-8, 5 Hrushevskoho Street
Dear Chairman Rybak:
We are writing today because we are concerned that the Ukrainian government has been moving away from respect for the fundamental and universal freedoms of assembly and expression.
We support the ability of all Ukrainian citizens to exercise these civil and political rights, and we condemn bills that would create an environment of state-sponsored discrimination against any minority group, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. We view the initiatives to prohibit the "propaganda of same-sex sexual relations" as exemplary of increasing government pressure on the freedoms of expression and reflective of a disturbing lack of tolerance. As Members of the Congress of the United States, we are concerned about draft Laws No. 1155 and 8711 which would prohibit propaganda of same-sex sexual relations in order to protect the "physical, mental, spiritual, moral and intellectual development" of children. In addition, the draft bills establish criminal liability for portrayals in the media, demonstrations, or public gatherings aimed at "distributing any positive information about same-sex relationships," with sanctions of up to six years in prison.
We are deeply troubled that these bills would lead to violations of fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression that both of our countries value and that are central to accepted understandings of what constitutes a strong and vibrant society. If passed, the bills would further threaten the health of Ukrainians by restricting their access to accurate information about HIV and AIDS. Moreover, recent violence against prominent LGBT rights activists shows how discriminatory laws can fuel hateful attacks and violence.
We further believe that these laws do not respect human rights commitments Ukraine has made, including by joining the Council of Europe and ratifying the United Nations' Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, nor are they consistent with Ukraine's own Constitution. We are especially concerned that, as Ukraine assumes chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), it is considering laws which clearly undermine OSCE efforts to combat discrimination and intolerance. As Ukraine assumes a leadership role at the OSCE, we believe it should take extra efforts to live up to the human dimension commitments of the organization and to encourage all OSCE members to uphold their commitments. We agree with what Ukraine Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara recently said on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, that "[t]he universal lessons from these terrible events must not be forgotten. We must redouble our efforts to prevent and counter intolerance, hate and discrimination in all its forms, and promote respect for all ethnic and religious groups." These pending laws contradict Ukraine's stated goals for its chairmanship of strengthening implementation of OSCE commitments, promoting tolerance and non-discrimination, and protecting freedom of expression.
We respectfully call on our colleagues in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to respect its Constitution and international rights commitments by rejecting these bills.