On June 30th, 2013, the Russian Duma enacted a law banning propaganda towards minors of non-traditional relationships. The vague wording of the law can apply to anything from pride parades to public displays of affection among same sex couples. Recent studies show that the percent of the general population that is not straight could be as high as 19%, which is a huge part of the Russian population (Coffman). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted and adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948. It is an outline of the basic human rights that every individual citizen is guaranteed as a human being. The anti-propaganda law indirectly violates several articles within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and therefore, international law.
Article five states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Although the law does not explicitly encourage or legalize violence or harassment of members of the LGBT+ community, it does create a scapegoat for unhappy Russian citizens to attack, literally and figuratively. According to an interview done by American LGBT icon James St. James with Michael Lucas, director of the documentary Campaign of Hate, the law is “giving a signal to the mob, the Russian mob…that it’s okay to beat them to humiliate them. And there are lots of people, young teenagers, that have no work, they are full of hate, they have lots of time, they are frustrated, they have no jobs.” (WOWPresents). Neo-Nazi groups and gangs have physically attacked and publically humiliated multiple victims, but their members are rarely prosecuted or arrested. Instead, groups, like Occupy Pedophilia, are allowed to terrorize and torture their victims, many of whom are underage. According to scholar Laurie Essig, members of these groups often create fake profiles on social media, posing as older men looking sex with young teenage boys. Once the members have a “catch” they lure the boy out to a public location, where they jump him and interview him before forcing him to perform humiliating and demeaning tasks. The entire process is captured on video, posted online, and the boy’s life is ruined or even taken from him. Attackers rarely face consequences from the government (Essig). Even though Russian law-makers do not explicitly condone the attacks, their continued disregard of the affects on victim’s lives and silence on the issue speaks volumes. In that way, the Russian government is responsible for the lives of its citizens, and it has failed them.
Article 7 states as follows: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination” Law-makers have spoken out saying that the law is not discriminatory towards the LGBT community, but is simply a way to protect minors from experiencing adult lifestyles before they should. Vitaly Milonov, one of the major writers and advocates of the law, compared the banning of pro-gay propaganda towards minors is similar to the banning of cigarette ads towards minors, stating “It’s legal to smoke a cigarette, but no one is able to make propaganda of cigarettes…in front of very small kids. It can kill a kid.” (Campbell) This comparison between homosexuality and cigarettes reflects a common theme in anti-gay legislation and other forms of sexual discrimination: non-heterosexual relationships are the result of sexual perversion. The inference comes out of years of ignorance and hate as well as a complete disregard of the romantic and non-sexual aspects of non-heterosexual relationships as well as the heavily sexualized nature of heterosexual relationships in advertising and media.
Milonov also makes a point about the destruction of European values from these groups, “We are talking about lessons in the schools with LGBT organization… That they are destroying the fairy tales of Europe. Changing them from princess and a prince to two princes or two queens living together.” (Campbell) Here, Milonov envokes nationalism, implying that homosexuality is a destruction of Russian ideas and traditions. By vilifying the LGBT+ community, Russian law-makers are discriminating against a group of people, whether they agree that they are or not, and are therefore in direct violation of international law. This is not an uncommon way of attacking the LGBT community in Russia. Homosexuality is looked at as a Western European symbol of decadence and indignity (Essig). With old Cold War feuds and aggressions still brewing under the surface of Russia and many other countries along with anti-communist sentiment mixed with the rocky transition from communism to capitalism, anti-Westernization is a very common theme in Russian rhetoric and legal procedures. Therefore, homosexuality is an attack on Russian patriotism and nationalism.
Article sixteen, sections one and three states: “(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Unlike most developed nations, Russia has no recognition of same-sex relationships. In fact, the Family Code of Russia, with outline Russia’s laws for marriage, familial relationships, and parental responsibilities, states “For the marriage need for mutual voluntary consent of the men and women who marry and have reached marriageable age.” (Chapter 3, Article 12) Because same-sex couples cannot marry, they cannot adopt children, “Persons who are not married to each other, cannot jointly adopt the same child” (Chapter 19, Article 127, Section 2). The current anti-propaganda law also insinuates that if a same sex couple were to have children, they would be promoting non-traditional relationships to minors and thus breaking the law. By preventing the creation and endurance of families, Russia is in direct violation of Article 16, Section 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State” and preventing the welcoming of parentless children into a healthy, happy home. And it is a healthy and happy home that these children would be going into. According an article by Alicia L. Fedewa published in the Journal of GLBT Family Studies which described a study that, “indicated positive outcomes for children with nontraditional family structures”, there are no known negative affects created by the same sex parents of a child that are not present in heterosexual couples and their children (Fedewa).
Article twenty, section one states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” However, that has not been the case for many protesters in Russia. A common form of protest is to unfurl a rainbow flag in a public square or recognizable area, take a picture or video, and then post it online. Often these videos and pictures tell a darker story than most, resulting in a bystander or police officer grabbing the flag away from the protestor or protestors, who do not incite any violence and are assembling peacefully. Even other forms of public peaceful assembly, like pride parades, are broken up within seconds. The only form of hope that many of these groups have are underground night clubs and organized meetings. If any person under the age of eighteen made it in to the event or club and the authorities were informed, the place would be shut down and anyone involved would be fined. Even if gay minors wanted to meet up together to talk about their lives and feel like they belong somewhere, they would run the risk of being charged with negatively influencing each other. The vague wording of the law means that anything that even indirectly says that homosexuality is normal or presents it in a positive light could be construed as a violation of the law. Many people are afraid to associate or assemble with other members of the LGBT community, the risk outweighing the reward. This means that all events have to be held behind closed doors, isolating a huge group of people from being able to communicate, congregate, and express themselves fully with fellow members of the LGBT community. A big problem with that isolation is the spread of HIV/AIDS. Communication and education within the LGBT community is essential to preventing the disease from spreading. Within the American LGBT community, HIV/AIDS prevention is a huge priority, so education about safe sex and hygiene is very prominent. However, if the information is not widespread, the risk of spreading the disease increases greatly. Teenagers who have no access to condoms or information about the disease may choose to go without protection, believing that since there is no risk of pregnancy, there is no need for protection. Since groups are unable to reach these teens, the risk increases exponentially.
Article three, arguable the most important article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states as follows: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Directly or indirectly Russia has taken that away from its LGBT+ community. Known homosexuals are stalked, harassed, and attacked and constantly are in danger of being murdered and have their killers go scott free. Even if the government is not the one committing the murder or attacks, they have the power to stop them, and they’re ambivalence makes them just as responsible as the perpetrators themselves. And the concept of liberty is lost in the creation of oppressive laws. The perception of anything outside of what is considered “normal” sexuality or gender identity is seen as a dangerous personality disorder and therefore undeserving of the liberties awarded to other citizens. For example, transgender people have now been banned from earning a license, because of the uptick in traffic accidents. The thought process behind this is that being transgender, like an addiction to gambling or pedophilia, is such a dangerous personality disorder that allowing transgender people to drive has caused an increase in traffic accidents. (Winter) The Russian government has cited no studies or research to back up their claims, but now many transgender people are forced to either put their lives in danger by taking public transport or lose their jobs that they are unable to drive to. It puts a community in a position of indignity and forces people to hide who they are just to make a living. Both of these indignities also threaten the security of person. Members of the LGBT+ community are not able to present themselves as they wish to be seen, forcing their identities into the shadows to stay safe. Their “person” in the figurative is threatened by the government and their “person” in the literal is threatened by other citizens around them. In this way, Russian laws violate every aspect of article three and yet remain unchallenged in the international court.
This begs the question, why isn’t the United Nations or the International Court of Justice doing anything about the Russian law? Russia is violating several articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the continuation of such a rule could lead to horrific levels of discrimination which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created to stop. The only case currently being leveled against the Russian Federation is “Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” between Russia and Georgia which was brought up in 2008. Three years later, in 2011, the court decided that the case was not in its jurisdiction, even though the case directly affected the relationship between two countries, thus putting it in the realm of international law. Therefore, if the court does not see that as a part of its jurisdiction, it’s difficult to see how it would consider a law that only affects a minority in a single nation in its jurisdiction. But the law actually has a huge effect on the world around Russia. As one of the members of the United Nations Security Commission, Russia still has a lot of control over former Soviet territories, most of which are very similarly homophobic. Russia’s embrace of the law and the UN’s apathy towards it encourage other countries, like Ukraine, to adopt similar laws and continue the long standing tradition of homophobia in Eastern Europe for years to come. Not only that, but it send a message to nations like the United States that these laws are affective and should be put in place. Thankfully old Cold War grudges prevent much agreement on anything between Russia and the United States, but those same grudges prevent the US from doing anything about them, the idea being “well at least it’s not us”. It gives the US to adopt a holier than thou attitude towards a country it has long been in poor standing with, meaning that the US will likely not do anything but use Russia to put themselves in a better light. Old Cold War grudges also prevent any accusations laid upon Russia from the US from being taken seriously by the international court. A court who believes that a case has been brought up simply because of old feuding between the two nations will not be likely to pass a serious judgment or even consider the case at all. But the law does directly affect the United States. The number of LGBT Russians seeking asylum in the US has increased dramatically within the past few years after the passing of the law (Gliha). This becomes a major immigration issue, in a country that has been dealing with a huge wave of immigration issues. The US can barely figure out how to deal with immigrants already living in the country trying to get citizenship, much less those just trying to get into the country. That makes it a real international issue and therefore under the jurisdiction of the International Court. But because of US and Russia relations the case would not be taken seriously.
However, to let Russia go without contesting their moral judgment or ethical boundaries would be in violation of the goal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The preamble of the declaration states as follows: “Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.” Note the phrase “national and international”, meaning that even if Russia’s law only affected Russian citizens it would still be under the jurisdiction of the international court.
Putin’s administration has become scarily reminiscent of a dystopian dictatorship and it is the job of the international court to stop it from becoming exactly that. The treatment of the LGBT community in Russia is at incredible extremes and Russia’s violations of international law are piling up. How long will it take until Putin bans homosexuals from working? Or until he bans them from owning houses? How long will it take for the pink triangle to come back? Yes, it is an extreme, but right now Russia is living in extremes. People are scared. They don’t know what they can or can’t do anymore. Right now, a young boy who finally learned a name for what makes him different from the other boys in school is immediately associating that name with evil and immorality and so are the other boys in his school. If nothing is done, that boy will live his whole life ashamed, guilty, and afraid, and that’s the scariest part of all.
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