UN rights chief says Russia should repeal laws targeting LGBT people

By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

GENEVA (Reuters) – U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk on Thursday deplored a Russian Supreme Court ruling that designates LGBT activists as extremists, urging Moscow to repeal laws that discriminate against that community.

The ruling against what the court called “the international LGBT social movement” is part of series of increasing restrictions on expressions of sexual orientation and gender identity in the country.

“I call on the Russian authorities to repeal, immediately, laws that place improper restrictions on the work of human rights defenders or that discriminate against LGBT people,” Turk said in a statement.

Russia – whose authorities have promoted an image of the country as a guardian of traditional values in contrast with a decadent West – has already outlawed the promotion of “non-traditional” sexual relations and banned legal or medical changes of gender.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights Office, said the LBGT community’s situation Russia was “just going from bad to worse”, with its members fearing arrest and prosecution.

“What this means for the LGBT community is its further repression of their fundamental rights,” Shamdasani told Reuters about the court ruling earlier on Thursday.

She added that the lack of clarity around the court’s definition of LGBT movement left the law open to abuse.

“It leaves it open to a lot of uncertainty for people on what could land them in jail and what is permissible,” she said.

Homosexuality in Russia was a criminal offence until 1993, and classified as a mental illness until 1999.

Since 2013, Russia has criminalised what it calls the “propaganda” of non-traditional sexual orientations to children.

Last year, that law was expanded to criminalise any action considered an attempt to promote homosexuality in public, online, or in movies, books or advertising.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alex Richardson and Tomasz Janowski)