On February 23, a joint conference of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and LGBT Human Rights NASH MIR Center was held in Kyiv, entitled “Challenge without response: hate crimes against LGBT people in Ukraine”
According to human rights activists, 226 violations of LGBT rights were documented in Ukraine last year. Unfortunately, law enforcement authorities have been reluctant to respond to obvious cases of discrimination and crimes against these people for years.
To find a way out of this dead-end, a conference entitled “Challenge without response: hate crimes against LGBT people in Ukraine” took place in Kyiv, attended by representatives of the LGBT community, human rights activists, judges and representatives of the National Police.
Executive director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Olexander Pavlichenko said that the reaction to public LGBT initiatives is an indicator of society’s health regarding the attitude toward hate crimes. The state of LGBT protection indicates Ukraine’s position in terms of human rights protection, and whether we are moving towards the rule of law. “Judges and law enforcement do not like to apply Article 161 of the Criminal Code (violation of the equality of citizens based on their race, nationality or religion),” said Olexander Pavlichenko. “And this should be accorded special attention.”
PACE general rapporteur on the rights of LGBTI people Piet de Bruyn believes that it is worth looking into establishing ties between LGBT communities of different countries, drawing attention of the member states of the Council of Europe to these issues as well as to the situation and rights of intersex people. “We often overestimate the ability to publicly declare one’s unconventional sexuality,” he said. “Post-Soviet countries have made significant progress in tolerant attitude towards LGBT, but they still have fat to go to recognize these people as full and equal members of society.”
People’s Deputy Svitlana Zalishchuk, one of the few public advocates for LGBT rights in Ukraine, said that our country would truly become European not just when it recognizes all human rights and freedoms, but also when it does everything in its power to guarantee them. “Only a few deputies of the Verkhovna Rada had the courage to vote for amendments on the word “gender”, others refused because it allegedly lowers their chances to be re-elected,” said Svitlana Zalishchuk. “Last year the Healthcare Ministry issued a form for using the services of family doctors, where people could indicate their belonging to the transgender community. But there are also negative trends: for example, there was an attempt to remove the prohibition of discrimination against the LGBT community from our labor legislation.”
Representative of the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Aksana Philipishyna said that hate crimes are an extreme manifestation of discrimination. That said, the number of cases that make it to courts is negligible: less than a dozen. “Why in a country that positions itself as a state ruled by law we have seen no meaningful changes for many years?” wonders Aksana Philipishyna. “I am surprised at the low level of awareness regarding LGBT discrimination among government officials. Last year we saw petitions from local councils to the Parliament and President against the introduction of gender norms in the Labor Code. Authorities do not consider themselves responsible for fighting discrimination.”
Head of the Department on Political and Social Issues of the Canadian Embassy to Ukraine Ruslan Katz said that Ukraine will be able to successfully resist external aggression only when all its citizens feel equal in their rights and security. And this security must be ensured by state officials, regardless of the citizens’ religious beliefs or sexual orientation. Things used to be different in Canada as well. For instance, homosexual behavior used to be considered a criminal offense there until 1969. It was decriminalized by the father of the current prime minister of Canada Justin Trudeau. And only in 1996 Canada managed to adopt an anti-discrimination law on LGBT rights.
Expert of LGBT Human Rights NASH MIR Center Olexander Zinchenkov spoke about the results of monitoring violations of the rights of these groups. In particular, he said that investigations of hate crimes on the grounds of homophobia or transphobia remain unsatisfactory. “As before, investigators try to completely ignore the homophobic motivation of criminals and are often themselves guilty of openly homophobic and unprofessional behavior toward LGBT victims of crimes,” said Olexander Zinchenkov. “Partly the reluctance of investigators and prosecutors to properly classify and investigate such crimes is due to the flaws in Ukrainian legislation, which does not consider homophobic motives as aggravation in crimes.”
Expert of LGBT Human Rights NASH MIR Center Sophia Lapina, activist of the monitoring network of NASH MIR Center (Kharkiv) Denys Tolmachov, activist of Charity Fund Gender Z (Zaporizhia) Dmytro Kalinin and advocacy manager of Charity Fund Hope and Trust (Kyiv) Galyna Korniyenko spoke about the most flagrant cases of gender-based discrimination and violence they witnessed last year.
Oleg Bielov, Odesa lawyer and head of NGO Sources of Law said that over the past six years, the situation with the response to LGBT crime has improved considerably, as even in 2010-2012 the victims often would not even report these crimes. “In 2017 LGBT people in Odessa were victimized through extortion and blackmail,” said Oleg Bielov. “There is a criminal group active in our city which the National Police stays away from for some reason. There even was an incident when blackmailers forced a foreigner to pay them $ 1,500 so that they wouldn’t disclose certain information about him.” Unfortunately, National Police has not been able to catch these blackmailers. Putting letters with threats into mailboxes of LGBT people is also a common practice in Odesa.
Oksana Sanahurska, senior special assignments inspector of the Human Rights Department of the National Police Office in Lviv agrees that Lviv is not as tolerant a city as we would like it to be. “But there are some positive developments,” she said. “For instance, I used to visit closed meetings of the LGBT community, because after the Equality Festival in 2016 it was dangerous to hold open meetings.” Oksana Sanahurska spoke about a flagrant violation of the ethics code and disciplinary statute by Lviv policemen who attempted to arrest a gay person, intimidate him with alleged criminal charges, and then sent photos from his confiscated phone to his parents, which led to a conflict in his family. Unfortunately, the guilty police officers have not been punished.
Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine on a voluntary basis Olexander Lapin reported that last year a special department was established in the National Police to monitor the observance of human rights. In addition, Nation Police has a Department of Homeland Security. “I address everyone! If you have information regarding any unlawful actions committed by National Police officers, please report it,” said Olexander Lapin.
Advocate of Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group Nataliya Okhotnikova specifically deals with LGBT rights. “Indeed, there is a big problem with the entry into the Uniform State Register of crimes committed under Article 161 of the Criminal Code,” she said. “Every time we have to prove that there really was a case of discrimination, and the victim has to describe the crime in the smallest detail. It’s not just LGBT, this also happens in cases of discrimination based on ethnic origin or religious beliefs. Such offenses are usually classified under Article 296 (hooliganism). This is wrong, because in the case of hate crimes certain groups of people are ordered to attack peaceful demonstrations.”
Dmytro Mazurok, lawyer and expert of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, said that the person that commits the crime should be punished specifically under the article that corresponds to the crime. If the person is punished under another article, this cannot be considered proper punishment at all.
Vladyslav Petrov, coordinator of UHHRU project on the protection of LQBTQI rights, read the petition of the conference’s participants to the Ukrainian government. “We call on the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, which is responsible for the implementation of the item of the Action Plan for the implementation of the National Human Rights Strategy 2020, to finally draft a bill on amendments to the Criminal Code (to ensure accountability for crimes committed on the grounds of intolerance on such grounds as race, color, religion, sexual orientation, transsexuality, disability or language), and on the Cabinet of Ministers – to introduce this bill for the Verkhovna Rada’s consideration and to support its adoption,” reads the petition.
Text and photos by Oleg Shynkarenko (UHHRU)
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