Human Rights First Visits Belarus Following Developments on Human Rights of LGBT People
Minsk, Belarus—Following a fact-finding mission to Belarus, Human Rights First today said that the nation’s LGBT movement is at a critical juncture. The trip, in which Human Rights First met with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, activists, and U.S. Embassy staff in Minsk, found that the recent pressure on civil society makes concerted action to advance the human rights of LGBT people more difficult.
Human Rights First’s visit was spurred by the recent passage of a law that could severely impact the ability of members of the LGBT community to speak out about their own identities, as well as the recent case of Mikhail Pischevsky, a gay man who was killed in a bias-motivated crime.
“We are at an important moment for the Belarusian LGBT community. The widespread condemnation of the violence perpetrated against Pischevsky, as well as warmer relations with Western partners, could set the stage for progress on LGBT issues,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord.
In May 2014 Pischevsky, a respected architect, designer, and member of the LGBT community was attacked outside of a nightclub in Minsk. The attack was so severe that surgeons were forced to remove 20 percent of his brain to halt cerebral hemorrhaging; 17 months later, he passed away. Pischevsky’s attacker, Dmitry Lukashevich, received a sentence of 2 years and 8 months for the attack, but only served 11 months. Following Pischevsky’s death, however, prosecutors initiated a second trial which ended with a conviction in late July.
In the initial trial, Lukashevich’s motivations were deemed immaterial by the judge even though the defendant openly admitted in his testimony that he had targeted Pischevsky because of his sexual orientation. In the second trial, however, Lukashevich’s bias was a major focus, prompting a wider discussion about hate crimes and discrimination in Belarus.
In May 2016, President Alexander Lukashenko signed a law that includes provisions that may be interpreted to infringe on the human rights of LGBT people. The sections of concern within the law seem to emulate Russia’s infamous propaganda law. While the sections do not explicitly mention “homosexuality,” they ban information that “encourages habits contradicting the development of a healthy lifestyle” and/or “that discredits the institution of the family and marriage.” The law is slated to go into effect in July 2017.
“The recently-passed legislation could prevent LGBT-positive voices from speaking out, making international attention and support more needed than ever,” added Gaylord.
Human Rights First looks forward to continued engagement with Belarusian LGBT activists and supports their efforts to make Belarus a safer place for all of its citizens regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.