President Obama’s Russian Civil Society Meeting Marks Important First Step
St. Petersburg, Russia – President Obama and five Russian civil society leaders met today to discuss Russia’s crackdown on dissent, including the newly passed anti-“propaganda” laws targeting the LGBT community. Human Rights First praised the meeting, noting that the administration deserves a great deal of credit for adding a discussion with Russia’s civil society to President Obama’s full G-20 trip agenda, a step that clearly demonstrates America’s leadership in the fight for equality and freedom of expression.
“Engaging civil society has been a hallmark of this administration and President Obama demonstrated that commitment again today as he met with Russian gay rights and civil society leaders to learn more about the challenges they face,” said Human Right First’s Innokenty Grekov, who is in St. Petersburg. “Today’s meeting was a terrific first step. Now, as President Obama returns home from this trip, he should double down on U.S. efforts to address the concerns of civil society and LGBT activists, and continue to raise these issues in the administration’s bilateral engagement with Russia.”
Last week, Human Rights First issued its report Convenient Targets: The Anti-“Propaganda” Law & the Threat to LGBT Rights in Russia that recommended President Obama spend time during his trip to St. Petersburg hearing directly from activists about what forms of U.S. support would be helpful in response to Russia’s backslide on human rights. The report also detailed a series of steps the administration should take to address Russia’s civil society crackdown, such as directing the State Department to ask key questions that remain about Russia’s anti-“propaganda” law, leading a multilateral coalition to oppose discrimination and violence against LGBT people, and calling on the U.S. Olympic Committee within the International Olympic Committee to be a leader in vocally opposing discriminatory laws.
“Gay rights are human rights,” said Grekov. “The Obama Administration recognizes that fact and has worked in Russia and other parts of the world to advance equality for all people, including the LGBT community. We look forward to working with the administration as it continues this work after today’s important meeting.”