Report Outlines Steps for Obama Administration to Counter Anti-Gay Russian Law
New York City – Ahead of President Obama’s trip to St. Petersburg for the G-20 Summit, Human Rights First today released a report that gives an overview of the crackdown on LGBT freedom in Russia and provides recommendations for the Obama Administration as it navigates the mounting tension between the two countries. The report, Convenient Targets, comes as Russia’s repressive LGBT laws have sparked an international outcry in the run up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
In early August, President Obama announced “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” but did not go into further detail regarding steps the United States would take to stand up for Russia’s LGBT people. Obama’s statement came just days before he announced the cancellation of planned talks with Russian President Putin ahead of the Summit.
“There is ongoing, broad diplomatic tension between the United States and Russia, which some will argue makes speaking out against this law a tricky task for President Obama,” said Human Rights First’s Innokenty Grekov, who is author of today’s report and will be traveling to the G-20 Summit next week. “However, it is moments like this that test U.S. leadership and commitment to human rights. President Obama has pledged leadership on LGBT rights and that leadership is needed now.”
Today’s report notes that the Russian assault on LGBT rights is part of a broader crackdown on dissent that has its roots in the massive anti-government protests in 2011. Since then, President Putin has used repressive laws and law enforcement to try to weaken civil society, including government critics, human rights activists, independent journalists, whistle blowers, and now LGBT persons. The report also examines: violent hate crime against LGBT Russians; local laws banning homosexual propaganda, which were the precursors to the federal law; the evolution of the federal ban; prominent court rulings regarding LGBT rights; and the anti-propaganda law and the Sochi Olympics.
The report outlines several recommendations for President Obama when he arrives in St. Petersburg. These recommendations include:
- Meet with human rights activists at the G20 Summit. Such a meeting would exhibit U.S. leadership and enable the President to hear first what forms of support activists seek.
- Direct the State Department to seek clarification on anti-“propaganda” law. This vague law has yet to be used. Its ambiguity could allow for discriminatory, targeted use against Russians and Americans traveling to Russia.
- Lead a multilateral coalition to oppose discrimination and violence against LGBT people. The U.S. should work to oppose the law not just with European allies but also with leaders of countries like Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay, South Korea, and South Africa
- Use the Russian government’s own words to oppose the law. By using the Russian government’s own words in its public messaging, the U.S. would make a strong case against the law and expose the cynicism of its about-face on this issue.
- Call for leadership from U.S. Olympic Committee within the International Olympic Community. The IOC has meekly accepted Russia’s defense of the law, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, while condemning the law, has urged American athletes to comply with it.
“The central goal of U.S. policy should be to bolster those fighting for freedom on the frontlines and to protect LGBT Russians from persecution and violence,” said Grekov. “This will take a sustained effort, but it is worth the battle.”