Ukraine: Threats of violence block LGBTI event; police just watch

Police in Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine, stood by on May 10 as opponents of LGBTI rights disrupted a planned panel discussion about reasons not to adopt a Russia-style ban on “gay propaganda.”

Kiev police did not act to protect LGBTI rights advocates on May 10, 2018. Instead, they waited outside the venue where an Amnesty International event was disrupted by members of radical groups. (Tanya Cooper photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)
Kiev police did not act to protect LGBTI rights advocates on May 10, 2018. Instead, they waited outside the venue where an Amnesty International event was disrupted by members of radical groups. (Tanya Cooper photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

Human Rights Watch reported on May 16:

Ukraine: Radical Groups Disrupt LGBTI Event

Police Should Hold Those Responsible to Account

(Kyiv) – Members of radical nationalist groups violently disrupted a May 10, 2018 discussion in Kyiv about LGBTI rights, Human Rights Watch said today. Despite the intruders’ aggressive behavior and threats of violence, the Kyiv police did not remove them from the event or the premises, and the owner of the site canceled the event.

A Human Rights Watch researcher was due to speak at the event, which was open to the public, and was there during the incident.

Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher for Human Rights Watch (Photo courtesy of HRW)
Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher for Human Rights Watch (Photo courtesy of HRW)

“It was clear from the way the police responded that nationalists can get away with this kind of violent and disruptive behavior in Ukraine,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The nationalists came with a clear goal of halting a discussion about LGBTI rights and they succeeded as the police stood by and did nothing.”

The Ukraine office of Amnesty International organized the event to discuss a public proposal to introduce legislation to ban “propaganda” about homosexuality and public events that support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people. The event featured speakers from Amnesty International Ukraine, Human Rights Watch, and Kyiv Pride, an independent Ukrainian LGBTI group, who planned to discuss how such a law would violate human rights, drawing on experience from similar laws in Russia.

About an hour before the start of the discussion, about 20 members of nationalist groups arrived and threatened the organizers with violence unless they canceled the event. The nationalists accused the organizers and participants of serving foreign interests and yelled “extremists” at the organizers. After a standoff of almost an hour, the owner of the venue told the organizers that their event was canceled, and they had to leave.

Map of Ukraine shows the location of Lviv in the western part of the country.
Map of Ukraine shows the location of Kiev / Kyiv in the north central part of the country. (This map does not designate the sections of eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula that have been taken over by Russian and Russia-allied troops.)

Five police officers from the Pechersk District Police did nothing to stop the radical groups from disrupting the event and to remove them from the premises.

Almost three hours after the radical groups arrived, the Kyiv City Patrol Police escorted the organizers and participants, so they could leave the site safely. The police took no action against the attackers.

In recent months, dozens of attacks by members of radical nationalist groups in Ukraine have targeted ethnic minorities – such as Roma – civic activists, and LGBTI people. The police have often ignored the attacks and are reluctant to hold the attackers accountable.

Radical groups attacked Women’s March events, to promote women’s rights, on March 8 in Kyiv, Lviv, and Uzhgorod. On March 26, radicals tried to disrupt a public event in Kyiv that called attention to radical right-wing groups in Ukraine. A Human Rights Watch researcher also witnessed that episode. And on April 20, members of the extremist group C14 attacked a camp of Roma people in Kyiv and burned their belongings and tents, forcing the Roma families to flee. Police initiated criminal proceedings in that attack.

“Ignoring attacks by radical groups not only abdicates the authorities’ responsibility to protect people but encourages further violence against ethnic minorities or LGBTI people,” Cooper said. “Ukrainian authorities need to start upholding the rule of law, protecting free speech and assembly, and taking steps against those who use violence and threats to make their points.”

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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