How much do human rights cost?

The Ukrainian government is already on the " low start " before the complete and irreversible association with the European Union and the transition to phase II of visa liberalization. The cabinet has submitted to the parliament a package of bills Ukraine needed to implement phase I of visa liberalization. On the issue of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation in the labor sphere, the strategy of the new government has radically been changed, so has the position of the European Commission. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation was postponed until better times, the EU agreed – not the right time.

How much do human rights cost?
"It was treachery with a smile on its face. Perhaps that was the worst thing of all."
Margaret Thatcher, 1993

The Ukrainian government has already started the association with the European Union (EU) and the transition to Phase II of visa liberalization. The cabinet submitted a package of bills to Parliament that needs to be implemented for Phase I of visa liberalization. The new government and the EU have changed their respective strategies on the issue of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation in the work sphere. Both entities agreed that the prohibition of discrimination based on grounds of sexual orientation should be postponed until the current situation in Ukraine improves.

Despite current instability, the Ukrainian government, as led by Yatsenuk, has an ambitious agenda: comprehensive political reform, successful presidential elections in late May, securing an economic agreement with the EU and maintaining the sovereignty of Ukraine.

On March 26 in Kiev, the representatives of the European Commission (EC), delegates of the EU, and the European Parliament met with Ukrainian leaders, including government officials, political elites and the public sector. At the meeting with representatives of LGBT organizations, the EC stated that they had removed the legislative requirement of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. In lieu of enacted legislation, the Ukrainian government highlighted the proposed amendments to the constitution that would prohibit discrimination based on certain grounds and the increasing powers of the Ombudsman.

In pursuance of this plan, the government submitted bill 4581 – "Draft Law on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine (concerning prevention and combating discrimination)" to the parliament on March 27, 2014. This proposal amends the current law to combat discrimination and addresses technical requirements such as burden of proof. However, the proposal does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The vote on this bill must take place after April 8, 2014.

This reverence and political agreements have caused fierce disagreement in the public sector. LGBT organization Fulcrum published its official statement «Bill of Rights» that specifically stated: "Human rights can not be a matter of political bargaining. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should be banned without any negotiations." Fulcrum issued the statement to a coalition of public and human rights organizations combating discrimination, including more than 40 member organizations, and that also published its official position on its organizational website.

EC’s lenient approach with this critical requirement was unexpected and deeply concerning to human rights organizations throughout Europe, including the European Association of LGBT organizations, ILGA-Europe. Indeed, the Executive Director, Evelyne Paradis, stated, “The adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation is an important measure to ensure that free travel truly applies to all citizens equally. Postponing only the implementation anti-discrimination measures on ground of sexual orientation from a basket full of criteria creates the impression that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are less important than others. Realisation of this essential piece of conditionality should be ensured by introducing new safeguards into the visa liberalisation process, including clear benchmarks and a timeline. If this doesn’t happen then the EU runs the risks of undermining its key human rights principles.”

The softened stance of the European Commission has significantly weakened the position of human rights and LGBT organizations lobbying for anti- discrimination legislation. In fact, Ukrainian politicians have been manipulating LGBT issues for political gain for quite some time. For instance, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine Mykola Azarov, falsely posited that the Association Agreement would legalize gay marriage, which, of course, it did not. As such, the bill will not likely pass. Indeed, it was clear that before the presidential election, the party of Yulia Tymoshenko (which formed parliamentary majority) would have strongly opposed expanding rights for sexual minorities by banning discrimination against LGBT individuals.

This situation presents numerous challenges. First of all, by not including sexual orientation in the anti-discrimination law (bill number 4581) in the initial bill, it would be very unlikely that a stand-alone amendment to include sexual orientation would be passed in the future. Secondly, the softened stance by the EC tacitly allows the Ukrainian government to avoid ensuring human rights for the LGBT community.

The consequences of this policy is much deeper than it seems at first glance. Homophobic citizens have another example to show LGBT rights are not important. They can now clearly state that the EU itself does not insist on the prohibition of discrimination against sexual minorities, and therefore demonstrates that Ukraine does not have to change.

Instead of open conversation, we saw the backroom dealings between the Ukrainian government and the European Commission, who both were to willing to exchange human rights for rapid advancement to visa liberalization. The Ukrainian LGBT community now knows the price of Phase II: human rights. Citizens who have been hardened by Maidan know this truth – human rights are priceless, and they can not be negotiable. The LGBT community seems to be waiting for a new "Maidan," a new revolution, but now – in Brussels.

                                                                                                 Вogdan Globa,

                                                                                                                                        especially for IA National LGBT portal of Ukraine

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