Looking at the recommendations made by other UN member countries on Ukraine’s performance, I was struck by how many of them homed in on the question of non-discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) citizens.
In March this year, I shared a platform with the UN Development Programme representative in Ukraine at the start of a seminar that the British Embassy in Kyiv had helped to finance, focussing on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of UN members’ fulfilment of their commitments to uphold human rights and civil freedoms. The UPR is one of several international monitoring exercises carried out on the basis of peer review – where each country has the opportunity to give, and receive, comment and advice on the extent to which international commitments are being effectively implemented.
Looking at the recommendations made by other UN member countries on Ukraine’s performance, I was struck by how many of them homed in on the question of non-discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) citizens. It was clear that a lot of the reviewers of Ukraine’s performance were concerned that not enough had been done in Ukrainian legislation to spell out specifically that discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation was just as unacceptable as discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, religion, age or disability.
Our experience in the UK is that it is important to be specific about this. Discrimination will be more difficult to eliminate, and it will take longer to create a climate of tolerance and inclusion, if there is a reluctance to be specific about those groups of people who are at risk of being discriminated against, and if action isn’t taken to defend their rights. We believe firmly that whilst those who feel uncomfortable with LGBT issues have the right to those feelings, they do not have the right to prevent the LGBT community from exercising their democratic freedoms just like any other citizen.
Against this background, it was very encouraging to see last weekend that the LGBT community were able after all to stage a rally – the first such in Ukraine – in defence of their rights to be free of discrimination and stigmatisation. They were joined by friends and supporters of these rights – including members of the British Embassy in Kyiv. I am glad too that our Embassy flew the rainbow flag in solidarity with Ukraine’s LGBT community on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO). After all the uncertainty leading up to the rally, it was welcome to see that the competent Ukrainian authorities had made commendable arrangements to ensure the safety of the rally’s participants.
The Ukrainian Constitution guarantees the equal rights of all its citizens. It was therefore disappointing that an initiative to stage a peaceful march in support of fundamental rights should have needed such heavy protection against a very real threat of violent attack. Recognising specifically that discrimination against LGBT people is just as wrong as racial discrimination is an important element in moving away from this climate of intimidation and intolerance.
British Ambassador to Ukraine Simon Smith