Friday, 26 October 2007

European gay rights conference in Vilnius attacked by smoke bombs

*Update 27 October 2007
ILGA-Europe today released a statement saying that smoke bomb attack against gay club Soho, situated next to the conference venue, and where "many conference participants visited that night" was "misleadingly" linked by media to the conference. "While this was indeed a very unpleasant and potentially harmful incident, it appears it has no direct link to our conference and the participants were not targeted. We learned that very similar incidents took place at this club twice prior to the conference and although we do not know exactly the reasons, most locals and the delegates believe the smoke bomb is not linked to our conference." "We have to reassure all readers, that every single person at our conference is well and safe." "We feel sorry that the sensationalism element was switched on by some media and just want to reassure you all that everything is fine here in Vilnius."

I must say that this statement by ILGA-Europe is surprising, to say the least. They were the first to re-publish yesterday BBC report in full without providing any additional commentary. Now apparently they 'retracted' that report and accuse others in "sensationalism." Coincidence of this last attack to the conference and the fact that many delegates were inside the venue provided legitimate basis for BBC and others to link it with the conference. Whether it was linked or not, the fact of attack against the gay venue warranted its widespread coverage by media and condemnation.

In relation to the action organised by 9 protesters (see below), ILGA-Europe states that "The protesters were reasonably peaceful and many of them engaged in conversations with the security guards and even the conference participants. During the coffee break some conference participants equipped with smiles took their organisation’s banners and small rainbow flags and peacefully stood opposite the protesters. There was no confrontation, all were smiling and fascinated by the need of those 9 people to come to protest against the conference. " "Some delegates were wondering how come that the Rainbow Flag public event was banned, but those 9 people were allowed to come and protest outside the hotel. We quickly learned that according to Lithuanian laws on demonstrations there is no need for official permission if there are up to 9 people organising a public event and this made it clear to all of us why there were exactly 9 protesters."

ILGA-Europe reports that during the second day of the annual gay rights conference in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius nine protesters gathered outside the conference venue to protest against "propaganda of homosexuality". Delegates were greeted by "Go Home" posters. Over 200 representatives all over the Europe participate in the annual ILGA-Europe conference in Vilnius.

In the meantime, last night, conference delegates were attacked by smoke bombs. BBC reports that "delegates inside a local bar found it difficult to breathe after the smoke bombs were thrown, but had to stay inside because of safety concerns".

As posted in this blog few days ago, the public event to coincide with the Annual Conference and display a 30 meters long rainbow flag was banned by the Mayor of Vilnius. The Baltic Times reminds that Lithuania, along with neighbouring Poland, is regularly ranked among the most homophobic nations in the European Union.

A press officer for Mayor Juozas Imbrasas told the BBC the public gathering had been banned because of what she said were "safety concerns" due to building works. ILGA-Europe rejected the mayor's decision saying no alternative site had been offered to them and described the ruling as appalling. Executive Director Patricia Prendiville said "It is a positive duty of the city authorities to offer an alternative venue to the applicant and they did not do that.
"There is no doubt that the City of Vilnius used the construction works as a cover. "

Vladimir Simonko from the Lithuanian Gay League said, "There is unfortunately institutional homophobia in Lithuania. A recent survey of MPs revealed the majority of them have a negative attitude towards the gay community. It's hard work for us."

London Mayor Ken Livingston expressed his solidarity with European gays and condemned decision by Vilnius Mayor to ban a public LGBT event for the second time this year. [Earlier this year, in May, the Mayor of Vilnius refused to give permission for the anti-discrimination truck tour to visit Vilnius. It was a part of European Commission initiative All Different - All Equal campaign.] "I applaud the Lithuanian Gay League’s legal action against Vilnius City Council to overturn the ban and I hope that it succeeds."

Amnesty International also condemned attacks and Mayoral ban: "Amnesty International is deeply concerned by yesterday's attacks on the gay community in Vilnius, which saw the mayor ban a rally and a smoke bomb attack on a conference, and has called on the Lithuanian authorities to act."

Amnesty International said:

'Sadly these events are not a one off. Lithuania has repeatedly failed to protect and respect the rights of their gay community.

'To persecute people for their sexual orientation is to violate their fundamental human rights.

'Amnesty International calls on the Lithuanian authorities to respect the right to peaceful freedom of assembly for all, the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and to actively promote respect for diversity in their country.

'The Lithuanian authorities also need to offer adequate police protection to the country's gay community.'

*photo by ILGA-Europe

1 comment:

artmika said...



30 October 2007

Delegates of ILGA-Europe annual conference experience first-hand discrimination and resistance in Vilnius, but are united and determined to work together for
Europe of equality and respect

On 25-28 October 2007, almost 200 delegates from all over Europe gathered in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius for the 11th ILGA-Europe’s Annual Conference.
While the public event to display rainbow flag during the conference was banned by the Mayor of Vilnius and there was a demonstration against the conference, the delegates are determined to fight prejudice, discrimination and injustice.

During 5 plenary sessions, 2 discussion panels, 21 workshops and a series of self-organised groups, the delegates had a chance to listen, have discussions and engage with prominent international, European and national experts on equality and human rights. This year’s conference programme provided a diverse agenda and covered a whole range of issues from the work at the UN and European level to organisational development challenges in evolving LGBT groups. The programme was designed in a way to ensure that the delegate had not just an opportunity to listen but to actively engage and participate in all discussions. As usual the conference had two capacity building practical workshops, on developing advocacy strategies and using video in monitoring human rights abuses.

ILGA-Europe’s annual conference is also its annual general meeting and the delegates approved Strategic Plan for 2008-2011 and elected a new Executive Board for 2007-2008:
1. Pierre Serne (France)
2. Renato Sabbadini (Italy)
3. Lisette Kampus (Estonia)
4. Ruth Baldacchino (Malta)
5. Chrsitine Le Doare (France)
6. Martin Christensen (Denmark)
7. Deborah Lambillotte (Belgium)
8. Linda Freimane (Latvia)
9. Tomasz Szypula (Poland)
10. Natasa Sukic (Slovenia)
The reserve members elected are:
• Paata Sabelashvili (Georgia)
• Irmeli Krans (Sweden)
Ruth Baldacchino (Malta) and Janfrans van der Eerden (Netherlands) were elected
as European representatives on ILGA Executive Board.

The conference also voted on a venue for the ILGA-Europe’s annual conference in 2009 which will be held in Malta.

Patricia Prendiville, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, said:

“This was a very successful and positive conference. We had great speakers from various international, European and national institutions. The EU officials delivered great news that the European Commission included in its next year’s legislative action plan a proposal for a directive which will address the hierarchy of EU anti-discrimination laws and will introduce a ban on discrimination because of sexual orientation in areas other than employment.
We heard from various national officials about their work and commitments towards equality and human rights for LGBT issues. We also held a European launch of
the Yogyakarta Principles, a groundbreaking international document, giving the human rights issues for LGBT people a new perspective and impetus at universal level.

At the same time we also learned that getting new EU protections will not be easy and cannot take the Commission promise for granted.
We also first handed witnessed and experienced the ugly face of hatred and violence. The smoke bomb explosion at a club next to the conference venue and where many delegates socialised on the first night of the conference, the ban of public event by the Mayor of Vilnius and a demonstration protesting against the conference served as reminder that hatred, violence and prejudice is alive and well in Europe. These events also caused considerable media coverage in Lithuania and all Europe. Fortunately no delegate was hurt and we believe the smoke bomb attack was not targeted at the conference and its delegates.
However such uncivilised and
dangerous methods in parallel with an open disregard of the basic human right to expression and assembly by the Mayor of Vilnius make us only more determined to work even with greater determination towards Europe equality, respect and happiness for each person.”