Sunday, 23 June 2013

Violence, intimidation, no legislative protection - reports highlight urgent need for Armenia authorities to ACT NOW to tackle LGBT discrimination

Series of reports published over the last month or so by various European, international and local groups consistently highlighted lack of legislative protection of LGBT people in Armenia. Reading these reports side by side reminds us what a horrible year 2012 was in terms of violations of human rights of LGBT people in Armenia. Unfortunately, nothing much has changed since. No politician was sacked or resigned for inciting or supporting anti-gay violence. No one was charged for anti-gay violence. No legislative changes have been made to ensure human rights protection of all Armenian  citizens, regardless of sexual orientation. Instead, hysteric outbursts in media and by MPs, politicians and other public figures are abound fuelling further homophobia and discrimination of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

European Commission: Implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy in Armenia Progress in 2012 and recommendations for action

Comprehensive legislation on discrimination is not yet in place, while discriminatory attitudes are widespread. The current definition of discrimination does not cover all forms of discrimination (race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, gender, sexual orientation or other status). Moreover, efforts to ensure effective implementation of the current laws are inadequate.

Efforts need to be stepped up on ensuring non-discrimination in social life, in particular regarding the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The firebombing of a pub in Yerevan in May, the subsequent disruption of the Diversity March, cancellation of a film screening on tolerance under pressure from unidentified entities, and discriminatory statements from influential politicians are incompatible with European values. This area has not been covered by the National Human Rights Strategy.

Freedom House: Armenia Report 2013 
The year 2012 witnessed a number of crimes and protests apparently motivated by homophobia. In the early morning hours of 8 May, a gay-friendly rock club in central Yerevan was firebombed, causing damages assessed at $7,500. Two young Iranian citizens arrested in connection with the crime were reportedly bailed out by representatives of the Dashnaktsutyun party, who spoke favorably of the bombing, as did Eduard Sharmazanov, an MP for HHK. On 24 May, the U.S. Embassy in Armenia called the attack a crime against sexual minorities and called upon Armenian law enforcement to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards hate crimes.

On 21 May, a Cultural Diversity march was held in Yerevan by the Women’s Resource Center and PINK, a group supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights. Some media labeled the event “gay parade in disguise.” Although there is no official ban on gay pride parades in Armenia, one has yet to take place there. A group of young men, including from the nationalist youth group Hayazn, staged a counter-protest with posters saying “Keep your kids away” and “Say ‘no’ to perversions.” They attempted to disrupt the march but police intervened in order to prevent clashes between the two groups. In October, Hayazn also obstructed the screening of Parada, a film by Srđan Dragojević about LGBT rights in Serbia. Three screenings, funded by the EU delegation and the German Embassy to Armenia, were announced, but protests from Hayazn led all of the venues to back out due to concerns of mass disorder and potential property damage.

PINK Armenia: Human rights situation of LGBT people in Armenia 2012
Along with the highlights of main instances of the human rights violations of LGBT people, such as firebombing of gay friendly DIY bar, attacks on Diversity march perceived as "gay parade", failure to stage a screening of gay themed film Parada, PINK's report reflects briefly the development of draft anti-discrimination legislation that lately became a favourite topic of discussions of Armenian media, politicians and so on, who dubbed this legislation as "gay rights law" (I will come back to this in separate posts). The need for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation was highlighted by the EU too (see above).
Human Rights Ombudsman office initiated the development of anti-discrimination legislation. In the first presented draft law “discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity” was included, but later this point was excluded from the definition of discrimination. The Human Rights Ombudsman Office refuses to provide explanations on this matter. Perhaps it could be the first law, which will ban the discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There is no law in Armenia that prohibits discrimination, hate promotion, violence and other crimes based on person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
PINK's report also mentioned an extraordinary attempt at silencing activists not only inside Armenia, but also abroad, within the Diaspora framework.
“Armenians and Progressive Politics” conference took place in USA and was launched in New York city, and then continued in San Francisco, Berkley and Los Angeles.Together with other civil society activists ”Public Information and Need of Knowledge” NGO president Mamikon Hovsepyan presented human rights situation of LGBT people in Armenia. The speeches had success in three cities, however in Los Angeles the hosts, Armenian Revolutionary Federation Central Committee – Eastern Region did not allow him to present his speech, in a result of which the majority of participants left the conference hall and conducted that part in another place. The organizers explained their decision as for safety considerations. 
While leaving the venue, Markar Melkonian, brother of national hero Monte Melkonian, approached Mamikon Hovsepyan, shook his hand and said that he supports him.
This case was highlighted also in the annual report of Europe's main LGBT rights group - ILGA-Europe:
In October, human rights defender and president of PINK Armenia, Mamikon Hovsepyan, was forced to withdraw as a speaker in the panel discussion at the Armenians and Progressive Politics conference in Los Angeles, organised by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Central Committee – Eastern Region, after he was threatened with retribution because of the LGBT nature of his speech. Hovsepyan was later told that the extreme nationalist forces within ARF didn’t want him to speak at the conference. 
"In November, the activists of PINK Armenia were stalked by young people who attacked the Diversity March in May. The attackers of the march followed activists on the streets and sat next to them in cafes. Activists believe that the motive behind these actions was to intimidate and silence them."

Also relevant -

Armenia - at the bottom of Europe re human rights protection of its LGBT citizens

No comments: