Monday, September 30, 2013

Russian Federation under pressure from Member States and NGO’s at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, on abortion and on laws enacted to protect children from homosexual propaganda.

Geneva: The Human Rights Council on Friday 20th September, considered the report (A/HRC/24/14), of the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of the Russian Federation which took place in late April and early May.

The process known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) permits other Member States and a variety of organizations to make recommendations regarding a country’s human rights record.  Of a total of 231 recommendations, Russia accepted 48 completely, accepted 15 in part and rejected 68 others.
It was notable that among the many recommendations made to Russia there was considerable pressure from other Member States to relax its regional and proposed Federal laws on homosexuality. These recommendations were firmly rejected by Russia.
The pressure on Russia came from 9 EU Member States, two South American Member States along with Canada and Australia. The following recommendation from Belgium gives the tenor of the recommendations, which were made by 13 Member States.
140.88. Rescind regional laws and regulations which favour and tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation, and refrain from adopting similar laws at the federal level, as well as take measures to prevent the arbitrary use of existing regulations against LGBT rights, including their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly (Belgium);
This recommendation referred to a bill before the Russian Parliament at the time (subsequently approved), aimed at protecting children and family life in Russia by banning homosexual propaganda and is similar to one previously passed by the government of St. Petersburg and other regional bodies. The new law imposes fines of up to $170 on individuals, $1,700 on public officials, and $17,000, on organizations, for exposing minors to propaganda advocating a homosexual lifestyle.
The rejection of these recommendations created an immediate ripple according to the UPR newsletter No. 39 (see link) which says:
The precedent of Russia is one of the most challenging threats to the UPR since its inception in 2008 as it is opening the door for other States to delete all recommendations they perceive as being politically orientated. Legal dispositions of the UPR do not provide for any opportunity for the States under review to remove recommendations. 
Following presentation of the report to the Human Rights Council a number of Member States intervened and a variety of non-governmental organizations made recommendations.
There was limited time in the meeting for some member states to make oral statements; most of them, with the exception of the United Kingdom were encouraging to Russia.

Some NGO’s were given time to make short oral statements before the formal adoption of the outcome report for Russia. The tone of these interventions was much more strident as non-governmental organizations lambasted Russia for its new restrictive laws on Homosexual propaganda and Freedom of assembly.

NGO Speakers included the Centre for Reproduction Rights (CRR), Human Rights Watch, Action Canada for Population and Development, International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, Reporters without Borders and Freedom House Foundation.

The center for Reproductive Rights congratulated Russia on its acceptance of Slovenia’s recommendation to put in place comprehensive and evidence-based sexual and reproductive health education programs urging Russia to make this a mandatory part of the school curriculum.

The following examples are indicative of the NGO comments

Human Rights Watch said they regretted the fact that Russia had rejected the recommendations to repeal the regional laws banning “homosexual propaganda” in 11 Russian regions as well as what was then a similar federal draft law but which on June 29th had been signed into federal law by President Putin, banning exposing children to “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships.”

Action Canada for Population and Development, speaking on behalf of ASTRA Network, complained that Russia has poor access to what they term ‘women’s reproductive rights’ in which they include abortion access. 
'Women's reproductive rights are restricted in Russia, especially in regard to access to modern contraception and family planning services. Access to contraception is limited by a lack of comprehensive information and subsidization from the state budget. […]

The government has still not amended the laws that introduced mandatory waiting periods for women who want to undergo abortions. These waiting periods put women in situations of serious vulnerability and critically limit their access to timely reproductive health services. […] 
In the final analysis Georgy Matyushkin, speaking on behalf of the Russian Federation, accepted only those recommendations, the content and wording of which, was supported by the Russian Government and which could be implemented in practice.