Study visit to Council of Europe for LGBT activists from Eastern Europe, 23-27 June

At the end of June 2013 ILGA-Europe organised a study visit to Council of Europe (CoE) for LGBT activists from Russia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Seven representatives from Coming Out, Russian LGBT Network, GenderDoc-M and Ukrainian LGBT Council took part in the study visit. The goal of the study visit was to give activists an opportunity to get acquainted with the structure of CoE, to familiarise them with different internal working instruments and better understand procedures within this European institution. The study visit lasted three full days (24­–26 June) and was planned in such a way that it coincided with the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) of CoE session. This gave the activists a unique chance to be present at some important hearings of PACE and meet with different decision making figures.

During the visit the participants learned about European Convention for Human Rights, European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR), Committee of Ministers, the purposes and tasks of these instruments and how they can be used to defend the LGBTI rights. Besides a short tour to the building of ECtHR was organised with a detailed explanation of how this structure works and how LGBTI organisations can apply to court.

The meetings with Director of Political Advice Alexaner Guessel, the office of Human Rights High Commissioner (Lauri Sivonen), the PACE General Rapporteur on the rights of LGBT people Hakon Haugli, the LGBT Unit (Annachiara Cerri), European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (Stefano Valenti), Social Charter Secretariat (Ramon Prieto-Suarez). During these meetings the participants had chance to get to know how all these structures work, to share their concerns about the situation of LGBTI people in their home countries, and to establish important contacts with CoE representatives. At each meeting the current difficulties faced by Russian LGBT organisations have been extensively discussed: adoption of so-called ‘anti-propaganda’ federal law and increased cases of homophobic hate crimes as well as application of foreign agents law against LGBTI human rights NGOs to hinder their activities.

The activists also took part in two side events. One was dedicated to the situation of LGBTI in Eastern Europe “Forcing LGBTI People out of the public Eye” organised in cooperation with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The other one was on freedom of association organised by Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Both events were of high interest and an important moment for activists to share the LGBTI rights violations, particularly in Russia. Besides, the study visit participants had an excellent opportunity to be present at the PACE debate on coercive sterilisations.

In addition to the main activities meetings with PACE rapporteurs responsible for Russia and Ukraine have been organised. In these meetings the participants from relevant countries had a short discussion with rapporteur about the LGBT situation and shared their concerns about recent negative developments: ‘anti-propaganda’ laws, cases of homophobic hate crimes and passive approach of governments to the problem of severe LGBTI rights violations.

All participants found the study visit very useful, with well-balanced program of activities, and extremely relevant to their current work.

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