Date: Sun, 4 Jan 98 14:21:15 CST
Gay/Lesbian Oppression in Republic of Latvia
The Magnus Herschfeld Centre for Human Rights, 6 December 1997
The Office of the President of the Republic
RE: Situation of the Homosexual Community in the Republic of Latvia
Dear President Ulmanis, Your Excellency:
We, the staff of the Magnus Hirschfeld Centre for Human Rights, would like to express our concern over the legal and social situation faced by lesbian women and gay men in Latvia and to ask Your Excellency to take such necessary measures as are required by Latvia's international legal obligations, to rectify situation. We are most emphatically concerned that the legal situation of Latvia's homosexual citizens is one which is far from consonant with what are undoubtedly to become Latvia's legal obligations as a state-member of the European Union, to which end Latvia has directed its efforts. Notwithstanding the legal and social persecution of gay and lesbian persons in your country (which itself appears to be in conflict with the provisions of Lativa's Constitution (Constitution of the Republic dated February 15th, 1922, Section VI, paragraph 82, inter alia) and further notwithstanding the proposed Treaty of Union provisions obliging member-states of the European Union to pro! ! hibit discrimination against individuals on account of sexual orientation, your country's lack of progress in addressing this very grave issue is alarming.
As we learned from the recent Statement by the Homosexuality Information Centre in Riga encaptioned "On Homophobia and Intolerance in Latvian Police and Other State Authorities," (of which statement a copy is attached herewith) lesbian women and gay men in Latvia suffer the consequences of both de facto as well as de jure discrimination.
Of particular concern to ourselves and to the Magnus Hirschfeld Centre for Human Rights are the actions and words of various Latvian governmental officials who, far from promoting the democratic value of tolerance, have sought to undermine respect for minorities and for the human rights of sexual minorities in particular. Illustrative of the forgoing is the fact that parliamentarians representing the National Democratic Party of Latvia inter alia (e.g., Deputies Malins, Plavnieks and Atis Silaroze) have repeatedly slandered gay and lesbian citizens, stating in the Party's publications that:
"In order to prevent the healthy part of the nation from criminally vicious and disastrous influences by the shameless representatives of sexual minorities, it is necessary to adopt sever measures [against such minorities] today."
It is worth taking note that the same Party has repeatedly made similar statements of an anti-Semitic character. Such statements can only be interpreted to reflect negatively on the seriousness with which Latvia is seen to discharge its international obligations, considering the fact that Latvia is a party signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (as of 14 April 1992) and that Article 20, section 2 of said Covenant provides that "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law." No such prohibition is seen to exist in the domestic law of Latvia.
With respect to those obligations of an international character, it ought be noted that in 1994, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled (in the case of Toonen vs. Australia [Case no. 488/92]) that the rights of lesbians and gay men to privacy and equality were guaranteed by the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Criminal laws prohibiting homosexuality among consenting adults violate Articles 2 and 17 of that Covenant. What makes this decision of critical significance is that the Committee noted in its decision that "the reference to 'sex' in articles 2 (1) and 26 (of the Covenant) is to be taken as including sexual orientation."
Another recent landmark achievement was the adoption of the "Resolution on equal rights for homosexuals and lesbians in the European Community" by the European Parliament in 1994. In this Resolution, that body calls on all member states to repeal all anti-homosexual law provisions and to end all sexual orientation based discrimination, including the barring of lesbian and gay couples from marriage or equivalent legal framework. This Resolution was reiterated by the European Parliament on two more occasions, e.g., in the annual reports and resolutions on the observance of human rights in the European Union for 1994 (A4-0223/96) and 1995 (A4-0112/97).
Finally, and most portentiously for Latvia, is the fact that the fifteen present member states of the European Union have included "sexual orientation" in the anti-discrimination clause - the new Article 6a - of the Treaty of Amsterdam.
Members of the lesbian and gay community in Latvia have on many occasions appealed to diverse Latvian institutions in order to attract attention to their situation. Unfortunately, none of these appeals have resulted in any attention, much less action, from the Latvian State authorities. For example, the Latvian parliament has so far been considering a legislative amendment to include sexual orientation in the list of grounds on which discrimination is prohibited for four years, an inexplicable length of time for consideration of such legislation considering that Latvia's parliament is surely aware of what it obligations as a member of the European Union are likely to entail.
As the aforecited instances demonstrate, the Latvian authorities have not made apparent any intention of combating discrimination against lesbian and gay individuals; thus, it appears premature to speak of a democratic system existing within the Latvian state where fundamental rights are safeguarded, a minimal qualification for membership within the European Union.
In consideration of the foregoing, Your Excellency, we feel it is imperative to point out that Latvia, as a member of the United Nations and the Council of Europe and well as an applicant for full membership of the European Union, declared its intention to build a society where fundamental rights of each individual are respected and guaranteed. There is significant progress in many countries of Europe and the rest of the world regarding protection of lesbian women and gay men from discrimination and unequal treatment. Such authoritative organs as the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the European Commission and Court of Human Rights, and the European Court of Justice demonstrate that discrimination directed toward homosexual women and men is unacceptable in a democratic society.
Taking into account these facts we call upon you, Your Excellency, to initiate the legislative amendments in Latvia's domestic law necessary to combat all forms of discrimination against lesbian and gay citizens and to provide for the adoption of substantial legislation guaranteeing their protection and equal rights with the rest of society. Barring such a commitment, we feel no alternative exists other than to devote our efforts and to call upon other non-governmental organizations and individuals to devote theirs to the task of bringing Latvia's failure to meet its requirements for accession to the appropriate offices of the European Union.
The favor of Your Excellency's promptest possible reply to the foregoing is respectfully requested.
William A. Courson
Hon. Dainis Turlais.
THE MAGNUS HIRSCHFELD CENTRE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS