Authorities should protect Equality Festival
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) urges Ukrainian authorities to support and protect the 14 May Equality Festival in Kiev. – Right wing extremists have threatened to attack the festival. We are concerned about the safety of the organizers and the participants. Police should provide effective protection, said Gunnar Ekelove-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General of the NHC. “The aim of the festival is to draw attention to the challenges and diversity of Ukraine’s most vulnerable groups, among them sexual and gender minorities. Ukrainian authorities have an obligation to protect the human rights of everyone; not the least of those who are most vulnerable.”
On 10 May 2016, the NHC sent letters to the President of Ukraine Petro Porosjenko and the mayor of Kiev Vitali Klitschko, urging that they take all necessary measures to support and safeguard the event.
– This is an opportunity for Ukrainian authorities to demonstrate their commitment to human rights and democratic values, and for the police to show that they are able and willing to protect the safety of its citizens, said Mina Skouen, Advisor on LGBTI in NHC. “It is important that Ukrainian authorities show that they fully support initiatives that contribute to an open and inclusive society.”
The festival is being organized to protest the attacks on the 19-20 March 2016 Equality Festival in Lviv , where homophobic and transphobic groups tried to prevent the event from happening. Following several weeks of threats approximately two hundred right wing extremists gathered around the hotel where the festival took place. Upon a bomb threat to the hotel, all participants had to evacuate and the festival was cancelled. Several people were beaten, and the organizers had to flee from the city.
Despite repeated inquiries, there were no proper response from the city administration and the police. On the contrary the Mayor of Lviv, Andrii Sadovyi, criticized the organizers in a Facebook post and the City Administration banned all outdoor events.
– We witnessed a situation where hate groups could freely disrupt a public event and put citizens at risk. Our colleagues were left to handle a clearly dangerous situation by themselves, says Skouen.
What happened in Lviv was not an impulsive act made by a disorganized mob. There were systematic threats over time directly aimed at venues and persons involved with the festival. Groups of right wing extremists patrolled downtown Lviv; stopping persons they suspected to be involved. They asked for the leader of the organizing organization Insight, Olena Shevchenko, by name and checked phones to search for persons with connections to her.
This was not the first attempt at preventing Insight’sEquality Festivals. When it was organized in Kiev 10-13 December 2015, assailants tried to interrupt the opening ceremony with gas grenades and religious activists attacked with stones.
The Equality Festivals, which are organized in several Ukrainian cities, are supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the NHC. Using exhibitions, concerts, films and debates, the organizers bring people together to show how fighting for equal rights should be a common struggle for a Ukraine where all people can have their own cultural expressions – regardless of their identity or group belonging. In addition to sexual and gender minorities, it engages women, ethnic minorities, people with special needs, migrants, internally displaced persons and homeless people.
In the letters, the NHC urges Ukrainian authorities to:
- Express their full support for the Equality festival;
- Take necessary measures to safeguard the festival, its organizers and the participants;
- Ensure that there will be no impunity for homophobic and transphobic acts of violence.
The letters to President Petro Porosjenko and Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitcko can be read here:Letter to Vitali Klitschko(250kb)Letter to Petro Porosjenko(326kb)