Policy brief

Traditional values? Attempts to censor sexuality. Homosexual propaganda bans, freedom o f expression and equality

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07 Mar 2013


This content is available in: French, Russian

In this brief, ARTICLE 19 examines the recent proliferation of prohibitions on so-called “homosexual propaganda”, and provides clear guidance on how international standards on freedom of expression and non-discrimination may be used in advocacy against such laws. ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned that, despite international condemnation, a number of countries retain or are considering adopting legislation prohibiting “homosexual propaganda” on the pretence of protecting minors, public morals, or “traditional values”. The brief considers these prohibitions in the context of attempts made at the UN Human Rights Council to embed “traditional values” in the international human rights framework, an initiative that threatens to legitimise discrimination and subvert the universality of fundamental rights.


Diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are a part of the human condition. The identity, visibility, and equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people cannot be dictated or negotiated by the prejudice of majorities. Attempts to silence a whole segment of the population cannot be framed as an issue of morality or the protection of children, but must be called out for what they are - a violation of human rights.


The right to freedom of expression encompasses the right to freely express one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as the freedom to seek, receive and impart information on issues related to sexual orientation or gender identity. Prohibitions that restrict these information flows discriminate against LGBT people, and deny all people their right to freedom of expression and information. In turn, this deprives all people of their ability to assert other fundamental human rights, in particular the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and democratic participation, the rights to health and an education.


International human rights mechanisms have taken a strong stance against attempts to prohibit “homosexual propaganda”. The UN Human Rights Committee found in a 2012 decision that the prohibition of “homosexual propaganda” in Ryazan, Russia violated the right to freedom of expression. The decision affirmed that the right to equality protects individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and places a positive obligation upon States to respect the freedom of expression rights of LGBT people. The decision finds support in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN treaty monitoring bodies and UN special mandates, as well as in declarations of international and regional political bodies.


However, prohibitions on “homosexual propaganda” are retained in countries around the world, despite international condemnation. For example, a number of cities and provinces in the Russian Federation and Moldova have enforced “homosexual propaganda” bans to detain and fine persons peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. While attempts to institute similar laws in Hungary and Lithuania have largely been unsuccessful, initiatives to enact countrywide prohibitions on “homosexual propaganda” in the Russian Federation and Ukraine have gained popular support and are on-going. In Uganda, legislative proposals include criminal sanctions of up to seven years imprisonment for “promoting homosexuality”. International campaigns have been mobilised to oppose the adoption of these laws.


In this context, ARTICLE 19 is concerned at efforts made by Russia at the UN Human Rights Council to call for recognition of “traditional values” as a vehicle for the promotion of human rights. While some traditional values may be invoked positively to enhance domestic appreciation for human rights, none of the resolutions recognise that traditional values may also be abused to justify human rights violations and legitimise discrimination. ARTICLE 19 believes that the rights contained within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights represent a coherent and universally agreed-upon framework for protecting the rights of all human beings, and that “traditions” contrary to these standards must be modified or if necessary eliminated.