Challenging hate: Monitoring anti-LGBT “hate speech” and responses to it in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine

This report analyses public discourses on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. Issues of “hate speech” are found to be widespread across all five countries in the media, online and propagated by influential public figures, including politicians. Our research finds widespread violence, discrimination and hostility against LGBT people in the region which reinforces and exacerbates existing prejudices.

The most effective means of challenging  “hate speech” is through informed debate and dialogue that aims to expose prejudice and build inclusive, diverse and pluralistic societies. Tackling homophobic and transphobic “hate speech” therefore requires a combination of positive policy measures. We need measures to enable factual and sensitive discussion of LGBT issues while ensuring that  LGBT people can speak and are heard in public discourse. This must be underpinned by legislation that properly protects the rights to equality and freedom of expression for everyone, including LGBT people.

International human rights law requires states to protect and promote the rights to freedom of expression and the right to equality. One right cannot be prioritised over another, and any tensions between them must be resolved within the boundaries of international human rights law. States must prohibit particularly severe forms of “hate speech”: “incitement to genocide” and “advocacy to discriminatory hatred that constitutes incitement to violence, hostility and discrimination”. In exceptional circumstances, this can be done through criminal law. Additionally, states may restrict other forms of “hate speech” through other types of legislation. They are also obliged to create an enabling environment for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and the right to equality, and to enact a range of positive measures for protection of these rights.

This report assesses the compliance of Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine’s legislative and policy frameworks against international standards on freedom of expression and equality. While the situation differs from country-to-country, no state included in the report is effectively responding to hate speech on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Non-discrimination legislation is weak; and LGBT people face significant obstacles to exercising their rights to freedom of expression. In many cases, public officials have actively discriminated against LGBT people, often engaging in “hate speech” themselves.

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