Friday, July 21, 2006

Amnesty International Denounces Ban of LGBT Pride March in Latvia

NEW YORK - July 21 - Amnesty International today denounced the decision by the city council of Riga, Latvia, that it would not permit the "Riga Pride 2006" march scheduled for July 22nd. The council's announcement -- citing information it had allegedly received concerning several threats of violence against march participants -- represents the newest step in Latvia's failure to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens.

"The threat of anti-gay violence is no excuse for the Riga City Council to ban the pride march," said Michael Heflin, Director of OUTfront, the Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) program on LGBT human rights. "The authorities' responsibility is to allow and protect free speech and demonstrators -- not to give in to violent threats."

The Riga City Council claimed that the police could not guarantee security and order during the march. Amnesty International believes this assertion lacks credibility, given that Latvian law enforcement agencies had the capacity to effectively ensure security during previous events of a similar or larger scale such as the 2006 ice hockey World Championships, and are expected to do so during the NATO summit in Riga in November 2006.

Amnesty International mobilized its membership to appeal to Andris Grinbergs, Deputy Director of the Riga City Council, and Dzintars Jaundþeikars, Minister of the Interior, to permit the march. The organization welcomes reports that Catherine Todd Bailey, the United States Ambassador to Latvia, met with the interior minister to urge him not to cancel the march.

The ban on the “Riga Pride 2006” march is in violation of international human rights laws and standards. Under international and European law, Latvia is not only obliged to respect the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, but also has a positive duty to take active measures to protect the march participants from attacks against them.

Amnesty International calls on:

# The Riga City Council to give permission for the “Riga Pride 2006” march to go ahead.

# The Latvian authorities to ensure, in accordance with their positive obligations under international human rights law, that the “Riga Pride 2006” demonstrators are properly protected in a manner that allows them to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

# Latvian law enforcement agencies to act under all circumstances with due diligence to protect LGBT people against violence from the wider community. The authorities should also make clear that such violence is a criminal offence and will be prosecuted as such.

Violations of LGBT rights have become an increasing concern in Latvia in recent years; in July 2005, the first gay pride march in the country’s history was originally banned by the Riga City Council. Several leading Latvian politicians, including the deputy speaker of the Latvian Parliament, made homophobic remarks and statements at the time. The Riga Administrative Court later overruled the decision; when the march did take place, several LGBT people were subjected to physical and verbal abuse by counter-demonstrators.

In June 2006, the Latvian Parliament voted against an amendment to Article 7 of the Latvian Labor Law. The amendment would have explicitly banned discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. The European Union’s Employment Equality Directive explicitly requires EU member states to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace.


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