CEDAW: Russia must take measures to protect LBT women from multiple discrimination and conduct effective investigations of hate crimes

The UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women has published its views on ineffective protection from attacks against lesbians in Russia and the absence of thorough investigations of these crimes.

In October 2014, an unknown assailant beat up two young women holding hands in the Saint Petersburg metro. As he shouted homophobic slurs at them, another man recorded the attack on a camera. The young women filed a report with the police, but the officers refused to investigate: They did not collect recordings from security cameras or even examine the scene of the crime. Attorneys were not able to get the crime classified with account for the homophobic motive (Part 2 of Article 116 of the old version of the Criminal Code).

With assistance from the Coming Out LGBT Group, the victims filed a communication with CEDAW.

ADC Memorial drew attention to this case and mentioned it in two 2015 alternative reports, one for the Human Rights Committee and the other for CEDAW. In 2014, LBT women were attacked several times in Saint Petersburg alone. The assailants expressed their displeasure with “non-traditional” women and verbally harassed them. In addition, the assailants spoke openly about their hatred for LGBT people during their interrogations. As a result, in its concluding observations CEDAW noted that Russia needed to create an unobstructed system to protect women from crimes and to work with law enforcement officers to eradicate gender and homophobic stereotypes and discrimination.

Russia believed that its investigation was effective and that the victims were not subjected to degrading treatment or discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and that their constitutional rights were not violated.

Nevertheless, in its Views, the Committee noted that Russia violated a number of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. It also stated that Russia should offer the victims compensation for moral damage, psychological follow-up care, and legal remedy and stressed that the state has an obligation not just to eliminate discrimination and improve the situation of women, but also to change gender stereotypes that give rise to and support discrimination. Achieving this goal includes, among other things, training law enforcement officers in the proper classification of crimes while taking gender aspects into account: attacks against lesbians must be viewed as gender-based or hate crimes.

Intersectional forms of discrimination aggravate the situation of LBT women. The Committee has previously seen that multiple discrimination complicates access to justice. In this case, it concluded that the Russian authorities did not conduct an effective investigation and ignored the motive of hate because they were influenced by negative stereotypes about lesbians. Russia must change not just its laws, which do not provide protection for LBT women, but also its discriminatory practices. The same applies to the judicial system, which must deal impartially with crimes involving gender-based violence. All reports on crimes against women, including LBT women, must be carefully and impartially investigated in the shortest period possible, and trials must be fair. People guilty of attacks must be punished, and lesbians who have been subjected to violence must be provided with free legal assistance and safe access to justice.

Russia must report on its implementation of the Committee’s recommendation within six months. In July, CEDAW will form a list of questions for the Russian authorities in the run-up to the review of the country’s 9th periodic report on observance of women’s rights. Human rights defenders hope that Russia will change how violence against women, including women from vulnerable groups, is prosecuted and take measures to eradicate homophobia.

This is the first time the Committee has published views recognizing homophobic attacks as gender-based violence and multiple discrimination. Unfortunately, the problems of homophobia and gender-based violence remain pressing in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. CEDAW’s position will be used to protect LBT women of different countries from hate violence.