Freedom of Association
Over the last five years, members of GayRussia have proved with their work and multiple campaigns that registering an organization is not required in order to effect changes. A judicial capacity is not required to initiate court proceedings—nor is lobbying. Our activists act either on a collective or individual basis.
However, we believe that Freedom of Association is part of fundamental human rights. It is a right guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The track record of Russia’s administration in dealing with the registration of openly gay group has been poor, and the Ministry of Justice has refused in the past years to register LGBT NGOs, which clearly indicate in their registration application an aim to advocate in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.
In 2008, in Tuymen, the organization “Raduzhnyi Dom” was denied the registration status of NGO. The organization filed a complaint against the Ministry of Justice with local and appeal courts with no success. Later, they filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights. A similar situation happened in Omsk, where the organization “Favorit” was also refused registration. The organization also filed a complaint with a local and appeal courts unsuccessfully.
As a result, most LGBT activists operate non-registered groups under Article 3 of the Federal Law on Public Associations, which states that “Public Organizations created by citizens can be registered in accordance with the current Federal Law and acquire the rights of registered legal body or can function without State registration and acquiring of the rights of registered legal body.” The non-registration status does not require any tax reporting but does not entitle to operate a bank account. It also prevents them to apply or receive any kind of financial assistance, whether within or outside Russia.
In the spring of 2008, the Ministry of Justice in St Petersburg registered an organization that was very vague as to its real name and avoided mentioning any advocacy work for sexual minorities. The Ministry of Justice agreed to register the organization, probably because it was satisfied that its aims did not include the words, “gays”, “lesbians”, “trans,” or “homophobia.” Although the organization was successful in getting registered, it had done so conditionally.
The strategy of visibility followed by GayRussia is to not accept compromises or to hide what it plans to do. One may be allowed to hold a March if he does not mention that its aim is to defend gay rights, but what would be the point?
Because the registration of an NGO with a focus to advocate openly for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or transgender people was never successful, GayRussia decided to launch a specific campaign for freedom of association.
Though Project GayRussia is a non-registered organization (see “About Us”), activists of GayRussia decided in December 2008 to register “Marriage Equality Russia” as an NGO established to promote the rights to family life of same-sex couples and especially same-sex unions in Russia. The aims and work of Marriage Equality is more fully discussed in the campaign section “Family Rights.”
The objective of registering this organization was to further develop GayRussia’s campaign for family rights, which was initiated during the third Moscow Pride, in May 2008, when two female activists of GayRussia , Irina Fedotova and Irina Shipitko attempted to register their marriage in Moscow and eventually later officially tied the knot in Canada (see separate campaign for details).
The process of preparing the documents started in the fall of 2008, and upon completion, the papers were sent in December to the Ministry of Justice. However, on January 12, the Ministry of Justice rejected the application. In its decision, the Ministry of Justice argued that the organization “can not be registered on the basis that its aims contradict the law on NGOs and provision of the Family code which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.”
In July 2010, a local Court rejected a complaint introduced by Nikolai Alekseev, the Executive Director of GayRussia. The organization appealed the decision in Moscow City court, and it plans to take its case to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary.
“The Court has created a dangerous precedent which goes much further than the campaign for gay rights, making it possible to deny registration to any organization whose purpose is to fight for changes in the Russian laws,” said Nikolai Alekseev.
Marriage Equality Russia had its own website, www.marriageequality.ru, until the hosting company, Caravan, hijacked the server and put it offline. A criminal investigation has been requested against Caravan, and we hope the site to be back online soon.
GayRussia’s activists hope to set the first precedent at the European Court of Human Rights level regarding the issue of Freedom of Association.
On a more positive note, in November 2010, GayRussia’s lawyer Dmitri Bartnev obtained a positive decision to the Arkhangelsk Court against the authorities that denied registering the openly gay organization Rakurs.
TODAY IN HISTORY
In 1993, President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree which repealed the law forbidding male homosexuality. Starting from 2006, Russian gay rights activists started to celebrate this date by attempting to organize an annual gay rights march known as Moscow Gay Pride. The first edition was banned and marred with violence. It was reffered as the first Russian Stonewall.
This day was founded in 2004 by French Academic Louis-Georges Tin to mark the anniversary of the declassification of homosexuality from the list of disease by the World Health Organization. Russian LGBT have been celebrating this day every year since 2005 under the leadership of Project GayRussia which was itself founded on May 17, 2005. GayRussia is Russia's coordinator of IDAHO.
Following Moscow in May 2009, Minsk was the second capital to host the Slavic Gay Pride. The March was banned and marred with violence but it did not prevent two dozens of Pride organizers from Moscow, Minsk and St. Petersburg to march over 300 meters waiving a 10meters long rainbow flag. 11 participants including some of the organizers were brutally arrested by police forces.
2009 marked the launch of GayRussia's campaign for the opening of same-sex union of gays and lesbians in Russia. While the Constitutional Court already expressd the opinion that marriage is between a man and a woman, activists believe that the lack of partnership or marriage for gay couples is a strong point to impose legislative changes via a decision of the European Court of Human Rights.
The five-judge panel of the Grand Chamber of the Court rejected the appeal of the Russian Federation in the Moscow Pride Ban case. The decision given on October 21 is final. By repeatedly banning Gay Pride Marches as well as other LGBT themed public action, Russia breached the European Convention on Human Rights.