Council of Europe must maintain focus on LGBT rights in Russia

As the world's media focuses on the increasing tensions between western Europe and Russia, the Council of Europe should not lose sight of its duty to hold Russia to account for its ongoing and frequent violations of the human rights of LGBT people.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights held in Alekseyev v Russia that Russia had violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights by virtue of the disproportionate interference with Mr Alekseyev's right to freedom of assembly created by the Moscow authorities repeatedly banning him from holding gay rights marches and pickets.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe have had the judgment in Alekseyev under "enhanced supervision" since it was made final, but have been unable to secure compliance with it from the Russian authorities. 

Since the judgment, Mr Alekseyev has attempted to hold public events which were rejected by the authorities, has been administratively arrested for 10 days and fined after he organised a protest (a public gathering) in Moscow in support of LGBT rights, and has also been faced with an increasing number of death threats in connection with his attempts to organise such events.

However, the Committee of Ministers has not examined this case since its meeting in December 2016 (and has not received any information from the Russian government on it since October 2016). At the December 2016 meeting, the Committee of Ministers painted a bleak picture, noting that "the situation does not attest to any improvement, as the number of public events allowed continues to be very limited".

Last month, Gay Russia and Moscow Pride wrote to the Committee of Ministers to inform them:
"[T]he right to freedom of assembly for LGBT people in Russia does not exist anymore as all the notifications for hundreds of public assemblies in support of the rights of sexual and gender minorities applied for during the last two years were rejected". 
The organisations listed 185 cities across Russia in which LGBT events had been banned between February 2016 and February 2018. The domestic Russian courts continue to reject any appeals against such bans.

Given the blatant refusal of the Russian authorities to comply with the judgment in Alekseyev since 2010 - during which time the Court has found a further violation against Russia concerning its "homosexual propaganda laws" - it is unsurprising that Gay Russia and Moscow Pride are calling on the Committee of Ministers to refer the matter back to the Court for a ruling on whether Russia has failed to abide by the Court's judgment (in accordance with Article 46(4) of the Convention).

Whatever path the Committee of Ministers follows - whether it be to keep the Alekseyev judgment under review, or to refer it to the Court for a final ruling - it must return to this matter with considerable urgency. Russia shows no signs of attempting to meet its international obligations and the Council of Europe must take more decisive steps to address Russia's flagrant disregard for the human rights of LGBT people.