“Freedom of assembly belongs to all people”

Statement by Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

Recently, there have been calls for banning gay prides – events organised to celebrate diversity and equality – in a number of Council of Europe member states. A recent example is from Moscow, where the first ever gay pride scheduled for 27 May, was not given permission by the Mayor of Moscow. The case is pending in local courts and final outcome is not yet known. Regrettably, this is not the only case. There are also reports that the Mayor of Chisinau, Moldova has decided to ban a similar manifestation.

The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental rights in a democratic society and belong to all people, not just the majority. A demonstration may annoy or give offence to persons opposed to the ideas or claims expressed, but this cannot be a reason to ban a peaceful gathering.

If the authorities have grounds to fear for the security of the demonstrators they should provide protection or, at least, suggest alternative venues for such a manifestation. A general ban of a peaceful demonstration can only be justified if there is a real danger of disorder which cannot be prevented by reasonable and appropriate measures.

Solutions should be found which guarantee both security and freedom of assembly. This is particularly important in a context of increasing racism and xenophobia, including homophobia. Violent incidents against those who are different or perceived to be different are taking place with alarming frequency, and all too often with impunity. This is unacceptable and has to be stopped. Authorities at all levels must strongly respond to such individual acts of violence and actively promote tolerance and respect in their communities.