A leading European organisation has reminded the government of a new EU nation that rallies and public events cannot be banned just because some people are homophobic.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe expressed concern about the situation in Lithuania, where sexual minorities are barred from holding Pride marches by the authorities in the capital Vilnius.
A Luxembourgian member of the CoE Parliamentary Assembly, Jean Huss, complained to the committee about the actions of the Vilnius Mayor.
In an embarrassment for Lithuania, the Council of Europe has formally expressed concern over the situation in their country for the first time since it broke from the Soviet Union and became a free nation once again.
The 47-member Council of Europe predates the European Union.
It promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights.
“According to the established case law of the European Court of Human Rights, peaceful demonstrations, be they in favour of the rights of LGBT persons or others, cannot be banned simply because of the existence of attitudes hostile to the demonstrators or to the causes they advocate,” the Committee of Ministers said.
“On the contrary, the state has a duty to take reasonable and appropriate measures to enable lawful demonstrations to proceed peacefully.
“In a series of judgments, the Court has emphasised that any discrimination based on sexual orientation is contrary to the Convention.2 All member states must observe the Convention when they apply national law, notably in the light of the case law of the Court.”
The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has forwarded documents from the CoE to Mayor Imbrasas.
Read the full statement on the CoE website.
“Changing something is not up to us, I have no idea what else we can do to make them change their minds,” Darius Staniulis, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Human Rights Division, told Lietuvos Rytas newspaper.
Vilnius city council has effectively banned any gay Pride events on the grounds of “security.”
In November amendments to the public order and cleanliness regulations were passed, meaning the police or a special commission will be able to ban any event where they think a riot might occur.
“It will be useless to apply for permission to hold our events for the next 10 years, because we won’t get approved,” Lithuanian Gay League chairman Vladimiras Simonko said.
“Assurance of security during these events is not our responsibility. We pay taxes, and laws obligate the authorities to ensure our security during our events.”
Vilnius Municipality Public Order Department will collect data from the police, the internet and the media and consider objections from members of the public, then decide on whether any event should be granted a permit.
Lithuania is a member of the EU but remains one of the most socially backward nations in Europe.
A large majority of the population are Roman Catholics, and the church is openly hostile the rights of sexual minorities.
A law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment was passed in 2004, as an obligation for acceptance into the European Union, but politicians in the remote Baltic state struggle to understand the most basic concepts of equality.
More than half of Lithuanian MPs believe homosexuality to be a perversion.
A 2006 Eurobarometer poll found that only 17% of Lithuanians support gay marriage.
Twice last year gay activists have been banned from displaying the rainbow flag, an international symbol of gay rights.
The Lithuanian Gay League is to appeal these rulings in court.
In May the Mayor of Vilnius refused to give permission for an anti-discrimination truck tour to visit the city.
The truck was part of the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All campaign, but Mayor Imbrasas claimed it could cause a security risk and riots.
Anti-gay feeling reached new heights later that month after a Swedish ambassador called for tolerance towards LGBT people.
Ambassador Malin Karre delivered a speech to the Lithuanian Parliament on Wednesday May 16th to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia.
Activists protested her comments outside the Swedish embassy in Vilnius.
Because of the de-facto ban on gay events in the city, LGBT activists are to hold Baltic Pride in Riga next year.