Tombinski explained why the Equality March in Kyiv is an important event / Photo from UNIAN

Jan Tombinski: "Religious values cannot be invoked to justify any form of discrimination"

On the eve of the Equality March in Kyiv which draws somewhat ambiguous attitudes in the Ukrainian society, Head of EU Delegation to Ukraine Jan Tombinski told UNIAN why this event was important both for society and Ukraine’s Western partners and praised anti-discrimination reform of the Ukrainian authorities.

This Sunday, June 12, Kyiv will host the fifth International Forum of LGBTI community Kyiv Pride 2016, also known as the Equality March.

In the past years, such events caused great dissatisfaction and fierce opposition in certain parts of the Ukrainian society, which even led to clashes between the most active opponents and participants of the march. Police were forced to intervene in order to prevent violent confrontation. However, representatives of human rights organizations have repeatedly stated that Kyiv Pride is a peaceful march in support of human rights, ideas of personal and public safety, and non-discrimination.

Ahead of this year’s march, the public attitudes toward this event once again vary. Various civic organizations have openly expressed their support for the LGBTI community march and some even joined the promotional campaign with an appeal to the Ukrainians to treat the event with tolerance. There are even lightboard installed across the capital with the words of support for the Kyiv Pride. At the same time, part of the Ukrainian society remains firmly opposed to the march, declaring intentions to go as far as blocking such an event.

Apart from purely social arguments for and against the event (human rights, customs and traditions, etc.) there are also some political statements voiced: in particular, advocates of the Equality March note that holding a Kyiv Pride is an important signal for Ukraine's Western partners, proving maturity and civilizational development of the Ukrainian society. In particular, corresponding demands regarding protection of human rights and freedoms, and non-discrimination were included in the Visa Liberalization Action Plan for Ukraine.

Therefore, UNIAN talked about the upcoming Equality March with a man who, being well aware of Ukrainian realities and public attitudes, can at the same represent the position of the European community on this issue - Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, Ambassador Jan Tombinski.

Mr. Ambassador, in your opinion, why is it important to protect the rights of the LGBTI community, whose representatives next Sunday will take part in the Equality March in downtown Kyiv?

Equal rights for all Ukrainian citizens are ensured under international human rights law. The respect of all individuals, independent of their personal characteristics, is at the heart of every modern European society. The Equality March that will take place on Sunday 12 June is a peaceful event to support the human rights of Ukrainian people.

Tombinski: Equality March is a peaceful event in support of human rights / Photo from UNIAN

The EU takes a principled approach towards both - the promotion of non-discrimination of individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity; and the freedom of assembly.

Recently, representatives of religious, civic and political organizations appealed to the ambassadors of European countries with an open letter in which, in particular, they spoke of the need to tolerate and respect the Ukrainian traditional values. Don’t you think that an open position in protection of the LGBTI community can insult the feelings of citizens who are committed to traditional values?

I have full understanding for the values and traditions within Ukrainian society. However, in accordance with international human rights law, cultural, traditional or religious values cannot be invoked to justify any form of discrimination against any person, including against LGBTI individuals.

One of the prerequisites for the EU to lift visas for the Ukrainians was the inclusion of non-discriminatory norms protecting sexual minorities into the existing Ukrainian legislation. In your opinion, when Parliament adopted the appropriate changes, did it bring any tangible results? Would this be enough to say that Ukraine observes the rights of the LGBTI community?

Ukraine has made considerable progress in recognizing and protecting the human rights of LBGTI persons. I would particularly like to underline the amendment that was introduced to the Labour Code prohibiting the discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and aligning its legislation with the EU. This is perceived as an important sign of Ukraine's attachment to human rights.

Tombinski: Ukraine has made significant progress in the recognition and protection of human rights / Photo from UNIAN

The Government will hopefully continue making progress on this issue, including the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan.

Obviously, you monitor very closely the social and political situation in Ukraine, and you probably paid attention to the position expressed by the representatives of Ukrainian authorities on the Equality March. What are your expectations for the march that will be held this Sunday?

I would also like to commend the collaborative spirit of the Kyiv City Administration and of the law enforcement agencies in ensuring the security of the event. The right to demonstrate is to be used with proper sense of responsibility. (Therefore) I appeal to the participants of the Equality March to respect the sensitivity of all people around, also those who may have different opinions, and to avoid unnecessary confrontation. I expect that the Equality March in the Shevchenko park on Sunday, in the centre of Kyiv, will be held in peaceful and safe manner and that it will contribute to continued progress towards equality for all Ukrainians.

Vitaliy Sayenko

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