LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Freedom of assembly, expression and association

What do ILGA-Europe mean when we talk about Freedoms of Assembly, Expression and Association?

Pride marches obstructed by governments. Laws criminalising the spreading of information relating to LGBTI issues. Governments inspecting and sometimes even raiding NGO’s offices. . These are just some of the realities faced by LGBTI human rights defenders while carrying out their work. Every day, ILGA-Europe works with LGBTI human rights defenders and organisations from all over Europe. In a European context, LGBTI human rights defenders are protected by a set of principles stated in the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as other key human rights conventions. ILGA-Europe works with a special focus on three fundamental freedoms:

  • Freedom of assembly refers to the right to come together publicly and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests through peaceful action. For LGBTI people, this means the right to organise pride manifestations, participation in protests or organise other public events.
  • Freedom of association refers more broadly to the right to join or leave groups of a person's own choosing, and for the group to take collective action to pursue the interests of members. For organisations working on LGBTI issues, this means the right to establish an organisation, get it legally recognised and being able to operate without obstruction or limitation by the state.
  • Freedom of expression refers to the right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas. For LGBTI people, this goes from the ability to come out publicly and talk openly about different sexual orientations and gender diversity, to the ability to speak in public about their issues and promote their human rights.

What is the current situation for these freedoms in Europe?

We see a very mixed picture. The freedom of assembly and association have been upheld and eroded in equal measure over the past few years, depending on which European country you focus on.

While Pride events are supposed to be festive celebrations of diversity,, in far too many European countries, the reality is still very different. In countries where freedom of assembly, association and expression are restricted, LGBTI people face fierce opposition, assaults and violence when they dare to come out in the streets. Some regressive governments even prevent them from organising Pride events. While in others, no Pride event has been organised to date, as a result of the dangerous national context.

Similarly, in a number of European countries such as in Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan, governments proactively obstruct organisations in exercising their freedoms to association and expression. So-called “homosexual anti-propaganda laws” make it much harder for organisations to carry out their work if their freedom of expression is limited through law.

In a number of countries we see the right to freedom of association increasingly under attack. LGBTI and other human rights organisations are controlled under so-called ‘foreign agent laws’, or other laws that impede organisations ability to access funding or operate without disproportionate state interference.

Our interactive Rainbow Europe map provides a good overview of where these rights are respected.

What are European institutions doing?

Decisions by the European Court of Human Rights and pressure exerted through EU Enlargement processes have both had a positive impact on safeguarding Pride events and removing obstacles to registration for many LGBTI organisations.

In 2010, the European Union adopted a Toolkit which was upgraded in 2013 into the EU Guidelines to Promote and Protect the Enjoyment of all Human Rights by LGBT people. The Guidelines provide instructions to the EU and the Member States’ diplomatic services on how to progress on human rights of LGBTI people when dealing with third countries, and in international fora. A special focus within the Guidelines was given to Support and Protection for human rights defenders –the freedoms of assembly, expression and association.

The European Court of Human rights has several times ruled in favour on upholding these freedoms for LGBTI people. Most notably on judgments related to freedom of assembly are Baczkowski v. Poland (2007) and Alekseyev v. Russia (2010), which ruled that banning pride marches are against the freedom of assembly.

How does ILGA-Europe approach issues concerning these freedoms?

Freedom of assembly, association and expression are very important to ILGA-Europe. Our main goal is to ensure that everyone in Europe can exercise these rights in a safe environment, fully supported by their state.

ILGA-Europe make sure that data and information on the infringement of human rights is reported to international organisations, with the aim of exerting pressure on countries to uphold these freedoms. ILGA-Europe also provides training on documenting human rights violations and provides grants through its Human Rights  Documentation and Advocacy fund to LGBTI organisations [link to fund and capacity building pages].

For more information, contact Björn Van Roozendaal, Programmes Director