Call for action

Film Festival Conversation: LGBTQI+ and Harassment

The 2021 commemoration of World Pride was held in the cities of Copenhagen and Malmö from 12 to 22 August. This was an occasion to not only celebrate humanity’s diversity, but to also reflect on the great strides that have been made over decades to achieve equality in the sphere of gender and LGBTQI+ rights. In addition to the festivities, events held in both cities over the course of ten days presented participants with the opportunity to also think about the many challenges and struggles still faced by the LGBTQI+ community in different parts of the world.

One such event was the screening of the film “Welcome to Chechnya” by the Swedish Human Rights Film Festival in Malmö on 18 August.

The film is an eye-opening documentary depicting the hardships faced by members of the LGBTQI+ community living in the Russian constituent republic of Chechnya.

Among other things, it follows the journey of one of its protagonists, Maxim Lupanov— a victim of homophobic torture and abuse at the hands of Chechnyan authorities, in his legal quest for justice which eventually culminates in a landmark case against the Russian state at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

handsDespite numerous reports of systemic and arbitrary harassment of people due to their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in Chechnya, Maxim’s case remains the first and only one of its kind to reach the ECHR. Speaking about the impact of Maxim’s story, Olga Baranova lamented the rarity of similar cases and noted:

Maxim’s courage inspired one more person to come forth. One out of hundreds who have left Russia and are in supposedly safer places.”

The scarcity of well-documented cases like Maxim’s highlights the need for greater awareness of the legal possibilities available to people whose human rights are not adequately protected in their home countries.

This, and other important issues were covered in the panel discussion that was held after the screening of the film. Members of the audience had a lively interaction with the panel, which consisted of LGBTQI+ rights activist, Olga Baranova— who is also featured in the film; Inna Bukshtynovich from Civil Rights Defenders; Stefan Ingvarsson, former cultural attaché at the Swedish embassy in Moscow; and moderator Zuzana Zalanova, director of the RWI Europe office.

“We don’t have as many people leaving Chechnya as 2017. But the situation has not changed, people continuously need help and to be evacuated.”  Olga Baranova

The panel discussion centered on the urgent need for action aimed at supporting the LGBTQ+ movement in places like Chechnya where torture and abductions are commonplace. Below are some of the ways people can get involved:

How to file a case with an international regional human rights court

According to Stefan Ingvarsson, some countries are not able to adequately address human rights violations within their territory due to inadequacies in their legal and judicial framework, hence the need for international or regional intervention.

“In other places…the biggest threat is not just homophobia, but the integrity of the judiciary system.” — Stefan Ingvarsson

Individuals residing in countries that are member states of the Council of Europe can lodge an application for their case to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights at this link.

For residents of the African continent, the procedure for filing an application with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights can be found here.

In North and South America, the process for presenting a petition to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is detailed here.

How to engage with LGBTQ+ issues

Another way to support LGBTQI+ rights is to get involved with organizations that work with vulnerable members of the community. Here is a short list of organizations based in Russia and elsewhere in the world:

These tips were brought forward as a result of the conversation held after the film screening of the documentary ‘Welcome to Chechnya’ . Several members of the audience asked ‘what can we do to help?’. Olga Baranova and Stefan Ingvarsson responded. 

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