(New York) - Lithuania's parliament (the Seimas) should eliminate all discriminatory and repressive language in a new law designed to censor information available to children, Human Rights Watch said yesterday in a letter to a key lawmaker. It called on the Seimas to repeal an amendment forbidding public information encouraging "homosexual and bisexual relations."
The letter to the chairman of the Standing Committee on Education, Science and Culture of the Seimas, Valentinas Stundys, addressed ongoing efforts by the parliament to revise the controversial law and make it consistent with Lithuania's human rights commitments. The law has been a subject of intense debate through much of 2009.
"Depriving young people of information they need to decide about their lives and protect their health is a regressive move," said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights program at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of protecting children, Lithuania is condemning them to ignorance, danger, and fear."
The Seimas first passed the "Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information" on June 16, 2009. Then President Valdas Adamkus vetoed the law, but parliament overruled the veto. The current president who took office in July, Dalia Grybauskaitė, established a presidential committee to review the text of the law. This committee proposed amendments to delete all discriminatory language from the text of the law.
However, while the Seimas was discussing these amendments, one member introduced the new amendment, forbidding public information which encourages "homosexual and bisexual relations," as well as polygamy. A majority of the Seimas voted in favor of this amendment. The Standing Committee on Education, Science and Culture must now propose a final text of the law to the full parliament.
Lithuania ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 1995. The Convention bars discrimination, and protects freedom of expression.
The European Court of Human Rights - charged with authoritatively interpreting the Convention and with ensuring states' adherence to it - has repeatedly found that the treaty's protections against discrimination bar unequal treatment based on sexual orientation. In the 2007 case of Baczkowski and others v. Poland, the court found that Poland violated the treaty in banning an LGBT parade.
The court stressed the importance of free assembly and association and of pluralism in a democratic society, noting that "this obligation is of particular importance for persons holding unpopular views or belonging to minorities, because they are more vulnerable to victimization."
Lithuania is also a member of the European Union (EU). The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which affirms human rights among the core values of the Union and which came into legal effect with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on December 1, guarantees freedom of expression and information and bars discrimination on any ground, including sexual orientation
"This law violates Lithuania's public promises and its treaty obligations," Dittrich said. "Lawmakers should realize that the best way to protect their youth is to respect their rights."