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(Moscow) – Russian authorities should ensure that the investigation into the murder of a young man in southern Russia includes whether he was murdered because his killers believed or claimed he was gay. Investigative authorities should examine all possible motives for the killing, including homophobia, due to the sadistic homophobic aspects of the crime.

The body of 23-year-old Vladislav Tornovoy was found in Volgograd, 950 kilometers south of Moscow, early in the morning of May 10, 2013. Investigative officials told the media that Tornovoy’s head was smashed and that his body had multiple bruises and wounds. The investigation established that prior to being killed Tornovoy was repeatedly raped with beer bottles.

“A hate motive clearly should not be ruled out in this brutal case,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Regardless of what Tornovoy’s sexual identity was, that the accused may have acted believing he was gay or apparently believe it’s to their benefit to claim he was gay, is emblematic of a staggering level of homophobia and vulnerability of Russia’s LGBT community.”

The authorities arrested two suspects, one of whom allegedly confessed that they beat, raped, and killed Tornovoy after he had allegedly revealed his homosexuality. Nevertheless, the investigative authorities are treating Tornovoy’s killing as an ordinary murder, not an aggravated hate crime, dismissing a homophobic motive. A representative of the investigative authorities told the media that Tornovoy was not gay and that the suspect’s claim about the victim’s alleged homosexuality was a strategy to win public sympathy and mitigate his punishment.

Russia has legal obligations to prosecute and prevent hate crimes and should adopt a policy of zero tolerance toward hate crimes committed because of a victim’s perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, Human Rights Watch said.Russian laws contain no provisions specifically identifying attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people because of their sexual identity as hate-motivated violence. Unlike racial, ethnic, and religious identity, gender identity and sexual orientation are not explicitly listed as grounds in relevant criminal law provisions that provide for the prosecution of hate crimes.

Homophobic hate crimes could be prosecuted under the existing category of crimes motivated by “hatred for a social group.” However, Russian LGBT activists have told Human Rights Watch that Russian law enforcement systematically fails to investigate whether crimes against LGBT people were motivated by hatred of their sexual identity. Russian LGBT activists say that authorities are often reluctant to investigate violent attacks on openly LGBT people. When the authorities do investigate, they treat such attacks as acts of common hooliganism, never examining whether homophobia was the motivation, the activists say.

“The law enforcement practice in this area of hate motivated-crimes appears to be flawed and sends the wrong signal to the public,” Williamson said.

On May 17, the International Day against Homophobia (IDAHO), Russia’s LGBT activists plan to gather in several Russian cities and commemorate Tornovoy.
By the end of May, Russia’s State Duma, the lower chamber of the parliament, is likely to approve in second and third readings a set of draft provisions that impose fines on individuals, government officials, and organizations that engage in “promoting” homosexuality to anyone under 18. Several Duma deputies, including the bill’s authors, have already said that Tornovoy’s murder would have no bearing on parliament’s consideration of the bill.

“This draft law and the widely exploited rhetoric of “traditional values” run contrary to Russia’s human rights obligations and create a favorable environment for homophobia,” Williamson said. “If adopted, the draft would violate Russia’s international commitments to free expression, make fighting homophobic violence harder, and put the country’s vulnerable LGBT community in even more danger.”

United Nations and Council of Europe bodies have repeatedly called upon Russia to adequately protect LGBT people. The UN Committee Against Torture in November 2012 told Russia that it should “take effective measures to ensure the protection of all persons at risk, including … LGBT persons …. All acts of violence and discrimination against members of such groups should be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated, the perpetrators brought to justice, and redress provided to the victims.” It also called upon Russia to “publicly condemn attacks against … LGBT persons … and organize awareness-raising campaigns, including among police, promoting tolerance and respect for diversity.”

At the end of April, when Russia was scrutinized before the UN Human Rights Council during a periodic review of its human rights record, several countries recommended that Russian authorities should take measures to ensure effective investigation of acts of violence against LGBT people and hold those responsible to account, repeal the laws banning “homosexual propaganda,” and introduce legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

“Russian authorities need to be taking serious measures to protect, not stigmatize, the LGBT community,” Williamson said. “They should replace the ill-advised draft law before them with a demonstrable policy of zero-tolerance for homophobic violence.”

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