Human Rights Day is celebrated annually to honour the adoption of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to remind us of the importance and value of the inalienable rights that we are all entitled to as human beings. Human Rights Day is an opportunity for us to remember those from all over the world who continue to fight for rights that we sometimes take for granted.
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBTI rights, I often speak to and hear from LGBTI rights activists from around the world – they are usually doing incredibly important work to promote equality and change attitudes, but they often face terrible abuse and harassment as a result. LGBTI rights defenders are often targeted both because of the work they do, and because of their LGBTI identity.
For example, Sphere is an LGBTI and women’s rights organisation in Ukraine. Founded in 2006 by activists Anna and Vira, it is one of the oldest organisations of its kind in the country, providing a safe space for women and LGBTI people in Kharkiv (Ukraine’s second largest city).
The number of hate crimes in Ukraine is on the rise – and as more and more anti-LGBTI groups have sprung up across the country, Sphere has been the target of dozens of discriminatory attacks.
These groups have set upon Sphere’s supporters and its premises – urinating on walls, spreading faeces on doorknobs, breaking windows and chanting homophobic slogans. Anna and Vira report the attacks to the police, but they don’t do anything to stop them or hold anyone accountable.
In 2019, Sphere organised Kharkiv’s first ever Pride. Despite threats and intimidation, the event was a huge success attended by up to 3,000 people. But instead of protecting marchers from violence, the police joined in with hurling homophobic abuse at them. Anna and Vira say that police inaction in the face of constant attacks has left Sphere and its supporters in a permanent state of fear.
Discrimination and hate crimes against LGBTI people and activists will not end if there is impunity, so governments must hold perpetrators accountable. That is why I’ve taken action as part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights Campaign, calling for the Ukrainian authorities to take action against Sphere’s attacker.
Human right defenders around the world, particularly those targeted both because of their work and they identity like Sphere, need to know that the international community supports them. And their attackers need to know the international community is watching. That’s why I’ve taken action, and I hope others will too.