The Olympic Spirit

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Russia and Egypt are known anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) campaigners at the United Nations (UN). Both countries have specific strategies targeting spaces across the UN system in an attempt to halt and push back any acknowledgement of LGBTI people, let alone their human rights. Their ambassadors push anti-LGBT positions onto their regional allies and trade influence to co-opt less enthusiastic countries to speak up in support of their agenda. Their arguments are built on myth and fallacy, usually using a smoke screen of ‘religious and cultural values’ to justify violence and discrimination towards LGBT people. The aim of their crusade is to erase any mention of LGBT people in the international human rights system and provide cover for human rights violations against their LGBT citizens at home.

2017 has been a bleak reminder of what can happen when they succeed: People arrested in Egypt for raising rainbow flags. Men perceived to be gay rounded up, tortured and sometimes killed in Chechnya. All of this in a climate where queer voices are silenced under Russian anti-propaganda laws and the rules of the Egyptian Supreme Council for Media Regulation.

Not satisfied with violating the human rights of LGBT people in their own countries - Russia and Egypt have recently set their sights on the Olympic Games.

Over the past two weeks in the back rooms of UN Headquarters in New York, the two countries have combined forces to launch an aggressive attack on the Olympic Truce - the international peace agreement protecting the Olympic Games. First constructed around 9th century B.C. the Olympic Truce is founded on the Greek tradition of ekecheiria which literally means ‘holding of hands’. Since 1993 the Truce has been negotiated in the UN General Assembly, the only organ of the United Nations with universal membership of all 193 member countries, often referred to as UN Member States.  The purpose of the Truce is to protect the participation of athletes and their supporters in the spirit of the games as articulated in the Olympic Creed;

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well."

Nothing captures this spirit more aptly than Principle 6 of the International Olympic Charter – the principle of non-discrimination.

Every two years the new Olympic host leads the negotiation of the Truce. In 2015 the UN General Assembly, under the leadership of Brazil, included the principle of non-discrimination in the Truce with an explicit reference to Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter.  The Truce was unanimously adopted with the consensus of all 193 Member States. This year, Russia and Egypt have proposed an ultimatum to the Committee deliberating the language of the text, putting the goal of consensus at risk as well as placing this year's leader of the negotiations, South Korea, in a precarious and difficult position.

Their ultimatum: remove any explicit reference to Principle 6 from the Truce or we will not sign it.

Why? Because since 2015 Principle 6 has included sexual orientation as a prohibition grounds for discrimination, deemed necessary following Russia’s attacks on gay and lesbian people in the lead up to its role as host of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Removal of reference to Principle 6 this year could mean never seeing these protections in the peace agreement again.

Not coincidentally Russia and Egypt are amongst the loudest voices attempting to limit the participation of civil society at the UN. Both States rely on the general obscurity of closed UN negotiations to get away with rolling back even the most indirect reference to protecting LGBT  people from persecution away from the scrutiny of human rights watch dogs. This time their attacks focus on the very core of an ancient international truce, the purpose of which is to protect the participation of athletes and their supporters in peace and safety.

Egypt and Russia constantly claim protection of ‘sovereignty’ to justify their relentless attacks on the human rights of LGBT people in the international system.  The Olympic Truce holds no such implication - it is simply a basic requirement for international competition.  The truth is Russia, Egypt and their allies won’t stop until they delete all mention of protection for LGBT people from the international system ... and they are prepared to sacrifice the Olympic Spirit to do so.

What can you do to help? Sign our petition to "Protect the #OlympicSpirit".