Labour puts pressure on Government to be firmer about Russia's gay rights abuses
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Friday 31 January 2014
Labour is urging the Government to take a much tougher line against Russia’s stance on gay rights during the Winter Olympics in Sochi starting a week tomorrow.
The Opposition is worried that ministers attending the Games will adopt a “softly, softly” approach for fear of jeopardising David Cameron’s attempts to rebuild relations with President Vladimir Putin after a frosty period in recent years.
In a letter to Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary and Equalities Minister, Labour said: “The whole country will be behind our fantastic athletes as they prepare to compete for Britain at the Winter Olympics. However, while the Games will rightly be a time for celebration, they must also be a moment of awareness.”
Gloria De Piero, the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, and Kerry McCarthy, a Labour foreign affairs spokeswoman, expressed concern about a law passed in Russia last year restricting the freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and reports of horrific violence and abuse against them.
The two Labour frontbenchers urged Mrs Miller to meet LGBT activists during her visit to Sochi; raise LGBT rights in her meetings with Russian officials and work with gay and human rights organisations to develop stronger links between UK and Russian campaigners.
Labour has also pressed for Britain to follow the lead of the United States by including gay sportsmen and women in its official delegation, but that is unlikely to happen.
Mrs Miller, who will be accompanied in Sochi by Helen Grant, the Sports Minister, insists that they are not playing down the gay rights issue. The Government has promised more money to the gay rights group Stonewall for its work in Russia, but the amount has not yet been decided.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Culture Media and Sport said: “There are some well-documented concerns about recent changes in Russian law which affect the LGBT community. The Government is absolutely clear that freedom of speech and human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people. That is why the Government is backing Stonewall’s work with Russian human rights agencies to support LGBT people in Russia. We believe that the best way to effect change is to engage in open dialogue.”
In a letter to gay rights organisations in the UK and Russia, Mrs Miller said: “We believe that keeping the channels of conversation open is the best way to affect change and that it is more fruitful to engage and challenge prejudices than stay away from the Games.
“Throughout last year, we engaged frequently with the Russian government. I visited Russia last December. During the trip I met with both Russian Government ministers and NGO groups ahead of Sochi where the promotion and protection of human rights was discussed. We regularly make clear to Russia that human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people.”
Mr Cameron will not attend the Winter Olympics but Downing Street sources say that should not be interpreted as a snub.
When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...
£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...