NGOs decry election of anti-gay human rights chairman

  • 2006-11-22
  • Staff and wire reports

QUESTIONABLE: Many doubt that Smits, who is notoriously homophobic, is suitable for the position of human rights chairman.

RIGA - Despite objection by NGOs, parliamentarians elected Janis Smits, a representative of the coalition party Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way, as chairman of Parliament's committee for human rights and public affairs on Nov 20. "I will try to ensure that the rights of all people in Latvia are observed, not just the rights of separate groups," Smits said after his election, referring to protests made by sexual minorities against his appointment.

He added that, according to the Constitution, the state had to protect the family, and this was a principle that he intended to follow. Latvia's First is a Christian-oriented party.
Smits was competing for the position against opposition New Era party representative Ingrida Circene, who received only two votes. Smits won with five votes.

People's Party member Leons Lidums was elected as the committee deputy chairman and Augusts Brigmanis, who represents another coalition party, the Greens and Farmers' Union, was elected as the committee secretary.
Asked whether he believed gays and lesbians had equal rights, Smits said that every individual had rights but they also had obligations.

The MP was then asked whether gays and lesbians had the right to express their opinion by holding a procession, to which he replied that such groups must abide by Latvian laws. Moreover, Smits said, gays and lesbians should also consider whether members of society have a negative opinion about their activities. If so, social education programs should be pursued, he added.
"Nobody will ever win the respect of society if they try to achieve this through threats," the newly elected chairman said.
Meanwhile, NGOs have voiced concern over Smits' election.

Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis sent an official statement to Parliament, asking why "a leading anti-gay activist" had been elected as the human rights committee head.
"The parliamentarians who made this decision should realize that the international reputation of Latvia is at stake," he wrote.
Circene, the opposition candidate to the human rights committee chairmanship, said Smits' election was "a good example of how a person with a weird perception of human rights [is voted into] an office for the sake of the coalition."

The human rights committee will also have five ordinary members 's two MPs from New Era, one from the opposition left-wing bloc Harmony Center and one from each of the ruling parties 's the People's Party and the Greens and Farmers' Union.
Smits is notorious for his anti-gay stance. He was heavily criticized last summer for his offensively homophobic statements on July's gay pride events in Riga, and his vehement protest against a ban on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.