James Silkenat, president of the American Bar Association: Condemn Russia's anti-gay laws at Russia Forum NY
As times grow tougher in Russia, the Putin regime is looking for a scapegoat, which it is has found in Russia’s gay community. According to a study this year by Global Financial Integrity, “the Russian economy suffered an outflow of US$782.5 billion between 1994 and 2011.” With capital becoming ever scarcer, Russia is fighting hard to lure businesses from around the world to invest there. But until Russia ends its brutal crackdown on LGBT people — including officially sanctioned kidnapping, torture, and rape of gay youth and severe laws prohibiting any expression of support for LGBT rights — Russia must be challenged, not financially supported.
James R. Silkenat, president of the American Bar Association (ABA), is lending his credibility, and that of his associated organizations — the ABA, Human Rights First, and the World Justice Project — to the effort to entice American investors into investing in the Russian economy. On November 18, 2013, at the offices of Goodwin Procter, a New York City law firm, he will be the keynote speaker of the Russia Forum NY investment seminar, a role from which he has refused to withdraw.
The ABA president’s support for investment in Russia is shocking. As was done to combat South Africa's apartheid, the call to Americans of conscience should be to divest from Russia, not invest. Mr. Silkenat, since you have chosen to remain involved with the forum, you must use your platform to offer a full-throated, unvarnished warning to Russian government officials that their abuse of basic human rights is bad for business.
Russia's abusive treatment of its LGBT citizens is grimly illustrated by accounts of gay youth being kidnapped, tortured, and raped by SA-like gangs whose activities the Russian government allows to flourish and even actively encourages (http://americablog.com/tag/russian-gays). Sadly, LGBT Russians and their sympathizers are barred from speaking up for their rights by a recently enacted law that bans any gay-positive speech throughout the country under the dubious guise of protecting minors (http://www.ilga-europe.org/home/guide_europe/country_by_country/russia and http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/opinion/sunday/mr-putins-war-on-gays.html). In fact, your own organization, Human Rights First, says Russia's new round of anti-gay laws "have been used by authorities to deny LGBT Russians the fundamental rights to assemble, associate, and speak" (http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2013/11/01/follow-the-rainbow-bricked-road-the-olympic-flame’s-journey-through-russia’s-antigay-provinces/).
The treatment of gays in Russia is a very serious issue, and your participation in the seminar promoting investment in such a place raises very serious questions -- questions of such gravity that similar questions, at least in part, caused President Obama to cancel his summit with President Putin a few months ago (http://americablog.com/2013/08/obama-putin-summit-cancel-gay.html). New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has already chosen to dissociate himself from the event (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-wooledge/mayor-michael-bloomberg-russian-investment-forum_b_4192311.html). You, however, have chosen to remain involved, as the event’s keynote speaker. Your promotion of investment in Russia seems analogous to advocating investment in Germany in the 1930s or South Africa in the 1980s. Yet, as was done to combat South Africa's apartheid, the call to Americans of conscience should be to divest from Russia, not invest.
I urge you to consider the negative effects that your participation in this investment seminar may have on your professional reputation and on the reputations of the American Bar Association, Human Rights First, the World Justice Project, and your firm, Sullivan & Worcester. Such deleterious consequences can only be avoided if you use the forum to speak truth to power and call out Russia on its appalling treatment of LGBT citizens. Offering only cursory rebukes and polite platitudes about the importance of human rights will do nothing to change the Putin regime’s behavior toward gay Russians. Therefore, I encourage you to dedicate a substantial part of your address to the issue of LGBT human rights in Russia. I hope you will use, at length, strong and direct language that does not skirt the ugliness of the way gay Russians are treated at the hands the anti-gay neofascist gangs operating with tacit government approval.
Since you have chosen not to cancel your speaking engagement, it falls upon you to demonstrate to those who will be watching your remarks -- not only in the room but also through the press and social media, both in the U.S. and in Russia -- your resolve to condemn human rights abuses wholeheartedly. Anything less than a full-throated condemnation of the way the Putin regime treats LGBT Russians would make you complicit in the regime's abuses through your involvement in promoting investment that goes to support the Putin government. At the Russia NY Forum on November 18, 2013, please approach the matter of LGBT human rights in Russia with a principled and unvarnished zeal worthy of a true champion of human rights. The lives of LGBT Russians depend on your standing up for justice.